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    VIP Night Out: Gow’s Champagne & Oysters

    Do you know what you’re doing on Friday night yet? You’ve worked hard all week so you don’t want to waste a night out on anything average. That’s why I’m reviewing the hottest places in London, to see if they live up to the hype…

    As lots of new restaurants open every week in London, it’s easy to forget about the old classics. However, sometimes we need to slow down. We need to stop believing the hype about the latest restaurant opening having a absinthe bar / raw food spin / 10 ingredients on every plate and question what we actually want.

    In a recent restaurant review I said my perfect night out involved great drinks, tasty food that I couldn’t cook myself and a late license for dancing. However, if you’re on a first (or early days) date or you’ve already danced a lot that week then I’d swap the dancing for fantastic service that meant I didn’t have to lift a finger along with a comfortable dining experience.

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    It was the comfort that I first noticed at Gow’s Champagne & Oyster Bar, which is located a few steps from Liverpool Street station. Upstairs it’s a Champagne and Oyster bar, with a lively atmosphere and the buzz of conversation and laughter from the crowd of revellers, a lot of whom come from the city offices nearby. You can sip champagne and have an oyster or two while watching the hustle and bustle of Liverpool St nearby. The people outside are busy so you don’t have to be!

    The hardest thing you’ll have to do is walk downstairs to the main restaurant where you see tables that are decently spaced out (so you don’t feel like the table next door is eavesdropping on you), comfortable red chairs and lots of white linen and silver. It’s old-school, it’s classy and the waiters pull the chairs out for you.

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    To start with, we had to try the oysters that the restaurant is famous for. Six oysters, fresh from Billingsgate market that morning, they were presented beautifully and tasted even better, just like the sea.

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    Outside it was raining and blowing a gale so a starter of crab crumble was just as it sounds. Rich, creamy flakes of crab with a crispy potato topping on top. I almost wished I ordered another one to have as the main…(Also, I really should have taken a photo of the middle but once I started eating, I really couldn’t stop!)

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    I say almost as I had such a delicious grilled plaice as a main course that I could never have started to cook myself. It fell apart easily as I cut it with my knife so it was soft and succulent in my mouth. It was so more-ish that after every mouthful, I wanted to cut another piece and put it in my mouth again.

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    It’s rare you can order mashed peas as a side dish in a restaurant – normally it’s all steamed spinach or a side salad – so I was quite excited to see it on the menu. It didn’t disappoint.

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    My friend ordered fish pie, which was full of high quality fish. I could taste the freshness and I loved the creamy potato topping. It was a more flavoursome version of my crab crumble starter and as I tried a few bites I ended up getting my original wish of having the crab crumble again as a main :)

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    After all that my stomach was pretty full but I am the sort of girl that can never say no to chocolate. And thank goodness for that or I would have missed out on what has to be one of the best brownies I have ever tasted. I could tell immediately this was home-made, which straight away makes it better that 95% of restaurant brownies. Plus it had warm gooey chunks of chocolate inside. I’d go so far as to say this was a cross between a fondant and a brownie, which is better than both. You get the crispy top of a brownie with a moist texture and really chocolatey molten lava bits. A salted caramel glaze over the icing adds to the orgasmic ‘mmmmm effect’ with every mouthful.

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    I can’t share desserts so I was glad my friend chose a vanilla crème brulee. He said it was very good, true to the vanilla taste, but I still believe my chocolate was better. I love the way it was presented with a side of berries so we could pretend it was a tiny bit healthy!

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    Gow’s is the ultimate treat for stressed out city workers or people that have been partying too hard. With top class service, divine food and a relaxed and cosy dining room, you get the same relaxed feeling as going to a spa without having to get your hair wet.

    Visit the Gow’s website for more information and booking details. Think of it as your next Friday treat!

     

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    VIP Eats: London Restaurant Festival

    October is the month of the London Restaurant Festival – yes, the whole month – so if you didn’t know this already you have been missing out!

    It’s an excuse to visit places you’ve never been before and a really good chance to try the venues you read about in magazines and newspapers but never thought you’d be able to afford. There are money-saving deals to be had everywhere. Visit the London Restaurant Festival website and you’ll see what I mean.

    The deals on individual restaurants like Atelier De Joel Roubouchon, STK London and Babylon Roof Gardens are fantastic but what’s really cool about the festival is the opportunity to visit several different restaurants in one day. Why have the starter, main and dessert in one place when you can visit up to six restaurants and sample a dish and a drink at each? It’s a great opportunity to see what eateries you like the most so you know where to book in for a full meal another time.

