London’s got everything, from a petting zoo in Chelsea to zombie survival courses. So we challenged Why Waste Annual Leave, to tell us three of the most quirky things they’ve done in London. From cream tea, to ice cream to just pure ice, here are three of the surrealist things to do in London, especially if the purse strings are a bit tight.
Is there anything more quintessentially British than afternoon tea? Growing up, I always imagined this was something grannies do, a calorific tradition reserved for the elite and the elderly. How times have changed. Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen the cupcake come back into fashion, anyone who’s anyone bakes and forget bars and clubs – afternoon tea jaunts are the place to be seen.
The problem though, especially in London, is choice. The market is saturated with options and everyone from 5 star hotels to burger chains are offering their own take on it. It’s difficult to find one that really stands out from the crowd and, take it from someone who has eaten one too many teas in her life, it can be hard finding good quality if you’re not willing to pay premium prices.
It was for all these reasons that Tea and Tattle came as a breath of fresh air in London’s afternoon tea-ville. On the basement of the Arthur Probsthain bookstore in the heart of Fitzrovia, this is about as understated and unpretentious as tea gets without any compromise on quality. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is the only tea venue I’ve ever been to where you can almost “bespoke” your menu.
Instead of the textbook array of mini finger sandwiches, here you may select one sandwich flavour if opting for the afternoon tea for one or two sandwiches if you’re opting for the traditional afternoon tea for two. The enticing options range from Brie and grape, crab and avocado with mayo and lemon to honey with banana and walnut. And in an almost pizza-delivery style fashion, you are free to add on fillings or toppings of your choice for a nominal additional charge. My choice for an autumnal day was the parma ham, rocket and red onion marmalade sandwich.
If you’re fussy about how you dress your scones, you can select from a range of homemade jams, which are available for purchase if you don’t get your fix while you’re there. The strawberry and black pepper sounded intriguing but I just couldn’t get past the raspberry and vanilla and it was every bit as decadent as it sounds, a perfect sweet teaser before the generously portioned classic cakes on offer, including Victoria sponge, chocolate cake and carrot cake.
Considering it costs £15 per head if you opt for the tea for one and I remained full for the rest of the day, this is an absolute steal for a central London afternoon tea! This is the place to go if you are looking for the afternoon tea experience that won’t break the budget, won’t need you reaching out for your best frock and won’t rush you in any way. This will appeal to arty literary sorts but also those of us who need a moment of escape in the midst of London’s rat race. And if, like me, you end up going in the company of someone less enamoured by tea itself, Tea and Tattle even cater for this by offering a coffee or smoothie afternoon “tea” alternative.
The London Ice Sculpture Festival
If you’re reading this from British pastures, then you’ll be as exasperated as I am with the seemingly endless grey skies, dreary rain, wind chill and brolly-breaking that is seeing us through the winter. The way I look at it – we have 2 options. We can despair ourselves into a state of depression, adding our heads to the prevalence count of seasonal affective disorder or….we could stop moaning about natural forces beyond our control and start embracing life in a cold country! And what better way to celebrate the freezing weather than a riverside traipse through Canary Wharf for the London Ice Sculpture Festival.
This annual, outdoor, weekend event showcases talent from international ice sculptors, who bring to life characters and objects from enormous ice blocks, whilst wide-eyed locals and tourist alike marvel at their creative genius. Some sculptures are straightforward to interpret – shoes, Cat woman, others more abstract but helpfully, for those of us lacking artistic lenses, a picture is laid at the foot of each statue to help decipher what you’re actually at! You could spend hours intently watching each masterpiece come into its own and if you feel inspired enough to give it a go, have a go on the ice graffiti wall.
Members of the public are invited to get involved in the public choice vote for best sculpture. I must confess that I copped out – I’m indecisive at the best of times and the skill level of all of the statues was too high for me to call it. Have I mentioned that this event was free? I saw couples, groups of friends, tourists, families and children and eager photographers joining the queues to capture the magic and I was very impressed at the easy access arranged for those with mobility difficulties. Its riverside location means you do notice the chilblains so it’s important to wrap up properly but if you start to feel the grumpy in you emerging, take a breather and enjoy the snow-themed live dancing and performances or get some warmth in your bellies at the winter food market, where you’ll find everything from empanadas, burgers, crepes and bouncy, light-as-air lamingtons. Missed this year’s event? Worry not. It’ll be back in 2015 or catch similar festivals in other world cities, including New York and Jerusalem.
Hands up who enjoyed Chemistry at school? Thought not. I always struggled to get my head around all the formulas and potions, pipettes and boiling points. Or is that physics? In any case, at Chin Chin Laboratorists, this is the kind of science I like to see.
These nutty professors work their magic with the help of some large white Kitchen-Aid mixers and some liquid nitrogen – yes liquid nitrogen, to freeze the most peculiar ingredients together to make a lavishly creamy and totally crystal-free ice cream. You may think you’ve already tried bizarre flavours but one visit will have you pushing your boundaries further than ever.
I’ll lead by example.
After a lifetime of despising the stuff thanks to questionable school dinner experiences, I broke my rhubarb celibacy and indulged in a rhubarb and custard donut flavoured ice cream served with white chocolate potato chips on the side – think crisps encased in Milkybar. If you think it sounds weird, it’s because it is weird but it’s the kind of weird that will have you traversing the city for more. Their Pondicherry Vanilla and Valrhona chocolate are permanent fixtures on the menu and every week or so, two new flavours make a cameo, including dairy free options for those of you averse to lactose or just more health-conscious.
These crazy ice cream blenders welcome you into their world of trickery with open arms. I clambered in just as they were closing up, looking rather like a junkie craving her fix and they catered for all my ice cream addictions by keeping the shop open, long enough to accommodate me. Wherever you see yourself on the social continuum, be it at the Big Bang Theory or the foodie-fashionista end, you will fit in just fine.
So that’s our Londoner’s three suggestions for the capital – but how about a few more ideas from The Crazy Tourist, a wandering blogger who has trip inspiration ideas everywhere from Guadeloupe to Gijon? Have a read of his top 25 must-try things to do in London list, number 14 is definitely one of the more tastier ideas!