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Two Michelin starred dining at Ren, Tokyo

“I literally have no idea where this place is”, I mumbled as I wandered down a dimly lit alleyway in Tokyo’s upmarket Shinjuku district, spying thorough windows of restaurants that were not the one we were looking for. It was 5.30pm and we had been saving ourselves for dinner most of the day. And I was on the verge of severe hanger. Luckily, lunch.money saved us both by popping into a local bakery to ask directions. The young cashier took his phone, turned it around what must have been about 5 times and scratched her head. Finally, her eyes lit up and she ran out of the shop, gesturing for us to follow her. She took us down a side road and pointed to an unassuming doorway, which looked like it belonged to a block of flats. This was to become a common occurrence on our trip, we soon realised.

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Once we had finally located the restaurant, we waited outside before realising that the wooden lattice door was ready for us to slide open and step inside. Whether it was the jet lag, or just complete and utter difference to what we’re used to in London, I’ll never know. As soon as the door started to open, we heard a multitude of Japanese men almost singing in unison. A smartly dressed chef appeared quickly out of nowhere, took our jackets and ushered us into the restaurant.

I had heard that dining in Tokyo is a small and intimate affair, which is why I had wanted to visit for the last decade. Paired with the fact that Japanese is one of my favourite cuisines, you can imagine how excited I was to be dining at a two Michelin starred restaurant, which features a mere 10 seats at the bar, right in front of the Head Chef and his lone goldfish, swimming behind him in an underwater bonsai garden.

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Chef Jun Mishina stood before us, smiling and calm. Having worked as Nikata chef at three Michelin starred “Ishikawa” from age 23, he became the Executive Chef at “Ren” when he was 30 years old. Now 32, he’s obviously doing something right.

As with most high end restaurants in the city, we were offered a set menu of ten courses.

First thing’s first though, let’s order the wine. Ok ok, I bet you’re asking why we were drinking red wine and not Japanese delights. And I’m sorry, but I don’t actually have an answer, other than we just bloody love red wine. We also knew that if the restaurant we’d been to a couple of nights before was anything to go by, it would be the right choice.

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We chose our bottle, a delicious bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, which set us back £100 (I know, but that’s the price of fine dining in Tokyo) and one of the junior chefs scurried away behind a curtain, returning minutes later with a thimble of the wine for Chef Mishina to taste. With a nod of the head, the junior was back behind the curtain to retrieve the bottle before pouring for us. That little thimble ritual epitomised the Japanese service culture. If it’s not good enough for a Two Michelin starred chef, it’s certainly not good enough for the customer.

Now, onto the food. The first course was the most memorable. Was it because it was the most delicious, or because Chef Mishina cooked it in front of us on a charcoal grill? Or was it because the more time went on, the drunker we got? I have no idea, but let me tell you, Bamboo that has been boiled for an hour, then brushed with soy sauce and cooked on a charcoal grill centimeters away from you is very satisfying. Add the white miso, egg and yuzu sauce that it is served with to the equation and you have a dish that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

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Oh, hang on. Did I say that the first dish was the most memorable? Hmm, ok, I might have been wrong. The next dish was pretty special, as I’d never tried it before. Have you ever eaten soft shell turtle? No, until then, I hadn’t either. But I bet you can imagine the texture, and I’m sure you’ve got it right. Served with soy sauce, water, sake and kelp – this dish had an amazing balance of flavours.

The only dish I wasn’t so keen on was what Chef Mishina affectionally labelled ‘danger beans’, which was essentially a slightly bland charcoal grilled broad bean patty that was so hot when you bit into that if we had been too impatient, could have ruined the rest of our meal.

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Other dishes we enjoyed were raw snapper, sourced from the infamous Tsukiji Market, served with creamy monkfish liver, canola flower and ponzu sauce; Abaolone, which had been steamed for four hours; and Sea Perch, which was delicate and well seasoned, skin perfectly crispy.

Ok, now I really am being silly, because the last savoury dish was definitely the most impressive. Was it impressive because it was simple, or because it was so damn tasty? Probably a bit of both. A clear broth with slices of Japanese beef, half a white onion and plum paste. That’s it. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you should go and try it for yourself.

