Introducing Club Epicure: Winchester’s New Supper Club

Hampshire residents, listen up; Winchester’s new supper club is here!

Set up by Masterchef 2017 quarter-finalist Alex Parker, Club Epicure aims to bring local foodies together in a relaxing environment to enjoy fine home-cooked food, using locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible.

As a big foodie myself (but a pretty reluctant cook) I wanted to learn more about Alex and why he and his partner chose to set out on this venture.

Here’s what he had to say…

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I currently live in Winchester with my partner, Hatty. I grew up in London, went to University of Southampton, did some years in Perth, Australia, and now reside in leafy Hampshire. I work as an engineer in the day, and mostly cook at all other times.

How did you get into cooking?

Cooking became an interest of mine when I returned from Australia a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve gone from meat and two veg to more and more elaborate dishes, inspired by a rapidly growing collection of cookery books. It’s not all soufflés, emulsions and purees though – I love a one pot wonder (although I don’t cook them enough, according to Hatty).

Why did you decide to set up your own supper club?

The idea for Club Epicure stemmed mainly from my desire to cook for more people, and Hatty wanting to exercise her creative and marketing skills outside of work. Hence, our supper club project began!

Supper clubs are huge in London, but in other cities the concept has barely taken off. In the age of Instagram, communication between fellow foodies is easier than ever – it seemed like a no brainer to at least give it a go.

So what can we expect from a night with Club Epicure?

We will aim to serve four courses throughout the evening for ten guests, with a few surprises thrown in along the way. The emphasis is on flavour, season and locality – in that order. I want people to experience foods that they might not normally have the confidence to try in a restaurant, for example seaweed, gochujang and tahini. If our guests have any favourite foods then we ask them to let us know, so we can possibly try to tailor our menu accordingly!

What do you hope to achieve?

We want the guests at our evenings to be as comfortable as possible, like they’re our friends, rather than ‘punters’ in a restaurant. The inimitable A.A.Gill once said, “If the food is the star of the dinner party, then it’s a bad dinner party”. As much as these evenings will be about trying and enjoying my food, we want our guests to leave having enjoyed the whole experience.

And finally, describe to us your perfect meal…

That’s a tricky one. I like all food – and my tastes change weekly! I’m a huge fan of fish, so possibly oysters to start and turbot, or a very well made bowl of Ramen for main. Dessert would be something creamy, like a custard tart, ideally followed by some smelly cheese!

Lovely!

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Club Epicure’s first supper menu

To read more about Club Epicure, book tickets for their upcoming events and enquire about private parties, visit www.clubepicure.uk.

Next supper club events:

Sunday 15th October

Thursday 19th October

Instagram

@clubepicure

@alex_cooking

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The Best Coffee Shops in Winchester

My favourite places to go for coffee in my favourite city!

Before moving to Winchester in January this year, I was oblivious to the great foodie and coffee culture here. I even remember searching online for “Best Coffee Shops Winchester” myself, trying to seek out the best spots in the city.

Seven months in, there’s so much to choose from, whether it’s coffee, lunch or even speciality gins – which I’ll save for another blog post! The rise of the independents is very apparent, even in the short time I’ve lived here, and each spot offers something unique that makes Winchester such a charming, characterful place to visit.

I’m no coffee connoisseur, but these are just a few of my personal favourite cafes in Winchester that I’d recommend you visit if you’re looking for excellent, authentic coffee…

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  1. Coffee Lab

If you follow me on Instagram, this choice will come as no surprise. With Coffee Lab’s original location just a couple of minutes walk from my house, it’s become an almost daily routine to pay this lovely bunch a visit.

With expert baristas, a cool cosy feel, and fresh coffee beans in two different blends, Coffee Lab is a hugely popular hangout for locals. Upon walking in, you’re greeted with warming coffee aromas and can instantly sense the authenticity of the business. If you need a hand, just look to the chalkboard for an explanation of what actually makes up each popular drink – or better still, ask one of the guys behind the counter and they’re always happy to help!