    The tours available are a Japanese Journey, a Chinatown Tour, a Tapas Tour, a Cicchetti Trail and a Carnaby Village tour. I tried the Carnaby Village tour to test out the concept. The best thing about this one is you get to try a variety of flavours with Indian, Italian, American, Chinese,  Japanese and even Peruvian restaurants.

    This is how I got on:

    (1)    Cinnamon Soho

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    Bengali spiced crabcakes with tomato and mustard mayonnaise and a Mango Kick cocktail.

    They weren’t wrong when they said this vodka based cocktail had a kick!

    (2)    Kua-aina

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    Blueberry and bananas with maple syrup pancakes or half 1/2 lb classic cheese or pineapple burger

    If I was on death row, these pancakes would form part of my last meal…

    (3)    Pizza Pilgrims

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    Slice of Ndjua pizza or Tomato arancini stuffed with buffalo mozarella

    This restaurant serves up pizza with an added slice of humour. The pizza dough is incredible – so light!

    (4)    Shoryu Ramen

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    Ganso Tonkotsu pork broth ramen

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    OR barbecue char sui pork hirata bun

    I could live on these buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I’d still enjoy each bite. The hirata bun is like a little cloud from heaven which contrasts with the sweet and succulent pork.

    (5)    Senor Ceviche

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    Sea bream and king prawn ceviche with aji amarillo tiger’s milk, red onion and crispy baby squid

     This fish was so soft. I am a sushi addict and I would say this is better than some of the sashimi I’ve had at Nobu. I want to go back for more!

    (6)    Cha Cha Moon

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    Spring rolls or Crispy Chilli Beef

    This is one posh – but affordable – Chinese. It’s owned by Alan Yau of Hakkasan and Yauatcha fame and there’s just as much skill in the cooking as well as a super cool interior. We’ll be back!

    Was I satisfied at the end? Absolutely! The highlights, for me, were the  pancakes at Kua-Aina (it satisfied my sweet side and having blueberries baked into the pancake kept it juicy) and the Char Sui pork bun at Shoryu Ramen (as the meat had a sweet glaze that contrasted perfectly with the light dough).

    As we walked in between restaurants I didn’t feel as uncomfortably full as I would have done if I sat in the same place. If you consider that tickets are £55 and this is basically your lunch and dinner, refreshments and 6 hours of entertainment then it’s pretty good value for money.

    The only catch is that you need to book quickly if you want to join in! The next date – and final – date you can book a tour is Saturday 25 October. So get to the website quickly.

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    VIP Night Out: La Sala Restaurant

    La Sala restaurant in Marbella is an institution. If you don’t dine there at least once during your holiday to Puerto Banus then you just haven’t had a very good holiday. With gorgeous cocktails, gorgeous food and even more gorgeous people to watch (and flirt with) I’ve often wished I could go more often.

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    Fortunately, now I (and you) will have many more opportunities to go as the legendary restaurant has opened it’s first UK branch. It’s located in Woodford, Essex and so I grabbed my sister to go and investigate.

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    The night itself was amazing (more of that below) which could partly be because it’s got some high profile VIPs as investors. Footballers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling,Paul Robinson and David Bentley (who co-owns the Marbella La Sala) all have shares in the venture. With Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville investing in Cafe Football at Westfield Stratford and Rio Ferdinand owning Rosso in Manchester, it seems to be the big trend for footballers to back restaurants so the first thing I did was find out why!

    David Bentley (below) seems to know his stuff when it comes to food, I was happy to learn. Here’s my exclusive Q&A:

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    QS: Why did you decide to back a restaurant?

    I’ve also enjoyed visiting La Sala in Spain and when I heard that the concept might be coming to the UK I was keen to be a part of introducing the same vibe and values into a restaurant environment.  And I’m a big fine food enthusiast!

    QS: What is your favourite item on the La Sala menu.

    I love all of the fish dishes – the garlic prawns and whole Dover sole right through to traditional fish and chips.

    QS: What dishes do you cook at home?

    A real mixture, loads of lean, fresh cuts of meat from the butchers, lots of seasonal veg – I like quick dishes but with lots of flavour.

    QS: What dish would you cook to make a great impression or treat a loved one?

    Tricky one – I would probably try and impress with Japanese food or something a little different.

    QS: And who would be your dream dinner party guests and why?

    I would have loved to have dinner with James Gandolfini before he sadly passed away.

    On the night itself, we saw some appetisers, including sushi, lamb cutlets and spring rolls – which looked tasty –  but as the venue is so popular already it was more about the mingling. George Thorne, Jordan Segal and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain swapped their football kits for smart jeans, shirts and blazers.

    George Thorne, Jordan Segal, Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain_La Sala

    There was entertainment from stilt-walking dancers and an amazing female singer.

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    Gary Hobson and Tim Sherwood looked like they put the waiters to the test. Their canapes look tasty though.

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    For private parties there’s not one but two private rooms, which mean you don’t have to share your night with the rest of Essex. Plus the Laurent Perrier room (which seats 8) is upstairs so you get to look down on the main restaurant and bar.

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    Based on the launch party, the backing of the footballers and the fact that bookings are now being taken til February, I would bet my Mulberry handbag on the fact La Sala is going to be one of the hottest restaurants in Essex.

    I would advise to visit the La Sala UK website for booking details and location and follow @lasalauk on Twitter for up to date news. We plan to visit again soon and report back on what food you can expect, but we can tell you that if you want to dine in a fun environment surrounded by cool people then you need to visit La Sala. We’re so happy it’s arrived in the UK!

    PHOTOS: Christopher, lookingoodimages.co.uk

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    Train Like A VIP: Jim Kerr Bootcamp

    If you find it a chore to fit exercise into your weekly routine then maybe the exercise you do isn’t fun enough? While exercise is a must if you want a VIP body, it doesn’t have to be like medicine. I’m on a mission to find ways of working out that I actually look forward to attending.

    In London, I’ve heard several friends talk about Jim Kerr’s Bootcamp. He offers several ways of training – group classes and private one-on-one tuition – but the one thing that’s consistent is he’ll get you doing exercises you have never done before. I tried a one-on-one session in Pure Fitness Shoreditch.

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    At first glance, I thought it looked like more of a movie set than a gym. This is because there were markings on the floor, two ropes known as battleropes (which I’ll explain more about later), a weighted jacket that looked like a bulletproof vest, gymnastics rings and a giant cinema style screen by the treadmills, meaning that you can feel like you’re part of a music video or the news as you warm up.

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    We did quite a traditional warm-up with squats, star jumps and burpees until my heart was pounding. I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself that hard on my own, which is probably the point of having a trainer.  Jim said he wanted to give me a full body workout and my heart sank…as I thought that meant I would have to work super hard and it would be a sinister process.

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    We started with the legs, as I balanced a weighted bar on my back for walking lunges. The markings on the floor made it easier to mentally work out how far I had to go. Jim spotted my technique and suggested improvements and if I did something right there was praise. I found this so much better than those scary, nasty, always-shouty bootcamp classes!

    Lifting the bar above my shoulders made it all more difficult but when I heard it was good for the butt I gritted my teeth and carried on. I would never have thought to pick up a bar like this if I was on my own, I would have been way too scared! But after a few reps I realised I may actually be stronger than I thought.

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    With my legs burning, it was time for the upper body workout with battleropes. Jim demonstrated the correct starting technique.

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    Then he showed me the wave making movement. The idea is to lift it up high at then slam it down. It works out the legs and glutes as well as you squat when you slam it down…

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    Another option is to incorporate a jump into the movement, which is even more work for the legs!

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    If you follow me on Instagram LiveLikeaVIP (and if not, then why not?) you’ll see a video of my attempts. Admittedly, I was shocking, which you may also be able to guess from the photo below, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? As I said I’ve never done this before and I loved the challenge!

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    The ropes made me work up a serious sweat but it didn’t end there! We did a couple of sets of Tabata training, which is 20 seconds of extremely hard work and 10 seconds of rest. In both sets, we did one exercise like situps and then one like squat jumps and repeated it all for four minutes. We even did a Tabata set on the battleropes, making waves for 20 seconds then doing squat thrusts. When was the last time you ever did Tabata on your own at the gym?

    I think what made this fun is both the variety of equipment and the variety of exercises – I never knew what was coming next! There was never any down-time, which meant the session passed quickly and I was almost a bit sad when it was over as I wanted to see what Jim had planned next.

    If you want to make exercise more fun, then visit  Jim Kerr’s bootcamp website to see what packages are on offer. There are outdoor bootcamps, bootcamps for new mums that offer a lot more variety than traditional mum bootcamps focused on abs, plus the one-on-one sessions in the state of the art gym. Tweet us @livelikeavipif you have any questions.

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    VIP Night Out: CORE Bar

    Do you know what you’re doing on Friday night yet? You’ve worked hard all week so you don’t want to waste a night out on anything average. That’s why I’m reviewing the hottest places in London, to see if they live up to the hype…

    CORE in the City of London is owned by Late Night London, which celebrates it’s 15th birthday this year, so I was hoping this is a good sign that I would have a good night there. I mean, a business – especially a nightlife business – doesn’t last for 15 years unless it knows how to deliver what it’s customers want.

    So what do you look for on a night out? I have been told I have high standards as my perfect night out involves great drinks (bubbles and cocktails and maybe bubbly cocktails), tasty food that I could never cook myself, a dancefloor and a late license so I don’t have to leave when I’m having fun. Is that too much to ask?

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    As I took my seat in a gorgeous booth on the top floor (the restaurant’s above and the party floor’s downstairs) I found out that the cocktails at CORE were so good, I would happily have abandoned everything else I look for on my perfect night in favour of one more drink. That’s not to say I was disappointed in other ways as you’ll find out if you read on, but the cocktail menu at CORE is pretty special.

    Firstly it’s special in a looks way as it comes with blank pages at the back, which you are actively encouraged to doodle in. Then it’s the imagination that’s gone into the creation of the drinks. For example:

    photo 1

    I started with a Sour Puss (above) which is house infused lemongrass Bombay Sapphire Gin seduced with Elderflowerand lemons served over ice with a splash of soda – guaranteed to turn that frown upside down! I mean, I wasn’t exactly frowning at the start but after tasting this delicate, light and refreshing concoction I had a spring in my step.

    Kiwi Sangria – Sangria has shed it’s usual red & donned a new coat of green with fresh kiwi, lemon & coriander smashed together with Finlandia vodka, a splash of melon liqueur all lengthened with white wine for a cosmopolitan new look

    The Gaffa – “The Daddy” of all cocktails. A rum based concoction of Sailor Jerry’s and Woods 100, sweetened with peach liqueur and apple juice, topped up with fresh lime and spicy ginger beer. Accompanied with a temporary tattoo to show who’s boss.

    I also tried a Punk Fizz, which is pineapple puree, prosecco and Chambord. It tasted slightly like a porn star martini, but less sickly.

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    My friend had a Moroccan Julep, which was served in a jam jar with a straw. It was so refreshing and tasty, it reminded me of high summer. It was Bacardi Carta Blanca steeped in green tea with
    fresh mint & apple juice, a splash of sugar & pomegranate molasses churned with crushed ice then crowned with mint. I had cocktail envy!

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    After these drinks, we thought it was time to check out the food options. At night-time, the menu consists of bar snacks and a selection of burgers. If I ever see burgers on a menu then I want them to be so amazing that I couldn’t conjure up ones like them myself at home so I had high expectations. The waitress explained that the meat for the burgers came from the Queen’s butchers, Donald Russell, which got me excited as I don’t normally shop at the Queen’s butchers (obviously!) I don’t know whether it was the quality of the beef or how the burger was cooked or a mixture of both but I wasn’t disappointed. It was moist and tender and I asked for extra cheese and bacon to make each mouthful a taste sensation. I have to say I ate it so quickly I forgot to take a photo myself, but it did look like how it appears on Core’s Fascebook page.

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    My friend had something similar but with blue cheese on top and he said he hasn’t had a burger like it in ages. This is a boy that managed 6 burger meals on a weekend city break to Cologne, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to burgers. We both agreed that the fries sprinkled with Rosemary Salt were just how we liked them – crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the centre. Yum!

    Now, I don’t think I even need to describe this chocolate brownie as the photo itself speaks for how good it was. Look at the photo, multiply it by 100 and then think of warm chocolate chunks and a melt-in-the-mouth taste. It’s all that and more! I was grateful of the ice cream to balance out all the chocolate.

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    We also ordered a lemon cheesecake, which came in a super cute jar. What I liked about this was the base as it wasn’t too buttery or biscuity, more crunchy. The base tasted a bit like granola and it was less heavy than a lot of other cheesecakes, which is what you want if you’ve just scoffed a burger!

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    They don’t always offer the dessert options at night-time, but we asked the waiteress to ask the chef if we could have one that was available from the lunch menu. We figured if you don’t ask then you don’t get and it was good to see the CORE staff could be flexible.