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For the first half of our meal we were sat alone at the bar. It dawned on us pretty quickly that we were essentially enjoying a private dining experience with one of the best chefs in the world. What could be more satisfying than that? After the meal, Chef Mishina joined us for a quick photo before we grabbed our coats and headed back into the intoxicating hustle and bustle that is Tokyo. But one final surprise lay in store, when as the lift doors were closing, Chef Mishina appeared in front of the doors, bowing and wishing us a good evening. Smiling and laughing, the doors closed and we travelled down to the ground floor in silence, ready for the next stage of our evening.

Ren
4F, Omiya Bldg, 4-3-2 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
03-6265-0177

 

 

RECIPE: Creme Egg cake by Georgia’s Cakes

I tried, believe me, I tried. There was just no way it was going to work out. To be fair, if I wanted to show off any delicate presentation skills I posses, I definitely chose the wrong cake to make.

Enter, the best Easter recipe you’ll ever find – the most incredibly delectable, decadent, gooey and sweet concoction that is the Cadbury Creme Egg cheese cake. If you don’t have a set of sweet teeth on you, I suggest you look away now…

I have to be honest, as a kid I stayed as far away from Creme Egg as I could. Do you ever look back at your child self and wish you could have nicely knocked some sense into them? I do. Not only because I never used to eat, well, much at all, but mainly because I wasted years avoiding these egg shaped chocolate goods like the plague.

Fast forward (a lot of) years and now I can’t get enough of them. Every year I wait with anticipation until I see them appear on the shelves at the local supermarket, by which point I’m ready to pounce and buy the whole first delivery.

So when I came across this Easter recipe, I dropped everything else I was doing (and believe me, there are so many important things going on in my life right now), bought the ingredients and whiled away my night in the kitchen peeling shiny wrappers, slicing and dicing and getting completely covered in the stickiest kind of egg around.

Easter is around the corner and if you don’t live near me (because I bought all the eggs on the shelf), I urge you to go out and make this to keep your friends and family happy over this coming long weekend.

This recipe comes from Georgia’s Cakes. I sadly can’t make it as pretty as she can. But I’m sure she won’t mind, because at least it means I’ll be sticking to my day job.

Cadbury Creme egg cheesecake by Georgia’s Cakes

Cream Egg cake by Georgia's Cakes

Utensils

8 inch cake ring or spring form tin
Acetate

INGREDIENTS

10 Cadbury Creme Eggs
6 mini Cadbury Creme Eggs
150g digestive biscuits
75g melted butter
750g full fat cream cheese
150g icing sugar
1 vanilla pod
300ml double cream
White chocolate, melted
Dark Chocolate, melted
Caramel sauce


METHOD

Line the inside of the tin or ring with some acetate – this will make it easier to remove the cheesecake after it’s been set

Crush the biscuits into fine crumbs and stir the melted butter in

Pour into the cake tin and press around the bottom of the tin so the whole surface is covered and compact

Put in the fridge to set

Chop 5 of the Cadbury Creme Eggs up into small chunks and set to one side

In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod and sifted icing sugar

In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until it’s just started to firm up

Gently fold the cream into the cream cheese mix until it’s combined

Add the chopped up Creme Eggs and mix in

Take out the cake tin with the biscuit case

Cut the remaining Cadbury Creme Eggs in half – length ways – and arrange them facing out around the sides of the cake tin (use the goo to make them stick to the sides!)

Pour in the cheesecake mix and flatten off the top with a spatula or palette knife

Set in refrigerator for at least 1 hour

Once set, take out the fridge and remove the tin being careful with the outside of the cake

If applied, remove the acetate too

Drizzle over some white chocolate, dark chocolate and caramel sauce in a criss cross pattern

Cut the mini Creme Eggs in half – length ways and – arrange around the outside of the cheesecake

 

Honesty is the best policy

I wonder how much energy one expends when procrastinating. I really do sit here and think that if I hadn’t spent all of those hours staring into space trying to come up with a big idea that is going to change the course of my life, I could probably have changed the course of my life.

That might be going a little far, but I’ll try and explain. If I’m honest, my life is great. I live in one of the best cities in the world, I surround myself with amazing people and I have reached a point in my career that makes me happy. I am happy. But there’s always more, isn’t there?

