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Pitch Black review: Put your taste buds to the test at a drinking in the dark experience

© Baker & Balfour

Explore your senses and put your taste buds to the test at Pitch Black blind cocktail and wine tasting
© Baker & Balfour

Anyone who follows my Instagram account will know I’m quite the cocktail connoisseur. Despite having my favourites (yes Mojito, I’m talking about you!), I usually opt to try as many new concoctions as possible to widen my booze palate so to speak. However, my extensive experience of downing alcoholic creations meant I wasn’t so good at recognising some at a recent special event.

For Valentine’s Day last week, I was treated to a visit to Pitch Black – a new blind tasting experience. Pitch Black was a pop-up in Shoreditch in late 2016 before moving to its current base, the Sixties-themed No Such Place events space in Covent Garden. I wasn’t given any information about the evening beforehand, so had no idea what to expect. After arriving at the basement venue – which had a very Mad Men vibe – we were treated to a welcome glass of Prosecco to ease into the evening. At this point the lights were on, so be rest assured, the night doesn’t start with you suddenly being plunged into darkness.

Following the bubbles, we went into a cosy room for the main part of the evening – the blind cocktail and wine tasting. Our host for the evening was Dom, an experienced and enthusiastic bar veteran with plenty of knowledge and banter. Although admittedly apprehensive when I found out it was in the dark, Dom soon set our minds at ease so it wasn’t long before I was intrigued and ready for the challenge. When the lights went off, we handily have glow-in-the-dark coasters in front of us so we can easily find our drinks. We started on the first cocktail served in a lowball, smelling it first before sampling the liquid inside. As a group we were invited to discuss what smells and tastes we were experiencing, which soon showcased just how different our senses were given the wide variety of answers.

Before moving on to wine after the sweetness of the cocktails, we were given an amuse bouche each to cleanse the palate, ready for the stark difference in texture and flavour of the wines. The first wine was a white one which I was convinced was a Chilean Chenin Blanc (I was wrong). After the tasting, the lights were turned on (gently!) and we were given the results of the tasting tests. Turns out, many of us were pretty incorrect on the main ingredients of the cocktails, as well as the identity and origin of the white, but a couple of people correctly guessed the red.

Overall, it was a fun and interesting experience. Living in London, we’re such a rush, we don’t often take the time to fully savour the smells and flavour of the food and drink we’re consuming. By restricting our vision, we were able to focus on the taste and it really brought a new dimension to drinking. If you’re looking for a night out with a difference, it’s well worth checking out.

  • Pitch Black @ No Such Place, 68A Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PA. Nearest station: Covent Garden. Advance bookings only for 90 minute experience. Tickets include bubbles on arrival, two cocktails, an amuse bouche and two wines. For more information, visit the Pitch Black website.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

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Is this London’s smallest alley? Squeeze down Brydges Place in Covent Garden

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

Blink and you’ll miss it! Brydges Place – the narrowest alley in London

One thing I love about London is how many little lanes and alleys survive from Victorian or Georgian times (or even older). Despite the constant redevelopment and reconstruction of the ever-evolving capital, some of these tiny thoroughfares remain today as handy shortcuts for those in the know.

Located off St Martin’s Lane in the heart of the West End is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alley named Brydges Place. With its western entrance sandwiched between the Coliseum theatre and Notes coffee shop at No.31, it’s said to be the narrowest alley in London. It runs for about 200 yards east, linking St Martin’s to Bedfordbury and is just 15 inches wide at its thinnest point – no passing room there! Along the alley, you’re likely to find punters from the Marquis pub or the Two Brydges members’ club smoking or enjoying an alfresco drink.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

At its narrowest point, Brydges Place is just 15 inches wide

St Martin’s Lane is named after St Martin-in-the-Fields church on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square. The church has been on the site since Medieval times, when much of the current West End area was countryside. The road itself was in existence for many years, a simple country lane linking St Martin to St. Giles-in-the-Fields church half a mile north. In the early 17th century, building started on both sides of the lane, with Francis Russell, the 4th Earl of Bedford (1593-1641) on the east, transforming Covent Garden into what we know today with the construction of the Piazza and St Paul’s church. During this time, Bedfordbury was established running parallel to St Martin’s Lane, with several alleys linking the two roads. Some of the alleys – Hops Garden, Goodwin’s Court and May Court – still exist today.

