1 June 2018

ICA Cheese & Wine Evening

ICA Cheese & Wine Evening

It was an exceptionally warm evening in South London, and as Maddy and I climbed the stairwell to a Southwark loft space, the unmistakable aroma of cheese wafted down to us. Our noses eagerly followed the scent to what I can only describe as a banquet, set up for a guest list of insatiable food bloggers.

Arranged by the International Cheese Awards, the evening was quite literally a taste of the main event to be held in Nantwich this summer, encouraging us foodies to sample award-winning cheeses from the UK and abroad. Following a welcome prosecco and introduction to the Awards from Chairman Chris Chisnall, Maddy and I hungrily navigated the tables laden with delicious cheeses, including Swiss Gruyère, vintage Cheddar, blue vein, and - my personal favourite - a white Stilton with mango and ginger, each of which came with a label describing the perfect wine accompaniment.

Dotted around the room were the event sponsors, whose cheeses are likewise hoping to win an award this year. Bradburys, who are responsible for numerous cheese products found in your local supermarket or department store, revealed to us their wish to replace the sandwich meal deal with cheese and antipasti platters, something which myself and Maddy especially have strongly advocated since the first sunny evening spent in Kennington Park with a bottle of prosecco and various cured meats. In fact, Maddy's enthusiasm was so very apparent, the Bradburys team gifted her their remaining Manchego.

Many cheeses and glasses of wine later, we were still in the loft, as the other guests trickled out and the event organisers packed up the leftover wares. It was with a heavy heart that I had to part with the wheel of stilton, yet staying late proved to be fruitful, when the events team actively encouraged us to take home the rest of the goodie bags. To say our fridge is choc-a-bloc with cheese is almost an understatement.

 The International Cheese Awards takes place in Nantwich, Cheshire, on 24th & 25th July.

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19 May 2018

Guildford Gin Festival

Guildford Gin Festival

Gin Festival, as the name may suggest, is a celebration of gin. Since 2009, when Sipsmith overturned a two-hundred year old law preventing small-batch distilleries, the market has grown exponentially. Now Gin Festival tours the country, bringing the finest spirits in the UK and abroad to the tastebuds of thirsty Britons - with help from their official mixer, Schweppes 1783.

The set-up is simple: A G&T costs a £5 token, redeemable at the festival entrance. Then head over to one of five bars and order from a wide selection of gins you likely hadn't heard of. There are also talks and masterclasses for those looking to learn more about how gin is produced, or how to create gin-based cocktails at home.

Knowing it would be impossible to sample every gin available without breaking our bank balances (and livers), Maddy and I chose gins based on botanicals we know we enjoy. Maddy, who prefers fruitier flavours, first tried a Skully Tangerine Twist, but ultimately fell in love with Slingsby Rhubarb Gin, having then bought a bottle from the gift shop. I on the other hand enjoy gins with a twang of herbs or spices, so chose a serve of Skully Smooth Wasabi with ginger ale. Yet it was my initially reluctant choice of Sweet Potato London Dry Gin which won me over that day, with distinctive aromas of sweet potato and coriander.

To find out when Gin Festival is visiting your town or city, visit their website: www.ginfestival.com

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8 May 2018

Rush on the Strand

Rush on The Strand

Despite their name, you won't receive a rush job at a Rush Hair salon. Which is just as well, because I paid for some questionable ten-minute haircuts in my teens, which led me to debate whether I might ever have faith in anybody with a set of clippers. Bonus tip: don't ask your mum to do it instead.

It had been four weeks since my previous haircut, at which stage my hair had begun to creep over my ears and down my neck. It's easy enough to hide, albeit it's a mess worth tidying up before my hair inevitably takes on the appearance of a mop. Upon arriving for my evening appointment at Rush on the Strand, I was greeted by the friendly salon team and directed to a chair by my stylist, Michelle. My eyes were drawn suddenly to the crystal chandelier suspended from an ornate, vaulted ceiling - a reminder of the salon's former life as the ticket hall of the Vaudeville Theatre next door.

Rush on The Strand Rush on The Strand Rush on The Strand

Following a brief consultation and complimentary refreshment, Michelle led me to a smaller room behind the main salon to wash my hair. (I hadn't immediately noticed the lack of sinks.) This separate room provides a more intimate and private space for shampooing, and has more distinctive décor than the clean white interior of the salon. While Michelle rinsed my hair free of suds, it certainly seemed a more relaxing environment, although I did ponder if Rush Hair might think to decorate the ceiling too, given customers have their heads tilted back for much of their time within the room.

Returning to my original seat, I was then treated to a scalp massage that very nearly sent me to sleep, followed by the haircut itself. Typically I ask for a short-back-and-sides with a trim on top, though I often give my stylist free rein over how it looks, because - let's face it - they know more about cutting my unruly hair than I do. Glancing in the mirror, I was slightly surprised the salon wasn't busier for a weekday evening, having clocked twenty-something stations, but only three customers. Michelle explained that particular night was one of their quieter periods, albeit they would be fully booked on Tuesdays, when the salon offers half-price colour services. That's a lot of ladies with tin foil heads.