A special mention also has to go out to Chocolate Lab’s incredible brownies – a chocaholic’s dream! If you visit here, make sure you give one a try… you will not be disappointed!

Address: 6 Saint Thomas Street, Winchester SO23 9HE

Coffee beans: The Roasting Party

Best Bit: The staff in here are great and really know their stuff. When I’ve been trying to find my perfect cup o’ Joe, they’ve helped me try new things to discover what I like best!

2) Josie’s

Owned by former England rugby captain Chris Robshaw, Josie’s was the first cafe my boyfriend and I visited when we moved to Winchester. We’d heard great things from friends who had been there so on our first morning we popped out for brunch and weren’t disappointed; they have a huge menu with lots of tasty dishes, from oats to eggs to breakfast burritos!

Coffee wise, whether it’s an Aeropress, a V60, an Americano with dairy-free milk or just a good old-fashioned cappuccino, Josie’s will have it covered. They also go beyond the standard variations you’d expect, with options like the healthy foodie favourite matcha lattes, so there’s always something new to try.

Note that if you visit on a weekend they get extremely busy (always a good sign!), so I’d suggest planning a little bit ahead to make sure you get a great seat!

Address: 28 Jewry Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8RY

Coffee beans: Monmouth Coffee Company

Best Bit: While Josie’s coffees are great for a quick caffeine stop, their brunches are also to die for. Be sure to make a morning of it and try the whole hog!

 

3) The Dispensary Kitchen

Newly opened in May this year, The Dispensary Kitchen has quickly become one of the most popular coffee shops in Winchester.

Located at the edge of the cathedral grounds and right by Winchester square, this chic venue offers high-quality coffee, pastries and light meals during the day, transitioning to a lovely dinner venue in the evenings. Its modern furnishings and charcoal walls blend with the building’s Victorian roots to create a sleek, Scandic-style interior that is a favourite with Instagrammers.

The baristas here know how to make a really good coffee, and the sense of community makes The Dispensary Kitchen stand out as one of the best coffee venues in Winchester.

I’m yet to have more than a drink here, but did catch sight of a mouthwatering egg and mushroom breakfast when visiting recently – definitely next on my list!

Address: 5 The Square, Winchester, SO23 9EX

Coffee beans: The Roasting Party

Best Bit: Their charming modern interior makes The Dispensary Kitchen a nice place to be, and with views of the stunning Winchester cathedral on one side, you can nab a great view over the beautifully busy grounds while you enjoy your coffee.

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These are just a few of my favourite spots in Winchester, but be sure to add the following to your coffee/snacking list – there is just too much to choose from!

Rawberry – 52-54 St George’s St, Winchester SO23 8AH

Caracoli – 100 High St, Winchester SO23 9AH

Forte Kitchen – 78 Parchment St, Winchester SO23 8AT

Cafe Monde – 22 The Square, Winchester SO23 9EX

Have I missed anywhere? Tell me your favourite Winchester spots in the comments below!

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Networking & Breakfast with Women Who Do

Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of joining a lovely group of ladies for a networking breakfast held at Winchester’s oldest coffee shop, The Bridge Patisserie.

The event was arranged by Women Who Do – an organisation set up by Emma Downey, whose mission is to bring together professional women at any stage of their career.

Over great coffee and pastries, I chatted to other women from Winchester and the surrounding areas about their personal business journeys, which ranged from switching corporate careers for pilates, social media consultancy, and working in matrimonial law.

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As a keen marketer and young professional myself, it was really interesting to hear each person’s career story and what they plan to achieve in the future. Along with being surrounded by strong, driven women, I left feeling positive and encouraged about my own goals. Not only this, but as a fairly new resident to Winchester, it was great to get to know some local faces!

