My Sunshiny Life

{December 28, 2009}   Walking in a Winter Wonderland

The smell of candy floss and hot caramel almonds permeates the air, along with the sounds of shrieking kids on fast, stomach churning rides.   Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park has all the fun of a fun fair with an added bonus of mulled wine and cider.  

Not only mulled wine, but also fabulous German food like bratwurst and mini pancakes.  I missed the hog roast unfortunately as I was stuffed by then.  As well as the rides there’s also ice skating and fabulous people watching. Snapping away with my new camera I captured some of the highlights.


{December 26, 2009}   Lights Camera Christmas!

I’m the proud new owner of a Canon Ixus 200IS camera and got to road test it on Christmas day.  It was great to pay attention to details for the next interesting shot as we strolled through the graveyard and on to Queens Park.  This Canon kicks my old Sony camera into touch – no more blurred and fuzzy photos! 

{December 24, 2009}   Shunt Money

I’ve long been a fan of Shunt Lounge which is located in the cavernous underground tunnels of London Bridge.  It’s a collective that gives new artists the freedom to display their experimental work.  One night you could go there and it’s light displays, abandoned cars and pictures falling off the walls.  Another night it might be ‘drugged out’ hippies or a voyeuristic display in a man’s bedroom.  Yes, it’s always interesting.

The same collective that runs Shunt Lounge also does large scale theatrical performances and the latest one is called Shunt Money.  You need to book tickets, I’d chanced it once and just turned up, but they’re normally sold out.  You can book tickets here

Money was inspired by Emile Zola’s novel L’Argent, which in turn was inspired by the events surrounding the collapse of the Union Générale – a nineteenth century French banking fiasco.  How very topical, even 100 years later.

Dolce and I arrived at a warehouse in an industrial part of London Bridge.  We made our way to the bar, whilst looking over nervously at the MASSIVE construction in the middle of the warehouse space.  Taking our drinks, we settled at a table and looked up to see a storm trooper standing with a bunch of balloons.  As they do. 

As with all the Shunt performances, the audience is involved and we were all herded over to the outside of the machine which was now showing signs of activity.  Men were climbing around it and scary looking characters looked like they were trying to escape. 

With some trepidation we followed the rest of the group into the machine.  We were directed into a room and stood there milling around nervously with everyone else.  THEN the room went pitch black.  The noises that the ‘machine’ emitted were scary and it felt like the whole thing was going to lift off.  Picture standing in the dark with a room full of strangers, surrounded by loud grinding, graunching industrial sounds, with an occasional burst of steam escaping, like a high pressure valve about to blow.  There were shrieks and nervous laughter from the other members of the audience.  I was clutching at Dolce by this stage on the verge of a laughing, yet slightly hysterical panic attack. 

The lights came back on and we were in a room that was totally different to the room we entered.  You’re constantly surprised in this show.  There are people in the audience that are part of the show, the floor moves, people just pop in through the ceiling.  You move upstairs and around the interior of the machine as the story progresses and you can see from the top down three stories – right through all the floors to watch another scene. 

The feeling that you’re Alice stuck down the rabbit hole is magnificent.  With most performances you know the routine; first half, intermission and a quick glass of wine and then the second half.  Hang up your sense of normality at the door before entering this production and let yourself get swept away, just like Alice in Wonderland.

The show’s run was meant to finish by New Years Eve, but it had sold out every night, so they have a second season running from January to March 2010.  If you live in London you simply must go.  Go.  It really is very good.

Speculation, why does the word frighten you?

Speculation – why, it is the one inducement that we have to live;  it is the eternal desire that compels us to live and struggle.  Without speculation, my dear friend, there would be no business of any kind.  Why on earth would you have me loosen my purse strings and risk my fortune, if you do not promise me some extraordinary enjoyment, some sudden happiness which will open heaven to me?

Aristide Saccard – L’Argent

{December 23, 2009}   But it's Monday night!

Every year at work we have the same leave it to the last minute rush to book in somewhere for our Christmas dinner.  We’d all rubbished the suggestion that we go to Busaba Eathai or to Wahaca.  Not to say I don’t love both of them. I really do.  But Thai or Mexican is hardly very Christmassy!  (Although both are unlike any Thai or Mexican food you’ve EVER eaten, SOOOO good!)