I set this blog up almost nine years ago. It has given me some of the best experiences of my life, but there have still been so many times where I have thought about jacking it all in, or refreshing the blog in an attempt to do something better. The ‘something better’ is the key here… everyone I have spoken to about this has asked the same question – ‘what is wrong with it’? And it had me wondering – is it really that bad?

The issue is – recently I have been drawing blanks so badly and at the start of this year I seriously considered hitting the delete button. But it’s like that time I cancelled my gym membership and ended up with an ‘all club’ membership two minutes later. Last week I hovered over the delete button on WordPress, but was drawn to buy a shinier plan instead. That’s just me.

Bear with me though – I really am going to try and explain why I find this blogging world much harder than I did all those years ago.

Firstly, the landscape is almost unrecognisable now. Does anyone actually read blogs anymore? What, with Instagram having taken over every single smart phone over the last couple of years – people want short, snappy visually appealing content to slobber over. I tried to get good at photography, and if I’m honest I wasn’t that bad. But, as with most things I’m not naturally good at, I eventually lost interest. It was too much hard work and I wasn’t willing to put the effort in. There were other things I wanted to see, other activities I wanted to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. I have found this out the hard way.

I also don’t get the satisfaction from taking a picture, popping a filter on it and thinking of what hashtags to include. I want to write. But what about? The obvious option is food. I’m out at least three times a week and I have a catalogue of photos that, if I wrote about each of them, would keep me busy for a year. But even that feels a bit old now.

Another thing I realised is that I hadn’t always been entirely honest in my approach. I used to accept free meals. If they were dire (which, believe me, a lot were), I didn’t write about them. Most of the time however, I did put fingers to keyboard, and as I used to work in restaurant PR and knew how much a good review meant to multiple people down the chain, probably embellished the posts just a little too much.

The reality is I have very high standards. But there’s something in British culture that shames people who are honest. No one likes a moaner, do they? I remember being outraged by bloggers who were opinionated all those years ago. I didn’t like it. But I think the ‘always perfect’ social media culture has just gone too far. I don’t want to see the back of beautiful girls’ heads looking out to the perfect sea on the top of a rock, somewhere really far away. I don’t want to see picture perfect dishes of food that have been styled up the eyeballs. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to see posts of fake happiness anymore – I’m totally and utterly bored of it. An influencer is meant to be someone you trust the opinion of. How can you trust the opinion of someone you know is being false?

My niceness and falseness has to stop. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m opinionated. I am very aware that my views can be a little odd sometimes. But you know what? Sod it (still can’t bring myself to swear online, sorry), it’s me and I’m pretty sure that being myself is going to make Life’s Loves more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Cantina Laredo

What

A guacamole and tequila bar has opened in Covent Garden’s Cantina Laredo. With eight different guacamole and an array of tequila available alongside a delectable Mexican menu.

 

Where

Cantina Laredo
www.cantinalaredo.co.uk/
10 Upper St Martin’s Ln, London WC2H 9FB

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Experience

When asked what my favourite cuisine is it changes daily but the answer that pops up most frequently is Mexican. There are so many things to love about Mexican food (and drink) but I think the one thing that really sets it above the rest is guacamole. Nothing beats it. Nothing. So when I heard about bar dedicated to guacamole and tequila I was understandably VERY excited. And I was not disappointed. Cantina Laredo has established itself in Covent Garden for some time now, but have recently gone through a refurbish with the addition of the said guacamole and tequila bar. 8 different types of guacamole on the menu alongside various tequila infusions – it really was a treat! We managed to try three of the guacamoles, my personal favourite was the Guacamole con Cangrejo which included chipotle, red onion, jalapeño, jicama and coriander and was topped with white crab meat – a deliciously zingy guac with just enough heat to get the taste buds going.

We were then treated to an array of entrees and mains, all deliciously fresh and flavoursome. Some highlights were the seabass ceviche and the quesadillas – Oaxaca cheese melted with mushrooms. In the mains my picks were the Brochetas de Camaron – butterfly tiger prawns that had a real spicy kick to them with a side of the Esquites. And of course it wouldn’t be a Mexican meal without the addition of tacos – with the usual chicken and beef options, but also duck which was delicious.