    So what about the music? I have to say I was blown away by how big CORE was. Downstairs is a massive party venue, which stays open late on Thursday and Friday and until 12am on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. No matter what day of the week you go there will be something going on but it gets better as the week goes on – Thursday and Friday nights are the party nights!

    So now you can see we’ve had tasty cocktails, food we couldn’t cook ourself, a dancefloor and a late license – CORE ticked all my boxes. My only regret? That it took me 10 years to discover it. I won’t leave it that long to visit again!

    Visit the Core bar website for the full menus and details of how to book

    Tweet us @livelikeavip and let us know how you get on!

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    VIP Night Out: Forge Bar And Restaurant

    Do you know what you’re doing on Friday night yet? You’ve worked hard all week so you don’t want to waste a night out on anything average. That’s why I’m reviewing the hottest places in London, to see if they live up to the hype…

    There’s a real buzz surrounding Forge Bar in London both from celebrities and the media so I was looking forward to trying this one. Singer and OK! columnist Michelle Heaton loves it, comedian Russell Howard visited on a rare night off and the Vogue magazine girls have been very complimentary.

    My own first impressions were good. It’s situated very close to Bank underground station, which is easy to get to on the central line, and it’s a refreshing change to go to a venue that’s not in Mayfair or Soho. This is because you get a very London crowd, people that work or live in the city, rather than the trust fund kids, rich students and foreign businessmen that frequent Mayfair.

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    On the night my sister and I visited – a Wednesday – there were some very good looking men at the bar! So we made the most of that by having a cocktail before dinner. There are lots of delicious drinks to chose from on Forge’s cocktail menu but what’s cool about it is that it’s clearly divided up into old fshioned drinks, high balls, martinis and Champagne based cocktails. OBVIOUSLY my sister and I went for a Champagne based cocktail. I had the best, in my opinion, which was the no. 81 – a refreshing and lightly fizzy mix of Champagne, St Germain elderflower liqueur, mint and peach bitters. My sister had the very green coloured no. 82, which tasted deceptively like it was good for you even though it was an intoxicating mix of vodka, Champagne, lemon juice, peach syrup, cucumber juice and green cardamon. It came with thin slices of cucumber, so maybe it counts towards the five a day?

    I was really impressed by how the restaurant an bar are decorated. The bar is cosy, with it’s low lighting and candles, and cleanly industrial looking. It’s not like some of the bars in the area that are stuffy with lots of cushions and chintz. It is functional and modern and reminds me a bit of New York. The dining room also has a smart New York vibe to it and my sister and I got a great table near the kitchen (as you can see from the pic of my sister, above right).

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    I love the fact that I was able to watch the chefs in action from my spot at the dinner table, although I might have had to apologise to my sister for drifting off mid-conversation to see what the chefs were up to! I was waiting to see them argue with each other or shout like you see with TV chefs like Gordon Ramsay, but everything seemed better organised than that.  The waitress wrote down our orders with pen and paper in an old-fashioned way and red it back to us to make sure she got it all correct. (This may sound like a small thing, but I’ve been to a lot of restaurants where the staff try to memorise orders and then mess it up and its so annoying!)

    These were our starters:

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    At the top you can see pig and fig terrine, served with deliciously fresh walnut bread. It’s a magical combination with the sweetness of the fig offsetting the rich meaty pork and the walnuts add a nutty crunch. I would totally order that again. Chicken skewers with  a peanut butter, coconut and lemongrass glaze were moist and tender, although I couldn’t really see or taste the peanut butter.

    After the starter, we were asked if we wanted wine but the cocktail menu drew us back again…
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    My sister tried the one on the left  – the No. 21 with Zacapa rum, velvet falernum, lemon juice, pineapple juice and angostura bitters – and she said she preferred the flavour to the Champagne cocktail, which is high praise given she’s a huge Champagne fan. I picked the and the No 35 with vodka, martini bianco, elderflower cordial, lemon juice and mint and found it similar to my sister’s first cocktail, deceptively healthy, but without the fizz. The elderflower and mint made it really light and it brought back memories of summer, which was nice given that we visited on a rainy September evening.

    There’s a spit inside the kitchen so Forge’s food menu is divided into From The Pit (eg steaks and burgers) and From The Spit (eg spit roast chicken). I went for Scottish salmon marinated in honey and soy and served with a whole food salad as I always love fish dishes. The portion was satisfyingly huge – excellent value for £13.50!

