British festivals typically mean lots of music, lots of camping and of course, generally lots of rain. Considering how “summery” the last few months had been, I was a little worried that this last weekend was going to be washed out because I was going along to Bestival 2007. We were all banking on good weather, taking Friday off to drive down to the three-day festival and Monday to have a bit more of a leisurely pace back to London.
It turned out that we had fantastic festival weather, and the entire Bestival experience was thoroughly enjoyable. Music highlights had to be The Chemical Brothers who put on their typically awesome act accompanied by a spectacular light show, the ever energetic The Gossip and then The Foals, a new Indie band who put out a great set in the BBC Introducing. On the disappointing side, The Beastie Boys who I’d seen perform a brilliant set back at Big Day Out, managed to cause the crowd to thin out quite well during their Saturday night set. We also caught the end of Carl Craig’s rather dull and low key set which didn’t seem to match the energetic mood everyone was in at 4 in the morning.
Although there were plenty of music acts, many of them were I didn’t rate on the “must see” list. The upside is that there wasn’t as much pressure to go to all the stages, and I could indulge in the company of other festival goers, chill out in the sun and just generally meander throughout the rest of the festival. There’s plenty of alternative entertainment, including glitter wrestling, an inflatable castle with almost hourly marriage services (Ben and Polly’s one on Sunday was a stunner), a burlesque tea tent, a comedy tent and just plenty of places to lounge around and soak up the atmosphere.
Another big draw card, quite unique to this festival is it’s fancy dress theme. Even though it’s based on a poem, all of it is optional, and so here’s what I went as. It was amazing at how much some people really got into their costumes, with many of them hand crafted to superb detail, especially those that co-ordinated an entire group costume.
It was a great taste of what British festivals should be like when it’s not raining and full of mud and could definitely go back another year.
One of the benefits of living near Smithfields is access to a wonderful range of butchers offering fantastic cuts of meats at very affordable prices. If you get up early enough, you can find any sort of cut of most types, as well as plenty of other products made from them including black puddings and various smoked meats.
Tonight I got to finally try some sticky maple ribs that looked fantastic. Here it is served with honey spiced squash, mashed potatoes and romaine heart leaves.
This weekend the Truman Brewery played host to the Tiger beer sponsored Signapore Chilli Crab Festival. What looks like a yearly event, this one celebrates one of the Singaporean most famous dishes with a small amount of entertainment and food available for purchase. We turned up at about 4 in the afternoon, which was probably much too late with a line extending all the way out of the Truman Brewery, around the corner down Brick Lane and what looked like a couple of blocks (and that was just for the food).
At some point even later in the afternoon, they stopped people joining the food queue as they had apparently run out of food for the day. All of the food looked like it was sponsored by a restaurant in Bayswater called Kiasu and apparently you could order the crab there instead. Although Tiger sponsored the event and had set up a number of stalls serving their beer, I was surprised to find that their “special” of 4 beers at £12 was so expensively priced.
Although entertainment lacked any real bite (we caught a small glimpse of a Chinese magician and a lone Chinese Dragon dance) and we did not end up tasting their famous crab, we still had a pretty nice time enjoying the last vestiges of summer. Here’s the small number of photos from the day.
Three years in a row and for some reason I just can’t stay away from the hustle and bustle of the Notting Hill Carnival. Despite the two shootings reported on the news, for the most part, the Carnival is a very friendly and easy going atmosphere. Your best bet (as with most things) is to stay in the open areas where police roam and not to delve down small streets where you might find more trouble.
This year I ended up heading out with a some friends I’ve made in London including Dana, Luca, Toni, Ajit and Julie. We walked around for a little bit, joining in some of the festivities by watching some of the parade, and then hanging out at one of the music outlets whilst the sun continued to shine. There are plenty of different areas, each with their own vibe and attracting all sorts of people.
We spent quite a lot of the afternoon hanging around and even managed to fit in the obligatory meal of Jerk Chicken for dinner. Check out the rest of the photos here.
After looking for somewhere nice to eat in Bath and discounting all the Michelin starred restaurants because they were not really accessible without a car, we ended up booking dinner at the Firehouse Rotisserie, a Californian themed restaurant serving modern American cuisine. Forget burgers and think more of wood fired pizzas and, as the name suggests, rotisserie cooked meats. We started with the Goats Cheese Fondue and the Duck Quesadillas, both of which I think we could have both skipped. The Goats Cheese Fondue looked like it was simply bubbling Goats Cheese served with some corn chips and the Duck Quesadillas were disappointingly dry and not very spicy at all. The only good thing about the quesadillas is that it had been served with two small salads.
The mains looked much more promising, with both of getting the two different rotisserie cooked chickens – a dry rubbed BBQ one, and a lemon and herb infused one. Each serve had two pieces of chicken, a breast and a leg, both of which remained surprisingly moist despite looking rather dry. The herb encrusted one had plenty of flavour, though was much more subtle than the salty and spiced BBQ one. I’d say that the herb chicken dish definitely had far too much going on their plate, including bacon, cooked lemons and a dijon tarragon aioli that would not have been missed had it not been there. The BBQ chicken was a bit more balanced with a delicious jalapeno coleslaw complementing the sweet and spicy chicken.
