Do! The Magical Lantern Festival

London’s Chiswick House & Gardens is home to a yearly blow up light spectacular known as the Magical Lantern Festival. The festival celebrates the Chinese New Year honoring the Chinese lantern traditions and whatever animal that year belongs to. The festival is currently celebrating Chinese New Year of the Rooster 2017, and running from January 19th-February 26th.

London’s Magical Lantern Festival

The lanterns illuminated stand out tall and bright against the darkness of Chiswick Gardens in the evening. It really is an amazing sight, not just viewing Asian inspired designs, but also flowers, famous characters, animals, and buildings of the world. 

The ticketed entrance is a complete mess. There are way too many people and not enough staff funneling them through. Everyone stops once in to “ooh” and “aah” at the first lantern they see or to adjust their babies that they are wearing on their bodies or to re-bundle up the children they are pushing in strollers. I actually vowed never to bring a child under four to this event because it is too long and too cold to keep their attention beyond the first couple displays. I really had never seen so many screaming children. 

But once through the initial herd of people, you get a little breathing and walking room and it’s actually quite fun! About halfway through the exhibits there is a rest stop for a bathroom break, some snacks, alcoholic beverages, some glow-in-the-dark souvenirs, and a chance to toast your own marshmallows! You can then continue your journey on the park’s paths through an illuminated wonderland. At the end of the experience, there is an adorable ice rink and an assortment of food trucks offering a little bit of everything. There is also a makeshift bar with picnic tables and a plenty of games and candy to keep the kids occupied. The Magical Lantern Festival definitely has something for everyone from beginning to end! 

An amazing sight at Chiswick’s Magical Lantern Festival
So, in conclusion, if you’re looking for an activity that’s a little different to help with the winter blues, head to the Chiswick House & Gardens. The Magical Lantern Festival will bring out your inner child and dazzle your senses. Enjoy!

A grand walkway at London’s Magical Lantern Festival

The Magical Lantern Festival
Chiswick House & Gardens 
Dukes Avenue Gate
London W4 2QN

Categories Do!

Do! Cahoots

Fun, fun, fun! This underground bar located in Soho’s Kingly Court is a definite must-do. Bookings are absolutely necessary, and get you right in to a 1940s time warp! The old tube station is quirky–filled with old memorabilia, fun music, and a costumed staff playing the part of cocktail servers frozen in time. 

The menu at Cahoots London

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking because I thought it too. This sounds so cheesy, so contrived, so touristy, etc. But trust me, it’s really a good time. There are certain aspects of Cahoots that keep it off the dreaded tourist trap list and, instead, make it a must-do destination for visitors and residents alike. This is what sets Cahoots apart:

The size and exclusivity. You really have to plan ahead to visit this bar. They’re not churning people in and out like it’s a Ruby Tuesday’s. It’s small, you get full attention from the staff, and they give you a full two hours which is fine considering it’s just for drinks. 

The staff. The staff is very well trained. They’ve perfected their roles and they put on a great show from the line to get in to the coat check on your way out. You can tell the establishment invests in a high caliber of employees. 

The cocktails. A place like Cahoots could probably be full every night and serve shit because it’s cool and different and you can find someone to nibble on whatever you’re selling if you market it right. Take the shitshow that’s the London Dungeon, for example. But, nope, Cahoots keeps it a cut above the rest, actually serving high end cocktails that are crafted with quality ingredients and precision. And the menu is HUGE. They have at least sixty different drinks on their fun newspaper menu that you can flip through, choose your poison, look at some silly ads and even work on a crossword!

Amazing cocktails at Cahoots, London

This formula that Cahoots follows has created a high level bar that’s worth a visit. Yes, they have a few snacks, but make sure this is a pre- or post-dinner stop. This is a great choice to kick off a fun Saturday night or to surprise some out-of-town guests with something unique. Enjoy Cahoots, their special  concoctions, and the impressive staff as soon as you can!

Cocktail hour at Cahoots, London

13 Kingly Court
London W1B 5PG

Categories Do!