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    My sister ordered grilled fillet steak, which was sightly small given that it was £24, but each mouthful was packed with flavour. It came with a horseradish onion bhaji, which I tried a bit of and I have to say I wish they did side orders of these bhajis!

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    Sometimes if you’ve been happy with the starter and the main course the chef isn’t so great with the desserts but this was far from the case at Forge. A strawberry sundae had a creamy kick of panacotta and you can see by the smile on my sister’s face how much she’s enjoying it.

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    But if you love chocolate then you cannot leave without trying the warm, gooey, rich, lucious, moreish, smooth chocolate brownie, served with salted caramel ice cream. The waitress said that most people share it as it comes with two slices of brownie and two sccops of ice cream but once  I tried it I knew that if anyone tried to take it off me I might kill them. (I’m possessive over chocolate like that). The brownie alone is worth going back to Forge for!

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    It’s rare you can find fabulous cocktails, tasty food at affordable prices and a good city atmosphere in the same place and there’s even a nightclub downstairs if you want to dance off the calories of your dinner. If you visit it this weekend, you won’t be disappointed!

    Visit the Forge website for  menus and details of how to book.

    Tweet us @livelikeavip and let us know how you get on.

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    VIP Day Out: Vinopolis Wine-Tasting

    How’s your summer going so far? Don’t worry if you haven’t been abroad anywhere glamorous as I think you can have just as much fun in the UK. I was recently invited to try the new Summer of Love experience at the Vinopolis wine tasting experience in London and here we’re not just talking mild amusement, we’re talking laugh out loud plus a bit of learning at the same time. Win, win!

    Vinopolis is such a fabulous space, located a stone’s throw from London Bridge Underground station, so it’s been used for a few celeb parties. The last time I went I bumped into gymnast Louis Smith and comedian James Corden at a British Airways event, but I have never been to taste wine so I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Also, the wine-tasting experience and the spaced hired for events is completely different.

    AN25037602The launch of Bri

    From now until the end of August 2014 is Vinopolis’ Summer in Love event. I’ve never been before, so I don’t know how it differs, but a whole lot of extra touches have been added to a normal wine tasting experience including free cocktails, fashion, music and a dressing up box!

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    What I liked a lot about it is that it’s not a traditional tour, led by a guide. We were free to act just as silly as we wanted!

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    There are several different experiences available, both all year round and in August, but the schedule lined up for August sounds particularly fun. For example, every Thursday and Friday is date night. Two people can share 20 tokens, a plate of tapas and a full bottle of wine for just £55 for two. Alternatively, every Wednesday is Wine Wednesday where it’s Buy One, Get One Half-price for the tour. Or how would you fancy tasting wine with live music in the background? Mark 29th August in your diary for the Classic Wine Experience with 12 tokens to redeem on your choice of wines, spirits and champagne, a delicious cocktail, tasty tapas and live music from 7:30-9:30pm.

    There’s so much choice, I suggest heading to the Vinopolis website to check out what’s available and to book tickets. However, there are some things that remain constant throughout all visits.

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    After a 15 minute talk about how to taste the wine and where the different wines are located (divided into whites / reds / spirits and ones to watch etc) it was time to explore. I like the fact that you can be hands on in your own learning. The initial talk was good but I was hungry, or thirsty, to get going.

    There are computer screens dotted around the venue telling you about how soil influences a wine, the difference a climate makes and games designed to help you work out what you might like best. Also, there are plenty of seats for when you just need to take a rest.

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    With the classic wine experience, we got 12 tokens each to taste a variety of wine. These are pre-loaded onto a card, which you insert into the machine above the wine. Push the button and the wine comes into your glass. It’s very clever. Even more useful is that you can register your card at the machine if you want an email reminding you of all the wines you tasted. I found this very useful, as the more wine I tasted the more I forgot.

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    Some wines are 1 token, whereas others are 2 and some are 3 to 4. I went for a mix of 1 and 2s with the occasional three, which meant I got about 5 or 6 samples of wine. There is the option of spitting it out but most of them were too nice to waste.

    By the end, I was quite tipsy but not too tipsy for cocktails. They looked too good to resist! Throughout August B.Y.O.C cocktail club are making everyone a free cocktail. Mine contained watermelon puree, cucumber tincture and gin and it was absolutely incredible. I had to sit down for a while afterwards because it was deceptively strong. Just the way I like it!

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    The whole experience made me think that while it’s nice going abroad to sit on a beach with a cocktail it’s even better to walk round London with several glasses of wine and then a cocktail afterwards. No jet lag, no sunburn and no insect bites. What do you think?

