Guangzhou: Diary 1 :

Guangzhou, it’s a melting pot;

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I tried to put off writing about it until I’d photographed and examined every inch of it; I’d landed on July 9th, slightly jet lagged and walked the streets, sauntering about to observe the society I’d been dropped into;

Following the first night, where I ended up staring into Karaoke booths; freaking out the locals and thinking of all the experiences Guangzhou and China had to offer; These are just some of the highlights from my trip so far;

 街头生活  (Street Life) 

Yes, Street Life; What do I mean by that; I’ve been able to simply wander the streets, finding great colours, textures and smells; One minute there’s an old fashioned guardian lion; the next there’s some kind of market stall full of dead sea-horses; or grandma has decided to do a special chant to commemorate a sale at her Lizhi store; China is heaven if you love people watching more than watching television.  The people are great, the  and the restaurants/stores stay open; which means you can get ice cream at 3am if you chose to do so….(just like Istanbul)

 

Every street is full of stories

Characters

Sounds

Life

Windows to look through

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2. “The superior man does not, even for the space of a single meal, act contrary to virtue.”(Confucius) 

It’s actually cheaper to eat out than it is to shop in a supermarket; I only go in for tonic water and those prawn chips that taste vaguely obscene;  As a result, I’ve been subjected to a series of very interesting experiences; from awkward moments where I’ve had to beg my Chinese friends to translate the menu via WeChat; to that amazing time I sat and had Pig Brain in Beijing; while the bar played Marilyn Manson at full blast.  (It tasted like Tofu)

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My favourite experience so far has to be having dinner with my partner-in-crime’s parents; not only did we communicate, despite my limited Chinese (méng méng da!) but it was a pure moment; It just felt like the best thing I could have been doing with my time in Beijing;  Also; we had Roast duck and ate Mahjong tiles made out of…something.

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Personally, I think Chinese food is totally based around the sharing culture;  Every waitress has seemed a little confused as to why I’m not chowing down on questionable roadside dumplings…probably made out of the sausages they sell at 7/11 all the time as I’m alone.

While I have done the whole street food thing; my favorite food tradition in Cantonese culture is ‘Yum Cha‘   You take a menu; check a few boxes and soon enough; you are having tea and dumplings;  I guess it appeals to my English longings for afternoon tea and a bit of a show; see below for the epic Mango Cream Yam Cha and Siu Mai (I once ordered Congee by mistake …no pictures…urgh)

 

 

Yum Cha…mmmmm

3.  Adventure is worthwhile 

In Guangzhou, here’s just a small plethora of the places I’ve visited, with the notes I’d attached at the time;

Lychee Bay– Really historical; sink a coffee here and take in all the beautiful lakes; Temples nearby; I nearly got chatting to an obviously european tourist; but never could find the words; so we basically had an unspoken travel photography battle in the temple.

Canton Tower– Amazing views of the old fashioned tower buildings. a bit misty and underwhelming.

Shamian Island– The boat cruise from Canton Tower is amazing.

Xiaozhoucun– Really old fashioned, countryside town; the streets are sleepier and it’s a great escape; if only to see the house made entirely of oysters.

Chimelong Safari Park– Sleepy Pandas and Badass Bears; the cable car ride is epic.  Even the animatronics and the Longleat style ride is worth the 300 RMB price.  Lovely to see families out and about.

Party Pier–  Sun in Sky; a fashion centre with good wine; I think I will have to visit it again soon; Especially given their amazing; if pricey shirts; a great space to walk around and imagine if life had been perfect and you’d been a born model.

Chen Chan Academy (Guangdong Folk Museum) – I sometimes think of myself as a temple Runner; I love the history; nothing really compares to the temples of Thailand; mainly because they still have a genuine function beyond tourism; but again, a beautiful place to throw time away.

