Hackney One Carnival: review

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Carnivals are bloody marvellous! There’s something so stupendous about a group of people getting together to simply have fun. In London the Notting Hill Carnival is easily the most famous, however there are some smaller but no less spectacular events which really need to be shouted about. Two weekends’ back I attended one of them, the Hackney One Carnival and had a truly most excellent time. Unfortunately my write up was delayed due to the sleep deprived state I found myself in at the end of the event which meant my subsequent write up of said event was pants. Here’s hoping that the second time’s the charm.

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On Sunday the 11th I found myself sipping rum from a coconut, on a glorious day, in a fantabulously warm and friendly atmosphere. In fact I dare say that there aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to do the setting justice*. Before the carnival began one was greeted by a mass of food stalls and flags all competing to out smoke the other. There were people hanging out of their bedroom windows in anticipation of the spectacle, some seriously chilled out dudes playing some drums, and some incredibly well prepared tourists with nifty deck chairs.   After a delayed start the procession of awesome sauce made its presence known when a truck laden with speakers laid down some fat beats and set off every car alarm within the vicinity. Thus begun a wondrous marching cacophony of culture!

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In the endless multi coloured blitz that followed there were many, amusing, amazing, and darn right odd sights to behold. Highlights included granny pirates, Japanese warlords, steam punk clockwork elephants, daemons, and of course the obligatory scantily clad maidens. My favourite dancing group were the gent’s from Bolivia, with groovy hats and ace jackets that were black with magenta dragoons at the front and had cool glittery blue at the back, these fellows stole the show. It’s a terrible way to describe it, but if you were there you’d agree, that their dance resembled a more jovial Maori war dance. A Maori ‘let’s be friends’ dance if you will. In this amassed hubbub of vibrant energy I found myself completely engrossed in the sights and sounds, completely in the moment. It struck me that everyone appeared to be having an insanely good time. It wasn’t to last. No sooner had I thought this, than a stroppy ten year old wearing the most brilliant spider costume ever, lethargically meandered past in a sulk. The sorrow in his eyes was similar to that of a deadly kitten forced to wear cute reindeer antlers. It’s probably a statement which doesn’t reflect kindly on me, but this made my day. However putting this brief giggling fit of schadenfreude to one side, I must admit that the event really brought out the gentle joyous best in me and everyone else to boot.  At the end of the procession I sat down drank a little more rum and floated off to dance the night away.

I’d highly recommend everyone who hasn’t been to check this event out next year if they can.

*Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.

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Nikka from the Barrel Review

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The Japanese make some of the best damn Whisky in the world. Unfortunately the price of drams such as Hibiki and Yamazaki have sky rocketed. At the time of writing this a bottle of Yamazaki 18 which once could be purchased for £65 is selling for £450. In such instances one finds that the connection between quality and price has been severed. Investors have elevated the whisky to the realm of status symbol.  As such it is decreed that it may only be quaffed by ego maniacs and the taste bud free dull witted victims of inbreeding. Of course I won’t be the one complaining if I wake up tomorrow to find that all the bottles of whisky I have are now worth a fortune. However until that day I hope the reader will forgive me if I quickly curse the law of supply and demand, and congratulate human stupidity for once again exceeding my expectations.

I do apologise I appear to be ranting, getting back to the topic of Japanese whisky allow me to present salvation! ‘Nikka from the Barrel’ is a most excellent Japanese dram that against all odds has remained thoroughly affordable. It is a truly superb blended whisky with all the elements involved combining seamlessly to make something rather spectacular. It costs around £35 and comes in a simple inconspicuous 50cl bottle that looks more like a bottle of aftershave than a whisky. In fact when I first received a bottle as a birthday present I was rather worried. It has a rather hefty 51.4% abv but you’d never guess that from its’ gentle understated taste. As such I find it an ideal whisky to enliven an evening and promote merry conversation about nonsense.  In my experience even those who profess to hating whisky love this stuff. The nose makes for a fantastic first introduction; it is citrusy with a delightful hint of Japanese oak. The taste has a zesty orange, a wonderful hint of vanilla and a spicy quality reminiscent of Christmas pudding.  I also detect a plum wine note which I think makes it rather special. Finally it has a short dry oak finish that will have you quickly raising your glass for a second sip. All in all I find Nikka from the Barrel a majestic gentle sipping whisky that pairs perfectly with talking bollocks.

