Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Making of Harry Potter: Warner Bros. Studio Tour

When I was little, I couldn't wait until my eleventh birthday because then I knew that I would be receiving my letter to attend Hogwarts! Safe to say, my eleventh birthday has been and gone and no letter ever arrived, yet nearly ten years on, I have never lost that childish dream of being part of Harry's world. However, earlier this week, I finally got my chance to go to Hogwarts for real! My mum had booked us tickets to go to 'The Making of Harry Potter' studio tour at the Warner Bros. studios!

So, on Friday morning, my sister, mum and I bundled into the car and got ready to set off. I was practically jiggling with excitement the entire way there until we drew up outside the Warner Bros. studios. Cameras at the ready, we charged towards the entrance where we were confronted with some giant chess pieces standing guard at the front of the building. After a few snaps (there were going to be a lot of photos taken that day!) we headed inside. I was particularly excited since we were lucky enough to be going around Christmas time and so all the sets were all themed as 'Hogwarts in the snow' which would make everything that little bit more magical!

At the start of the tour, we were herded into a small room where a short film was played, depicting how the Harry Potter phenomenon had spread around the world. I felt quite emotional at this point as I realised that I would never again experience the hype around a new book coming out, and the fact that there would never be any more to Harry's story. Then, we filed into a large cinema room where we saw another short film presented by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint explaining how they'd grown up on set and telling us a little about the people involved. Then, the screen lifted and we were faced with the huge doors of the Great Hall! 

We streamed through and began admiring everything, from the plates and plates of festive food, to the amazing decorations everywhere and the costumes at the end of the hall. Since the set had been dressed up to look all Christmassy, you could really feel the magic seeping out of every corner. Everything glittered and you felt as if you'd been transported straight into the life of a real Hogwarts student. We were told a little about the set and I was amazed at the level of detail that went into everything! For example, the Great Hall was actually built out of solid stone (and not just made to look like it as I'd assumed it would be) as they'd needed it to withstand the feet of hundreds of Hogwarts students' feet over the course of eight movies. 

Before long, we exited the Great Hall and entered the main exhibition where we were free to roam! Here, there were different pieces of scenery and thousands of different props which had been used in the films! There was everything from the flying car, the trunk that Mad Eye Moody was looked in (with its amazing mechanical workings- it really did do what it did in the film in real life!), Hagrid's hut (built as a self contained unit that could be picked up and taken anyway in the world!), to the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office and the Weasley's house! 

We had a go at flying on broomsticks and travelled by flying car before racing around to see everything else that was on offer. I just couldn't get over the level of detail that was put into everything! Many things that I'd assumed had just been animated in the film actually existed and worked in real life such as the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and the vault door at Gringotts. Every painting you see in the film was actually hand painted in oils and every little wand box in Ollivander's wand shop (and there were thousands!) had a hand written label stuck on it. There were even four different 'types' of snow used to make all the snow scenes look as authentic as possible! Not only that, but certain things such as 'The Monster Book of Monsters' and the mandrake roots where completely mechanical and all moved by themselves! 

About halfway through the tour, we got a chance to sit down and have a well needed coffee, or in my case, a Butterbeer! It was delicious! Very sweet with a thick, creamy foam on top that left you with a frothy, white moustache. However, before long we were back on our feet and heading round to look at the remainder of the tour. I won't tell you everything we saw, but I will say there were some pretty breath taking surprises that made many people gasp audibly! 

I grew up with Harry Potter. Each year as Harry got a year older, so did I. I waited in line outside book shops and went to pre-premieres of the films. I dressed up and went to Harry Potter themed parties and late at night, would hide under my covers with a torch and read the books until I couldn't keep my eyes open for a second longer. Still, I love the stories and keep revisiting them. Maybe therefore it doesn't come as a surprise when I say I couldn't recommend the studio tour more. But, consider this- I was apprehensive it would take away some of the magic that I'd grown up with. It didn't- seeing everything for real just brought everything to life that little bit more. The tour was an incredible (and surprisingly emotional) trip. So jump on your broomsticks or utilise your local floo network and get yourself down to the Warner Bros. studios! 

Friday, 20 December 2013


A couple of days ago, two good girlfriends and I met up for a Christmassy get together. We had planned the perfect Christmas themed day: a lunch trip to the Montague Ski Lodge followed by some casual shopping. However, our plans were thrown into turmoil when, upon arriving at the Montague Hotel, we found the 'Ski Lodge' to be booked out for the entire day with a private event! Feeling slightly deflated, we headed for the only cure- a carb-infested pizza fest! So, Sarah and India took me off to Neil's Yard and introduced me to Homeslice.

Now, Homeslice is one of those places I've been rather excited to visit for a while. Marcus has been a few times before and had entranced me with tales of pizzas so large, no person could possibly eat one on their own! Therefore, my mood perked up dramatically as soon as we were in sight of the front door.