By the late 19th century, the area around Bedfordbury had fallen into squalor, garnering attention from the Metropolitan Board of Works. The board’s report described some of the courts as less than 4ft wide and featuring many dilapidated houses featuring residents living in severe poverty. In 1880, the houses to the east of Bedfordbury were demolished and Chandos Street was widened. Read the rest of this entry

Balthazar review: Brunching French-American style at this upmarket brasserie

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Scrambled eggs and Cornish crab at Balthazar London

Balthazar is a long-standing New York institution, that finally came over the Pond in February 2013. I heard rave reviews from friends and colleagues that had visited, particularly about the brunch, so it had been on my wish list for some time. Finally, I had some relatives visiting so thought it would be a nice treat for go for brunch.

While weekend brunch is served until 4pm, you have to arrive a bit earlier on a weekday for their Le Petit Dejeuner menu, which is served until 11am. Our party of four arrived at 10am – slightly earlier than I would like for a rare weekday off, but not exactly up with the lark. I admit I’m not a morning person, so wasn’t particularly perky when we arrived. We initially entered the Balthazar Boulangerie – which smelt amazing by the way – before being pointed to the actual restaurant next door. Balthazar, like its New York original, is described as an all-day brasserie offering French bistro food. The venue has plenty of character, with high ceilings, luxurious red leather booths and vintage-style mirrors.

When it came to the breakfast menu, there are plenty of options both sweet and savoury. It took ages to commit to a dish because a) there were so many alluring choices and b) I was half-asleep pre-caffeine, but fortunately the staff were very patient. Despite the predominantly French menu, the Big Apple influence is also clear with the New York Pancakes and Hazelnut Waffles among the featured dishes. After much deliberation, I eventually settled for the Scrambled Eggs and Cornish Crab with toasted Balthazar sourdough toast (from their bakery next door) and crème fraiche. It was a great choice. The eggs were so light, fluffy and creamy, I would actually go as far to say the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. The crab brought a new element to a familiar dish. Meanwhile, two of my party opted for the uber healthy Balthazar Breakfast Salad with quinoa, spinach, avocado, crispy bacon, roast Tabasco tomato and a poached egg (£11), which they said was really tasty.

To accompany our breakfast we opted for English Breakfast Tea and Fresh Orange Juice, which was good quality. The service was brilliant. We had numerous waiters attend to us during the meal and they were incredibly friendly and attentive. Overall, we all loved our breakfast – food, setting and service. I can’t wait to go back to try out the weekend brunch menu.

  • Balthazar, 4-6 Russell Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 7BN. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Holborn. For more information, visit the Balthazar website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Fancy some super food? Balthazar Breakfast Salad with quinoa, spinach, avocado, crispy bacon, roast Tabasco tomato and a poached egg


For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

Balthazar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Spotlight Festival: Music, performances, shopping and more at the West End’s one day festival

© Matt Alexander/PA Wire

The Spotlight festival returns to Seven Dials, a one-day festival of comedy, music and arts.
© Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Many festivals can be rather tough on the wallet. However, this weekend, you can get your festival fever fix for free as Spotlight returns to Seven Dials. The iconic West End shopping and dining destination will be closed to traffic for one day for a festival of music, comedy and arts.

An open-air stage will feature a host of performances, including the cast of Motown The Musical and Treasure Island, comedy from Nathan Caton and magic from Britain’s youngest illusionist Ben Hart. The stage, hosted by George Lamb, will also feature music from Sample Answer, Old Dirty Brasstards and King Charles.

Among the activities on offer include pop-up tea garden, crazy golf, giant chess, giant Connect 4, Airstream photo booth, design your own flower crown and watch Margaux Carpentier’s live art mural unfold. The surrounding shops and restaurants will be taking part with discounts and special events, such as complimentary drinks, goodie bags, competitions and more.