Verdict: Get it while you can.

Score: 87/100

Beat Boredom Ride a Rollercoaster

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Last week I had a serious case of ennui. I was bored out of my brains and against all reason I couldn’t help but find every single thing in life, dull, dreary, and mind numbingly tedious. Given the truly wondrous nature of existence I find it absolutely extraordinary that humans can achieve this state of existence without the aid of dire circumstances. Nevertheless last week I was in relative luxury and experiencing it! To make matter’s worse I had a spell of unprovoked grumpiness; that horrible state where one feels one ought to be annoyed about something but can’t bloody well find anything to be annoyed about. Finally all of this was topped off by the fact that some git had lent me a ‘fantastic’ book on suicide. In short last week I was a Parisian on existential steroids, given another day of monotony, I swear I would have written an opus on the futility of existence. At times like this, one needs a cunning plan, a mad scheme that will inject a sense of whimsy into one’s life. Unfortunately the state of ennui is not conducive to finding solutions. So in the end I deferred to happenstance and asked a friend what I should do. She told me to get on a rollercoaster and scream my head off like a lunatic. So that’s exactly what I did.

I settled on Thorpe Park as my destination for the simple reason that it was the closest theme park to London I could find.  I arrived, spotted what looked like the biggest bad ass rollercoaster there (Stealth) and immediately joined a very long queue. Fifty minutes of uninterrupted grumbling later and I found myself nonchalantly getting on the rollercoaster. It was at this stage that my sense of ennui went AWOL. I was about to experience something incredibly real and in all that grumbling through the queue I had never once considered that I might not want to go on a rollercoaster. The caveman part of my brain had awoken to find itself in the perilous grasp of a mighty beast. A 21st century woolly mammoth with laser tusks no less. Thirty terrifying seconds later the caveman lived to tell the tale. I was suddenly filled with a sense of elation. The Parisian part of my brain tried to counter the mood by pointing out that life was still inherently futile. The caveman part of my brain retorted, by bonking him over the head with a club. I was having fun again!!!

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Over the course of the day, I discovered that there was so much to do and that everything brought an exhilarating rush. Given its relatively small size Thorpe Park packs in a lot of great rides.  All five rollercoasters are absolutely fantastic. I particularly enjoyed ‘Stealth’ which shoots you up and then down a hill at 80mph, and ‘Colossus’ which has an incredible ten inversions. The smaller rides were also great and I would seriously recommend ‘The Slammer’ and ‘Rush’.  The former spins you upside down while the latter swings you about like crazy. (Readers need not thank me for my detailed and accurate ride descriptions). The only ride I’d recommend avoiding is ‘The Detonator’, which is a lift drop thing. I was lulled into going on this ride by a deceptively short queue. Unfortunately the throughput on this ride turned out to be dreadfully slow and the tiny queue turned out to take forty plus minutes. Once on board, the ride proved insanely short and incredibly tame, put simply the cost to screams ratio here was economically unsound.

In conclusion, I had an absolute blast at Thorpe Park. I also learned that boredom is no match for a thoroughly horrific experience.

What do you do to counter the incessant meaninglessness of it all?

