Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Barts Speakeasy

I first discovered Barts just over a year ago and it definitely remains one of my favourite London haunts. Secret speakeasy bars are popping up all over the place, but Barts was one of the first and is true to its speakeasy roots in that it's a bugger to find if you don't know where to look!  'Situated somewhere on Sloane Avenue' is about as much as you can expect.  And I'm afraid I'm not going to give the game away, apart from a clue perhaps: Chelsea Cloisters.

When you do find the entrance - well the first entrance that is - you then find another entrance behind a black door. This leads into a tiny hallway which is completely covered floor to ceiling in crazy cartoon wallpaper which certainly knocks your senses for a moment. After pressing the buzzer, a panel in the door slides opens to reveal someone peering through to give you a quick once over before letting you in. Once inside, Barts is surprisingly small, with a wonderful warm, inviting feel. There are a handful of tables and chairs in varying styles, shapes and sizes, plus a small outdoor area ideal for al fresco drinking.

It really is advisable to get there early (or book ahead) in order to secure yourself a pew, as it can get pretty busy. But if you can't get a seat, fret not campers because the vibe of Barts is so buzzy, you'll probably have more fun drinking and mingling on foot.

There is a well-stocked bar including everything from good old fashioned plonk and beer to curious cocktails served in teapots.  On the wall is a medicine cabinet appropriately labelled 'Thirst Aid' inside which are kept the ingredients for a shot of magical Moonshine.  If you're feeling peckish, Barts does some mighty fine snacks including the tastiest miniature quails egg Scotch eggs I've ever tried.  And Barts wouldn't be Barts without the staff.  Every time I've been there (and I can tell you, it's been so often that I've earned myself a private entry pass), the guys and gals behind the bar never hesitate to give you a warm welcome and are continuously friendly and attentive throughout the evening, however busy and raucous it gets.

The decor is wonderful - an eccentric home from home full of eclectic madness on the walls including old clocks, vintage luggage racks, typewriters, enamel signs, stuffed animals and a graffitied Mona Lisa. Tuesday night is music night with an interesting array of live music ranging from acoustic and folk to jazz and rock.

And if the decor, music, cocktails and fine snacks aren't enough to satiate your playful appetite, you can always delve into the fabulous dressing-up box which is full of all sorts of nonsensical items of clothing and props.  You'll totally dismiss the idea of dressing up on arrival.  But by the end of the evening, you'll be sitting there quite merrily, sipping your third Park Avenue cocktail whilst donning a Viking helmet and a feather boa as if it's the most natural thing in the world.  You will, because everybody does.  That's Barts!


Now here's the good bit.  If you head down to Barts on certain evenings between now and the end of March, you can have a drink on me! The dates will be randomly selected Sun -Wed evenings only, and the first date is Monday 31st January. You'll have to check my 'This Week's Special' page to be kept informed of which future dates apply. To get your free cocktail, just tell them 'Miss Immy sent you' when you arrive. Please note that the free cocktail applies to a maximum of 5 guests per group.  Don't forget to leave a comment below telling me what you thought of it. Have fun!

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Attack of the Flesh Eating Fish

Last week, I took my friend for an unusual birthday treat.  A pedicure which didn't have a foot buffer, nail file or pair of toe clippers in sight.  Situated in Camden Market is a 'treat for feet' called Zoola Fish.  A tiny outfit (one of two in Camden) hidden amongst the market stalls, with the only piece of equipment being a fresh water tank full of tiny fish. Fish who are hungry for your flesh!

It's a walk-in service offering 15 or 30 minute sessions. We opted for 30 mins and the friendly woman in charge gave us a towel, then we literally rolled up our trousers, sat on the side of the tank and immersed our feet - very apprehensively - into the tepid water.