If you don’t get too carried away with guacamole and starters and still have room for dessert, or if you are like me and always have room then I would suggest the chocolate, pecan and walnut brownie which was decadent and melt in your mouth – everything you would hope for in a brownie. If you were wanting to stick to a more traditional end to your Mexican meal then the Churros also looked delicious!!!

Now it wouldn’t have been Mexican without plenty of tequila, which was sampled in the form of delicious cocktails and also flavoured shots from the featured tequila bar. If you like a bit of spice in your life then I’d recommend the “I’m Kinda Hot” which speaks for itself, and the tequila comes in chocolate, jalapeno or strawberry flavours. These were much more delicious than I expected, and for the first time of my life I wasn’t screwing my face up and chasing it with lemon.

All in all, a lovely sophisticated take on Mexican dining, I would highly recommend.

Cost

Guacamole – £9-£12
Tequila – £5-£7
Small Plates – £6-£10
Large Plates – £15-£30
Sharing Four Course Tequila Dinner – £55

How to Eat Well in Dublin and Belfast

We have all experienced addiction at some point in our lives. If you’re reading this and you haven’t, I’m sorry but you’re not human.

A few years ago I was completely and utterly infatuated. The lucky recipient of my affections? If you know me you might have guessed…  Salmon. But only the raw kind. Oh yes, it just HAD to be raw. And as much as I still adore salmon sashimi, my affections have now turned to another satisfying sea creature… the Oyster.

So you can imagine the first thing that went though my head when I booked to go to Dublin and Belfast? No, it wasn’t the fact that I’d finally get to explore Temple Bar, or that I might even see Cillian Murphy roaming the streets (although of course I will forever live in hope of that). No, it was that I would get to eat my bodyweight in delicious oysters. And that I did. 


But eating oysters wasn’t the only item on the to do list. Pippa and I were there for a day of work, followed by two days of eating, with a half marathon thrown in for good measure. We have compiled a list below of our favourite Dublin and Belfast places to explore. Let us know if you have any recommendations yourselves – when we left, we both said we’re not done with Ireland and already can’t wait to go back.
 

Drury Buildings – Dublin

Regularly featuring on Dublin’s best restaurant lists, we headed to Drury Buildings for a quick lunch. The €10 ten minute lunch menu is a bargain. The portions are huge and all pasta is homemade on site, so there is no skimping on quality. The service is also very good – with a Maitre d’ knowing just how to get us to enjoy a quick lunch and a great recommendation for a cheeky glass of red.

Klaw – Dublin

Here’s where the oyster munching commenced. Situated in a blink and you’ll miss it spot, right in the heart of Dublin, Klaw is one not to miss. The team prides itself on providing simple, fresh and delicious seafood in a relaxed atmosphere – and I couldn’t agree more.

Kaph – Dublin

I was very pleasantly surprised by the standard of coffee shops in Dublin – lovely looking independent cafes everywhere.

Bleary eyed on Saturday morning, we headed out into the city to find the best coffee Dublin could offer. And we found it. As well as offering expertly made espresso based coffee, there was also a great range of paleo friendly treats on offer. One not to miss for the serious caffeine heads out there.

Slims Healthy Kitchen – Belfast

Exactly what it says on the tin. This cute cafe serves a good range of juices, smoothies and healthy dishes. We stopped off on the morning after our Half Marathon for a chocolate peanut butter ball and a coffee.

Deans Love Fish – Belfast

Deans is an institution in Belfast, so it was only right that we give it a go. It was the last place I visited before getting on my flight back to London and I took a chance on the £6.50 lunch menu – with a few oysters thrown in for good measure. The atmosphere was slightly lacking at lunchtime, but you really cannot go wrong at all with the £6.50 lunch menu. The portions are on the small side, but that’s great if you’re not too hungry – otherwise, just get two!

Darcy’s – Belfast

With a tagline of’As Belfast as it gets’, Darcy’s is the most famous restaurant in Belfast, serving simple hearty dishes. So it was the perfect option for our post marathon feed. We walked straight to Darcy’s as soon as the race was over and gorged on mussels and burgers.

Mourne Seafood Bar – Belfast

Exactly what it says on the tin. Yet another famous Belfast restaurant, Mourne served us some incredible mussels, oysters and

Edo – Belfast

We dined at Edo on day three of opening and there was no way of knowing that it was a new restaurant – except maybe for the smell of fresh paint in the loos! We gorged on oysters (of course!) and steak, which was one of the nicest pieces of rump I had had in a while. The wine list was also impressive and we took advantage of the great value Malbec!

Members’ Club Dining at Century, Shaftesbury Avenue

What
Dinner at Century Club, Shaftesbury Avenue

Where
61-63 Shaftesbury Ave
London
W1D 6LQ

Experience
Until a couple of weeks ago, if you asked me to name more than five members’ clubs in London I would have struggled. It wasn’t until I was invited to dine at one I had never heard of that I did a bit of digging. And the results were surprising. I didn’t find out the exact number, but I can guarantee you that if you regularly walk the streets of London, you’ll pass a fair few lurking behind inconspicuous doorways, without even knowing what is behind them.

Enter Century Club. Situated on Shaftesbury Avenue, right in the heart of London’s theatreland and media district, the discreet and hidden four storey members club sits proud and unassuming.

Soho on a Friday night these days can be a pretty treacherous experience, with after work drinkers spilling out onto pavements in their droves, so the knowledge of dining in a members club, away from the unwanted hustle and bustle, was a comforting thought.

At 7pm, I headed to Soho’s largest roof terrace with lunch.money. Over the last few weeks, both of us have made it our mission to visit some of London’s best restaurants and have enjoyed some pretty spectacular meals in the process. But more on those another time.

I have been in this game a long time now, so even though I genuinely didn’t know anything about Century Club, I had a feeling that it would be exactly what I was expecting. And you know what? It was.

Century’s entrance on Shaftesbury Avenue is quite easy to miss, especially after a large G&T, but we finally caught sight of the unassuming door, buzzed and were greeted with classic piano music a big smile in the foyer.

We were directed to the fourth floor roof terrace and seated at our table. lunch.money sat down opposite me and I had to giggle. He felt further away than usual and looked like a child sat at a grown up’s table. I then realised that my arms, as long as they are, were also reaching higher than I’m used to at a dinner table. I looked down and saw that the summer style wicker chairs were not the right height for the tables. But it didn’t matter – it was a very minor issue and it meant that I got to silently giggle at lunch.money all night.

First up, we looked at the extensive cocktail menu. I didn’t make it past the first page, as my eyes caught glimpse of ‘The Journalist’, a mix of Flor de Caña, liquorice syrup, lime juice, sugar syrup & mint. lunch.money opted for something a little more intense in the form of Il Padrino, a bitter mix of Disaronno, Campari, orange juice & lemon juice.

The menu is made up of sandwiches, salads, pasta and steak. It was interesting to see a Josper Grill section for the first time in a few years, prompting flashbacks to a time in London where if your slab of meat wasn’t cooked on a Josper grill, it was considered inedible.

To start I ordered the Duck Breast & Foie Gras with Celeriac, Onion Petals, Shimeji, Radishes & Pomegranate Molasses. Josper lured me in with his fiery charm and I opted for the fillet steak with a side of broccoli for main. lunch.money chose wisely with the octopus starter and also bowed down to Josper’s charms by ordering a fillet steak for main.

Our starters were presented well, although both were not as hot as we might have expected. lunch.money’s octopus was cooked well, without a hint of chewiness, but my duck was slightly overcooked and on its way to tough town. I wasn’t deterred from clearing my plate however, as the pomegranate molasses helped to redeem the dish.

The star of the show for both of us was the steak. Cooked just how I like it, pink and tender in the middle, seasoned and charred on the outside. We also both had a glass of Malbec, which arrived at the perfect, and I mean perfect temperature. Very impressive wine, considering it was selling by the glass.

Service at Century is friendly. The little attentive touches were slightly lacking, but the manager seemed to be keeping as tight a ship as he could, right at the helm of the restaurant. Would I recommend it? For a quiet guaranteed table in an interesting Central London setting? Yes, I would. You may have to be a member to dine there, but Century has competitive membership options – see below for more details. Be assured though that this is not fine dining, so if you don’t go in expecting that, you’re guaranteed to have a pleasant experience.

The thought of dessert before a mini Friday night bar crawl didn’t appeal, so we finished our wine and headed back and into the Soho madness.

For more information and membership options, click here.

Was 24 Hours at Bestival Long Enough?

You might think that 24 hours isn’t enough to enjoy the offering of a four day festival. But let me tell you, a couple of weekends ago, me and my friend Pippa played the Bestival game and I’m pretty sure we won. You see, what we have come to learn over our year of friendship is that neither of us do things by halves; so as soon as we arrived on site, we popped up the tent, put on our most colourful ensemble and quickly slopped our way through the ever growing mud slides to the festival arena.

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© Photo by Pippa Bayston

Taking place for the first time at it’s new Lulworth Castle home, the undulating festival site, also home to Camp Bestival, is smaller than the Isle of White site I came to know so well over the last eleven years. Featuring a colourfully lit National Trust castle backdrop, numerous mini stages and the obligatory exploratory tents that literally turned frowns upside down, I think Bestival fit in just nicely.

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To me, Bestival is as much about the experience as the line up, so not seeing main stage acts such as The XX, Soulwax and the Pet Shop Boys didn’t really bother me that much. Instead, we set ourselves loose on Shangri Las inspired Club DaDa, enjoyed copious amounts of funk and soul at Stacey’s, danced on a make shift taxi whilst watching Oh My God! It’s The Church at Caravanserai, and set sail during a 90’s garage set at HMS Bestival. My personal favourite though was the tiny and very exclusive Sunday Best Record shop, where not only could you pick up a bargain for 50p, but also catch special impromptu performances across the weekend. I’ll caveat this by saying that my favourite half hour of the festival was here, but I would have no idea what to tell you I was listening to.

In fact, the only act we caught on the Main Stage was Dizzee Rascal, who lost his proverbial shit in front of thousands of revellers who pogoed to his undeniably catchy hits. But after his set, we made a pact to spend the rest of the time floating around the festival, not planning, but instead exploring and discovering. And it worked.

The next 24 hours were spent as follows:

Line stomachs with food – in our case chips & dips and a pork roll

Quick march to the first bar in sight

Down beer

Head to JägerHaus and neck a cocktail

Set ourselves loose for the next 12 hours, talking and dancing to anyone or anything that came our way

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© Photo by Pippa Bayston

Top 5 moments:

  1. Garage favourite ‘Heartbroken’ blasting out of the HMS Bestival, blue skies and sunset in the background, thousands of revellers dancing in the mud with heavy feet but light hearts

2. Dancing with giant robots, an inflatable Kanye face and the world’s biggest disco ball

3. Bonkers festival goers lining up to slide down a mud soaked hill on the inflatable giraffe flamingo that became a top theme of our 24 hour debauchery

4. Fulfilling our dreams of singing hip hop karaoke to hundreds of mud soaked revellers

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© Photo by Pippa Bayston

5. Finding a 2017 festival friend who I met at Electric Castle in Romania and spending hours in the Caravanserai backstage dressing rooms, meeting bonkers characters and dancing until sunrise

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© Photo by Pippa Bayston

Most devastating moment:

Having listened to the Mercury nominated Loyle Carner album what felt like 20 times in the week leading up to the festival, anticipation was high to see him perform. Waking up on Sunday and feeling like I wanted the tent to cave in on me, the only thing that made me crawl to the nearest food stall to refuel was the thought of listening to Loyle’s melodic poetry. After a quick dalliance with the hip hop karaoke boys, we wandered over to get our spot. But as we approached the main stage, an army of stewards approached and informed us that the whole arena was closing due to bad weather. I had to rub my eyes, cartoon school girl style, in disbelief. It was over.

Once we had been ushered back into the campsite, we took another look at the weather and decided it was time to retreat back to London. We left the site at 4.30pm and I was tucked up in bed, head spinning and recalling countless moments from the previous 24 hours and looking forward to Bestival’s 2018 instalment.