#Empty – The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Forget Wimbledon – the Summer Exhibition at the RA IS what British summertime is all about.

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I was lucky enough to be invited to their instagrammer’s empty event, which was one of the most magical mornings I’ve had in London – wandering around a completely empty exhibition was absolutely breathtaking.

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Every year I am blown away, and this year was no different.

Everything at the Summer Exhibition represents the art being made today. For those who don’t know the history behind the summer exhibition, almost 250 years ago, the RA’s founding members agreed to hold an annual exhibition open to all artists to help finance the training of young artists.

My favourite thing about the exhibition is how much it varies – you’ll find the household names amongst the lesser known and up-and-comers.

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It’s on until the 20th of August, and I really wouldn’t miss it – you can find out more here.

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Have you been this year? Comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!

Italy in June

I’ve just gotten back from my lovely week off, which I spent in beautiful Italy.

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We flew into Pisa, and spent the first few days going on long walks around our villa and swimming by the pool in a villa in Umbria. There was so much delicious produce, and being away from the hustle and bustle of city life was unbelievably good.

Umbria, Italy

We rented a car and drove around the region – the first place we went to was Assisi, which was one of the highlights of my trip.

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Another amazing day was out by Lake Trasimeno – where we went for a dip after going up the Rocca di Passignano for the views first. There was excellent coffee there, too.

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I also found Lucca completely charming – the Torre Guinigi in particular, with all the plants on the top and for the views.

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We spent our last and final day in Pisa, and had to of course pop by to see the tower, but it was so overrun with tourists that I was super glad to have left it until then as it was quite a hectic experience!

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Before I went on my little adventure, the team at Holiday Gems tasked me the challenge of getting as many holiday essentials for £50. I ended up being so busy in the lead up to my holiday that I had to make do with what was already in my wardrobe, but in hindsight I think the items I found most essential this holiday were:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent (I was absolutely eaten alive!)
  • A good book (Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my go-to holiday read)

They’ve got a few helpful tips on their Facebook page too – and they’ve got some serious deals for Pisa too.

What are your holiday essentials? Comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!

The Director’s Cut at GŌNG Bar, Shangri-La Hotel

It seems as though I’ve spent most of April and May up the Shard, but I popped in again recently to try out the new cocktail menu up at the GŌNG Bar in the Shangri-La Hotel.

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The Director’s Cut is inspired by some of the most iconic film directors, and features 16 cocktails across different genres.

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‘Fear The Jungle’, inspired by Steven Spielberg, combines BarSol Quebranta Pisco, banana, pineapple skin sherbet, lime and chocolate in an ivy-covered highball. It’s not one for you if you’re squeamish – it comes topped with a scorpion (which the bartenders will make you eat).

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‘Dirty Business’ combines Woodford Reserve bourbon, Mr Black cold-pressed coffee liqueur, Fernet Amaro and a douse of stout.

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Perhaps my favourite of the evening, the Fleming Sweep – Tanqueray, Cocchi Americano, elderflower, champagne and sour hop sourced from local micro- brewery Anspach & Hobday in Bermondsey.

The cocktails aren’t cheap, but you get what you pay for – they are some of the nicest I’ve had in a long time, and you really can’t beat that view.

Have you tried the Director’s Cut menu? Comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!

Merge Festival, Bankside

Last week I headed on over to check out what was going on at Merge Festival – an annual arts, music and performance festival held in Bankside.

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It’s on until the 4th of June, so you’ve got a few days left to catch live music and performances throughout the neighbourhood. The weather was absolutely stunning, so we managed to catch some of the live music on the Thames Clipper, but you can still catch some of the acts at Borough Market, or at Citizen M.

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We also made it to Drive Dead Slow, which is the trippiest bumper car experience I’ve ever experienced – personality tests and all. I’ve popped down the rest of the events until the 4th below – get yourself down there before it’s over!