 

The Best Restaurants in Chinatown

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Chinatown is one of my favourite places in London. It’s a wonderful unique part of the city with lots of interesting places to explore. For a start there are a few hidden treasures crammed into this small patch of inner London. There’s the experimental cocktail club, a tiny noodle factory in Dansey Place, and of course every year you can come here to see the incredible Chinese New Year celebrations. However it is for the food that most people come to Chinatown, with an incredible eighty plus restaurants located here. Unfortunately a good deal of the food here is on the average side, so allow me to present my guide to the best restaurants I’ve come across. It must be admitted before we begin that I’m no food critic but I do have some modicum of taste, and having tried at least fifty of the restaurants here, I feel I can at least impart some knowledge about the most interesting places to go. So without further ado let’s begin.

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Hung’s

For me Hung’s is Chinatown! A bazillion drunken misadventures count this place as their glorious resting place. In my student day’s I had so many wonderful nights in which I ended up drinking a tad too much. Thankfully in such circumstances some part of my brain managed to keep functioning and before too much alcohol could be imbibed it would sound a deep ancestral call that would lead me to salvation. Like some sort of drunken equivalent to a Canadian goose, in the early hours I always knew to head to Hung’s. It was always a joy to slowly come back to my senses in the early hours, in the company of my best friend, some complete stranger who we had dragged along, and some incredibly tasty food. I do not know what magic is at work in this oriental greasy spoon, but I swear that the cure for the hangover resides somewhere on this restaurant’s premises.  Hung’s is open from 10am and remains open until 4am, the food’s delicious and thus there can be no excuse for not trying it once if you’re based in London.

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Jen Café

If I could think of one word to sum up this charming green cafe on the corner, it would be Spartan. In an area renowned for its curt and brisk service, Jen’s café finds itself in a league of its own, with endearingly grumpy staff reminiscent of Oscar from Sesame Street. Attempt idle chit chat at your peril dear reader. However it’s not just the enchanting service that you come here for, no, it’s the best dumplings in all of Chinatown which make this café an absolute gem. The dumplings here are pure perfection and one can see them being made fresh every day in the shop window. My personal favourites are the fried ones, as they have a thin crispy outer layer that then quickly leads into a soft doughy centre that melts in the mouth, positively awesome.  Aside from the dumpling’s the rest of the menu is a tad underwhelming, but the dumplings are godly I tell you, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you drop by here sometime for a quick snack.

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Tokyo Diner

Next door to Jen’s café is another fantastic no frills restaurant, The Tokyo Diner. A specialist in Japanese food, the restaurant is spread over three levels and has a simple wooden décor that gives it a warm cosy feel.  What I really love about the Tokyo Diner is that it has so many little unique touches. For a start they refuse to take tips, you can increase the amount of rice you have with a meal at no extra cost, and you are always greeted by a complimentary cup of green tea on arrival. Combine these tiny differences with the delicious food here and the result is that you leave with a genuine sense that you’ve been given a taste of another culture. Recently the Tokyo Diner has grown in popularity so expect queues to get in. The dish everyone raves about in this place is the Chicken Katsu Don, which is insanely good. My favourite dish however is the Udon (soupy noodles). It is one of those rare dishes that prove a great comfort as a result of its simplicity. I think in many ways that best sums up the whole feel of this delightful diner.

Tao Tao Ju

Tao Tao Ju

The Tao Tao Ju is a restaurant with a nice atmosphere, some seriously tasty food, and some awfully friendly staff (which in these parts amounts to a small miracle). Yet none of these fine qualities, admirable though they may be, amount to my reason for including it on this list. The fact that it makes the cut is almost entirely down to one thing, that ancient art practiced by drunken masters of all nationalities, namely karaoke. The spiritual power of this social ritual cannot be denied, terrible singers with delusions of grandeur aside, the fact is that karaoke has the magical ability to bring people together. There’s just something so human about it and yet I cannot for the life of me pinpoint what it is. It is perhaps fitting then that the name Karaoke means ‘empty orchestra’, which is some serious mystical sounding shit. However it works, it does, and I highly recommend you hire a booth at the Tao Tao Ju, where you can combine this mystical experience with some fantastic food.  (Just be sure to book in advance).