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 4. Beijing;

Big shout out to the wonderful people I met on the TEFL-C!   Particularly those still based in Beijing and my Texan crew; basically; a week of hardcore teaching theory, which definitely wetted my appetite to go out in the evenings; I took the metro to various areas, particularly the Xijiaomin Hutongs; where I met a woman who wants to put QR codes on food, I can’t wait to meet my Beijing crew when I’m back in October.

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5. Chinese Future;

So finally, I was able to write a vaguely coherent entry about the last 3 weeks; what do I hope for now? Tomorrow; I’ll be looking for apartment and trying to find a place I can call my own;

On Friday; I have a mock lesson for a pet store using Total Physical Response and a week long of observations; Overall, I’m excited to get a place to call my own and finally applying for the permit that will allow me to visit Shanghai and Hong Kong (or Honkers!) with ease…lets go see what they eat huh!?

Thank you to all the people at Disney English so far who have made it an easy and fun trip (Rachel, Paul,  Lindsey, Stephen etc…you guys rule!)

 

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What I’ve learnt (teaching) so far:  Be aware of different sounds animals make in different cultures.

What I’ve learnt (personal) so far; Don’t always order by pictures; it could be congee. 

What I’d like to learn;  Chinese, beyond ‘I want…’

 

 

 

Tidy Table: Bistrot Pierre

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Entering the newest addition to the Mumbles: Bistrot Pierre; I breathed a sigh of relief; Not only was it busy, it was beautiful; Bistrot Pierre is known for combining provincial French cooking with an eye for detail; not only does it feature a stunning outdoor terrace to watch the boats go by; but the inside is decorated with warm Parisian decor; which will brighten up many an evening. Making it an exciting development for the new Oyster Wharf restaurant scene.

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Usually, I always judge a restaurant by it’s bread; the latest addition to the Mumbles; Bistrot Pierre has both the freshest french bread I’ve ever had in a restaurant, alongside artisan bread which can be made even more stunning with their deliciously zingy tomato tapenade; all washed down with a crisp bottle of white wine.

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This tapenade will be in my dreams soon enough…’My bouche is amused’ as Rob Brydon once said…

Next came our starters; I started with the Salade de truite fumée which featured    Smoked trout, beetroot and fennel salad  and a horseradish crème fraîche, while my dining companion went with the steamed asparagus, ham hock and sauce gribiche of eggs, capers, cornichons and herbs;

Perfect harmonious flavours; creamed eggs and asparagus.

If there was anything that would slow down our enthusiasm for the bread/tapenade; these dishes definitely made us stop in our tracks; my favorite part of the starters was the creamed eggs harmoniously combined with the asparagus: a dish that simply had been created with real talent and flair: I should note at this point that many dishes at Bistrot Pierre are either gluten free or can be made vegetarian:  providing a haven for those who are bored of the dreaded nut roast.

So onto mains; both of us opting for the duck confit  which came with an oven mitt to stop you burning your fingers, as you dish up various perfectly cooked provencal vegetables; that will be begged for by your dining companions;

The duck was easily one of the smoothest pieces of poultry I have cut through since Powdered Duck breast at celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant in London; what was interesting is that it came with salty olives and red wine jus; making it full of flavor; this combined with the shards of potato and carrots made it a dish that was well worth the price tag.

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Duck worth migrating to the Mumbles for; Duck with red wine jus and provencal veg. 

By this point, full of lovely bread, starters and now that the duck was beginning to migrate to my stomach; most reviewers tend to give up at this stage; but my weakness for creme brulee is strong;  we first started with two unique elderflower martinis on a balcony overlooking the Mumbles;

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While I love brulee; martinis are like my kryptonite; I have to say I’d be unable to say no to any of the other drinks at Bistrot Pierre and look forward to trying their take on a Bloody Mary one afternoon; again, the same talent found within the kitchen is found down at the bar and my partner in crime definitely enjoyed hers down to the last drop.

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Elderflower Martini: Really refreshing to finally get some good cocktails in a restaurant while overlooking the beautiful beach. 