    Tweet @livelikeavip if you go and love it. We’ll RT. We love hearing how you get on.

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    50% Off At Steam & Rye: We Try And Test!

    Last week, I wrote a blog post about how girls can get 50% off at Steam And Rye, the city bar that is part-owned by the gorgeous Kelly Brook. I thought it sounded such an amazing deal that I grabbed my sister and we went down to check out the cocktails, the food and the general vibe.

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    The bar’s really easy to get to, just a few steps from Monument / Bank underground station, which was great for us as we were wearing ridiculously tall heels. Girls appreciate shoes, right? And girls also appreciate cocktails, which Steam and Rye has definitely thought of. I can honestly say I have never seen such a creative cocktail menu and I’ve been living like a VIP in London for a long time (eg I set this blog up in 2011).

    To show what I mean, check out the cocktails my sister and I started with.

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    The one on the left is a Five Dollar Shake (which comes with a Fab lolly) and the one on the right is a Monica Lewinsky with chocolate sauce, amaretto, whipped cream, hazelnut liqueur and oreo cookies. YUM!

    While consuming these little beauties we spotted these mad creations:

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    The one on the left is called Maize Balls and that is actual popcorn at the top of the ‘glass’. Inside is  Mount Gay XO, Lemon, Coconut and Caramel Popcorn Syrup. On the left we have a Mile High with rum, lemon and bubbly plus a paper aeroplane. But, of course!

    Then you have a Kansas City Shuffle (below left) made from a blend of rums, absinthe, port and grenadine which is then topped with a handful of monkey nuts or the Dead Man’s Boot, chilli-infused Don Julio Tequila, Vanilla, Ginger Beer and Lemon.

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    The Mississippi Lullaby was also pretty impressive. It was served flaming inside a fire bucket!

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    Normally these cocktails would be good value for what they are (between £9 and £12.50) but remember there is 50% off! None of the cocktails above are more expensive than £6.25. That’s less than the price of a glass of prosecco / vodka lime and soda in most bars and WAYYYYY more interesting.

    But as the drinks are so spectacular. does this mean that food is just an after-thought? Not at all. My sister had a 500g cheeseburger served with a lobster tail and fries. Look at this juicy spread:

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    I opted for the lobster itself, which was served with a delicious creamy and herby butter. A small lobster is normally £16.95 but this was £8.50. Lobster for under £10. If heaven was a place on earth then Steam and Rye would be part of it.

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    I wasn’t sure if the photos I took did it all justice so I found one online that looked exactly the same as what we ate. The onion rings (bottom right) were huge with crispy batter and a perfectly soft onion. Just the way I like it, especially dunked in ketchup.

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    At Steam and Rye you can definitely pig out, which is what we did, but if you want a lighter meal so you can focus on the drinks, try a lobster roll. Its lobster and mayo in a tasty brioche bun. I think I need to go back to try this and at 50% off I certainly plan to.

    Steam+&+Rye+Lobster+Brioche

    My sister and I shared a single portion of ice cream (salted caramel) to finish, which came with banana and pecan nuts to add eve more interest – this place is full of little extras that you don’t need but love.  If you were in a big group then you could order a sharing dessert, which is a sundae big enough for six people. I saw the table next to me order it and it came in a Martini glass that was bigger than my head. I would not order a big main course if you were considering ordering this!

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    As for the venue itself, it was packed. There was a live band playing as we ate, which added to the atmosphere but I did find it a bit noisy at times. This would be good if you were going with someone you know well and don’t want to make small talk with and it’s definitely good if you want to dance off the calories. But I would say that maybe don’t expect to have a conversation with the person sitting opposite you.

    Aside from that, a lot of effort has gone into the venue which manages to look like a moving train and a train station all at once. The booths in the restaurant have screens with scenery showing on the walls, making them the windows of the train. The bar is the station and it reminds me of Grand Central in New York. What do you think?

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    If you’re interested in doing this and getting 50% off all food and drink on a Wednesday just email Laura@steamandrye.com.

    Tweet us – @livelikeavip – and let us know how you get on.

    Visit Steam And Rye’s website for more details.

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    Eat Like A VIP: The Real Greek Restaurant Review

    When was the last time you ate Greek food? When was the last time you went to a restaurant and a delicious, filling and memorable meal for two with a bottle of wine was less than £30? I bet most of us aren’t able to remember a time for either, which is why I am happy to offer you one simple recommendation – go to your nearest branch of The Real Greek as soon as you can!