Homeslice didn't disappoint. Shortly after being seated (and a few envious looks at our neighbour's plates) we were presented with a 20 inch monstrosity, half margherita, half lamb shoulder with wine soaked goat's cheese and fresh basil. The base was thin, the crust crispy and the toppings generous. Our appetites hit with full force and the entire thing vanished so quickly, we may have well inhaled it! It was delicious- I could have spent an entire day eating the goats cheese on its own, let alone with the rest of the dish. Before long we were picking at the remaining crumbs.

Completely full and feeling re-inflated, we headed out into the chilly street, feeling bolstered up enough to tackle some Christmas shopping.

I really enjoyed our little trip to Homeslice. The restaurant is small, you eat with your hands and share a table, but I really do feel this adds to the experience- there just is no need for all the little extras when the pizza is so good!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Almeida Restaurant and Bar

Last weekend, a collection of Marcus' best friends all got together to honour his 21st anniversary of being alive. To commemorate the occasion, he treated us all to dinner at Almeida, a French restaurant in Islington!

This was a very exciting affair for all of us as not only was one of our number becoming that bit older, but we also hadn't seen each other in a very long time and couldn't wait for a huge catch up. After much primping and preening, we all bundled out of the door and headed to the restaurant.

Almeida is one of those places that just looks sophisticated- all clean lines, neutral colours and sparkly glass. However, we didn't have much time to admire the decor before whisking off into our own little private dining room. There, after admiring the meticulously planned seating plan, we settled into our seats and began eagerly examining the rather extensive menu.

After much debate with my fellow diners, I finally managed to pick what to eat. I went for the 'cured Lock Duart salmon' with apple, cucumber and horseradish for starters, the rib eye steak which had been aged for 28 days and a pear and almond tart for pudding, all of which turned out to be excellent choices although I especially loved the salmon. However, I have to admit that Marcus may have made a better choice when it came to the puddings. He'd gone for what was described as 'pineapple carpaccio' with lime and coconut parfait and a spiced pineapple compote. After sneakily trying a (couple of) mouthfuls, I had to admit that it was delicious! The thin slices of pineapple and the compote were the perfect refreshing end to the meal.

Food envy

As we were all finishing up, we were surprised by the apparition of a beautiful birthday cake, covered in shiny chocolate ganache. We raucously sang happy birthday as Marcus blew out his candle.

I really enjoyed dinner at Almeida. The food was lovely but what made it really special was the company. Everyone had a wonderful time catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones, all over dishes of delicious food. What could be better? The only criticism I could possibly have was that at times the service was a little slow, but we hardly noticed as we were all so absorbed in catching up. All in all, I had a delightful evening and just wish that it could have gone on all night!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Gourmet Gadgetry: Cupcake and Muffin Maker

The other day, Marcus surprised me by sending me a little present to congratulate me on obtaining a place on a graduate scheme I'd applied to (yay!). I excitedly opened the rather large box to reveal a cupcake maker by Gourmet Gadgetry! 

So, if you're wondering how exactly a cupcake maker works, it's essentially a toasty maker, just for cupcakes. It supposedly creates perfectly formed little cupcakes in a fraction of the time they normally take to bake. I couldn't wait to try it out and so cracked on with some baking!

I baked some very simple lemon cakes. Here's what you'll need if you fancy doing the same:

For the cakes:
100g Butter
120g Self rising flour
120g Caster sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla essence
1 tsp Baking powder
Juice of half a lemon

For the icing:
100g Butter
200g Icing sugar
A few drops of food colouring

Just blend the mixture all together until it's of a smooth consistency. Then, pop your mixture into either your cupcake cases and into the oven (I tend to cook mine at 180C for about 15-20mins) or into your cupcake maker, wait for them to go golden brown and then remove and leave to cool.

While you're waiting for them to cook, you can whip up some icing. Pop your butter into a bowl and whisk until it's smooth. Then gradually start adding your icing sugar and your drops of food colouring. I normally taste it as I go along to see when it's sweet enough. You can then just smear your icing onto your cool cakes or ice them with a piping bag like I did!

I found that the cupcake maker did make the entire process much quicker. The moment I put the batter into each little well, I could see it starting to cook. Once the lid was on, I only had to wait about seven minutes before they were done. Not only that, each cake slid easily out of their well and each was golden brown and identically shaped. Decorating them was very easy as no cake had been able to 'rupture' or had risen oddly. 

I'd definitely recommend Gourmet Gadgetry's cup cake maker (especially to students fighting for oven space!) as it made baking just that bit quicker and easier. There was also no need to buy cupcake cases! I churned out around 28 cupcakes in the end since I just put in more batter once the first round were finished. Luckily, I have three hungry housemates who will be more than happy to eat them all!