In the next few months, Women Who Do have various seminars and workshops planned to continue expanding their community and educating women in new areas they might want to improve.

When speaking to Emma about why she set up Women Who Do, she said; “My ambition is to have WWD as a go-to for women who are looking to network in their area and develop news skills with workshops that are accessible to all. Our goal this year will be to open networks in Southampton, Exeter and Bristol with the same success as we have had in Winchester. And to eat more cake.”

Wise words.

The next Women Who Do event will be held on Thursday 7th September at my personal favourite coffee shop in Winchester, Coffee Lab. During this session, Laura Turner – founder of independent fashion retailer Hero (another of my favourite spots) – will be advising on ‘Building Your Brand’, drawing on her own experience from setting up her business. To learn more about the event and book your space, click here!

If you’d like to keep up with more news from Women Who Do, make sure you follow them on social media for the first looks, and I’ll be sure to update you on my experiences with this great organisation in future!

Facebook: @WomenWhoDoUK

Twitter: @WomenWD

Instagram: @WomenWhoDo_UK

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The Art of Balance

For my first blog post in 7 months, I decided to write about something a bit different – something I feel will be very relatable to lots of people, also contributes to why I haven’t written for so long…

How many times have you written yourself a page-long To-Do list for the day, only to end up substituting stuff you needed to do with something ‘easier’?

Some days I’m the queen of multitasking, putting my fingers in lots of pies and feeling like a total girl boss for completing a ton of things.

Other times, I’d rather lie on the sofa and watch episodes of Eat Well For Less that I’ve already seen before, because the thought of actually getting on with what needs to be done is far too mentally strenuous.

Without sounding like the ‘I’m so busy I don’t have time for anything’ stereotype, I feel pretty busy. I have a busy job, always schedule in an hour a day for the gym/yoga, am studying for a degree-level course in Marketing, and also clinging on to that childhood dream of being a successful songwriter. This is along with generally wanting to be awesome at everything and juggling the grown-up tasks required when moving out of your family home, which I have recently learned.

Phew. I feel exhausted just thinking about it, and am already reminding myself of things I must get done later.

But luckily, I’m starting to learn that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and good things take time.

I’m also realising that it’s just not realistic to expect so highly of yourself that even you know you won’t be able to fit everything in. Queue the art of balance.

My boyfriend frequently reminds me that it’s better to plan a couple of important tasks that I know I should be able to finish than to rush through 5 or 6 things. Now, my weekday strategy is to use my snazzy Collins To-Do pads to lay out my main priorities for the day, with rough timescales for how long I’d like to spend on these things, and scheduled time away from my laptop to take a breather.

For me, having balance in my life is absolutely key. I’m just not one of those people who can work through the night or skip meals to get more done – and I’m also not willing to. In the end, I believe this will lead to a burn-out, poorer performance and cause unnecessary stress.

This is one reason that I cherish my beloved gym visits. No, I don’t ‘need’ to workout every day, and there are days when I decide to stay home and chill instead, but essentially, the gym – and yoga especially – provides a break from the outside world that allows me to reboot. Plus, the endorphins are so real!

Having this balance in my life allows me to embrace being ‘imperfect’ and encourages me to give myself a break when I don’t feel like I should – I’m sure a lot of people reading will be able to relate to this.

Dog with macaroons

How do you find balance in your life?

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Homemade Gift Ideas from Jasmine Broughton

I’m writing this post on behalf of my lovely friend, Jasmine, a very talented designer who makes beautiful girly things, perfect as Christmas gifts.

On Friday she held a party to showcase all of her products, where my friends and I probably bought half of her stock!

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Jasmine’s beautiful display!

If you’re looking for unique gift ideas, Jasmine’s creations are perfect as stocking fillers or personal presents that have had a lot of love put into the making.

You can even personalise most of her products to include your own message – something you can’t get on the high-street 😉

Here are some of the beautiful things you can buy:

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Small, Medium & Large Pom Pom Baskets – £4-8

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Quote Candles – £6

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Sparkly Matchstick Boxes – £4

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Pom Pom Soaps (Scented) – £4

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Christmas Milk Bottles – £4; Framed Quotes – £4-6

…and my 2 favourite buys from the evening:

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Large Pom Pom Basket – £20

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Pom Pom Key Ring – £5

For a great excuse to get your friends round, pop some prosecco and see her full collection in the flesh, Jasmine is now taking bookings for product parties!

If you’d like to order any gifts, hold a party, or would just like some further info, see her details below:

Email: jasmine_broughton@yahoo.co.uk

Tel.: 07771 346638

You can also check out more of Jasmine’s designs on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MadeByJasmineKim/

Happy shopping!

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Back in the Recording Studio for Christmas!

Although fitness and baking/eating in general are big hobbies of mine, singing and songwriting have always been my no.1 things.

Unfortunately, I don’t tend to do much of it at the moment – I’ve got a bit out of practice and the big world of work (and perhaps the baking) have taken over a little.

So this week I did decided to book some time in the recording studio with Jack, a very talented guitarist friend of mine, to record something a cover of my favourite Christmas song, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’.

This is such a nice song to sing and I love the simplicity of it, so I’ve tried to keep it that way!

If it’s not too early for you to be hearing Christmas songs, click below to listen… and I hope you like it 🙂

How to Make Bread: Easy Spelt Bread Recipe

Baking my own bread allows me to channel my inner housewife and it’s my favourite thing to make. It’s so satisfying, tastes amazing when it’s freshly-baked, and really isn’t that difficult to do!

I started making my own bread as I was advised by various nutritionists to avoid gluten in order to improve my IBS. As shop-bought gluten-free bread is so rubbish, I started trying out recipes for Spelt and Rye breads as these grains are very low in gluten.

The recipe I’m posting today is for an easy white Spelt loaf. The flour I used on this occasion was lighter than usual, and so gave it a less dense texture that is very similar to a normal white loaf. Usually, you’ll find that Spelt (and especially Rye) breads have more flavour and a slightly heavier texture.

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White Spelt Loaf

Here’s how to make one of these beauties:

INGREDIENTS:

500g Spelt flour (this loaf is white, but wholemeal is great too)

1 tsp fast-action dried yeast

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sugar (honey is also really nice in this – substitute the sugar for 1tbsp honey if you wish)

1/2 tsp salt

300ml warm water

METHOD:

  1. Mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Pour in the water and mix roughly.
  3. Add the oil and mix to form a sticky dough.
  4. Knead the dough for several minutes (10, if you can manage it!)
  5. Roll the dough into a ball, place back in the bowl and cover with a cloth. Then leave this in a warm-ish, draught-free place to rise, until it has doubled in size. This usually take me 1-2 hours. It’s important to make sure the dough has risen enough – if it hasn’t, leave it longer otherwise the bread will be too dense.
  6. When the dough has risen, flour your surface and knead it again for another 10 minutes or so.
  7. Shape the dough (I like to do a ball in order to make a cobb loaf, as shown in the photos, but you can pay around with this how you like.) and place this on an oiled baking sheet.
  8. Cover this again and leave it in a warm place for a further 30 minutes. This should be long enough for your dough to rise to a nice, bake-able size.
  9. Remember to preheat your oven before the next stage – 220/200 fan.
  10. Use a large, sharp nice to carve any sort of pattern you want on the bread. I also like to sprinkle some flour on top, to make it look extra professional 😉
  11. Pop it in the oven for around 35/40 minutes – you’ll be able to tell when it’s done by the browning, and by checking that the bottom is cooked.

Voila!

Fresh breads usually only last a couple of days before they start to go hard, but don’t forget that you can freeze this and defrost again whenever you want. You can even toast it from frozen in a few minutes.

Decent bread seems to have a reputation for being really difficult to make, but it’s absolutely not! You may just need a few practices to get it exactly how you want, as with any baking. After making my own bread, I rarely eat any shop-bought stuff – it’s just not the same!

Here’s what I did with this baby this weekend:

…Incredible.

Don’t forget to show me any photos if you make this yourselves!

Happy baking

Mel x

Healthy Carrot Cake Recipe

My first recipe on my new blog – yay!

This Carrot Cake is based on a James Martin recipe and has the same deliciousness as standard oily carrot cakes do, but I use some ‘better’ ingredients to make it (almost) guilt-free.

I have my friend Bea to thank for introducing me to using healthier alternatives in this recipe – she is the queen of healthy baking!

I’ve become a bit obsessed with this cake and have made it about 10 times this year – with some amazing and some not so good turn-outs! Like most recipes, it takes a bit of tweaking to get it right and you can alter the amounts of things like the orange, walnuts, sugar and cinnamon to your taste.

The changes I’ve made to the standard recipe you can find on the BBC website are as follows:

Sunflower oil – Coconut oil 

Light brown sugar – A mixture of sugar & Stevia

Self-raising flour – A combination of coconut flour & wholemeal self-raising/spelt flour

+ Extra carrot and sultanas for moisture

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Here’s what you’ll need to make it:

CAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 30g Stevia/Truvia
  • 100ml melted coconut oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 300g grated carrot
  • 120g sultanas
  • Zest of 2 oranges (+ some of their juice if you want extra orangeyness)
  • 100g coconut flour
  • 200g self-raising wholemeal flour (or spelt if you’d rather)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (or 2 if you’re using spelt instead of self-raising wholemeal flour)
  • 2 tsps cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsps mixed spice, depending on your tastebuds
  • Chopped walnuts – as many as you like!

ICING INGREDIENTS:

  • 400g FULL-FAT soft cheese (low-fat doesn’t work, trust me)
  • 190g icing sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Walnuts, to decorate

…and how to do it:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan and grease 2 round cake tins.
  2. If you haven’t already, melt your coconut oil in a pan over a low heat and put it to one side to cool.
  3. Mix together the sugar, Stevia, flours, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and mixed spice in a large mixing bowl.
  4. In a separate (still pretty big) bowl, whisk the eggs with the cooled coconut oil and add this to the dry ingredients.
  5. Mix your orange zest and sultanas in a small bowl and microwave for 1 minute (this mixes the juices together), then add to the dry ingredients.
  6. Lastly, add the grated carrot and some chopped walnuts and stir it all thoroughly. Don’t worry that it looks a bit more dry than a normal cake mixture – once it’s all cooked and iced it will be lovely and moist.
  7. Divide the mixture between the 2 tins and pop it in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Once it’s cooked, leave it in the tin to cool (and make sure it’s not still warm when you go to ice – put in in the fridge for a while if you need to).
  8. For the icing, whisk together the soft cheese, icing sugar and a little bit of cinnamon until it’s smooth.
  9. Spread the icing on the bottom cake before adding the top and icing that too. Then add some extra walnuts if you wish, and voila!

I have no idea of the nutritional values of the cake but it’s nice to know that you’re not indulging yourself quite as you usually would with carrot cake. I have been known to have this for breakfast several times in the past, but hey – with all that fruit, it’s fine!

I find that this cake tends to get better over a couple of days as the icing sinks through the cake and makes the layers a bit more gooey, but make sure you keep it in the fridge to keep the soft cheese fresh.

Let me know if you have a go at making this, and I’d love to see some pictures 🙂

Happy baking!

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Cafe Love: The Delights of Eliane

I’m a big fan of a decent coffee shop and Eliane, a unique little cafe/restaurant near to where I live, has become one of my local favourites.

One of the reasons I love Eliane is because of their dedication to using top-quality ingredients in their food. As a health-conscious business they use organic and local ingredients wherever possible, and I love that they do their bit to support local businesses.

A lot of their amazing cakes and biscuits use the ‘better’ ingredients – sugar alternatives like maple syrup and coconut sugar, and allergen-friendly flours for those with allergies or intolerences.

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A chocoholic’s dream – Mocha, Chocolate Flapjack & Dark Chocolate Brownie

Everything they serve is homemade on site so whatever you order, it’s always nice and fresh.

On one of my recent visits, I drank what I told the waitress was the best mocha I’d ever had, and I’m a BIG fan of a mocha! I like to imagine myself as a bit of a connoisseur and it definitely ticked my boxes of frothiness, smoothness and coffee/chocolate balance (I personally like mine to be a little more on the chocolatey side), plus the actual coffee tasted supreme.

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Delish 🙂

Working from home, I find it helpful to get out of the house sometimes and plonk myself in a nice spot where I can really focus and hopefully get some inspiration too. On a recent Tuesday morning I had one of Eliane’s breakfast omelettes along with a beetrooty juice. I can be a bit of an egg snob, but the omelette was top notch! Definitely a recommendation for anyone seeking a good brunch in Hungerford.

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10 of My Favourite Albums of All Time!

As a huge music fan (and a musician myself) I love immersing myself in the sounds of a great album, whether it’s sticking on the headphones in my room or blaring out a new CD (I love CDs) in the car.

I suppose soulful RnB/Pop would be a good description for my favourite genre of music. I’m pretty open minded and also love pure, acoustic music that has little production to hide behind and showcases an artist’s real talent.

Thinking about who to include in this post was tricky, but I’ve picked out my all-time favourites as well as some albums that I’ve enjoyed a lot over the past few years, and some that take me back to particularly special times in my life.

If you’re into this type of music, here are my recommendations:

Firstly, my Top 3…

Jessie Ware – Tough Love This has to be my favourite album of all time and Jessie is my absolute idol. I love her silky smooth vocals and probably listened to this album on repeat about 10 times when it was released back in 2014. I’m gutted that I haven’t seen her live yet, but hopefully when she next starts touring again (she’s just had a little bebe) I’ll be able to get tickets.

The 1975 – The 1975 Probably my favourite band. I can’t get enough of their guitar riffs and their songs have such a distinct sound – Chocolate and Sex are up there with my favourite songs of all time. I saw them a couple of years ago at Heaven, one of London’s great gig spots, and there’s no music that makes me want to get up and have a dance more!

Josh Record – Pillars Josh Record is an absolute dream and underrated in my opinion. I was lucky enough to catch him live a few years ago when he supported Sam Smith at Shepherd’s Bush – an amazing surprise! His harmonies have helped send me to sleep many times.

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill A classic from the coolest woman on earth.

Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough? An album that inspired much of my own songwriting.

Adele – 25 Not much needed to say. Saw her in Lisbon back in May as a Christmas present from my boyfriend – one of the most emotional evenings of my life! Perhaps due to this, 25 has to be my favourite album of hers.

Alicia Keys – The Diary of Alicia Keys My childhood favourite – I just wanted to be her!

Kwabs – Love & War Great for a belt in the car, and fabulous dance moves from him and his backing singers.

Lucy Rose – Work It Out A reminder of last Summer, including my best friend’s wedding and my first date with my boyfriend, Dan. The latter took place at Sound Knowledge, a great independent record store in Marlborough that regularly hosts intimate gigs from great artists, recently including Izzy Bizu and Tom Odell.

Izzy Bizu – A Moment of Madness A new favourite! Such a talented vocalist with a beautiful, rich, jazzy tone. Also great for a belt in the Clio.

And a few other ones to mention, because there were too many…

Years & Years – Years & Years

Prides – The Way Back Up

Hozier – Take Me To Church

If you’re a fan of any of these artists yourself or have any recommendations for me, I’d love to hear!

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