    It was the venue for my interview with Greek chef Tonia Buxton (photographed below) so I asked her to order when we met for lunch at the chic and cosy branch in Marylebone. There are six locations around London so check the website for one near you.
    zoe-tonia

    Before I went in, I was slightly apprehensive. I’d heard it was part of a group of restaurants with locations across London and often I find these sort of restaurants bland (I’m thinking Carluccio’s or Jamie’s Italian). I also have limited knowledge of Greek cuisine. I know it’s famous for vine leaves (which I’ve always found oily), taramasalata (which is very easy to make over fishy) and moussaka (and this solely depends on how long they’ve cooked the aubergine for and how much cheese they’ve added to the mix). But I wanted to make the most of the experience and I was willing to change my mind so I told Tonia to be adventurous in the order and push me out of my comfort zone.

    As Tonia ordered, she put to bed one of my misconceptions that the food might be tired and bland by assuring me that as much of the fresh ingredients as possible in The Real Greek came from Greece. The feta, the tomatoes, the breads – all were as authentic as they could be. And then as she read out the menu to me, she explained the origins of some of the dishes. As Greece is such a vast space varying from tiny islands to a mainland that is large and mountainous, the food changes from region to region. While we may think dishes like calamari are traditionally Greek, you’re not going to get that up a mountain, are you? The dish at the bottom of the tower in the photo below is htipiti, which is Greek cheese with peppers and a touch of chilli.

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    On the top tier we have Tzatziki (rich and tangy yogurt with cucumber and garlic) and Taramasalata (cod roe). I have to admit I had more of the soft, fluffy bread than the crudites as it was so more-ish.

    When I say the word ‘Calamari’ what do you think of? Order this in a pub as a starter and you may get some rubber in a circle that’s been deep fried. I’ve certainly never had calamari that looks like this before and now I know how it should taste if you get it right I never want to compromise again.

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    The calamari had been grilled not fried and as The Real Greek has calorie information on the website, I could see that a portion of calamari had just 286 calories.

    Crispy Pork Belly prepared with 0regano, paprika and red onion has just 257 calories per portion. And remember, you’re sharing so at most you’ll eat half or a third of that. With moist, succulent meat, it was a real treat but without the accompanying calories.1658174_10151969807207776_817573203_o

    Each of these hot dishes is around £6 while the cold ones are £4 – you really do eat like a King or Queen (not just a VIP) at The Real Greek – and the prices are excellent value for money.

    I also advise you to try a Souvlaki, which is a Greek wrap, slightly like a kebab but way better. It’s a greek flatbread wrapped around meat or falafel, tzatziki, onions and sweet paprika. Each mouthful floods your tongue with a variety of flavours that complement each other but it is very filling!

    For dessert, a portion of baklava – light, crisp filo pastry with walnut and honey – is just £4.25 for two pieces. This photo shows one of them – divine!

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    After that I needed a coffee to aid digestion. At The Real Greek it comes out thick and strong – very authentic to Greece. It made me more awake for at least an hour after my visit. Just what the doctor ordered.

    I’d go back to The Real Greek for lunch or dinner with mates or with dates. If you’re going partying in central London it’s the perfect pre-party meal as you feel satisfied without feeling stuffed and as you’re not paying silly prices for the food you can spend more on drinks.

    Let me known if you go and Tweet me your photos. I’m @livelikeavip. You can follow The Real Greek @realgreektweet

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    Tan Like A VIP: Discount

    Feeling a bit pasty due to the rubbish weather we’ve had recently? Let’s change that! We want to help you get that VIP glow back.

    In February, with Valentine’s Day looming big on the calendar, it’s more important than ever we’re confident about our bodies and having a tan helps contour the body. Everyone looks a bit slimmer when browner, trust us! So if you want a bum like Gisele or Heidi Klum or one of the other models that keep taking Belfies (bottom selfies) then we have a deal where you can get the look for less.

     

    MALAWI beach bum

    You can get a Mystic Spray tan at the luxury swimwear store Heidi Klein in London’s Notting Hill for just £13.75 (a 50% saving on the regular price of £27.50). And it is super easy – just phone 0845 206 2000  and quote VIP February Offer. It’s valid until 28 February 2014

    Heidi Klein is located at 174 Westbourne Grove, London and is open Monday  to Saturday 10am – 6pm and Sunday 12-5pm.

    Happy tanning :)

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