Duck and Rice

Duck and Rice

The Duck and Rice definitely should not be on this list, for a start it’s not even officially in Chinatown (it’s a tiny walk away in Soho).  Moreover while the food in this establishment is excellent, I think the price just isn’t quite worth it. So how come it made the list? Because it’s a maverick damn it, a Chinese restaurant that follows nobody’s rules, not even its own. Nah, just kidding, the real reason is that this place does the most fantabulous prawn toast ever. In all seriousness it’s definitely worth trying at one time in your life. Thankfully you don’t have to go to the restaurant to try it. The ground floor of this establishment is a bar and has a great selection of craft beers which you can combine with the delicious dish in question. So if you ever fancy a mini adventure when you’re in Chinatown, that may turn out to be a complete disaster due to my subjective opinion, you know where to go. I can already picture death cries from my readers as they realize that a better restaurant was forsaken for a trendy hors d’oeuvre that they have found wanting.

Bar-Shu

Bar Shu

Sticking with the theme of expensive restaurants that aren’t technically in Chinatown but are literally across the street, allow me to introduce for your delectation Bar Shu. A restaurant that specialises in the fiery cuisine of Sichuan province. It differs significantly from most places in Chinatown which tend to offer Cantonese cuisine, and over the last few years’ food critics appear to have gone positively barmy for this restaurant. The food on offer here is delicious and incredibly spicy, more specifically this place is renowned for the unique way it mixes unusual flavours and textures. The dishes on offer often combine, hot, sweet, and sour, flavours. The result is that the meal you order is often greater than the sum of its parts. To enter the realm of hyperbole briefly, by the time I had finished my first meal here I felt that I had experienced a well-orchestrated cacophony of flavours the like of which I’d never tasted before. Do not worry about the fact that you will likely not have a clue about what to order, the staff here are fairly friendly and more than happy to help you choose a selection of dishes. I have a feeling that given time this style of food will really catch on across the country, but in the mean time you might like to give it a whirl the next time you’re in Chinatown, just try not to have a heart attack when you’re handed the bill at the end.

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Four Seasons

There are two Four Seasons in Chinatown that’s how popular they are, and both are famed nay renowned for offering the most awesome roast duck in all of Chinatown. If you order the roast duck in either establishment then you will soon be greeted with a truly superb dish. Nicholas Lander of the Financial Times goes as far as to assert that this is the best roast duck in the world. Putting such grand assertions to one side, I can at least say that it’s pretty damn good. The dish in question consists of delightful thin boneless slices of tender duck, which possess a wonderfully crisp sweet soya sauce infused skin. The result is a veritable taste sensation. The rest of the food on offer is unfortunately quite average; it’s not bad by any means, but it doesn’t come close to matching the duck. Quite simply if duck is your favourite dish, then this is where it’s at, if not then this is not the restaurant you are looking for.

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Joy King Lau

Joy King Lau is an unassuming place and one of my favourite restaurants in Chinatown. It is home to some superb crispy noodles and has a fantastic dim sum menu that includes such unusual and exciting dishes as, Octopus Curry, Marinated Duck Tongue, and Drunken Chicken Feet. I think I like this place so much, because in a case of pure happenstance the noodles there match perfectly the one’s that I ordered so many years ago at the first Chinese restaurant I ever went to. Given that said restaurant no longer exists, I was absolutely ecstatic to discover Joy King Lau. Nostalgia aside, this restaurant is in my wholly inexpert opinion a wonderful place which is off the beaten track and well worth a try. However I must also impart a warning about this restaurant to my readers. Located on the second floor is the gentleman’s toilet which has a rather unique feature. I discovered it on my first visit, it made its presence known to me by means of a frosty chill, by which I came to notice a massive window which was wide open and overlooked the main street. It soon occurred to me that anyone looking up could see my Johnson going about its business. I trust you will all learn from my mistake!

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Candy Café

Tucked away on Macclesfield Street, is a little door, with a tiny sign, and some rickety stairs, that either lead straight to heaven or a sugary grave, depending on your outlook on life. Once inside you’ll find a small room with a drab interior but for heaven’s sake don’t be put off. The candy café is a pure delight that specialises exclusively in Asian deserts and bubble teas. The deserts here are well portioned, all under a fiver, and amazing. Personal favourites here include green tea ice cream and anything with mango. I truly adore this place it brings out the child in me and sends me on a glorious sugar high. One time I even left with the thought that world peace is indeed possible. It’s just a simple matter of fact that diplomacy needs more ice cream. In short this place always has me brimming with light heartedness, and in such a crazy world that can’t be a bad thing.

So those are my favourite places in Chinatown. Did I miss out somewhere totally unbelievable, am I a cotton headed ninny muggins, or do you agree with all my opinions and wish to help me create the greatest echo chamber of mutual-congratulation that the internet has ever seen. Whatever your views, be sure to post in the comment section below.

 

 

 

Kitty Heaven: My Trip to the Cat Village

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Earlier this week I decided to check out a Cat Café, which as the name would imply is a coffee establishment containing tons of glorious and oh so adorable kitty cats. A delightful concept that appears to have originated in Japan, it is fast becoming a big hit in London, with several businesses opening up across the city. I opted for the Cat Village which is located in trendy Shoreditch. You know, the place best known for spawning a business that destroyed western civilization by selling overpriced cereal!!!  In all honesty the hatred that Shoreditch elicits in some people is quite remarkable, in the case of a shop selling cereal at jacked up prices it is beyond thunderdome. Seriously, you’d think some newspapers were talking about Neo Nazis as opposed to some shop with a silly gimmick. If you’re a journalist pouring all your vitriol into an article whose message simply amounts to ‘why can’t you buy an overpriced coffee like the rest of us’, then maybe it’s time you visited a war zone and got some perspective.

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I do apologise I appear to be ranting, getting back to the topic of all things feline, the cat village proved to be a stupendous establishment founded on a silly gimmick. The logistics of the place are quite simple you pre-book an hour time slot which costs five pounds per person and then go along at said time for your hour in kitty heaven. The amenities available are pretty good and costs are in line with Starbuck’s prices, I’d especially recommend the peanut butter cookies. As for the Cats they are incredibly agreeable fellows, with quite a few breeds on display across two floors. The Café does have one drawback and you’ll notice it the moment you step in the door, namely that seventeen cats in a confined space are no substitute for potpourri. Thankfully you soon get used to it, and before you know it you’ll find yourself in a magical environment surrounded by adults behaving like children, seeking out their kitty overlords so that they may pay tribute to them. Honestly I don’t think cats have had it this good since ancient Egypt. The humans clearly get a lot out of it too, how a cute furry creature can so quickly bring out such tender warmth and kindness in a person is truly one of the wonders of the universe. It was great fun looking at all the serene people in the café and trying to work out which ones are total bastards in the workplace. All in all, I found the experience very relaxing, especially after a hectic day. I can understand that some people might find the experience dull as it really is ‘just’ a café with lots of Cats. However, I for one welcome our kitty overlords.

Lagavulin 16 Review

Laguvulin-16

In my experience adventure involves two stages. First you decide to do something new and exciting in life only to instantly regret it. Next the adventure is over and despite your early misgivings you’ve somehow decided that it was the greatest thing ever. Whisky pairs perfectly with these stages. In total fear it suddenly dawns on you that you want a whisky. Afterwards you get pretentious about it as you start wondering what whisky could possibly be apt to end such an extraordinary day. For the past week I have been contemplating what should be the first whisky I review on this blog. I wanted something, bold, nuanced, and which you might not appreciate the first time you try it; in short a mini adventure in itself. In the end the decision was simple and that rather bothered me. So I racked my brain a great deal more and still came to the same conclusion. The answer was to be found in the Islay region of Scotland where the whisky is famed for its intense smoky flavours, more specifically at the Lagavulin distillery.

