Dramatic Cocktails at Lola Jeans

My first time revisiting Lola Jeans in almost a year – and this time I got to try the cocktail that I wanted to try that first visit, but that they had run out of. The Fog on The Tyne features a Newcastle Brown Ale reduction and is delivered in a smoky bell-jar – so looks *very* dramatic. (I was pleased to see it actually just came in a glass, though). My friend had the 5 Shades of Earl Grey, which she also enjoyed (though she envied my glass). I wasn’t keen on their overuse of plastic straws – I think these should always be available, as some people need them, and the ban is ridiculous, but I also think they should be offered, not just supplied with the assumption everyone wants one – but other than that, it was a great stop off for the start of an evening.

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NE1 Newcastle Restaurant Week and The Muddler

It’s Restaurant Week again in Newcastle, where a whole bunch of venues across town offer £10 or £15 menus. So that and my friend M’s pending birthday seemed a great excuse to try a place I have been dying to visit since I moved back, The Muddler on Grey Street.

A lux looking Pan-Asian restaurant with a great cocktail menu, The Muddler was offering 3 dishes for £15 as part of Restaurant Week. With plenty of vegetarian options (and a comprehensive allergy menu so I could be sure there was nothing on there I couldn’t eat), there was lots to choose from (and when I couldn’t decide whether my gyoza should be steamed or fried, the waitress offered to do half-and-half: yum!). M went for a mix of meat and fish dishes (the salmon was her favourite), while I had tofu, tempura and vegetable gyoza, which were all delicious, and surprisingly substantial: 3 dishes was more than enough! We both had a cocktail from an extensive and well-thought-out menu, and were both pleased with our choices.

The staff were really friendly and helpful, and the vibe laid back – though the place was so booked up we could only get an early slot, so if you want to check it out, advance booking might be an idea.

We followed that with more cocktails at Beeronomy, which had changed its cocktail menu and seemed to have got rid of anything I wanted to drink: luckily, they are still more than happy to whip up a classic, so we both had very decent espresso martinis, before rounding the night off with a glass of wine at the Tyneside Cinema Bar.

The offers run all week and there’s a huge range of restaurants taking part, so why not check out the Restaurant Week website?

Christmas in July at the Tyneside Cinema

It’s the hottest day of the year so far and I am at a Christmas party. You have to feel a little sorry for the bods at The Tyneside Cinema, which picked yesterday to launch its festive programme – I’m roasting and there is a man in a full on Santa suit having to keep up the Christmas cheer. Still, the decidedly odd sensation of being seasonally unaligned aside, there was lots to appreciate at the launch – and lots to look forward to in winter.

When I arrived just after 5 the event was still getting underway, and looking a little sparse – perhaps many of the people invited were deterred by the weather, which made doing anything but sitting on the sofa in your pants seem like a stretch. This didn’t seem to deter the friendly, glitter-faced staff (or the Santa, who maintained an impressive amount of good cheer for a man in red velour in a heatwave, though he also spent a lot of time standing under the aircon unit).

The cinema had cleared out the Coffee Rooms and Digital Lounge to make space for some stalls and a cocktail bar (where I felt obliged – obliged, I tell you – to have a Baileys espresso martini). Prosecco, soft drinks, canapes and popcorn were all on offer, and you could also get a chocolate milk from the Polar Express stand, or a green cookie from the Grinch.

The tentpole offerings of the season are around not just the films – screenings of all the usual festive suspects, from Die Hard to It’s A Wonderful Life – but the packages that come with them. The cinema is doing a number of family events, at a range of price points depending on the extras on offer – such as a screening of The Polar Express that includes hot chocolate and gingerbread, as well as a post-film visit from Santa. (A relaxed screening is also on offer.) A Grinch package can include shakes and cookies as optional extras.

Similarly there’s a whole range of It’s A Wonderful Life events – from Afternoon Tea to a festive sing-song and night out (with a bringing in baby event also on offer). A screening of The Holiday comes with prosecco, popcorn and chocolate (plus tissues, if you fancy a weep). I’m mildly disappointed you don’t get any extras with the Die Hard screening (A vest? Socks? A Christmas sweater? Duct tape?) but I guess you can’t have everything.

The cinema also, of course, has a wide range of non-festive options – you can rent out a screen for a party (something, I admit, I have always wanted to do – the hen party scene in Bridesmaid Blues is loosely based on doing this, at a fictionalised version of the cinema); you can book an afternoon tea or speakeasy night, and the cinema regularly hosts dementia friendly and bringing in baby screenings for both new releases and classics.

It’s no secret that I love the Tyneside Cinema (and the gorgeous coffee rooms) – that I spent much of my youth there, and am always happy to have a chance to go back – but getting a chance yesterday to speak to so many people who work there, and see how committed they are to serving the city was really inspiring. So why not check it out and go give them some of your money?