Lila was tasked with the thankless job of getting us somewhere decent on a night that most of us could make it.  There were 20 of us at the dinner and booking in late November is a hard ask.  This sets the scene as to where we ended up – through no fault of Lila!

Lena restaurant is in Shoreditch and there were 20 of us amping for a big night (well not all 20 as some were soft and went home early).  But for those of us that were, bring on the cocktails!  Uh, sorry, there aren’t any ingredients for cocktails.  If you really wanted a cocktail then your only option was a dacquiri, as it didn’t need any fresh ingredients. 

The first course arrived.  It was billed as goats cheese fondue.  It was a watery cheesy soup with an egg floating around in it.  Yes, doesn’t that sound delish.  To top it off, it was bacteria forming luke warm.  The rest of the table sent theirs back to get reheated.  I didn’t want mine back and told them they could keep it. 

Cheesy eggy lukewarm soup

Cheesy eggy lukewarm soup

In lieu of my cheesy eggy soup I requested a basket of bread.  The response: um, it’s Monday.  We don’t have bread on a Monday.  Wondering if there was a new religion that didn’t eat bread on Mondays, but thinking surely not, I enquired why.  No deliveries on Mondays.  Even if there is a party of 20 coming, that might fancy some bread with their dinner? Or in my case, bread instead of my dinner!  I wanted to cry out Nip down to Tescos you lazy little scamp!

You call that bread?

You call that bread?

The servers were studiously avoiding our table by this stage, which was weird as there were only a couple of other tables occupied in the restaurant.  We had money to spend goddammit!  The boss was paying! 

My main of seabass, fennel and potato was good – flavoursome, crispy and hot.  The turkey roast which I nicked from Marton’s plate was rubbish.  I won on the food front down my end of the table.  Although the pumpkin ravioli was quite good too I was told.

Seabass, tastes better than it looks

Lena, you not only let us down, you let yourself down.  From a table of 20 you could have had a couple of hundred extra quid from cocktails – but you did save a tenner on fresh mint and fruit though didn’t you.  The food needs a kick up the arse and so do your waiting staff.  There was so much more revenue lost through lack of attentive service on the drinks front. 

We couldn’t wait to leave and move on to the next place.  Which is what we did.  I haven’t been to Mother bar since I was a club queen a few years back.  I was introduced to Jaegar Bombs (don’t see the attraction myself) and met up with my old friend the Tequila Shot.  We cut up the dancefloor, busting out our best moves to some truly cheesy tunes.  

No one embarrassed themselves (unfortunately for the office gossip the next day), luckily no one got food poisoning and next year we’re going to book in early.  Or maybe we’ll be going to Wahaca.

{December 22, 2009}   Cottons Rhum Shack

About a month ago I went to a cute little restaurant in Camden called Cottons Rhum Shack.  I know how much Koi-lee likes her rum, so I said we simply HAD to go back and have dinner there.  When I went the food was great, we had duck salad, ribs and goat curry.  The duck salad and ribs aren’t really authentic Jamaican dishes, but they were tasty.  The goat curry was delicious and tender, served with a fluffy roti.  The interior of the restaurant is charming, with a sprawling layout over several floors, cute kitschy decorations and open fires. 

When I went back with Koi-lee I arrived early and ordered a cocktail at the bar.  It took about ten minutes for the bartender to make my drink as he chatted to his friends whilst VERY slowly making my cocktail.  By this stage Koi-lee had arrived and we both watched him, slightly amused, as he laboured over a small piece of cucumber for my drinks garnish.  

The ten minute masterpiece

 Koi-lee ordered her rum and coke with lots of lime and the other bartender started assembling it, much quicker than her colleague.  When she brought it over Koi-lee asked for another piece of lime.  The woman looked at her and said ‘you’ve got enough lime’.  I nearly spat my cocktail over the bar at her rudeness and asked her if she was serious.  She stropped over to the limes and sullenly picked out another wedge.  She walked back to us and slammed it down on the napkin by Koi-lee’s drink and said ‘there you go’.  We were gobsmacked.  I was actually lost for words, just staring at her.  It takes a lot to make me speechless!