Don’t! The Potting Shed

So this Marylebone restaurant isn’t going to get a horrible review, but it’s not getting a rave one either. The Potting Shed is just the type of restaurant that exists. It’s not wowing anyone, nor being visually offensive. It’s just there, with so-so service, food, decor and prices. I’ve been a couple times due to its convenient location for business meetings when meeting with colleagues off the train, but other than that, I see no point in being a recurring patron. 

The Potting Shed in Marylebone’s Dorset Square Hotel

Let me break it down for you. The Potting Shed is set underground, in the basement level of the Dorset Square Hotel. This would be a disadvantage for many restaurants, but they actually make use of the light they do have, and use a lot of white accents to keep the place airy and not feeing dingy. Their decor, though, is not quite right. The cluttered walls are packed with all white ceramic decorations. Whether it’s the wall of white small pots (how fitting),  the one of ornate garden plaques and gargoyles, or the area of white clay leaves, it’s all really boring. And, right in between the boredom of the repetitive white against the actually pretty mint-colored backdrop, you have the ugliest piece of “art” I have ever seen. Black and white bold, oversized number surrounded by rustic wood paddles of some sort. Might be a British thing. Regardless, it doesn’t match and adds to the clutter. The restaurant is full of these little mismatched oddities, like with an outdated lamp in a window between the upper dining room and the lower bar. 

Dining at The Potting Shed, London

Once you get past the decor and focus on the food, the selection is quite nice. An upscale British mix of meat, fish and pasta classics, lunch specials, and an Afternoon Tea. It just never tastes quite as good as it sounds. My mint pea and mint soup was delicious, and looked lovely in the bowl. Bright green against the white bowl and mint surroundings. But the pumpkin gnocchi special was bland and the entire dish was missing some contrasting colors and textures. 

And I have to point out my tea. While The Potting Shed aimed for a grand presentation, the whole tea service was a little contrived. The teapot was presented with a strainer (as is common for loose leaves) but the pot was actually filled with just tea bags! What was the point?! So close, but so far.

An unusual tea time at The Potting Shed, London

Even with all these little grievances, I did, however, book a table for a business meeting coming up, due to lack of options in that area. So, either Marylebone or The Potting Shed…one of you needs to tighten up. Either get new restaurants in your area or revamp the existing ones! There’s still hope Potting Shed! There’s still hope.

The Potting Shed, Marylebone

The Potting Shed
Dorset Square Hotel
39-40 Dorset Square
London NW1 6QN

Do! Taqueria

A glimpse of Notting Hill’s Taqueria menu

Notting Hill’s Taqueria is an easy Mexican spot for a chill dinner any day of the week. It’s a no fuss eatery at a decent price point, and full of friendly servers bringing you delicious, flavorful small plates. 

The place is so uncomplicated that I don’t really need to take you through the good and bad of each restaurant building block. Instead, I’ll keep it short and sweet. 

I only have two complaints. The lighting is too bright and the ventilation isn’t doing its job. You don’t notice it when you’re in there, but once you leave, you smell. My sweater went to the cleaners and my jacket had been airing out for two days.  

Aside from those two little grievances, Taqueria is great. Their inventive drinks are top-notch and accompany any one of their spicy, rich, colorful, Mexican plates. We shared the Botana, a basic trio of dips and chips, but were blown away by the chorizo quesadilla we started with. Quesadillas at most of the London Mexican restaurants are all little dishes to get in multiples and share, FYI. In the US, you pictures one giant quesadilla as a starter for all. The price should give you an indication of what to expect, but if not, there you go.

After the powerful quesadilla, we went on to enjoy the rolled cheese tacos–basically browned cheese rolled up with tortillas and salsa–which everyone is sure to enjoy. My dad used to make a habit of cooking nothing but piles of cheese in a pan and waiting for the mess to spread and crisp up. He would surely enjoy this taco.

A little bit of this and that at Notting Hill’s Taqueria
Rolled cheese tacos at London’s Taqueria

Next were the roadside chicken tacos. These were probably the most powerful and seasoned of the dishes, and my husband’s favorite! I had to cut the intensity with a side of sour cream, but I thoroughly enjoyed my half of the plate.