Finally: Now ready to crack out the creme brûlée and it’s delicious shards of burnt caramel; We also tried the Frangipane of warm baked pear and toasted pistachio: Usually; I go for a cheese plate; which is also featured on the menu at a refreshingly reasonable price of £5.95: all in all; the spirit of French desserts lives on through Bistrot Pierre; making it one of the most well put together places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in Swansea for years.

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Sweet nectar of the gods…silky Creme Brûlée

Merci Beaucoup to Bistrot Pierre; I’m visiting Paris myself in early June; Thank you for giving us a real taste of french cooking; that no doubt will rival many of the offerings actually in the country; Overall; the standard is set high for fellow restaurants to compete with this level of good food, friendly service and a beautiful location… with a range of offers and set menus; you have no reason to not to say Bon Appétit! to Bistrot Pierre song!

 Bistrot Pierre is at;  3 Oyster Wharf  Mumbles Road Mumbles SA3 4DN

 

#Instafood is unhealthy.

We are now literally products of our time obsessed with the products of our time.

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#Jewellery has 9,623,991 tags on Instagram, while #Instafood has 83,157,881 tags.  Even more surprising;  #God has a mere 23,020,799 in comparison…Jesus was savvy when he conjured up all that fish and bread to feed the multitude; he knew that one day we’d all be applying the ‘Claredon’ filter recklessly onto everything: With so many people treating food like precious jewels or some form of higher power; the new status symbol truly lies in how you pick your dinner.

Desserts are easy; if you’ve got an overly sweet tooth; you go for some kind of puffed up version of a childhood favourite on steroids. If you are trying to be classy; or alcohol has dulled your palate; cheese is always the answer , but what about the gubbins beforehand?

I recently found myself wondering for a whole hour whether to have beef tartare as a starter or go for the trout, as a lamb wellington main was a popular choice on TripAdvisor: the reasoning being that it is correct and proper to have a fish or vegetable based starter to contrast with a meat main.

At home, my own recipe book wouldn’t even justify a pamphlet; so how had we come to such levels of pretentiousness? I had survived well in Nigeria; where moin moin followed by a bit of shortbread was my idea of a perfectly decent meal: You were lucky if the electricity was on.

Neanderthals; didn’t fret about whether ordering the Sabretooth Carpaccio as a starter because they were having the Mammoth Wellington as a main. Back in that time; I imagine procreating took a higher priority over what you put in your gullet; Eating was just a means to survive; not some kind of fancy way for the affluent, childish many to get a few social media likes.

We now want some kind of feeling to accompany the taste; it’s not merely a case of getting full or even enjoying it;  In some countries such as China; food is a rich part of the culture and it’s people take great pride in dishes that are native to their particular region; At it’s worst; food in western societies  has become completely conceptual and even fairly unpleasant as a result;

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Take for example this awful concoction, which looks like Liberace’s smoking faecal matter or the Raindrop cake; which resembles a breast implant; Most recently; Starbucks have launched a Unicorn Frappuccino; which is more of liquid fashion statement than anything palatable, containing a whopping 76 grams of sugar for a large one. #Instafood is not healthy or nourishing, it’s entirely about surface.

Yet, we still worry so much about what goes into our food, while we also mindlessly eat hummus filled with pieces of metal or rot our molars with Fruit Smoothies; The ‘health’ food industry is just as dubious as the fast food industry.  We will one day see more virtual immersive dining pushing us further into a culture where to look is everything and drones will deliver our food for us; meaning that we’ll be able to designate a place at home to take our #Instafood pics.

Lastly,  the one saving grace may well be that immersive dining encourages us to put down our phones and experience restaurants in a way that isn’t so hollo; Take http://sagaya-ginza.com and their immersive restaurant below; while I’m still fretting whether to have the meat or fish as a starter; Interesting things are happening and the future doesn’t have to be Unicorn coloured and it doesn’t have to be hash tagged;

 

…I think i’ll go for the fish

 

Sonic Room Service: Room 29

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‘Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn’t been fucked in?’ 

Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales have delivered a ghostly meditation on pretzels, blonde bombshells and other tricks of the light: 

When we think of hotels, full of stories of wreck and ruin, we immediately go to the iconic Chelsea Hotel:  where grisly murders, coked up transexuals and head on an unmade bed were inclusive. Room 29  takes you under the sheen of The Chateau Montmartre, showing the crack which let the light in; leaving many stars broken beyond repair.

Jarvis Cocker, who went from working at one point at a fishmongers in Sheffield to the dizzying heights of Pulp, acts as the perfect curator; dreamily observing the stars and his own dealings with the allure of glamour and fame: The same voice which picked apart the girls eating boxes of MilkTray alone is back to focus on Hollywood.

Chilly Gonzales compliments this beautifully, giving the album a style closer to Cocker’s radio shows.  Room 29 is stripped back to give it a more ‘lounge’ feel that allows you to focus solely on the lyrics.  Of course, These are lyrics that you’ll actually want to focus on; there’s so much to dissect it’s thicker than a Hollywood starlet on valium.

‘Trick of the Light’ seductively takes on falling for Hollywood movies and contains cryptic nods towards Cocker’s own experiences: ‘I lost my wife…and that Hollywood!’  it seems even the ex-fishmonger can view his own life just as sardonically as he’s viewed everyone else. Though there’s plenty of observations that keeps me coming back to Room 29.

The album contains a multitude of witty lines on stars of the 1930s from Jean Harlow, Howard Hughes et all; but a lot of the imagery comes from Cocker’s own imagination;   ‘Ice Cream as Main Course’ as a hedonistic ode to days of turbans of silk, chocolate milk and shots of rum doesn’t need to be explained;  it’s luscious arrangement tells you everything you need to know.

‘Belle Boy’  in particular, features a particularly raunchy segment on discovering a hotel guest mid coitus; All delivered with glee that could come across as a bit pantomime in the hands of a less talented vocalist.  Unlike Bob Dylan, there’s only a hint of age in Cocker’s voice and that’s probably  just a trick of the light.

I have no reservations about this album; it has all the power of a 70’s Bowie album and will be spoken about in the same way someday. So help yourself to pretzels…help yourself to the minibar…This album is like sonic room service.

 

 

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Mad Fer It: We Are Ian at Wardrobe Theatre Bristol.

 

 

We are Ian is about the ‘fuck all’ generation; left behind with debt, zero hours contracts and worst of all; nothing to do on the weekend. If we have nothing to look forward to; what’s the harm in looking back?  In Bed With My Brother are doling out the goods for a show that is much more than a nostalgia trip;  It’s ultimately a huge political music video about how we need a new movement; framed around 3 devoted teens literally following the light.

On a simplistic level, their sage is a talking lightbulb called Ian, We never get to the bottom of who Ian actually is; it’s up to you; you’d have to be a stone wall for the character to not resonate with you on some level. He could be a pop star or a Ziggy Stardust figure, doling out wisdom to his fans; He basically functions as a sample of soul from the rave era, treated with the same devotion as any pop star to their young fans.

In Bed With My Brother punctuate the show with a series of slang words and dance moves that could only have been invented after a few ‘Brown Biscuits’ which seems to give the characters just as much energy as any illegal street gear that used to float around Madchester during the 80s.  Even if you’ve lived your entire life without a cup of Coffee;  I defy you to not get up and do the Cold Spaghetti or throw a couple of Hot Potatoes on the dance floor.

With audience participation being at the forefront of it’s success;  it’s easy to see why In Bed With My Brother have performed at various festivals and for this show; Bristol. Bristolians love getting off their peanuts; it’s in their blood, along with Exhibition Cider. At 50 minutes long, the show pumps beautifully towards an ending which doesn’t so much offer a defining statement as state the obvious; we all have to grow up, but first; lets keep dancing before the comedown sets in.