We used this as our cue to sit down at our table, moving away from the princess of darkness.   In contrast to her sullen and aggressive manner, our waiter was lovely, friendly and attentive.  Just what you’d expect in the service industry! 

Unfortunately he couldn’t make the food taste better.  We shared a starter of crab claws and he set the plate down on the table, almost apologetically and said that they were normally bigger than this.  We stared at the plate, trying to spot the crab claws.  When we did find them they were watery and tasteless, hardly worth the effort of finding them. 

Crab Claw Surprise

We filled up on bread and waited with some anticipation for our main.  I assured Koi-lee that our food had been delicious on the last visit so the main would be good.  Not wanting to risk food envy we chose the same dish, Adobo Rubbed Pork Knuckle roasted with ginger and spices with a ragout of black eyed peas and callaloo served with hot sauce and corn bread.  (I didn’t remember that, I just copied it from their site). 

Tough as Boots Pork Knuckles

It arrived.  After a quick blog evidence photo, I pulled the meat off the bone and popped it into my mouth and chewed, and chewed and chewed.  It was tough, stringy and microwaved.  The flavour wasn’t subtle, spicy and full of depth as I had imagined it would be.  It was so disappointing, especially as I’d set Koi-lee’s expectations high. 

We sat there poking the food around our plates.  The waiter asked if I wanted to take my leftovers home and I politely refused.  I’m normally up for complaining about food, but I just didn’t think this was worth it.  He knew it was crap, we didn’t really need to discuss it.  I won’t be going back.

Word of advice: If you go to Cottons stick with the goat curry and don’t ask for more lime.

Little Mel had her birthday bash at the new Gaucho Grill in Smithfields.  The interior is black and shiny, with lots of glass and a stunning private dining room.  This was our table for the evening and what a table it was!  The huge black table dominates the room, which is surrounded by cowhide panels and black glass. 

I had a total Bridget Jones moment when I realised I was the only single person at the meal and I was sitting at the head of the table, flanked by couples on both sides.  After my protests I was quickly moved and I felt far more comfortable sitting on the side.  Although I think my table companion at the time thought I was protesting to move away from him.  It wasn’t you Beat!  We even moved places after every course, so we could mix it up and speak to people that we didn’t normally speak to.  I think the couples enjoyed it more that way too, getting away from their other half!

We had signed up for the signature menu.  The starter choice didn’t set me on fire – I was going to go for the scallops but the waiter kindly told me to expect that they were cold.  I don’t really go for scallops sashimi style so I chose chorizo sausage.  I ended up with a chorizo sausage.  Not sure why I should have been surprised, but I did expect it to be cut up and artfully arranged.  I got a sausage on my plate, with some roasted red pepper.

The mains were a selection of three cuts of steak; fillet, sirloin and rib eye.  The accompaniments were; tomato salad (fabulous and flavoursome), fries, humitas (delicious creamy corn mash wrapped in a corn husk and you scooped out the filling with a spoon) and spinach.  The fillet steak was definitely the winner, melting in your mouth like only good steak can.

Dessert was a tad disappointing for me.  We only had three choices, ice cream, cheese cake or panacotta.  I chose a just OK coconut panacotta.  I had a bit of food envy for the dulche de leche cheesecake, which was delicious.  I don’t think icecream should be a dessert choice on a set menu.  You can have that as an extra, it’s no effort to scoop it out of a carton is it?

The bill came to an eye watering £106 a head, which you don’t really expect for Gauchos.  True, there were cocktails consumed at the beginning and everyone was quite merry, but I don’t think that the set menu lived up to it’s £55 a head billing.

{December 19, 2009}   L'Anima

L’Anima is Italian for soul (I didn’t know that, I just saw it on their website) and their food has got all of that and so much more.  The  restaurant is sleek and glass fronted, right at home in the city with tables full of suit clad diners.  Our clients love going there and have been more than a few times in the last two weeks, so they requested that we meet there for our Christmas lunch.

The restaurant was most accomodating with our booking as we were running 45 minutes late.  The service was impeccable and we were quickly seated with our Rossini’s and Bellini’s.  Very Miami Vice, but retro is back right?  The plump greener than green olives were amazing and so was the bread, which I HAD to tuck into as it was now 3pm, I was one Miami Vice drink down and had no food in my belly.

