Jack Wills and Wonsuponatime Parties

(Or, don’t drink and blog)

As you all know, I’ve been having a massive Jack Wills love-in lately, as evidenced here. I was delighted to be invited along to one of their ‘Unmissable Parties’, in the Covent Garden store. If you haven’t been in, it’s a gorgeous space set over three floors packed full of precisely folded clothes and charming staff. Obviously the first stop, though, was to the drinks table for elderflower presse and bubbly. Mostly bubbly.

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As with all Jack Wills stores, this one feels sort of homely and sort of like school, which I very much enjoy.

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DJing among the jumpers…

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The place was buzzing with activity – including face and nail painting, a lot of balloon-popping, and…more drinking. I’m not going to lie to you, readers. We went for cocktails at Cellar Door beforehand, and by this point in the evening I was somewhat spiffed at this point, and very much on the train to Drunkville.

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When did candy floss get so difficult to eat? My companion and I attempted it, got candy floss beards, and discarded it in fury.

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Ultimately, in the rather tricky area of ‘in store parties’, Jack Wills manage to pull it off. The staff were charming as always, and there was a fun, laid back vibe. A bit like a house party but where you could buy things. Heaps of discounts and freebies if you wanted to shop, but equally accommodating if you were there for the candy floss and the atmosphere. We headed on (me in a slight haze) towards The Penthouse, Leicester Square, for my friend Sarah Betty’s party for her jewellery brand Wonsuponatime. The Penthouse isn’t the most prepossessing building from the outside, but LOOK AT THE VIEWS.

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Here’s the awesome Zoe Hellewell, aka The London Lipgloss, doing an absolutely smashing DJ set.

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SBA is one of the very coolest people I know. She’s down to earth and yet whimsical, and she’s created a jewellery company with such cohesive vision. A very hard-working young lady, and always a source of inspiration to me.

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Honestly, readers. I realise this is a very scant blog post but by this stage in the evening I was completely lamped on gin & tonics. I didn’t manage to get a single decent photo of the jewellery, but I’ll write another post to amend that. Urgh. Maybe they should rename it ‘blogger’s ruin’ instead.

Awful behaviour. But look at these pretty flower arrangements!

Blog fail.

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St Ives Day Seven

The final days whizzed by in a flurry of confusing weather and…well, more food. The town started to hum and buzz with talk of the oncoming storm. Hatches were beginning to be battened down, town-dwellers told us how lucky we were to be heading home before it hit.

That said, Friday was one of the most glorious days of the week, and I set out to make the most of it with a walk around the headland, where I always like to pretend I’m a tragic Thomas Hardy heroine roaming the rugged countryside. A Thomas Hardy heroine with a DSLR and sunglasses, that is.

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Not far into my walk, however, I spotted one of the most terrifying scarecrows I’ve ever seen. I thought they were just supposed to scare birds, not people?

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By a stroke of luck, some of my lovely family were also down in the Wall of Corn for the week, and we all united for lunch at Porthminster.

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I wore a dress for the first time this week. It felt really weird.

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I started lunch with a cocktail and found myself dizzying somewhat after a single sip: whisky, cider with ginger, tonka bean and chilli syrup…

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I had the most incredible vegetable curry – savoury but aromatic, full of fresh veg and coconut milk.

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If you go for one thing at Porthminster, make it a dessert. While the language of the menu may put you off (all ‘deconstructions’, ‘foam’ and ‘naked brulee’), the puds are where the chefs display phenomenal skill. I had the aforementioned “naked brulee”, essentially a square of chocolate crème with the finest crispy brulee layer, plus peppermint honeycomb, vanilla milk sorbet and brownie dust.

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My uncle had caramelised bananas with a pistachio aero mousse, whisky cream and salted caramel, and Mummy Simmons had petit fours, displayed a la rock.

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Followed by a short stroll along the beach.

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And finally, I visited the Tate, who do free entry on Friday evenings. I’ve never had much success with the place as I’m not a huge modern art appreciator. The only exhibition I’ve enjoyed in the past was one by Simon Fujiwara. This time, however, the exhibition Aquatopia combines modern pieces with paintings by J.M.W Turner and Stanhope Forbes. It was immersive, atmospheric, and only made me roll my eyes once or twice – quite an achievement for the Tate.

Bye bye St Ives!

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St Ives Days Five and Six

One of the mainstays of any week in St Ives is a huge breakfast at Porthmeor cafe. Breakfast is probably my favourite meal of the day, and the bigger the better as far as I’m concerned.  Porthmeor offer a pick-and-mix fry up, where you can opt to keep it healthy with poached eggs, butternut squash and cherry tomatoes, or go to the dark side with hash browns and bacon.

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I can also heartily recommend the buttermilk pancakes with bananas, raspberries, whipped pecan butter and maple syrup…

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Fuelled for the day by extravagant brekkers, we strolled across town to take the train. Now, spending hours on a train forms a large part of my week, so you’d think I’d run screaming, right? This isn’t your average commute, though. This is one of the most beautiful  train journeys in the country (and I’m pretty sure that’s been verified by…someone, somewhere). Words don’t do it justice, so here are some photos instead.