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Back to Brighton

This week, almost a year after I left, I went back to Brighton. I’d deliberately left it this long – I thought that going back too soon after the move might give me ‘buyer’s remorse’ and wanted to be sure I felt settled in my new life before I revisited my old one.

It turned out to be a good decision. Leaving a big enough gap meant that I could enjoy all of the things I loved about Brighton – the sea, the city, my friends – without wondering if I’d made a huge mistake in leaving. Brighton will always have a place in my heart, but it’s no longer my home, and I’m not at all sad about that.

Desperate for a holiday and with the excuse of a pending theatre visit to London – which we’ll come back to – I decided to tag on a couple of days and stay with my friends R&A (and their gorgeous cat who, yeah, I miss more than I miss most other things) and spend a little time in the city.

My timing couldn’t have been better. A few overcast moments aside, the weather was gorgeous – so nice, in fact, that I decided to cancel my theatre trip so I could spend longer in Brighton, hanging out with an old friend from Scotland and her daughter who I haven’t seen in 16 years and who just happened to be in town the same week. Not all my friends were around – which was fine, as I couldn’t have fitted them all into a 3-day trip, especially since 2 of those 3 days were mostly spent on trains – but I managed to squeeze a lot in.

Day 1 I arrived late afternoon, so just chilled in the garden with R&A and the cat, before R cooked one of her magnificent meals.

Day 2 I met my friend M for lunch in Hove, in a restaurant called Billies and styled, with a degree of cheek, after the more famous Brighton institution Bill’s. Not sure why they felt they needed to, since I actually preferred it: we both had a delicious veggie breakfast, served in the style of a hash and smothered in cheese, that made me feel better for all the alcohol I had consumed the night before.

After that, A and I went to see Spider-Man: Far from Home, which I have been dying to see. A and I used to go to all the superhero movies together (R not being a fan), so it was a fun thing to do, and I was glad to get a chance to go back to Duke’s at Komedia, which is one of my favourite cinemas.

We then went to another one of my old stomping grounds, The Plotting Parlour, where we met R for drinks and I revisited one of my old tipples, the chilli and ginger margarita. For dinner, we went to VIP (Very Italian Pizza), a Brighton institution at the bottom of St James Street that serves some of the best pizza in town. (Pro-tip: if you can, sit downstairs – it feels more spacious than the oft-crammed upstairs, and you are less at the mercy of the constant stream of people coming in to collect their takeaway orders).

Best of all? I walked down my old street and didn’t even feel a pang. Though maybe as it was covered in scaffolding and full of workmen – the noisy bane of my existence when I lived there – that helped.

Day 3: My theatre plans abandoned, I had a much more leisurely and relaxing trip than I’d planned. My friend S’s daughter wanted to see the Upside Down House, so we met there. It’s a fun idea, though a fiver seems a little steep to enter what is basically one big selfie set, and it didn’t help that I was slightly hungover and S has vertigo, so neither of us were particularly good at handling the strangely disorientating, sloped interior. Still, we got some fun photos.

We then decided to try Compass Point Eatery. Run by a lovely Anglo-American couple, Compass Point was one of my Kemptown stalwarts when I lived in Brighton, but they have now relocated to nearer the seafront and a short walk from both the Upside Down House and the 306i.

Though it’s much larger inside and out, the place retained much of its quirky charm. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they’d run out of pancakes – the house speciality, and so popular you need to get there early to guarantee you can get them – but we had a very generous lunch anyway, and the staff (much extended from the Kemptown days) were lovey: my friends made plans to return.A wander round the Laines then I was back into London, for a quick drink in Vinoteca with another friend before getting the train home – feeling happy I went, but not sad that I left, which is the best of all feelings. Plus I got to see the cat.