Lastly, my favorite, the jalapeño tacos. Think jalapeño popper with a layered taco twist. I loved, loved, loved this dish.

The great jalapeño tacos at Taqueria, London

A couple drinks and a full dinner will run you about £60-70. In a neighborhood like Notting Hill, that’s not a bad bill for high quality food and a decent buzz. Next time you’re in the area, check out Taqueria for yourself. Reservations are advised. Enjoy! 
141-145 Westbourne Grove
London, W11 2RS

Don’t! West Thirty Six

Don’t. Do not. Do not under any circumstance get roped in to going to West Thirty Six.  After numerous bad meals, I kept getting sucked back in to such a poor establishment due to birthday parties, a few “it’s been awhiles” and “maybe it’s changed,” and some “it’s way better now, I swear” from different acquaintances. It’s not better. It’s never better. A restaurant with horrible ventilation, stock issues, inedible food, and awful ventilation, lighting and prices, has earned nothing more than this review.

So, here we go. Now most of my “don’ts” were one or two time experiences, but not West Thirty Six. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been there at least 15 times. Not because I’m a masochist, but at one time they had one good dish that was reasonably priced and worth ignoring how basically every other part of the establishment was crumbling around me, and it’s close. 

But, let me start with the actual building. I love the look of the downstairs. It has a pretty bar and a warm yellow-green glow.  The problem with the downstairs, however, is that you can’t actually sit down there and breathe. The ventilation is so poor that one steak left on the grill is enough to smoke out the entire floor leaving throats dry, eyes burning, patrons coughing, and hair and clothing smelling like a 4th of July campfire. It’s disgusting. 

Dining in the dark at West Thirty Six, London

If you try to dine a floor up, be prepared for West Thirty Six’s take on “Dining in the Dark.” I felt much older than my age when I could not read a menu or cut my food well in the darkness of their upper level. About an hour into our meal, the staff decided to turn the lights on, which did not really rectify the lighting situation, but actually made it worse, shining one ceiling spotlight right in my face. It was like a dark auditorium and I was beginning a performance. So, no matter what level you are on, the place is a fail. Not to mention very quiet…

Word must be spreading about the terrible experiences being had at West Thirty Six because every time I’m in there the turnout is more and more depressing. We were the only table upstairs in the dark for a good hour, and the time before that, even though OpenTable showed the restaurant as 99% full, we were one of two tables our entire evening downstairs! They are selectively releasing seats to look much more exclusive than they actually are. It’s really such a shame because the location is easy and the place has the looks and potential of being a cool go-to. But nope. I also have to note that West Thirty Six marked my last OpenTable reservation as me being a no-show and I had to contact the website because that was certainly not the case. Just another little West Thirty Six annoyance.

Notting Hill’s West Thirty Six menu, a definite Don’t

So, how ’bout the food? Well, it’s just gross. At one time they had a delicious pulled pork sandwich that threw some rose-colored glasses on me, but once they took that off the menu (over a year ago), nothing has hit the spot. My entire party was dissatisfied last visit, trying a mix of chicken wings, beef tartare, ribs, chips, mixed greens, and a steak. Everything was either too bland, tough, or chewy. Ribs should fall of the bone and melt into a delicious barbecue sauce. These were stiff and dry, clinging to the bone with dear life. A huge disappointment. 

Disappointing ribs at London’s West Thirty Six

And, the menu was very incomplete. The restaurant was out of the first five drink and food items we tried to order. I wondered if it was all in preparation to officially close their doors, but no, just another hint of a poorly managed establishment. The server also waited until we decided on and ordered each item before letting us know what was missing, which is also annoying. But, it fits the theme of the place I guess.

Poor service, lighting, ventilation, and food. If that’s your idea of a good time, head to West Thirty Six on London’s Golborne Road. If not, head to any other restaurant in West London!!!

West Thirty Six
36 Golborne Road
London, W105PR