Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rooftop rollerdisco pops up in Stratford

Attention all Londoners - this is not a drill. Our wonderful city now has what it's been missing all along; a rooftop rollerdisco.

Roof East in Stratford is open again for the summer, bringing all manner of hipster pursuits to the top deck of a multi-storey car park. The rollerdisco is just one of the activities on offer - although let's be honest, it's the best.

The rollerdisco was the last place we visited. As the night - and the cocktails - went on, my photography got worse.
Situated inside a marquee with a DJ blaring out classic cheese, it's the ideal place to fall thingy-over-whatsit to the dulcet tones of R Kelly*. The downside of the marquee is that the rollerdisco is the only place on the roof that you can't admire the views over east London and beyond.

Elsewhere on the roof, take out the day's rage in the American-style baseball batting cages. Armed with a helmet and a bat, you'll have the balls fired at you (pick a lane depending on your preferred speed). Be warned though - it's harder than it looks to strike a hit.
Team Londonist shows its competitive side.
If that's all a bit strenuous, try the more gentile offering of bowls. A word of advice; ten pin bowling it is not. Do not lob the ball down the lane (pitch? court? green?) with all your might. It's a case of skill over strength - as Team Londonist learnt, after much trial and error.

The crazy golf is back for another year. This year's course is much improved on last year's meagre offering - although the decor probably gets a bit trippy after a few drinks.

Unfortunately the food offerings aren't as varied as last year. Pick from pizza courtesy of Pizza Shack, or all manner of Spanish-inspired food from Jimmy's Tapas Bar (top tip: the chorizo hot dog is a worthy choice - and the cheese from the pizzas leaves an excellent shine, should you accidentally drop it on a black leather boot #justsaying).

Last, but by no means least, is the outdoor cinema by Rooftop Film Club. I've been a fan of what these guys do since my first introduction on top of Peckham's Bussey Building some years ago. The cinema's on the northern side of the roof, so no getting distracted from the screen by the skyline views.

When the sun's out, it feels a bit Miami Beach - all bright colours, (fake) palm trees and summer vibes. But when night falls, there's no getting away from the fact that you're in E15. Dress appropriately. You've been warned.

*Actually happened - not to me for once, but to a colleague.

Roof East 2017, top floor, multi-storey car park, Great Eastern Way, Stratford, E15 1XE. Entry is free, all activities incur a charge.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

How to see Harry Potter film props for free in London

Calling all Potter fans! There's an exhibition of Harry Potter memorabilia in London at the moment, and it's completely free.

It's not by any stretch a new exhibition - House of MinaLima threw open its doors in mid-2016, and was originally due to close in February 2017, but has been extended indefinitely due to popularity.

It showcases art and design work by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima that was used in the films, with props on loan from the Warner Bros Studio Tour. Basically, a Potter nerd's paradise.

I'm not the biggest fan of Harry Potter which is why it's taken me so long to get round to visiting the exhibition. Nothing against the Boy Wizard, just not a huge fan of the series - more a casual observer.

On a Saturday afternoon, it's nowhere near as busy as I'd braced myself for, and I even had some of the rooms to myself, except for the extremely friendly staff members who are posted on each level. The expected throng of die-hard Potter fans was few and far between - presumably they visited in the museum's early days. Most of my fellow visitors seemed to have walked in off the street, attracted in by the intriguingly colourful shopfront.

You'll enter (and exit) through the ground floor gift shop - but as the exhibition's free, you can't begrudge them the chance of making some money. With Hogwarts house badges at £3.50 and posters starting at £19 though, it's not somewhere for young Potter fans to be spending their pocket money.

Take the narrow, steep, winding staircase up to the first floor - unfortunately the exhibition's not wheelchair accessible - where you'll step into 1920s-30s New York.

This section is dedicated to the most recent film, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and although I've not seen the film and had very little idea of what was going on, there's no denying that a lot of effort has gone into recreating the time period.

Up another flight of stairs - the staircase is an artwork in itself - and you'll come face to face with artwork from the original Harry Potter films. Daily Prophet front covers line the walls and Hogwarts textbooks stare down at you.