Lagavulin 16 is absolute magic. It brings together a wide array of distinct and intense flavours and orchestrates their delivery with such panache so as to leave the drinker, awestruck, dumbfounded, and slightly worried that this fine beverage may well have been stolen from the gods. The nose is devilishly smoky with a hint of sweetness. The drink itself begins with a dry toffee note which quickly builds into an incredibly sweet sherry flavour. It then develops a salty hint before an incredibly powerful peat finish!

The only problem with Lagavulin 16 is that one has an intense desire to savour a bottle but simultaneously knows that with exposure to oxygen over time its powerful peat finish will diminish. This has led some fools (myself included) to stick tapers (fire) into the bottle to kill off the oxygen. More sensible individuals simply place the liquid into smaller containers. Such people know nothing of the endless amusement that comes from being drunk with a bottle perched between your legs, a taper down its neck and the macabre thought that at any moment an incident involving spontaneous combustion could destroy any hopes of future progeny. It was no doubt the memory of such foolhardy escapades that prompted me to review this particular whisky first and a fine choice it has proven. After a truly most excellent day of adventuring it always brings a mellow and contemplative close to proceedings.

Mark: 90/100

Verdict: Legendary

Sensory Deprivation Review

 

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Nothing, it’s quite hard to get excited about. Nevertheless I can’t help but feel after my recent experience in a sensory deprivation tank that it’s pretty damn interesting and in moderate doses quite exhilarating. Sensory deprivation tanks are designed to shut you off from the real world. Basically you lay inside them unable to see or hear anything, floating on a thin layer of salty water that matches your body temperature. I’d wanted to try one of these things for ages. Several friends had tried sensory deprivation and they had all reported startlingly different experiences. One friend said they had communed with the universe; another informed me that it had driven them into a fit of uncontrollable laughter, and last but by no means least was the statement that it was the most boring experience, ever, ever, ever. Last week I went along to Floatwork’s, which is located in Vauxhall to try it out myself. After filling out some paper work I was directed to a room with a shower and a giant pod that wouldn’t look out of place in the film ‘Alien’. I opened the pod and got in quite excitedly for my inaugural blog adventure!

 

At first I lay there, listening to some relaxing music that wouldn’t be out of place in a lift, thankfully it soon stopped and after experiencing a brief sense of relief, I soon found myself alone with my thoughts. It’s amazing how many pointless thoughts that are neither silly nor interesting cross one’s mind over the course of the day. It is even more remarkable how when cut off from the outside world, such thoughts come flooding in, as if to create some sort of S.O.S to reality. My S.O.S ran as follows ‘is this salty water going to bring me out in a rash, it’s too late to worry about it now, WHY are you worrying about it, for goodness sake don’t rub your eye’s, I didn’t want to until you mentioned it’. The message repeated several times and then it suddenly stopped, that’s when things got really interesting.

 

I had expected my mind to move on to silly and amusing thoughts next, but instead I suddenly began to feel like I was gently turning in a whirlpool, even though this was quite impossible.  It’s a strange thing to say, but I sort of realized that for a while my mind had maintained the model of me located in a pod, even though I couldn’t see or feel it. However with nothing to maintain this model, it suddenly let go of it and I now felt like I was in the middle of an ocean. My mind started to become incredibly focused on the whirlpool movement that I was experiencing and quite by accident the incessant chatter of my mind fell completely silent. I wasn’t thinking anything, not even ‘holy cow I’m not thinking anything’. Then the whirlpool movement stopped and I was just aware of an emptiness. My awareness shifted in intensity as my mind struggled to find something, anything that it could latch on to. Finally it just accepted the emptiness and I just sat there. A good while passed, the lift music returned and the real world beckoned. For the rest of the day I felt really good, in the zone, like Bill Bailey after he swallows the little book of calm in Black Books.

In short I can highly recommend this experience, and if you’ve already tried sensory deprivation it would be great to hear of your experiences in the comment section below.