30 January 2020

Ice, Ice Baby - Newcastle Stack Grey Goose Ice Bar

I don't need a huge amount of cajoling to go to a bar launch, so when I was invited to the new Grey Goose Ice Bar at Stack Newcastle I put aside my aversion to being cold for any length of time.(Luckily in this case it's only twenty minutes). This year there's a New York City theme featuring ice sculptures designed by Glacial Art, the team behind the Game of Thrones Ice Throne no less. 

My best friend didn't need convincing to check it out either, so we layered up and headed to Stack  - you can find the Ice Bar on the ground floor of the shipping container village near the stage. I was wondering if you'd have to wear a spaceman style ice suit, but instead there were big furry yeti coats and gloves on hand because you guessed it, it's very cold (-10 degrees to be exact). Hence why you're only allowed in their for twenty minutes to avoid hypothermia setting in (I'm not sure how the bar staff cope). We were given vouchers for an ice shot in the bar and a hot chocolate afterwards (I'd like to personally thank the person who included the hot chocolate). The standard adult £10/£15 ticket includes entry, jacket and glove hire, an alcoholic or non-alcoholic ice shot and hot chocolate. 

Ice Bar Newcastle
A couple of M&Ms
After I got over my slight embarrassment of looking like a yeti I marvelled at the skill of the ice sculptors, who had managed to encase a myriad of New York-related objects in ice, including the infamous Sex and the City blue Manolos, New York Knicks basketballs and even Tiffany jewellery (I hope the security is good because that diamond ring is stunning). Famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building are also expertly sculpted, alongside a Friends themed seat and M&M characters. Even the bar is made of ice! We sipped our delicious toffee flavoured shots sitting on a rug covered ice seat, quickly realising that we couldn't feel our faces but who cares, because we were effectively in an art gallery made of ice. Top tip - don't take your gloves off for too long whilst taking photos because it basically hurts. As well as shots there are also three cocktails to choose from (Espresso Martini, xxxxxxx) and other drinks. After twenty minutes you're politely asked to leave, when you step aside it's akin to stepping off a plane in a hot country. Then don't forget to get your hot chocolate, and start to feel your extremities again.

Ice Bar Newcastle
The ever popular Friends sofa
Ticket prices vary depending on whether you go at peak time (Friday to Sunday) or off peak (Monday  to Thursday) and you can book in advance online. Off peak adult tickets are £10, which go up to £15 on a weekend. The premium adult ticket includes a glass of prosecco or a bottle of beer (£15/£20). Children over seven can also go along for £6 and enjoy a non-alcoholic shot before 8.30pm. Family tickets for two adults and two children are also available for £30 off peak/£38 peak. Student tickets are £8. The Ice Bar is also available for private hire for up to forty guests. 

Ice Bar Newcastle
Lady Liberty
The Grey Goose Ice Bar is open from 23rd January to Sunday 22nd March 2020.

For ticket prices and to book click here 

*Thank you to Jam Marketing for two complimentary tickets

28 January 2020

Lille, Paris and East London

I'm forty this year (sob?) and my aim is to do a trip every month during 2020 (ambitious but in my opinion the source of happiness). In January I headed back to France, strangely enough not planning to visit Paris but Lille this time. I realised it was less than ninety minutes on the Eurostar and thought I'd check it out (even though right now I'm wondering why I didn't just book a beach holiday and get some much-needed sunlight). 

I stayed overnight in London before getting on the Eurostar (check out Eurostar Snap for £50 return tickets), and decided to check out the musical Waitress, playing at The Adelphi Theatre. It was totally joyous, charming and heart-warming with an epic soundtrack and a top-notch cast (I was singing 'What's Inside' for days). I opted for an inexpensive night at the Dictionary Hostel, as I wanted to have a nosy around Shoreditch (my sister lived there for five years and I miss East London, but not the hipsters). I thought there would be more books, but sadly not. I quite liked their cafe next door though. On my way back from the theatre I popped into Voodoo Rays at shipping container village Boxpark for NYC style pizza by the slice, which was not a bad choice. The slices are huge (the pizzas are 22") and my veggie option was delicious. The margaritas are worth writing home about too.