Even with my limited Potter knowledge I was able to recognise the Howler letter Mrs Weasley sent to Ron at Hogwarts, and a ticket for the Hogwarts Express.

The highlight? You'll find yourself standing on a Marauder's Map the size of the room (invisibility cloak optional).

After solemnly swearing that you're up to no good, head up another flight of stairs for even more items from the films. Centrepiece here is the Dursley's fireplace, overflowing with Hogwarts acceptance letters - a bittersweet sight for any die-hard Potter fan who's still waiting for their letter to arrive.

Take time to glance again at the artwork lining the staircase on the way back down - even on second glance, you're bound to miss something.

A quick sweep around the shop and you're back outside - although by this time you'll be expecting to find yourself in Diagon Alley, rather than 21st century Soho.

House of MinaLima, 26 Greek Street, Soho. Open 12pm-7pm every day. entry is free.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, 8 May 2017

London's most romantic cocktail bar is back

London's not short of quirky and unusual outdoor bars when summer rolls around, but one that stands out from the others is The Midnight Apothecary.

Run by The Cocktail Gardener, aka Lottie Muir, everything on the cocktail menu is made from plants and flowers, which are grown in the secret garden where the bar is set. Think rhubarb, wild lilac, elderflower and the like. Beautifully garnished, the drinks are sweet, and strong enough that you'll only need one or two to make an evening of it - all the more reason to go back multiple times and work your way through the whole menu. Hats off to whoever came up with the cocktail named Rhubarbra Streisand.

Forget the usual overcrowded bars, elbowing to get served at the bar, and not being able to hear each other over pumping music - The Midnight Apothecary is calm and tranquil. Queue to order at the bar, leaving your name with the bartender, and take a seat on one of the wooden benches or stools nestled among the fragrant flowerbeds. Your drinks will be brought to you when they're ready, by which time you'll be kicked back, basking in the candlelight and fairy lights, toasting marshmallows on the flickering campfire. The only thing missing is an acoustic guitar player, serenading you from somewhere in the corner.

If the weather's looking peaky, the bar heads indoors to Brunel's tunnel shaft -and if you're looking for a side of history with your cocktail, introductory talks by one of the museum's guides run throughout the evening. The tunnel itself is now part of the London Overground railway line, so no getting in there, but it's still a fascinating insight into an impressive engineering feat.

Entry to the bar costs £5, and does need to be booked in advance. Once you're in, cocktails are £8 each (or it's Happy Hour every Friday 5.30pm-7.30pm when drinks are buy one get one half price).

My tip? Get there early. Although the ticketing system prevents it from getting overcrowded, seating in the garden is limited - plus, you're gonna want to be right up near the campfire toasting those marshmallows. Due to the residential setting, last orders is at 10pm, so if you turn up too late, you'll miss out on crucial cocktail supping time.

The Midnight Apothecary is open every Friday and Saturday night, 5.30pm-10.30pm  from now until September 2017 at the Brunel Museum. Entry is £5 and needs to be booked in advance.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Tonbridge has a sugary new addition

Tonbridge has a sweet new addition to its ever-growing food scene - but you'll be lucky if you manage to catch it open.

Creams Factory, a gelato cafe/dessert bar, opened in the high street in mid-April - or at least it did in theory - tempting us into visiting over Easter weekend. The website showed general opening hours of 8am-10pm, with no special Easter opening hours, so out we headed around lunchtime on Easter Sunday, ready for a sugar fix, only to find the place all locked up (s'all good, we ended up here instead). 

Checking again on the website and social media accounts for Easter opening hour announcements, and finding nothing, we headed in again around lunchtime on Easter Monday - to find the place locked up again, chairs on the tables, plunged into darkness.

A chance stroll pass the place one evening a couple of weeks later revealed that week's opening hours printed out and stuck to the door. Seeing that it was due to be open 11am-10pm on Sunday of the bank holiday weekend, we arrived around 1.15pm - to find it closed again, a note pinned to the door saying it would now be opening at 3pm. We decided to give it one more chance, rocking up around 4pm, and finally, unexpectedly, found the place open.