It’s all in good fun; the real work is figuring out what you’ve projected onto the play and what the play actually stood for. I usually hate all the academic navel gazing, but it’s impossible in some senses to stop thinking about We are Ian, which is the key to it’s success. Rather than tell you, it challenges the senses; a refreshing break from the usual narrative toss usually served up in the Post Xmas lull. As a result, it avoid soap opera plots and retains all of it’s raw power.

None of this would be possible without the actors themselves; The enormous physicality they possess, even when throwing around various baked goods is astounding; We’ve all been a bit worse for wear and thrown some ill-advised shapes; but the Nora, Dora + Kat as their Facebook humbly bills them are like three demented droog mimes; There’s not a lot of companies that could make a talking lightbulb, a Maggie Thatcher rave montage and the pogo so appealing; but somehow they’ve managed it. All we need is a bit more clarification on who Ian is. Oh fuck it; We all are and you will be too. Fookin’ see it!

Next show at: New Wolsey Theatre 23rd March

 

50 Shades of Bristol: Woky Ko

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Woky Ko

Woky Ko, one of the little worlds housed in a shipping container has a real charm: one of its real draws is that you cannot book, this is not a place to go to in order to impress your friends, save for a Sea Bass Tartare (£6.95) it’s a fairly simple hipster affair of Bao and Noodles.

It’s real strength is reflected in the offerings surrounding Wapping Wharf, you can make these at home, but I challenge you to make a Bao. We began with their Braised Pork, Hoisin Ketchup with Apple and Peanut Powder, a sticky peanut butter bomb of flavour that didn’t disappoint.

I’ve had Bao at the equally impressive Khao and Bao on Baldwin Street,  so I’m not going to deconstruct one with anything other than my teeth. All you need to know is that I’ve had wet dreams about Bao. Dreams which Larkin Cen has made a reality at Woky Ko.

Spiced Apple Scallop and the Tartare may impress some, but give anyone a Bao and they’ll discover something that has yet to become a full blown foodie trend.  The first chef to find a way to make them as popular as hipster hamburgers or import them tastefully into our supermarkets will be burned at the stake for practising magic. Larkin Cen; Please give me the recipe, I’ll dedicate my life to making it happen.

We also had the Crispy Duck Rice Noodle Salad (£7.95) and Braised Pork Chow Mein (£8.95) which were both rich in flavour, particularly after smothering it in Sriracha. Perhaps the simplicity of these dishes is something that would put off those who had designs to eat at Box E Bristol, but for a casual dinner, it’s certainly one of the best on the Wharf.

If you lived nearby, it’s a hipster lifeline: Washed down with a few Korean Beers or something Wilder at Wild Beer, you do leave feeling blessed in a city with many vibrant Asian offerings or faux Asian broth houses such as Cupp 

Wapping Wharf is slowly building itself as an alternative to the usual Harbourside jaunt. As it develops, I look forward to seeing what else can go in Bao, given they serve up a Salted Caramel Ice Cream Bao (£4.25)  which felt like a step too far, I’ve been thinking of new types…Sushi Bao? Ramen Bao? Bao Bao?

Honourable Bristol Mentions: 

The Old Duke

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From the colourfully adorned ceiling, to the tribute to one of the locals at the bar, this place has a real 60’s Pub vibe, which is complimented by a regular line up of Jazz. Save for The Canteen, it’s hard to find good music on a Sunday lunchtime, usually places are filled with screaming children; so it’s good to visit somewhere for lonely people.

 

20th Century Woman

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At www.watershed.co.uk/  

20th Century Woman has all the usual traits of an art film, framed around a family drama where the heroine is a chain smoking older mother, dealing with a ramshackle bunch of relatives who just haven’t found their way. It’s difficult to sum up what happens or the characters themselves without resorting to tired stereotypes about Hipsters, but from the Talking Heads soundtrack, to the club scenes, it has the same charm as Marmite; you’ll either love it or hate it.

 

 

Manchester Chinese New Year: Musings and Mithering.