I let my friend dip her toes first (well, it was her birthday) so I could photograph her reaction and ascertain whether I should be making a speedy getaway.  It definitely involved quite a bit of squealing and nervous laughter, but her toes were still intact which was encouraging enough, so I discarded all my footwear and took the plunge too.  I also let out an initial shriek, much to the amusement of onlookers, as due to the open location of the venue, it does draw a lot of attention from passers-by. It would seem our fish-engulfed feet are already the highlight of various tourists' holiday snaps!

It really is a very strange sensation as a shoal of little fish literally bombard your feet in a frenzied feeding attack and you're convinced it will hurt and just pray that a stray piranha hasn't slipped through the net.  But you very quickly get used to it and apart from being a tad ticklish, it soon becomes oddly enjoyable as the fish swim around your feet and in between your toes, sucking and nibbling away all the dead skin. Lovely!

A perfect way to spend half an hour having a chinwag with your mate whilst the fish get stuck in. They're more like nippers than clippers, although they don't actually have any teeth.  The fish are called Garra Rufa fish, and are also known as Dr Fish because of their healing properties. This particular bunch herald from Turkey. Fish pedicures are becoming increasingly popular all over the UK and I highly recommend it.  Zoola Fish are opening branches nationwide and already have one in Tunbridge Wells. My friend and I both agreed that our feet felt incredibly soft and smooth afterwards, especially the 'sole and eels'.  It was very relaxing and quite reasonably priced at eighteen squid for half an hour (or a tuna, sorry tenner for 15 mins).  I don't want to carp on much longer, so I suggest you make a trip to Zoola Fish and take your plaice in the tank.  Right, that's quite enough fish gags - better stop before I get battered. Oooh! 

Feel free to leave your own fish puns in the comments area below the post. In fact, I'm running a little competition. Whoever posts the funniest fish-related comment, will win 2 vouchers for a 15 minute session by very kind courtesy of Zoola Fish

The winner will be chosen by the bods at Zoola Fish and the deadline is 12pm next Friday 21st January.  I will contact the winner directly and announce them here after the competition closes. So for Cod's sake, get commenting! 

Zoola Fish have announced the WINNER! (drum roll please...) 
It is UYEN LUU with her hilarious and simple retort "Pollacks to you Andy Green - I want to win!"  Classic. Well done Uyen, your vouchers are on their way. Thanks to everyone who entered - all great comments!

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Museum of Everything

If you find yourself roaming around picturesque Primrose Hill having exhausted the posh boutiques and gorgeous delis, then may I suggest you turn off Regents Park Road into Sharples Hall Street. You'll find a small entrance into a non-descript courtyard, at the end of which is an illuminated sign revealing you've arrived at The Museum of Everything.

The current exhibition is simply called Exhibition #3 which due to popular demand has been extended until mid-February (so hurry!)  I'm not entirely sure how to describe this exhibition, apart from the fact it is definitely peculiar with a hefty pinch of bonkers.  One of the geniuses (or is that genii) behind this installation is none other than Sir Peter Blake, British Pop Artist extraordinaire (he designed the album sleeve for The Beatles' album 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' don't you know). As well as being an artist, he is a huge collector of interesting art and extraordinary artefacts, many of which are displayed.

The feel of the place is unpretentious and fun, like being encapsulated in a giant, colourful illustration. Almost dream-like, you find yourself following a route which takes you on a nostalgic adventure involving wonky fairground mirrors; a room made entirely of seashells; a corridor full of posters and photographs dedicated to circus freaks gone-by including famous bearded ladies, midgets and giants; old Americana posters promoting sword swallowers and animal trainers sway from a high vaulted ceiling, plus Punch, Judy and a motley crew of other familiar marionettes.

Upstairs leads to a room devoted to a stunning collection of miniature fairground rides created by Arthur Windley, a retired Norfolk farmer who spent 40 years making them by hand with such wonderful attention to every minute detail.  They are still all in proper working order and you can witness all the fun of the fair every fifteen minutes. He sold the collection in 2010.