  • The Spotlight Festival is on 13 August 2016. 12-7pm. Free entry. Seven Dials, Covent Garden, WC2H 9HD. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. Register for free on the website for your free glass of Prosecco from the Prosecco truck on Earlham Street. For more information, visit the Seven Dials website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in August, click here.

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Mirror, mirror, on Covent Garden’s walls: The new Reflect London installation

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The north-east corner of Covent Garden market hall has been wrapped in an art installation Reflect London

Covent Garden is one of the most popular parts of London, a draw to tourists and city-dwellers alike for its shops, restaurants, entertainers and history. The 19th century market hall has seen many businesses come and go and is ever evolving with the changing demands from consumers. Following the opening of The Ivy Market Grill in late 2014, another fine dining establishment is coming to Covent Garden next year – a second London branch of SushiSamba. Taking over the former Opera Terrace restaurant, work has begun on transforming the north-east corner of the neo-classical market hall into the capital’s latest dining establishment.

While Londoners are used to seeing unsightly scaffolding during the frequent building works around town, the renovation for SushiSamba is going to be rather more gentle on the eyes. Launched this month is a new installation entitled Reflect London, which will conceal building works on the Grade II-listed building. The columns and façade of the building have been wrapped in 32,000 square feet of mirrored surfaces, giving a new perspective of the building and its surrounding environment.

  • Reflect London will be on at Covent Garden from April 2016 for an estimated eight months. Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden, WC2E. Nearest station: Covent Garden, Holborn or Leicester Square.

For a review of the original London branch of SushiSamba in the Heron Tower, click here.

For a guide to what else is on in London right now, click here.

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Up in the air: 100,000 giant balloons fill Covent Garden Market

Comedy In The Courtyard: Alfresco laughs in St Martin’s Courtyard

St Martin's Comedy Festival

Aisling Bea and Joel Dommett are on the bill of the St Martin’s Comedy Festival

If you can’t get up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, why not let the a taste of fringe come to you? St Martin’s Courtyard in Covent Garden is holding a one-day, free comedy mini-festival later this month. Situated in a courtyard off Long Acre, guests will be able to pull up a seat at an open-air pop-up comedy club.

On the bill at Comedy In The Courtyard are top British and Irish comedians, including Aisling Bea, Justin Moorhouse and Joel Dommett. Ireland’s funny woman Bea, known for her TV appearances on Russell Howard’s Good News, McIntyre’s Roadshow, Live at the Apollo and Cardinal Burns, will be headlining. Phoenix Nights fans will recognise radio DJ and comedian Moorhouse, while Dommett is one of the fastest rising stars on the comedy circuit. Chris Gilbert, who has hosted events for Ricky Gervais, Michael McIntyre and Tim Vine, will be overseeing the evening as compere.

The event will take place on Thursday 30 July 2015 at 7.30pm. Tickets are free, but you need to register your place online through a ballot. Winners will be contacted one week before the event, giving a ticket and a plus one to seats in the courtyard. There will also be a small allocation on the door from 6.30pm on a first come, first served basis. Meanwhile, Italian wine bar Dalla Terra will be serving wine and bubbles from their pop-up bar during the show.

There’s also a competition to win pair of VIP tickets for those who follow St Martin’s Courtyard on Twitter @SMCCoventGarden and keep checking the website.

  • Comedy In The Courtyard takes place on 30 July 2015 at 7.30pm. St Martin’s Courtyard, WC2E 9AB. Nearest station: Leicester Square or Covent Garden. For more information and to register for your free ticket, visit the St Martin’s Courtyard website.

For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.