After half an hour in the salon, including a second visit to the back room to rinse away those pesky trimmings, I was ready to reveal my new hair to the world. It may not be an eccentric hairdo, but all I really wanted was a tidy-up to make me look sharper in a shirt and tie (or roll-neck and blazer), not some mad hairstyle sculpted purely for the 'gram. That being said, I wouldn't oppose taking my hair in a wildly new direction, provided it doesn't significantly increase the likelihood of my going bald in the near future. Should any of you fancy doing the same, Rush Hair is offering 50% discount for first-time bookings.

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30 April 2018

Maison du Mezzé

Maison du Mezze

As part of the Bentall Centre's modernisation was the opening of Lebanese kitchen Maison du Mezzé, its first restaurant outside of Central London. As I wandered about the shopping centre, its turquoise blue façade caught my eye from a corner on the first floor. A glimpse inside reveals a beautifully decorated dining space, overlooking Clarence Street through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Now, having never flown to the Lebanon, I'm not in a position to qualify whether the décor - or food for that matter - is surely authentic, but that I really enjoyed my experience is perhaps enough to trust as much. From the interior design alone, I was transported to at least my idea of a modern Middle East, including gold inlaid tables, a marble floor, wooden screens and patterned cushions. Then the food arrived, a selection of hot mezzé, and the decor needn't have mattered, because I was elatedly filling my face with the warming and distinctive flavours of each dish.

In front of me were plates of grilled halloumi, chilli prawns, okra in tomato sauce, spicy sautéed potatoes, lamb fatayer, flatbread and hummous. And I'd have ordered even more from the menu, if what I had ordered wasn't already fighting for space. Because what I love about mezzé - and of course the same goes for tapas - is that everybody around the table can try a little bit of everything. Mezzé is sociable cuisine, encouraging the sharing of conversation as much as food.

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23 April 2018

Brand/New at the Bentall Centre

Bentall Centre

Home to a plenitude of high street and designer retailers, Kingston-upon-Thames had been the go-to shopping destination in my teens. (You can read my review from 2011 here.) So when the Bentall Centre invited me back to explore the latest collections in their "Brand/New" campaign, I couldn't pass up the chance to see what was indeed new, and what was still familiar.

Originally built in 1935 as the Bentalls department store, the Bentall Centre is the heart of Kingston's retail landscape. Its towering glass roof atrium floods the complex with natural light, as shoppers criss-cross the four-storey mall and seventy-five stores. Although much remains the same from my memories of a decade ago, the Bentall Centre is undergoing the final phases of modernisation to commemorate its twenty-fifth anniversary, including new restaurants, flagship retailers, and a boutique Curzon cinema on the second floor.

During my visit, I was encouraged to check out the latest menswear offerings from such brands as Hugo Boss, Massimo Dutti, New Look and Tommy Hilfiger, the latter being my favourite for its signature red, white and blue pieces. Awkwardly, my slimmer build does limit my shopping habits to only a handful of high street labels, therefore I have to shop strategically, and trying on everything is essential. It's too often a shame that something takes my fancy, only to find it's slightly too big for me.

Bentall Centre

After popping into every store, thereby ensuring I wouldn't make a premature purchase, my heart had settled on a faux-leather bomber jacket from Zara, complete with striped cuffs, hem and collar. It's a style I came to love only last year for its vintage-varsity vibes. Brown is normally a colour I reserve for leather accessories or tweed suits, but my perusing the various SS18 collections revealed a strong trend in warm, earthy tones. In contrast, a pale pink, cotton jumper from COS mirrors the softer colours of spring, albeit pairs surprisingly well beneath the darker fabric of my new Zara bomber.

Given the unseasonably warm temperatures that were imminent that week, I also relished the opportunity to swap some of my cosy winterwear for more weather-appropriate outfits. (As I have mentioned on previous occasions, my summer wardrobe is virtually non-existent!) I therefore picked up a selection of slim-fit t-shirts from H&M, which - unsurprisingly - became my daily get-up through all of last week's African plume.

Bentall Centre

Outside the wide selection of menswear retailers, I also enjoyed a delicious Lebanese lunch at the newly opened Maison du Mezze, which I shall review in a later blog post. (In brief, both food and service were impeccable for a cuisine and restaurant brand I was otherwise unfamiliar with.) And I couldn't resist browsing the quirky and stylish interior decor in H&M's homeware department, in which I mentally added another twenty-odd pieces to my dream home.

Finally to catch my eye was NYX Professional Makeup, the company's first standalone store outside of Central London. Albeit not a shop the average Joe might be tempted to explore, its weekly masterclasses are beneficial to my not-so-secret side project, and hence I will be returning to the Bentall Centre this very Thursday. Make sure to follow me on Instagram to see what antics I get up to!

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© Joseph Kent / www.unlimitedbyjk.com

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