I always enjoy a bit of a look round St Pancras without rushing so I got myself there quite early and then spent an hour trying to resist buying Laduree macaroons (there was a pop up shop tempting me, and I managed to resist until I got back). £20 on macaroons! I must have been in three branches of Oliver Bonas before I actually got on the Eurostar (there's one in Kings Cross) and somehow avoided to blow all of my spending money on gin glasses, a colourful doormat and a light bulb. As usual the  'tunnel sous le mer' was a delight, and the journey went so fast (it's only eighty two minutes to Lille) - I spent the time researching where to go in Lille and skimming the in-train Metropolitan magazine, which I always take with me.

Lille France
The Romy statue, the scary big wheel, historical buildings and cake loveliness at Meert
I left the station in Lille and was immediately confronted with the most bizarre Crowne Plaza I have ever seen - all wood and post-modern. It was just a short walk from the station to my hotel Mama Shelter, and I knew what to expect from staying in their other hotels in Bordeaux and Paris. Even so, I hadn't seen video games in their entrance before, so props for that. You take a lift up to reception and the first thing that hits you is that delicious signature scent. I love how they write what's going on that week on the lift mirror, the masks in the room (Iron Man and a giraffe this time) and the many free films available on the widescreen TV. To be honest the room was so comfortable I was reluctant to leave it (the bed was so comfortable), but of course prised myself away and had a walk around the city.

My first stop was Betty's equivalent Meert, a charming chocolate shop and tearoom which has been serving customers since 1761. Famous for its waffles (gaufres),  expect queues to get into the tearoom but its worth it for the delicious hot chocolate (probably one of the best I've had) and beautiful cakes (I tried the the Printanier - a passion fruit flavoured dome on a coconut covered base).  I had dinner at the hotel - on Sunday night they do chicken and chips, but this isn't any ordinary chicken and chips. I don't know what they did to the chips but they were unreal, and the gravy was divine.

Mama Shelter Lille
Mama Shelter - video games, superior chicken & chips, the restaurants and cool room (bottom  two images by Mama Shelter)
I had the option of spending another two days in Lille but I wanted a bit more excitement, so I decided to get the train to Paris for two nights (it's only an hour away on the train). I checked back into St. Christophers Canal (my usual go to hostel which has private rooms) because I like the location - it's next to a canal which has two cinemas either side of it which is a really nice walk. It wasn't as easy to get around this time as the metro workers were on strike, so if you're heading to Paris soon be prepared to take the bus, walk or hire a bike or scooter (the metro is open in the morning for couple of hours and then again in the afternoon, but they shut off exits at random times and I nearly got stuck down there).

I ate some great food to make up for my blisters (I decided to walk which wasn't the best idea for someone who's ankle still swells up to the size of a balloon). I checked out the quirky and funky Italian restaurant Libertino in the 10th (on Rue de Paradis) - I got their in time for opening and there was already a queue forming at the door. Part of the Big Mamma Group founded by Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux, Libertino definitely brings the Seventies kitsch (all of the toilets were Rod Stewart themed, and I definitely saw a neon penis) as well as a modern take on traditional Italian food. I'm obsessed with leeks so I had to try the burnt leek starter, all caramelised inside served with burrata heart, capers, wholegrain mustard and cornichon vinegarette. Heaven. It was really difficult choosing between the massive open lasagne, the super crispy Roman pizza and the squid, but after sitting right next to the pass and watching the food come out, I went for the squid which was delicious. I also sampled the Blue Magic Margarita (pretty cocktail menu here) before attacking the Choco Choco Clap, a milk and dark chocolate tart filled with salted caramel and praline. I had to have  a little rest before bussing it back the canal, stuffed but happy.