Glasgow jaunt – city centre and Merchant City

This week saw me back in Glasgow for the first time in 6 years. I love Glasgow, it’s a city that will always own a piece of my heart. It’s where I went to university, where I lived, on and off, for almost 10 years – where I studied, worked, loved (and lost). Like Newcastle, it’s a city that has a memory around almost every corner, and coming back after such a long break felt both familiar and strange. At times it felt like I’d never left, at others, memories leapt out as me, vivid as hallucinations, but they felt oddly distant, like clips of a film and I could begin to doubt I’d ever been there at all.Luckily, I still have plenty of friends in the city, and even more with roots there – part of the reason I was visiting was because an old friend was over from Japan, and I managed to catch up with a Brighton friend who was in town for family matters.Day 1 saw me revisiting the shopping delights of Princes Square and Buchanan Street, where I succumbed to the Vivienne Westwood sale (justifying it because there is no longer a Westwood shop in Newcastle – with terrible timing, it closed just as I moved!) and bought the shiniest purse in the world.Having met my friend R for coffee in the station as she waited for her train back to Brighton, I then went for drinks in Tabac in Mitchell Lane with our mutual friend D. It’s a nice if not stellar bar down a lane that has seen better days (even the presence of art gallery The Lighthouse doesn’t stop it from looking a bit run down). The bar gets surprisingly busy – I returned on Thursday to meet a theatre bod I know online, and it quickly became rammed – but is a convenient place for a quick drink.Dinner was with a bunch of old uni friends in a friendly and laid back tapas bar towards the Merchant City part of town, Brutti Campadres, which accommodated a large group of us – all arriving at different times – with good grace and was surprisingly affordable.I was back in that part of town the next day, meeting my friend E for cake and coffee in Singl End, which I have heard very good things about and which didn’t disappoint. We had a drink in Stereo, in Renfield Lane – another slightly scruffy lane not far from the station, and a surprisingly busy bar that strikes me as better enjoyed by night, as the unforgiving early evening light made it look a bit careworn.Slightly more glam were cocktails in The Citizen, based in the old headquarters of the newspaper of the same name. A bar / restaurant that also apparently does a nice line in afternoon teas (in the Editors’ Suite, which name alone makes me want to try it), they did a very tasty espresso martini, while my friend opted for a gin-based Clydeside St Clements. Definitely a place I’d go back to…

Biscuit Factory Summer Launch

Last night was The Biscuit Factory’s Summer Launch, and I was delighted to be able to go, having missed their autumn one due to other commitments. I’m a big fan of The Biscuit Factory – they stock an interesting range of artists at a range of price points, with the idea that art shouldn’t just be a luxury purchase (they even do a financing scheme if you want to buy a piece), the staff always seem friendly, and the cafe is great (entry to the galleries is free).

Last night showcased their new exhibitions, which include Simon M Smith’s floral patterened work – a hit with my companion, S – and pieces from the Open Contemporary Young Artist Award (both of which run till August 25). With such an eclectic mix of work on display, you’re likely to find plenty to like – as well as plenty that makes you shake your head and go ‘so that’s what they are calling art these days?’, which is all part of the fun. (I admit I spend a LOT of time going, ‘I can see it’s good, but I wouldn’t want it in my house…’) Of the current artists on display, probably my two favourites were the almost photo-real paintings by Cherylene Dyer and Basia Roszek’s vibrant portraits. Both are Glasgow-based women artists whose subjects tend to be women, so clearly I like a theme…

My favourite part of the evening was discovering that The Biscuit Factory now has a bookshop! Forum Books now has a dedicated space, a cute little cubby papered with pages of books, and of course after a couple of glasses of fizz I abandoned my ‘I must not buy any books!’ and splurged on some hardbacks. But you have to support indie bookstores, right? Our purchases came with a literary fortune cookie, to up the cuteness factor.

There’s lots to check out over the summer at The Biscuit Factory. Unfortunately inclement weather made their outdoor barbeque space a bit of a wash out, but on sunnier days their Artisan Socials (Wednesdays, 4-8pm) look like a good destination: outdoor drinks and a different foodie pop up every week. The Factory Kitchen (the less posh, more cafe space upstairs) is also getting in on the act with Sloe Sundays, where from 16 June you can enjoy a terrace gin bar (there is a covered space, so less dependent on the weather) DJ sets and botanical cocktails with your all-day brunch.

See you there?

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A busy week and then a wall

It’s been a pretty crazy month in April, but I have also, for most of it, been pretty ill. Last week my usual, ahem, failsafe plan of powering through and ignoring it did what it always does: works until it didn’t, when my body finally said enough and a three-day migraine wiped the feet from under me. So this week, work aside, I plan to take it easy: lots of green veg, lots of rest, lots of naps and nights in.

I did manage to do some fun stuff last week, though. Saw Avengers Endgame, a little movie you might have heard of, and went for cocktails at Beelim House again. Went to another gig in the Cluny – this time Cluny 2, which I liked a lot less, since it seemed to have been set up with no thought to the sightlines, and I’m never that fond of being in a basement. Still, it was to see Simone Felice, who my friend L is mad about (she was right at the front of the stage, while I sat at the back and felt a bit sorry for myself). While I am not totally converted, it was a good gig and we met him afterwards (I shamelessly insisted she took a photo with him), and he seemed very nice.

Yesterday I was back at Northern Stage to see Isle of Brimsker, a lovely wee play by Frozen Lights, a company that specialise in theatre for people with profound and multiple disabilities. It was a really well-done show: thoughtful, clever and performed with bags of charm, and I am pleased that Northern Stage is making such an effort to engage wider audiences.

But now, this week? Just lots and lots of naps.

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