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12th May – 4th June – Drive Dead Slow – the ultimate dodgem experience

What: The world’s first artist-designer bumper car arena: a collective of visual, sound and light artists have each adapted a 1960s Supercar to give each vehicle a personality to match your mood. Career around a disused fire station and see which car/ personality you’ve chosen!

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Artists include: Marcus Lyall, Bompas & Parr, Jimmy Cauty, Luke Morgan, Ed Baxter, Tony Pletts and Dave Cranmer.

Where: Southwark Fire Brigade, Southwark Bridge Road (entrance on Sawyer Street), SE1 0EG

When: 12th May – 4th June (ongoing through MERGE), 12:00 – 19:00 daily (until 22:00 on Friday nights)

Cost: Free from 12:00 – 16:00, £5 after

Merge Festival Bankside

12th May – 4th June – Candy Chang Confessions – Hilton London Bankside

What: A top-secret confession booth set up by Taiwanese-American artist Candy Chang. Divulge your innermost thoughts, facts and quirks and write whatever you’d like on a wooden plaque, and leave behind anonymously. Throughout the festival, a gallery of these hanging confessions will be created outside the booths where you can delve into others’ thoughts – some may be shocking and some might show we are not alone in our quirks! 

Where: Outside Hilton Bankside, Prices Street, SE1 0UG

When: 12th May – 4th June, all day, every day

Cost: Free

12th May – 4th June – Acoustic Buskers at Borough Market

What: Perk up your lunch break with live acoustic sessions at Borough Market, featuring local musicians Tim Newman, Lucy May Walker, Alex Monk and Marku Michelucci.

Where: Market Hall at Borough Market, 2 – 4 Bedale Street, SE1 9AL

When: Monday – Wednesday during festival, 12:00 – 14:00

Cost: Free

12th May – 4th June – Skyline Sessions at Mondrian London

What: Head to Mondrian’s recently revamped skyline bar, Rumpus Rooms, for live acoustic music and excellent drinks throughout MERGE.

Where: Mondrian London, 20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD

When: Every Wednesday during the festival, from 19:00

Cost: Free to enter

12th May – 4th June – Jonny Drop at Boro Bistro

What: Adding extra musical flair to the MERGE line-up are Boro Bistro’s Thursday night DJ sessions, playing Latin, Jazz and Soul on vinyl.

Where: Boro Bistro, 6 – 10 Borough High Street, SE1 9QQ

When: Every Thursday during the festival, from 19:00

Cost: Free

12th May – 4th June – Live music at Union Street Café

What: A celebration of the humble olive at Union Street Café’s Olive Grove. Drink and dine under an olive tree canopy and sip on martini cocktails whilst enjoying live music.

Where: Union Street Café, 47 – 51 Great Suffolk Street, SE1 0BS

When: Every Friday during the festival, from 20:00

Cost: £25 for four small plates and a cocktail (quote MERGE Bankside)

12th May – 4th June – Sunday Sessions at Bedales

What: A weekly Sunday musical experience at the legendary Borough Market bar.

Where: Bedales, Borough Market, 5 Bedal Street, SE1 9AL

When: Every Sunday during the festival (excluding 14th May), from 18:00

Cost: Free

15th May – 3rd June – ‘This is Not Culturally Significant’ at Bunker Theatre

What: A darkly comic one-man show that explores various characters’ eccentricities. Performed entirely nude, it’s both uncomfortable and mesmerising.

Where: Bunker Theatre, 53A Southwark Street, SE1 1RU

When: 15th May – 3rd June, 20:00

Cost: Tickets start at £10

24th May –  4th June – Patrick Tresset’s Machine Studies

What: Immerse yourself in a classroom of 20 robot pupils, each with a distinct personality. Watch how they respond to English, maths, science and art lessons. In another room, have your portrait drawn by a robot as they now turn their gaze on you.

Where: Platform Southwark, 1 Joan Street

When: 24th May – 4th June, Wednesday – Sunday, 12:00 – 19:00

Cost: Free, pre-book a portrait drawing at mergefestival.co.uk

31st May – 2nd June – Caravan Shorts

What: A 15-minute theatre production from a caravan, produced by Robert Linde. Nine audience members at a time can experience one of eight short dramas in this intimate and exciting setting. The caravan will move locations throughout the Bankside area over the course of the festival.