We finished with dessert, firstly a mango and white chocolate brulee and a chocolate brownie served with a refreshing coconut ice-cream. The brulee mixture really didn’t work very well with the subtle creamy texture of the white chocolate brulee ruined by a watery and over-poweringly sweet mango base. Though still very nice and an exceptionally large portion, I don’t think I’d order it again. The brownie on the other hand went down very well and the coconut ice cream surprisingly went well with it, though it is a dish that’s pretty hard to get wrong.
Details: Firehouse Rotisserie (Bath)
Found on: 2 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL
Contactable on: 01225 482070
Highlights: Different California cuisine with interesting rotisserie offerings. Good selection of extras and reasonable main dish prices.
Room for improvement: Very ordinary starters, service nothing special and could simplify a number of their dishes as it looks like they’re trying just too hard.
The Kua Rating: 7 out of 10
Bath, a home for bob sleighing? Yes, it sounds really strange but it’s true. Built in 2000 and modelled to the exact specifications of the one built for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, the University of Bath is home to the training grounds of the British Bob Sleigh team. It opens twice a month to give ordinary people like you and me to give the sport a good go. We booked our experience via a 2 for 1 offer on Lastminute.com and based on all the pink folders everyone brought around, looked like a common channel for the twenty or so other people as well.
I was a little bit sceptical about the entire thing, thinking that you’d get a couple of runs and it’d be over in half an hour. Pleasantly surprised, I think each group of four got at least eight or ten different runs including a few warm up ones. You practice as a team, first getting into the bob sleigh without actually running and slowly building up to full out running and jumping in. Most people seemed to have no problems running and getting in, although one team seemed to have a little timing problem that left the last person out. The sleigh is definitely cosy and you end up getting to know you’re team mates very intimately as you squish in to try to go as fast as possible.
We shared our sleigh with a couple from Essex and ended up actually having a very good afternoon with them, even winning the mini challenge at the end of the day. I can’t say it’s not a tiring experience as you do end up sprinting but was quite a lot of fun.
Like anybody who’d seen the long weekend coming up, it seemed like a good time to get out of London. I haven’t made much of an effort to see the rest of England (it’s something I’m working on), so this long weekend I ended up in the famous city of Bath. It’s a fantastically old city with plenty of historical buildings that date way back to the Roman era. There are plenty of tours and guides around town, and of course plenty of tourists to go with them. In fact, in summer and on beautiful days you’ll find the little streets, and the tourist attractions such as the Roman Baths almost claustrophobically busy. Luckily we missed most of the busy periods and still got to see all the things that we wanted to see.
We left Paddington at a ridiculous hour of 6:30am Saturday morning in order to arrive in time for a Madmax tour that took us to nearby Stonehenge, Avery, Lacock and Castle Coombe. I’d been warned by friends that Stonehenge is nothing to make a special trip out for, and they were very much correct. The stones aren’t as high as you’d imagine, blown out of proportion by photos and films, and the circle is also not as big as you’d imagine, with the stones in Avery much larger in diameter. It’s still worth seeing though and still looks magnificent after all the tourists that come by and see it. You walk anti-clockwise around the stones based on the tour guide, although one guy who was randomly going up to people said that it’s better to go clockwise to “tap into its energies”. We gave it a try, but didn’t find it really did anything but give us a good way to escape his crazy rantings. Visiting Avery if you’re in the area is recommended with a greater circle of stones, and a much larger henge that effectively encompassed the entire town.
Must do activities if you come to Bath include seeing the inside of the Roman Baths who now have Bill Bryson offering additional commentary on their audio tour. It’s also worth going up to the French markets for a look around, and then up to Victoria Park that has some stunning gardens and the very expensive houses along the Crescent Road. There’s an excellent walking tour that local guides conduct for free (meeting Sunday morning at 10:30am outside the Pump Rooms at the Roman Baths) taking you along to many of the historical sites. We even had a small celebrity spot on our walking tour, seeing Nicholas Cage coming out of his newly purchased home (apparently for £4m!) just near Victoria Park.
In terms of food there are plenty of options to choose from, though it’s better if you call ahead and book especially for weekends. The nearby cities of Somerset and Bristol are home to many of Michelin starred restaurants though you will need a car to get to any of them. Bath also has plenty of options for cream tea and for something a little bit more traditional, the famous Sally Lunn’s is well worth the wait just to taste a very strange light and airy bun.
Bath is a great city break destination and although there are plenty of tourists around, it’s historical significance and architectural might easily make up for all the bustle.
I’m starting a new series of “Where’s the good…” focused this time on cake since there’s a handful of very nice places around town I think people should know about. One of these such places is Peyton and Byrne, located in the middle of the large building housing Habitat and Heals on Tottenham Court Road. The store itself is small compared to the two behemoths its nestled in, though it simple and clean presentation draws crowds to its wares.
Peyton and Byrne offer much than cake, including biscuits, slices, tarts although on my visit I went for one of the small cupcakes in the window thinking it would give me a good idea of what they had on offer. Most of the cup cakes on display are based on a deep rich chocolate cake mixture, and covered in a huge amount of flavoured icing. The one you see in the picture above is the Mint Chocolate one. The cake was deliciously moist, and although the ratio to icing to cake is almost one-to-one, it somehow worked. I can definitely recommend one of these cup cakes though next time I would try one of the slices of cakes on offer.
You can find Peyton and Bryne in two places in London
- Peyton and Byrne at Heals – 196 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7LQ
- Peyton and Byrne at The Wellcome Collection – 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE