Regents Canal art

I am a HUGE fan of escape rooms. They are an ‘all involving’ activity that get you out of your own head. Escape Rooms appeal to so many types of intelligence that I have not found a group that they didn’t work for, they suit code crackers, out of the box thinkers and Neanderthals all in the same game. Your first one will be a little overwhelming but if you do a second or third you tap in to how the games makers think and it becomes 100% enjoyable and ever so slightly obsessive.

My issue so far in London has been that there are no real reviews of the Escape Rooms because they ‘don’t want to give away hints’; I call bullshit on that. Therefore I give you non-spoiler but containing useful information reviews of the escape rooms I have done. No photos because I’m not a jackass.

And FYI next time I invite you to be locked in a tiny room with me and I tell you to try and escape, its endearing not creepy.

JM’s Offices at Hint hunt

Hint Hunt was my first and I am glad that I started with it. The game that I have done (they have two different stories) is set in a detectives office so you get into the mystery/escape mood right away without being scary. It has a really good balance between practical ‘finding stuff’ and code cracking, although toward the end we found a little hard to piece it all together (could have been because it was our first). I loved that they never used the same solution twice (some rooms you have to find keys for everything, or number codes for everything) and that all players had to be totally involved to solve it, but didn’t like that they used so many red herrings.

The Killer at Enigma Escape

This goes down as the scariest room I have done, and also the room that really looked at things in a unique way. Basic premise is that you are trying to escape a serial killer – this room has its Dexter moments. After doing a few rooms the group I was in really had our method down pat, but the very first minute threw that out the window and forced us to just be god damn practical (I.e. We had to figure out how to turn on the lights). I would recommend that you take an easily frightened friend with you to this room (as my friends did with me) so that you can laugh when they scream, try to run away, run into a wall and fall on the floor. Oh and they gave us popcorn and drinks at the beginning, what’s not to love.

School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at Enigma Quest

This is one of the easier rooms I have done so could be a really good first room to try. It will be a favourite of any Harry Potter fans and yes the first thing we did was put on robes (I’m an out and proud Ravenclaw). Rather than trying to ‘escape’ you are trying to pass your Hogwarts exams, which means that so many bits of the Harry Potter universe are involved that it is seriously delightful at every turn. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the books since you were 10, all the puzzles are still based on logic/puzzles/’trying till you get it right’ so you will enjoy it regardless of if you know that Dumbledore was born in 1881.

Time Run

Don’t make time run your first room, it is just too epic and you won’t appreciate it. The score on the door is you travel through time trying to collect an ancient artefact that has gone missing before the baddies get it. This is the most elaborate set up I have seen in an escape room, and each new set just tops the previous one – completely feels like you are going from the set of Apollo 13 to Indiana Jones. There are no bored uni students running this shindig either, they are in character as Victorian/steampunk assistants from the moment you walk through the door. They have some really unique puzzles here too, that require a fully switched on team to tackle.

Secret Studio

This room is based around a movie production that has gone wrong, weird things started happening and you have to discover the truth. The room was another scary one that had me screaming and falling on the floor (a terrible evolutionary flaw in my fight or flight reflex). We were told to pay attention in the pre-room briefing and then promptly forgot the crucial instruction as soon as we walked into the room, so pay attention! The puzzles here lean towards the practical side which makes it fun for everyone because you can just keep jamming things in holes until you figure it out*.
*thats what she said.

French Toast at Aqua Shard

Minds out of the gutter please readers, this is a family blog today. Literally. When my parents were kicking round London we went up the Shard for brunch before work one morning. I have been meaning to go to the Shard for years but the combination of good weather and wearing appropriate clothing to get into a fancy bar had never come to pass. We all know the Shard hack right? Instead of paying the £25 to go to the viewing platform you just go to one of the bars for cocktails; it works out cheaper, the view is slightly lower, but there is gin…so all around the better option. However my parents took it one step further, they suggested brunch at Aqua Shard.

Not going to lie, it was painful to get up early enough to brunch before work. PAINFUL. But we made it out of my flat something close to on time, and it was sunny so the tube/power walk to the Shard was verging on bearable. Then we arrived at the tall pointy thing itself, went through security and into the leather room.

Minds. Gutter. People.

We had done two escape rooms during my parent’s trip and so as soon as we walked into the leather panelled elevator we all immediately decided to pretend it was an escape room and press all the panels looking for a key. Yes we were alone. Yes we probably would have done this even if there were other people there. The elevator is worth a mention actually, it is automatic so no tempting buttons to press and it is freshly shaved legs smooth – so you can’t even tell you are moving let along going up 31 floors in 15 seconds.

Coffee at Aqua Shard

I was shocked how few people were in Aqua Shard for breakfast. I assumed that it would be a business persons haunt of choice, or at least full of people who were staying in the hotel but apparently not. It was so quiet in fact that every table there got a window seat, ours looked out over the Gherkin and down the river. Much more formal vibe than the only other comparison I have which is Duck and Waffle, but they didn’t seem to mind us running all over the place dorkishly exclaiming over the views.

Pretty good coffee and a ten out of ten French toast (although what the fuck is up with putting cereal on the top?) but let’s be honest here, the food could have been terrible and I would still recommend it- the views are the winner here.

If you want to be taken up the Shard, forget cocktails and forget the viewing platform; brunch is the way to go.

View from Brunch at Aqua Shard

Toronto Cocktail at Nightjar

I know I know, this blog was meant to appear a few days ago. But this work travel malarkey has made my schedule a bit whackadoodle – and I’m not talking blog schedule, just general life schedule. I have 30 minutes till my gate opens (off to Shanghai this time) so I thought I would crouch on the floor of Heathrow near the only available power point and talk to you about a bar. I don’t normally do bars. I feel far too self-conscious, anxiety is at the max and drinks are expensive. Given this bar-apathy I thought my sister was insane for giving me a voucher to Nightjar for Christmas last year. Did she not know me at all? Ok fine, it turns out she knows me to my core because Nightjar is my kind of joint.

It is a speakeasy, so you have to book in advance then spend about fifteen minutes walking up and down City Road to find the nondescript door. After walking past it a minimum of seven times you then have to ask the random man standing outside a closed door if he knows where Nightjar is, he will say yes and let you in. No, none of that was part of some quirky London schtick, I just have a terrible sense of direction.

Gin cocktail at Nightjar

Anyway Nightjar is hidden downstairs and is table service only, so you don’t have to worry about competing for a bartender’s attention while firmly lodged in the armpit of a banker. Instead you sit at your little table (space is at a premium) and listen to the live music as you choose your cocktail. And oh the cocktails, they are the main event.

There is no food to speak of at Nightjar, so make sure you eat before you go. Because when you have ten pages of cocktails to get through, a well lined stomach is important. The cocktails are divided into pre-prohibition, prohibition, post war and signature and they are almost impossible to choose from. The combinations are so weird that you can’t quite picture in your head what it is going to end up tasting like, and even if you think you can you will be 100% surprised. Because I am an uber-dork I studied up beforehand and chose all the cocktails that were the prettiest. Yes I am that shallow. Someone buy me a pony.

My favourite by far (strangely enough for a gin based life form) was the Toronto which was Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Roasted Pecan & Coffee Maple Syrup, Fernet Branca and Smoked Candy Floss. The reason I loved it so much is that smoked candy floss hanging over it like a blimp, the idea is to take bits off and like a raccoon in a zoo drop them in the drink. This slowly sweetens the cocktail and you can get it perfectly to suit your taste buds. If the person that created it could please email me because I have a proposal of marriage waiting.

Cocktail with a cracker Nightjar

Nightjar feels intimate, it feels special. It is a perfect place to go with a best friend to fix all of the worlds problems, it’s the place to take your lush parents when you want to show them how amazing London is. At Nightjar you spend half your evening choosing cocktails and the other half exclaiming in surprise when it turns out you have chosen a cocktail that is essentially porridge with a cracker on top. I love this bar.

When your allotted time is up (do yourself a favour and book the maximum allowed, trust me here) you leave the notes of music and cocktails living behind you and find yourself once again spat out on the Old Street roundabout. It is a shock to the system after hiding away in the suspended reality of Nightjar, but as you walk to the Northern line you will be plotting the next time you can return and imbibe.

P.s. Love you Sister, turns out you are right about everything.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  for a celebration dinner

London can keep you on a panic high for months. You are so busy riding the London stress train with flats, friends and visas all going wrong at once and there never seems to be an end point. Soon, you tell yourself, I will be done and I can relax and enjoy life. I will be one of those girls on Instagram eating pulled pork next to a live band while some guy in a beard and three quarter chinos takes my photo. I will start enjoying London just as soon as I have figured my life out.

Truth cliff: you never will.

There is always something in life, particularly in London. Just when you figure one visa out, the next immigration stress begins. As soon as you have settled into your new flat your landlord announces they are going to sell. Work is a rollercoaster that depends on colleagues, projects, lunch options and the weather. And don’t even get me started on relationships. There is never a perfect time. You will never reach the point that it is all working out. So, you need to draw a line in the sand.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  tasting menu

You need to accept that life will be messy because we are all humans trying to figure it out. But messiness should not stop you from enjoyment, it should not stop you from living the life you want.  All that stress you are going through that seems so heightened and tough, is because you live in London. You live in London not for the bad bits but in spite of them, London was your end goal for a reason. If you forget that? Unhappiness reigns.

I combat the malaise by celebrating my London anniversary every year, it is my line in the sand. On April Fools day (the most auspicious day for starting life in a new country) you will find me dressed to the nines, solo dining at one of the top restaurants in London. I save for this for months just to have my moment of careless abandon, of self-celebration. This year it was the Typing Room in the Bethnal Green Hotel eating a seven course dinner and drinking wine in a burbling room.

I sat at that table and emailed my sister to tell her what she means to me. I scrolled through the photos on my phone to remember the best parts of my life in London. I messaged the friends I have made here to say how much I love them. I read some old blog post from the bad times and the good. I for a moment separated myself from the sometimes overwhelming life stress and exhaustion to remember that I chose this, I chose a life I love.

Typing Room Bethnal Green  sweets

This is my way of celebrating London, but you seriously need to find one of your own. It could be travel, seeing a play that would never make it to your home town, capturing monuments, or even drinking in a pub with a friend. Remind yourself that you have chosen London, and all the crap is just what you put up with so you can live the life you want. Don’t let yourself drown, find your line in the sand.

P.s. Dinner was awesome, the marmite butter slightly life changing and you need to go if you have the time and the money.