Libertino Paris
The joy that is Libertino - the welcoming door, my burnt leek, the neon penis and Rod Stewart themed loos
I did my usual pilgrimage to Shakespeare & Co, Paris's famed bookshop (decided to jump on the bandwagon and finally buy Sally Rooney's Normal People) before having a little walk around the heavily scaffolded Notre Dame nearby. I glimpsed a fondue restaurant and decided I needed melted cheese, and ended up in Le Vingt on the Rue Saint Severin. I filled my boots with the most delicious,  wine-infused three cheese fondue which came with a plate filled with potatoes, carrots, mortadella and crusty bread to dip into the cheesy goodness. I also managed to set my napkin on fire which ended up having to be stamped on by the surprised restaurant owner in the street. Cue many 'desoles.' I made a quick exit and got an early night to get ready to tackle the art galleries the day after.

I have to admit I didn't really have much of a plan when it came to Paris, more and more I like to just walk around and see what I stumble upon. I went up to Sacre Coeur (I always go there for the view) and came across the Dali Museum in Montmartre, and feeling the need for a bit of surrealism I paid the 12 euros and gave myself it. I was sure I'd been in here a good few years ago but it seemed completely different. Makes sense - since 2018 the museum's had a complete makeover and now features over 300 graphic artworks and sculptures from a private collection. I was blown away by both - I've always loved the melting clocks but now I'm partial to a space elephant (an elephant on spiders legs carrying an obelisk). It was also a joy to see his Alice in Wonderland illustrations, and two of the most enduring icons of the surrealist movement - the Mae West Lips Sofa and the legendary Lobster telephone. There's a gallery of prints for sale too, you can own your own Dali for the price of a small car.

Dali Museum Paris
The well-worth-a-look Dali Museum in Montmartre (photos from Dali Museum)
I'm not the tourist I used to be before I broke my ankle, so only managed one museum in the day I had left. As I said I mainly like to walk around and see what I find. By the end of the second day of walking I realised I had pushed it a bit and decided to us the bus, because the metro was still pretty unfathomable. Hopefully the strike will be over by the time I go back. I'd had my French fix for the time being, and I'm looking forward to my feet hitting French soil again in April - Eurodisney - here I come!!!!

9 December 2019

Aladdin - Tyne Theatre

Ah, pantomimes. The perfect antidote to the election and winter. An opportunity to switch off for two and a bit hours and immerse ourselves in a fairytale. I met a friend and her child at the Tyne Theatre, stocked up on wine and all the junk food and prepared to switch my brain off for two hours (difficult when you need to do a review). 

Aladdin Pantomime Newcastle
The official poster
Aladdin is one of my favourite pantos (I was obsessed with the Disney film) and I thoroughly enjoyed the updated live action film this year and Will Smith's genie. It would be pointless comparing his CGI'd effort genie with Marcus Collins' attempt so I won't, but I was liking the 70s music-loving, funky vibe that Marcus brought to the role. He appears in a smoke-filled cloud in Old Peking to open the show, and shows off his singing prowess with hits like Kung-Fu Fighting, a mash up of Relight My Fire and Disco Inferno and Gimme Some Lovin' (performed with the rest of the cast).

Also starring is Home and Away's Nick Westaway, who seems like the perfect choice for Aladdin (or Prince Charming, or any other male main part) with his boyish good looks and general all-round nice guy image. He also shows he can sing as well as act in group numbers likes Can't Stop The Feeling, the ever-popular Shotgun (even my two year old nephew loves it), a predictable yet amusing version of the Home and Away theme tune with his love Princess Jasmine (local lass Hannah Wales) and his magic carpet ride solo of Take That's Rule The World. 

Aladdin Tyne Theatre Newcastle
The cast in all its glory!
I marvelled at how gravelly and well, downright evil Hollyoaks baddie David Easter's voice could get as Abanazar but I guess that was a requirement for the part. An obvious choice for a baddie, his voice lent itself well to his musical number 'Trouble' by Elvis Presley ("because I'm evil, my middle name is misery") and I enjoyed it when the facade dropped a couple of times when one of his cast mates made a gaff. 