As Morrissey woefully sang: ‘Manchester, so much to answer for’

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Manchester has a feeling to it: in a particular frame of mind, it could be quite intimidating, but it’s evolved from an area which explores the condition of the working class in England to a cultural and well-meaning city.

From the moment you arrive at Piccadilly, you are greeted by (presumably) the old relics of textile buildings, which now either house Artisan Coffee shops or chic apartments.  The Northern Quarter is also home to a wealth of street art which can soothe the initial ruptures you might have about staying in MCN.

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We began gagging for a drink at The Font, which from £2 leaves you with enough money left for a bit of dinner. Admittedly, they weren’t the best, but the Camden Beer on Tap is always a safe bet. As we waited for our Airbnb hosts to arrive, it was a good pit stop.

Finally, after unpacking,  we venture out to St Ann’s square to try the Street food for Chinese New Year, one of the biggest events in Manchester. It had been our main aim, it’s a long way to come for a Beijing  Jianbing, but oh so worth it: a crunchy omelettey textual experience, perhaps a bit more spice would do it justice, but still:  the experience was good, we were happy, didn’t need white tablecloths or fine wine,  just a half decent Martini.

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Mei Mei’s Street Cart, the only place to get Jianbing in the UK. 

Speaking of Martinis, we then decided to stick to our reservations, going for a quick few drinks at Liquorice. It was all about being seen, but we’ve made a sacred vow to only ever order Martinis from now on. The amount of sugar and ice in cocktails these days is one of the greatest difficulties in Britain, it’s up there with Austerity. 

We stood around, taking it in and speaking about cultural differences, random little topics with perhaps a few language barriers. I seem to be able to pronounce Chinese effectively, the trouble is remembering it after a few. This is why writing exists; to give context to the content, though describing a feeling is not the same as feeling it and experiencing is much the same.

Okay so then on to Asian Fusion eatery Cottonopolis, via a Bowie mural and a few cocktail bars we should have visited instead: great cooking was likely going on, drowned out entirely by a cacophony of terrible music and people who just wanted to be seen there.

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Cottonopolis leads you in with Bao and breaks your heart with music. 

 Never has the mantra that dining is about more than food been clearer. But still, alone it would have been torture, but in this case; we had the power to realise that better thing were to come…Frankly Cottonopolis is a bit shit really.

Anyway, The Fitzgerald looked after us a little better, a few cocktails before becoming jaded and moving onto Gin. Anywhere screening classic movies with a ‘DJ’ is at least somewhat bearable. There was a drunken dancing couple, the usual hipsters and a few ladies nights.

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The Fitzgerald

In good stead, we spoke about everything from Chinese Artists, The Prohibition and onto the etiquette of prostitution. All of which needs to be written down in order to be remembered. At 2am, we are out in the breeze.

Via a few mystical fish, we arrive to see the Chinese New Year parade, dodging Mancunians and trams on a regular basis. Chinatown Manchester is an interesting environment, I couldn’t help wish we could have seen it when it wasn’t as busy, but hey ho, you can’t mither. Dragon Dancing and creepy Buddha heads abound.

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Next onto the Warriors, firm and almost neon statues which have graced places like Sydney. We were drawn to a pregnant female Terracotta. Beautifully done standing among the same-same, but different warriors.

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After which, we still haven’t learnt that most cocktails have been diluted to appeal to those with less adventurous palates. But what a building, Tattu is like an artwork in itself, it’s just a shame the food can sometimes taste of Condoms or something from Iceland.  Still…mustn’t mither. MUST NOT MITHER.

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Despite this, I’d maybe go out for a cocktail and a bit of beef tartare. Sometimes it’s about hiding your carefully refined taste and learning to just enjoy your moments. As such, it wasn’t a total disaster and a good way to spend New Year.

All in all, Manchester we salute you. You aren’t quite Bristol, but you have some charm… Particularly in the foreign districts. 

Now onto Bristol the 25th of February and 4th of March. Thank god there are only 28 days in January.  

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Hopefully we can discover more Bowie Artworks in Brizzle…