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Flesh & Buns review: Sushi, sashimi and cocktails in a bustling basement

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Raw: Mixed Sashimi platter with 2 pieces each of tuna, salmon & yellowtail

Upon first entering Flesh & Buns, I remembered this used to be a basement bar I spent a birthday in about 10 years ago. It had definitely changed a lot since. Flesh & Buns is a Japanese Izakaya bar and restaurant from the same team behind Bone Daddies Ramen. The interior is quite basic, with long high tails and stools dominating the central dining area. My party of two turned up on a Saturday night without a reservation – admittedly rather naïve given this restaurant in a big hit with young London foodies right now. There was quite a party atmosphere with the clientele predominantly in their 20s and 30s. Loud music and the risqué bathrooms which have been decorated in Japanese anime porn so perhaps not a place to bring the in-laws.

With no table available, my date and I found a spot at the very busy bar with a server estimating it would be a 45 minute wait. However it appeared the existing groups dining weren’t in a rush to move on so after two rounds of drinks, we were given the option to eat at the bar so we took it.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

A bit of a kick: Softshell crab with jalapeno mayo

The restaurant’s title flesh and buns refers to the choice of meat – steaks, duck and chicken – and the small soft buns. However, on this visit, I ended up ordering neither – opting for a tapas-style meal from the Small Bites menu for us to share. We ordered the Mixed Sashimi set, which included two pieces each of tuna, salmon & yellowtail (£12) served on a bed of ice. Despite the casual feel of the venue, the presentation of food was very good, adding to F&B’s reputation as a foodie destination. We also ordered the Salmon Avocado Roll, which was well complemented  One of my favourite dishes was the Softshell Crab, with fried squid, grilled broccoli with miso and sesame (£9.50), with jalapeno mayo adding a kick. We added some greens with Grillied Broccoli with miso and sesame (£5.50).

Overall, I enjoyed the food and drink. The high-energy venue wouldn’t always be a suitable choice for a meal out depending on the company (eg. your mother), however I would definitely suggest it as a good place to eat on a big night out with friends. The service was friendly and I applaud our attentive waitress for keeping track of us amidst all the hustle and bustle. The toilets were definitely a good taking point!

  • Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX. Nearest tube: Covent Garden or Leicester Square. For more information, visit the Flesh & Buns website.

For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

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The spirit of Brazil comes to London: Celebrate the Rio Carnival at Guanabara

Guanabara Carnival Parade

Who needs Rio? Watch Guanabara’s Parade before heading inside to the opening party during Carnival Week

For many people I’m sure, going to Rio De Janeiro for Carnival is high on their bucket list. However, if you can’t make it to Brazil for the big event, then why not enjoy a taste of the Carnival in London?

Capoeira Guanabara

Watch Capoeira while sipping on Caipirinhas and eating Brazilian street food

Brazilian restaurant, bar and club Guanabara are hosting a week of Carnival-themed celebrations from 11-17 February 2015. Revellers will be able to enjoy Brazilian food and drink – including the famous Caipirinha cocktails – while watching entertainment from top percussionists, bands, samba dancers and Capoeira artists.

The festivities kick off with a special carnival edition of ‘Circo do Guanabara’ on 11 February, featuring Basil live percussion, circus acts, Rosa Nazira samba experience and DJ Bruno, with ‘Samba School Madness with Rhythms of the City’ following on 13 February.

One of the highlights of the week is the ‘Opening Party and Carnival Parade’ on 12 February, featuring the London School of Samba, DJ D.vyzor, Basil, Samara Reis Dance Co. and DJ Limao. The action kicks off at 5pm and goes on until the early hours of 2.30am.

On Valentine’s Day, couples and singles are both welcome to party at the Masked Ball, featuring entertainment from Guanabara Samba & Capoeira All-Stars, DJ D.vyzor, Basil, DJ Limao and Paraiso School of Samba.

During the festivities, Chef Leandro de Oliveira will be offering a special menu of carnival favourites, focusing on a selection of popular Brazilian street food dishes. Tickets during Carnival week range from free to £12, but it’s recommended to book in advance through the website.

  • Guanabara, Parker Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5PW. Nearest tube: Holborn or Covent Garden. For more information, visit the Guanabara website.

To find out what else is on in London this month, click here.

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Take My Lightning But Don’t Steal My Thunder in Covent Garden