The gaffs are one of my favourite aspects of the Tyne Theatre panto, and often include the brilliant Charlie Richmond (this year playing Wishee Washee) and yet again he did not disappoint in bringing the comedy and heart to the show. This is his 11th year doing the panto here and it he makes it look effortless, taking the mick out of his brother Aladdin and their larger-than-life mother Widow Twankey (Chris Casserly). The jokes just keep on coming and obviously included Brexit and Prince Andrew (not too keen on jokes making mental health or suicide though). Expect to get wet courtesy of water pistols or get hit with some Haribo if you're sitting near the front (but no one is safe when they use tennis rackets)! 

Wishee (Charlie Richmond) and Aladdin (Nick Westaway)
Hannah Wales who plays Princess Jasmine has a great voice and did a really good job as Princess Jasmine (I enjoyed her version of Jai Ho and the circus skills of dancers Emma Dearden and Rachael Alexander). I always think that Lewis Denny (PC Pong) should be given a bigger part, and Steve Halliday did the job as Jasmine's dad, the Emperor. Chris Casserly got in some great visual gags with Window Twakey's outlandish outfits and is the quintessential Pantomime Dame. Also a special mention for the great work of the dancers (the little ones are always so sweet), the effective three-man orchestra and the creative team (the set was really strong this year). And the great charity work that's done every year by the team.

The star-studded cast doesn't disappoint, and will take you to a whole new world! (Sorry couldn't resist).

Aladdin as at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Sunday 5th January 2020. Buy tickets here

*I received tickets in exchange for a review, thank you to Jam Marketing for arranging this* 

8 December 2019

The Snow Queen - Northern Stage

I always enjoy the Christmas play at Northern Stage. It's always different and creative and a good contrast to the more traditional pantomimes that are here, there and everywhere at this time of year. The Snow Queen, based on a story by fairytale king Hans Christian Anderson and adapted by Laura Lindow is about as far away from traditional as you can get!

The Snow Queen Northern Stage

The action takes places in Stifle, a bizarre town where the inhabitants have barricaded themselves behind a wall to protect themselves from the threat of storms, oceans and worse of all, snow. The set is amazing, a wooden 'maze' which even has a piano suspended from the ceiling and was inspired by the British seaside. I was also struck by the Scandi-type costumes of the cast, which were simple yet really effective. At the heart of the story is Gerda (played with the perfect amount of childlike wonder by Lauren Waine), a girl who lost her mum when she was young and lives with her fearful Dad. Then she meets Kai (Gregor Mackay) and goes on an epic adventure to rescue him from evil The Snow Queen (Elizabeth Carter - who has a really good voice).

The Snow Queen Northern Stage
The magnificent set
The play is full of eccentric characters, including the hilarious and Miss Trunchbull-like teacher Elsie Orr (Paula Penman), the snow-fearing Mr Kelpine (Craig Fairbairn) and the American multi-instrumentalist Liletta (Dr G. Hannabiell Sanders). Most of the cast can play numerous instruments (including Jeremy Bradfield who plays Gerda's Dad) and music plays such a big part in the production as a whole.

Elizabeth Carter as The Snow Queen
Kai ends up losing his childhood self after being struck by splinters in his eye and heart (which makes him see only what is wrong in the world and turns his heart to ice), before the Snow Queen lures him away. In the second half (which I enjoyed more than the first) Gerda goes on a quest to find Kai where she meets a larger than life reindeer, a wise old crone and a beautiful rose, picking up lots of wisdom along the way. The characters reminded me of some of the Alice in Wonderland cast. Thankfully the Snow Queen gets her comeuppance, and we're reminded of the importance on not giving up on people you love.

Gerda and the Reindeer
After initially struggling to get into the story I ended up being transported to the magical world which was so lovingly created by the cast and crew to bring the fairy tale to life. I was seriously impressed with the creativity and the commitment of everyone involved to create a strange and mystical world where the power of friendship is paramount.

*I received two tickets in exchange for a review

Buy tickets for The Snow Queen at Northern Stage here