There's an entire area representing Walter Potter's Museum of Curiousity - he was a reknown Victorian taxidermist and there are various glass cabinets displaying intriguing dioramas of stuffed woodland creatures, often wearing costumes and posing as humans in a whimsical fashion.  A multitude of sophisticated squirrels and posh rats (at least I think they were rats) chatting, drinking tea, playing cards and even knocking each other out in the boxing ring.  It's all a strange sight to behold.  A dark version of the Sylvanian Family if you will.  And as for the two-headed lamb. Well!

So, once you've found your way around that fascinating lot, you finally end up back at the beginning, in the museum's little bookshop/cafe area where you can treat yourself to a large souvenir badge, a cup of tea and a plate of jammy dodgers whilst absorbing all the strange curiousities you've just encountered.

The Museum of Everything really is delightful and as the end of Exhibition #3 draws near, I urge you to see it for yourself. Entrance is free (a £3 donation is suggested) and photography apparently faces a penalty of £1000 which increases to being punishable by death!  Which I assume was part of the humour. If not, I hope you appreciate these pictures, as I'm now living in fear of being attacked by a legion of axe-wielding midgets and stuffed squirrels!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Happy New Year and Bloggers Lunch

Happy 2011 everyone!

I trust you've been indulging in a festive spell of epicurean delights, fine wine and classic television heaven. Mine was full of just that, as well as a magical candlelit carol service at Southwark Cathedral; a visit to prison to secure a very special Christmas pudding (which was delicious by the way); a tasty post-Christmas Chinese lunch atop the Royal Garden Hotel, and a hilarious tobogganing attempt which involved a few of us climbing inside large bin bags and hurtling down a snowy hill. Treacherous fun which left us surprisingly unscathed.  I saw the new year in with friends, sipping prosecco on a rooftop near the Thames with a splendid view of the London fireworks.  I am feeling strangely optimistic about this year...

So it's been an eventful couple of weeks, but one of the highlights was definitely attending the Bloggers Lunch at The Ship in Wandsworth the week before Christmas.  Organised by one of the most reputable food bloggers around, Luiz Hara (The London Foodie), it was an honour to be invited along by him and my dear friend, fellow blogger and supper club hostess extraordinaire, Uyen (Fernandez & Leluu).

About fifty of us all braved the snow and made our way to Wandsworth for a Sunday lunch to remember.  The Ship is such a brilliant pub and brought back many memories of when I used to frequent it regularly from my days living in Putney.  Situated on the edge of the Thames just next to Wandsworth Bridge, it is definitely a pub for all seasons.  A huge outdoor area makes it a perfect spot to drink Pimms on long, balmy summer evenings.  But with the bar and restaurant areas contained in a wonderful conservatory, it is also ideal for a pint and the Sunday papers followed by a long lunch on a winter's day.  And this lunch was proof of that.

On arrival, we were served perfectly executed Bloody Marys which certainly defrosted any inner chill.  I sat with a host of interesting bloggers including Uyen, 'Hungry in London', 'Cooking The Books', 'Grubworm', 'Rocket & Squash' and '1mgoldstars' to name a few (twittery blog aliases in case you're wondering).  It was so nice to meet these people in the flesh and what a lovely bunch they all were.  We all had an excellent afternoon getting acquainted, oohing and ahhing (and of course photographing) every dish and just taking in the wonderful atmosphere of a cosy Sunday lunch full of exceptional food, great wine and happy bloggers.

The staff at The Ship were faultless as they rallied around replenishing our drinks and kept on bringing plate after plate of fabulous food - every dish was superb.  Salmon with beetroot, a confit of duck (amazing!) and sticky toffee pudding followed by cheese and desert wine.  I would have been quite happy if we were all snowed in there for the rest of winter!

Big thanks to Luiz, Gail and all the team at The Ship for organising such a perfect afternoon. Let's do it again soon!

Well the festivities are over and it's back to work and reality.  Tomorrow morning scares me, as I've not woken up much before 10am over the past fortnight.  I fear my alarm clock will suffer a slow, horrible death at 7am.  Night all!

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