This situation didn’t last long.  The other three in my group ordered the truffle pasta for a starter (a snip at £38 a plate).  On the menu it said that the truffles were carefully chosen by Franceso and I wondered if that was the truffle pig, but a tall Italian man was pointed out to me in the kitchen – this was Francesco the head chef and owner.  He came over to our table to shake hands with our clients, how nice to be appreciated as a regular customer! 

To start I had scallops with salsa verde and it arrived looking ever so elegant, with the scallops nestled into the scallop shell and the shell perched high on a mound of seasalt.   It tasted as delicious as it looked and maybe they heated the shell because even my last scallop was piping hot.  The truffle pasta was even better, but if I ate a whole plate of that I couldn’t have eaten my delicious pork belly.  Bring on the crackling.  The sauce that went with it was called N’cantanata, a mix of honey, spices and paprika – a thick paste of it was artfully scraped across the plate.

I also had a taste of beef tagliata, which came draped over a marrow bone that served as a meaty throne.  It melted in my mouth, beautiful!  I chose best with mine though, it even looked better than the eye fillet and it was just the right amount.

This restaurant hits all the right notes, with the look and feel and most importantly the food and drink. I also like the fact they have a list of definitions on their menu so you don’t feel like a dumb ass having to ask about ingredients that you’re not familiar with. They’ve done well to have such a first year in the city, with the financial turmoil that has defined 2009.  Awards abound for them and so does their customer loyalty.  I can see why, I’ll be back too – but maybe on the company credit card as a meal and drinks for four cost over £500.

L’anima, 1 Snowden Street, London, EC2A 2DQ

{December 15, 2009}   Friendships

Friendships are pretty amazing, how they can stand the test of time and you can just pick up exactly where you left off.  It’s hard having friends all over the world and having so many good ones back in NZ.  But whenever I see them, it’s like no time has passed at all.  I said goodbye to Darren on Saturday night who is heading back to New Zealand, adding to the huge number of friends that have already left. 

It made me wish that I’d seen more of him when he was here, but you always think that you’ll catch up soon and then time passes and you realise you haven’t seen someone for months.  So good luck back in NZ Daz, I’ll miss catching up with you, but I’ll see you next time I’m down in sunny NZ 🙂

On Sunday I caught up with friends that I hadn’t seen for three years.  SO much has happened in that time and we had a fabulous catch up.  It always surprises me when kids grow up when I’m not around.  Matt is now 9, but it doesn’t seem so long ago that we went to the movies together and he sat on my knee in the scary bits. 

My Sunday was made up of brilliant company, a delicious lunch, a brisk walk in the park – with a herd of deer even making an appearance.  It’s SO good getting out of London. A dose of nature in Bushy Park and easy conversation was like a tonic from the stress of city living.   Getting the chill out of our bones after our bracing walk was heavenly, with a cosy warm house, more conversation, a delicious flat white (as only a true coffee lover could make) and home made gingerbread.   

Lovely to have you back Jo, James and Matt, thanks for a fabulous Sunday afternoon xxx

{December 14, 2009}   What Matters Now


Here is a free ebook for you to download and enjoy, put together by Seth Godin, the godfather of all things digital.  It contains interesting thoughts about life and humanity from 70 fascinating people.  Big thoughts and small actions make a difference.  Stop, put your feet up and indulge your mind with uplifting and insightful commentary.  My favourite is Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat Pray Love, I want to be her friend!

{December 13, 2009}   A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or
a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you
will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON . . . It is
usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have
come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you
with guidance and support, to aid you physically,
emotionally, or spiritually. They may seem like a
godsend, and they are! They are there for the reason
you need them to be.

Then, without any wrong doing on your part, or at an
inconvenient time, this person will say or do something
to bring the relationship to an end.

Sometimes they die.
Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.

What we must realise is that our need has been met, our
desire fulfilled, their work is done. The prayer you
sent up has been answered. And now it is time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON . . .
Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace, or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount
of joy. Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things
you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional
foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the
person, and put what you have learned to use in all
other relationships and areas of your life.

et cetera