After all that, it had a lot of hype to live up to, but it didn't quite hit the spot.

The menu is impressive, a choice of around 20 individual ice cream flavours and a few sundaes too. For those who like things a bit warmer, waffles and crepes are available with varying amounts of fruit, chocolate, cream and sauce. A quick glance at the cake counter told us that cake probably wasn't the best option. Drinks-wise, choose from the usual hot or soft drinks, or do what any sensible person would do, and go for a milkshake. Pick from the usual flavours, or get a chocolate bar such as Galaxy or Crunchie blended into it.

Service was haphazard, although staff can't be faulted on their friendliness. Different menu items were being served to the table at different times - not a problem for us, but parents at a table nearby with three kids under the age of 10 had trouble keeping the peace. Elsewhere, one man's sundae was delivered to his table while he was still in the queue to pay, leaving him to return to a semi-melted mess.

Add to this the fact that, despite the tables all being numbered, the waiting staff couldn't work out which order was for which table, interrupting conversations every couple of minutes to ask 'did you order X?' and the whole thing felt somewhat chaotic.

The hot chocolate was decent, and the ice cream was tasty, if dense. Particular shout-out for the strawberry ice cream, which was made from real fruit.  The crepes were average, but the Maltesers milkshake was a disappointment. Unlike other milkshakes with well-known sweets or chocolate bars are blended in, the Maltesers were barely there. That said, it was a darn site cheaper than most chocolate bar milkshakes, so swings and roundabouts.

Tonbridge's recent foodie boom means it has no shortage of places to stop for a quick bite or a sugar hit. Beyond The Grounds, Finch House and Basil are all excellent options for a coffee and a slice of cake, and while Creams offers something different from this, it doesn't yet do it well enough to compete. Rather than trying to please so many people, they'd be better off focusing on one or two things - say ice cream and milkshakes - and doing them well. Oh, and actually opening from time to time.

If you do head there, it's worth phoning ahead first to check they're actually open. Even at time of writing, the website states opening hours of 8.30am-10pm daily, while the Twitter account contradicts this with 8.30am-10.30pm. Make of that what you will.

Creams Factory, 160 High Street, Tonbridge, TN9 1BB

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

B 'N' T Brunch Afternoon Tea at Le Meridien Piccadilly: review

Paging London: someone's finally started serving up a Full English breakfast inside a Yorkshire pudding and yes, it really is the stuff dreams are made of.

It's part of the highlight of a new brunch-themed afternoon tea which launches on 29 April. I had a little sneak preview, and it's every bit as good as it sounds. Choose from a gin-based cocktail (the Berries and Tea is the perfect blend of sweet and sour) or bottomless prosecco and get stuck in.

Naturally, the Full English Breakfast Yorkshires were our first port of call. They've got everything going on in there - bacon, sausage, egg, beans, mushrooms. It's basically a posh grease-fest. A charcoal bread open sandwich (not really to my taste) and Eggs Piccadilly (an English muffin filled with smoked salmon and egg, among other things - delicious) finished off the top tier, and it was onto the scone round.

I was fortunate enough to be dining with someone who doesn't like chocolate, so it was a double round of chocolate and raspberry scones for me. The delicious warmth meant delightfully oozy chocolate chips. The raspberries mentioned on the menu were somewhat lacking, but weren't really necessary anyway.

The chocolate brownies could have done without their sweet potato garnish, and it's a shame the Yorkshire puddings weren't hot (although their contents were). Otherwise, this is the ideal afternoon tea to satisfy both sweet toothed diners and those with more savoury tastes.

B 'N' T Brunch Afternoon Tea at the Terrace Grill & Bar, Le Meridian Piccadilly, launches on 29 April 2017. Prices start at £27.50.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Exploring a secret garden near Tonbridge

You can visit the furthest-flung corners of the earth, spend all your money on air fares and hotel stays, and sometimes the best surprises are the closest to home. I spent my Easter Saturday exploring a little-known garden just a couple of miles away from my home in Kent, and got just as much satisfaction out of it.

The place in question is Broadview Gardens at Hadlow College, just outside of Tonbridge. The College itself specialises in animal care, horticulture, agriculture and the like, and is partially an outpost of the University of Greenwich.

On Easter Saturday, the College grounds were all but deserted as we followed the signs to the car park for the tea rooms and gardens. Admission is free, and don't worry if you miss the map board on your way in - the gardens aren't big enough to get (too) lost in.

A word of warning - much of the gardens are spread on grass paths like the one above; something to bear in mind when choosing footwear or bringing prams or wheelchairs. The initial hedge-lined corridors give a feeling of vastness, but once you start popping your head through the gaps, the gardens become more intimate.

One gap in the hedge leads to a man-made pond, surrounded by an unusual colour of tulip. Three benches are dotted around this section of the garden, and fountain equipment hints at some sort of water display, but alas, it wasn't functioning when we visited.

The layout of the garden and high hedges, mean that turning each corner is like discovering a little secret, and stumbling across each bench feels somewhat voyeuristic.

Wandering further leads to the highlight of the garden - the lake. It's a decent-sized body of water, overseen by some trees of impressive heights, and awash with reeds, lily pads and, if you look closely enough, fish. It would be easy to go OTT and wax lyrical about its seclusion and tranquility, but the reality is that you can hear the incessant rumble of traffic on the nearby A26, just beyond the arboreal wall. Still, it's not a bad view, is it?

A few local residents made an appearance while we were overlooking the lake - 13 little ducklings going about their swimming practise, plus a mother duck ferrying them around.

As well as the usual tulips, camellias, rhododendrons and the like, the garden is home to some unusual species of plant, enough to fascinate the casual observer and fixate the keen gardener.

Further exploring reveal another little secret - and one that kids are bound to love - a cave created from the root base of a fallen tree.

Said cave even has its own sign:

Dogs aren't permitted in the gardens, and you'll need to keep an eye on little ones as there are plenty of open ponds and lakes, including this Japanese-style offering complete with raked stones.

As you exit through the garden centre, remember to cast your eyes right for a view of the nearby Hadlow Tower (open to the public on a very limited number of days each ear - check the website for details).

As well as the garden centre, there are tea rooms serving up drinks, cake and light lunches.

Broadview Gardens, Hadlow College, Tonbridge Road, TN11 0AL. Admission is free.

Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Bulbs, bikes and bridges: Amsterdam in photos

In Amsterdam, as with everywhere, the cliches exist for a reason. Bikes zoom skillfully in and out of tourist crowds, and there really are tulips on every street corner - at least there were during our spring visit. Take a look: 

The Dutch will squeeze flowers in anywhere there's space.

A typical Amsterdam canal scene on Prinsengracht, with traditional canalside townhouses.

Here's a closer look at one of those houses - notice how wonky some of the windows are. Subsidence is a big problem for property owners in the city.
A wall-mounted box of books, free to take, on Witsenstraat 

I love this pyschedelic canal boat, moored up on Witsenkade

A no-alcohol zone - ironically, just across the canal from the Heineken brewery.

Even the roundabouts are the prettiest I've ever seen. Evidently these ladies think so too.

Canalside views.

I loved this beautiful old-fashioned letterwork above one of the shops in the central district.

A typical Amsterdam view. The greenhouses to the right of the shot are the rear of the floating flower market on Singel.

There really are tulips everywhere in spring.

With pedestrians, bikes, trams and cars, there's so much going on at ground level, it's easy to forget to look up.

This floating display was part of the Tulip Festival. Very clever marketing to put such an Instagrammable display directly in front on the IAmsterdam sign. The building in the background is the impressive Rijksmuseum

Vondelpark is basically a giant sea of tulip in the spring.

My favourite house entrance in the whole city.

No explanation needed.

The city's most Instagrammable shopfront - a florist on Berenstraat.

...and another shop, just a couple of doors down.

The cliched bike-on-a-bridge-over-a-canal shot. If the bike in question is pink, all the better.

Trams, trams, everywhere.

ARTIS (the Amsterdam Royal Zoo) is the most well-kept zoo I've ever visited
See also:
Scribbling Lau is now on Facebook. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.