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The weather was spectacular, turning everything around Porthminster into a potential Metronomy album cover.

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Taking a stroll through the town, I spotted some lovely chaps outside the Allotment Deli, and a rather unusual selling point for an umbrella.

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In the evening, we headed to The Loft to watch the town get dark over cocktails: an absolutely smashing espresso martini and a refreshing mimosa.

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St Ives Day Four

This post is devoted to one of my favourite places it St Ives.

Is it the Tate, packed to the rafters with beautiful art? No.

Is it Porthminster beach, a wonder of golden sand and proud palm trees? No.

It’s the Hub, a restaurant and bar in the harbour.

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I’ve been coming to St Ives for quite a long time, and I’ve seen the Hub transform from a bar which did a bit of food to a proper, family restaurant. The menu is a burgerfest (hot dogs if you’re feeling adventurous), bolstered by hale and hearty sides and a decent selection of craft beers.

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I’ve raged on here about a lack of decent veggie burgers before – a mushroom is not, and never will be, a burger! So I was delighted to see the Hub offering proper, well-conceived veggie burgers. I had a falafel burger, piled high with chilli jam, charred corn and guacamole, stacked in a plump brioche bun. Proper consideration has gone into making the vegetarian options as exciting and delicious as the rest of the menu.

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Because I’m greedy, a burger just didn’t seem enough. I ordered apple slaw and macaroni cheese, topped off with a gloriously zesty iced tea. I was soon backtracking on my decision, as I left the restaurant barely able to walk and couldn’t eat for the of the day. Well, not MUCH.

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The staff are great, the atmosphere is laidback, and the food beats any of the veggie burgers I’ve had in London so far. And it’s great value! Strongly recommend it if you’re down this way.

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Once I’d regained the use of my legs, I headed home, spotting some amazing graffiti on the way:

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And finally home to fire up the woodburner, and settled down with Douglas Coupland’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’. It started out nice and normal(ish) and ended up as a nighmarish post-apocalyptic vision of the future. So, um, that was a nice relaxing holiday read!

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St Ives Days Two and Three

Days are very fluid in Cornwall. Time becomes elastic, with some days seeming to whiz by, and others going on forever. My second and third days here already seem ages ago already. I’ve stopped wearing a watch and am finally stating to loosen my grip on my phone, meaning I tend to go hours without any idea of what time it is. I can highly recommend that!

More beach time and more wandering – you can’t get round the town without spotting at least one Hepworth sculpture!

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Less common, though is the sight of a fox in a tiara…

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Yo homes, to Bellair (Terrace)

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Making use of the fantastic kitchen in the property, I made some extremely lazy comfort food – pasta in red wine and tomato sauce, with Portobello mushrooms pan-fried with rosemary and garlic, and a super simple panzanella. Not worth recipising (that’s a word!) on here as it was very basic.

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I also made the cheesiest toasty known to man. The Bruce Forsyth of toasties.

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Porthmeor Cafe Despite the proliferation of grilled cheese at home, we did manage to eat out at an old favourite. The Porthmeor cafe is perched centrally on the beach, complete with a glass roof and little cubby holes outside. Great value for money, boasting some of the nicest staff in St Ives, and full of imaginative culinary creations, it’s somewhere I keep coming back to.

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Only open at lunchtimes during the Winter, lunch takes the form of a variety of tapas-style dishes. It’s a dream for vegetarians – veg dishes are seamlessly integrated into the menu without feeling a) tacked on, or b) like you’re missing out on all the decent stuff.

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It’s worth saving space for pudding though, which is consistently delicious. I opted for treacle tart with blood oranges and marmalade syrup…

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The dress code? More stripes, of course.

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St Ives Day One

Greetings from, um, rainy Cornwall!

Within 24 hours, I went from the sweaty confines of central London to the salty air of St Ives. I’ve been here less than a day, but I’ve already eaten my body weight in various Cornish delicacies and taken about 5 million obligatory photos of the beach (see below).

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Holiday posts can be awfully boring, a 2013 version of the snooze-inducing slideshow, but because so many people now choose St Ives as a holiday destination, I thought I’d write some recommendation posts this week for newbies. There are heaps of restaurants and cafes, and choosing where to go can be a little overwhelming. Don’t worry though, being the intrepid, courageous explorer that I am, I’ll step up to the plate (literally) and suggest the best.

Firstly, though, is our wonderful accommodation. I’m staying in the gorgeous Velnoweth house. Four bedrooms, a wood burner, ridiculously comfy sofas, and a massive kitchen are just some of the amazing assets. This morning I’ve even been grappling with the house cappucino machine. (I failed, but I’m DETERMINED to improve)

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When in Cornwall, you can never have too many stripes:

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The four essential fabric groups for holidaying in the West Country: cable knit, tweed, waxed cotton, wool:

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Porthminster Cafe I saw one review describe this Art Deco space as looking like the set of Poirot. All white walls and sloped ceilings, Porthminster is much more towards the fine dining side of St Ives. This time though, we only went for afternoon tea. An absolutely perfect flat white and a gooey blondie that gave me a huge and instant sugar rush.

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The Loft Very much tucked away, The Loft has a team of charming staff, an outside terrace decked out with fairy lights, and a rather hearty menu. As a vegetarian, it can be difficult to find inventive meals in a town based on seafood, but the waitress very kindly allowed me to combine different sides from the meat dishes, creating my very own meal.

After some tinkering, I ended up with smoked butter mash (GLORIOUS), kale sauteed in butter, apple and red cabbage slaw, and a genius crispy poached egg. Dipped in breadcrumbs and fried on the outside, and yet still perfectly runny on the inside, it’s something I’m keen to try and recreate at home. Also boasting a diverse cocktail menu, I started off the evening with a delicately flavoured elderflower Collins. Full of twinkly candles and dim lights and with Laura Mvula songs playing softly in the background, The Loft is a great choice for a simple but elegant supper. Oh, and the triple-cooked chips are what dreams are made of.

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Jack Wills Store Launch

I had an invitation to pop up to the new Jack Wills store in Bluewater for a store tour and to find out about the collections, so on a rainy Friday morning I headed out into the depths of Kent.

I hadn’t been to Bluewater for years, and I have to say, it’s not my dream shopping destination. Much as I enjoy clothes, I sort of hate the act of finding them. I’ve moved on from the Primark sieges of my callow youth, sitting on a bed piled high with cheap tat, feeling jittery and that I’d just wasted my money. These days, I employ military precision to minimise my time in, you know, actual shops, preferring a computer screen to shield me.

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But I digress, and while Bluewater is never going to be to my taste, I appreciated two things: the abundance of my favourite eateries (Leon, Pinkberry, Cote and Lola’s Cupcakes) and the Jack Wills store itself. The store follows the Jack Wills aesthetic – cosy and quirky, with Persian rugs, striped lampshades and overstuffed armchairs tucked into corners, and shelves crammed full of dusty travel books and shining trophies. JW pulls off the ‘lifestyle brand’ concept extremely well, creating a series of rather charming, comfortable spaces with lovely staff (more on that later) and extremely wearable collections. The Bluewater store is a perfect addition – I was greeted by two delightful chaps, and staff around the store were all chatty and helpful. Each one I spoke to was beaming from ear to ear, talking about how excited they were to be working there, and how they ‘already felt like a family’.

Say the name ‘Jack Wills’ and you’ll often be faced with tuts and furrowed brows. The brand has long been associated with a very specific English stereotype, largely due to the proliferation of branded hoodies and sweatpants they (quite literally) made their name with. This is unfair and no longer apt for the company – look around any store and you’ll be greeted with the sight of cable knit lambswool jumpers, tweedy jackets, excellent quality shirts, and a soothing colour palette of damson, mustard and navy.  Without a doubt, the brand has grown up significantly in the past few years, absorbing a lot of the aesthetic from sadly defunct sister brand Aubin and Wills. As various staff told me, a lot of the clothing doesn’t carry a huge amount of branding anymore, and is much more subtle.

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Which brings me neatly to the Autumn/Winter collection. Again, JW never used to create very…inspiring collections. What wasn’t a branded hoodie or trackpant tended to fall into the ‘tasteful and inoffensive’ category. Bland, if you were being a little more cutting. Now, though, pieces are well-conceived, beautifully made, and hugely wearable. As ever, the collections aren’t trend based, meaning you’ll be able to wear them for years. It’s a tactile collection, everything feels fantastic and looks expensive. Which of course brings us onto the question of price points. Another criticism of JW has been the cry of ‘but it’s SO over-priced!’ and sure, items may be a little more expensive than a standard high street store, but that’s purely reflective of the quality of the garment. We’re talking £70ish for a 100% lambswool sweater, £50 for a 100% cotton dress, £140 for a proper waxed jacket with ludicrously warm lining. While not all of JW is produced within the UK at the moment, they collaborate with classic Brit brands such as Christy’s and Fox Brothers where possible. They aim to move production within the UK and currently sponsor their own flock of sheep.

I was very kindly given a gift card on Friday, and actually ended up spending it Saturday on a Winter coat after wandering into the JW in Tunbridge Wells. I don’t know whether it’s a result of great staff training or them only hiring a certain type of person, but every single member of staff I’ve spoken to has been absolutely delightful. They’re helpful but not pushy, ready to leave you to it if you want, or willing to engage in chat if you are. For a shop-hater, it made a very compelling argument for why internet shopping just doesn’t quite cut it. All in all, I’ve been bowled over by the brand. The clothes look great: fantastic quality, classic pieces. But most of all, the staff make it a truly wonderful brand. They’re the lifeblood of Jack Wills, and they’re what will keep me loyal to the store, shunning my computer in favour of buying lovely clothes from truly lovely people.

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If you’ve been one of those vocal anti-JW types, I’d say forget what you thought you knew and give them a chance. You’ll probably be surprised.

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