Where: Flat Iron Square (Union Street)

When: 31st May – 2nd June, 12:00 – 14:00, 17:00 – 19:00

Cost: Free

1st June – Electronic DJ at citizenM

What: citizenM gets into the MERGE spirit with a special electronic DJ night.

Where: citizenM, 20 Lavington Street, SE1 0NZ

When: 1st June, 17:00 – 19:00

Cost: Free

4th June – Super Glad at the Union Theatre – musicians

What: Music nights return to showcase local talent at this Bankside institution, paying homage to legendary pub ‘The Gladstone’s Sunday sessions. The day will be jam-packed with live music and drinks, featuring Billy Bones, The Swamp Stomp String Band and Vinyl DJs.

Where: Union Theatre, Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR

When: 4th June, 18:00 – 22:30

Cost: Free

More details on the festival, now in its seventh year, can be found at mergefestival.co.uk, as well as links to purchase any tickets.

Merge Bankside is a festival curated by Illuminate Productions, created in collaboration with Better Bankside, a Business Improvement District dedicated to making Bankside a place to work, live, and visit. It is also supported by Tate Modern.

Have you made it down to Merge yet? Comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!

Pan Chai at Harrod’s

Back when I lived in New York, I would go out to eat sushi around once a week. It would be a ritual I had with my mom – the one thing we would schedule in consistently, when I would be swamped with school and extracurriculars and she was busy with work. We would catch up and chew the fat(ty tuna) – and even though we did it every week, it always felt special, and like a treat.

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Nowadays, my weekly sushi routine usually involves grabbing a couple of salmon avocado handrolls, hunched over my laptop at the office. So when I was invited to pop down to Harrod’s and check out Pan Chai, I was pretty excited.

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It’s located in the food hall of Harrod’s – 22 leather and marble clad seats where shoppers can sample fresh, pan-Asian fare without interrupting their shopping trip. As a result, it is fantastic for people-watching – if you’re looking for an intimate, romantic meal then this might not be one for you, but it’s definitely one to bring your best friend to.

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We started with the seaweed salad, which was topped with sesame seeds. It was slightly pickled, and had bite, and by far the simplest dish we had during our visit.

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If you go to Harrod’s, then you probably love the dramatic – and the rest of our meal at Pan Chai was like a trip to the theatre in the best way possible. The first signature sushi roll we ordered was the Harrod’s Special – fresh snow crab with avocado and spicy mayonnaise, topped with seared scallops, black caviar and spring onions.

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In my opinion, you can’t really go wrong with the crab and avocado combination, but it paled in comparison to the negitoro maki, which is one of my favourites. Negitoro is spicy tuna with spring onions, and this was made with chopped tuna belly – it was mouthwateringly good.

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I’m definitely quite conservative when it comes to my sushi choices, though, and I absolutely loved the simple flavours from the nigiri kiku platter. With sushi, as long as the quality of the ingredients is there, you don’t need to combine too many flavours or textures – it just works.

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The nigiri kiku platter included a foie gras roll that I still dream about one month after my visit – it was like butter. You also got tuna belly, salmon, sea bass, yellow tail, shrimp, wagyu tartar, scallop and grilled eel, along with the usual fillers (in my opinion!) of cooked prawn, tamago and tuna.

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It was all absolutely delicious, the tuna belly and the wagyu tartar really standing out as well.

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I had a really enjoyable experience at Pan Chai, but the only drawback I had with the menu was the total lack of dessert options. We settled for a kir royale and a bellini, but given how much I enjoyed the nigiri in particular, I would’ve loved to have finished the meal with something sweet. If you’re ever in need of a bite to eat during a shopping spree, I’d definitely recommend the nigiri platter.

Have you eaten at Pan Chai? Comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram!