Thursday, 30 January 2020

Top Local Bakers in Cardiff

I've neglected my blog for a while and now I find myself in a certain predicament (unable to post on Instagram for at least a week - long story - first world problems),  so I thought I'd spend an hour or so talking to you about some of the best bakers available to you, if you live in Cardiff and the surrounding areas.

I'm not a huge 'cake' person and I often skip dessert, so to impress me with something I don't often want must mean that they're some top quality sweet treats. Which all of the below are :D

*Post contains 100% of my own imagery, products gifted for review between 2019-2020*

Welsh Picnic Pantry


IG: @WelshPicnicPantry

  • Based in Cardiff
  • DM or email to enquire


WPP make artisan preserves, handmade in the heart of Wales. They also do brownies, scones, baked treats and celebration cakes. The salted caramel and peanut butter brownies - my god!! They’re so decadent, ultra fudgy and rich. The box I tried also contained strawberries covered in a thick white chocolate which were bliss too. Seriously impressed, highly recommend.

Currently doing Valentines specials, I also tried a super sweet, massive cookie (available in different designs!).




FamishedBakehouse



  • Based in Cardiff
  • DM or email to enquire


Baking unique, incredible, deep fill cookie cupcakes; Alannah is one of the most talented local bakers I know, with such a strong eye for detail, I always adore the way she decorates things, they always come out looking so classy. The Halloween cookies I tried were full of choc chips, filled with either caramel or nutella and, topped with buttercream. Go on her page and have a look at the Valentines selection, they're just lush! I think she's sold out now but will be keeping some of the designs as staples as they went down so well with customers.




Artisan Baker Cardiff



  • Based in Cyncoed, Cardiff
  • DM, text or email to enquire


Without a doubt the best cupcakes I had last year. I remember eating one gave me a huge craving for cupcakes, went to a local chain patisserie and I was bitterly disappointed eating their's so soon after this one. I was also fortunate enough to have some cupcakes personalised for a blogger social I hosted, everybody loved them...I would one billion percent recommend them if you're looking for cupcakes for a special occasion. They're massive as well!





Emily's Kitchen Bakes


  • Based in Roath, Cardiff
  • Order by Etsy, enquire by Facebook, email or website enquiry form

My friend Sophie was super kind and brought a box of these with us on our trip to Bristol Zoo last year. As you can see the decoration of the brownies is absolutely spot on. I loved the taste and texture of these brownies and her blondies are great too. If you browse Emily's IG or website you'll see she's absolutely spectacular at creating show stopping, bespoke buttercream drip cakes too. One to check out if you're looking for a wedding cake too, the ones I've seen from her look stunning.





Bakes By Cakes




  • Based in Cardiff
  • DM or email to enquire



One of the first local bakers I had the pleasure of sampling sweet treats from, Caitlin's stunning handmade cakes and cupcakes set a high standard for the calibre of bakers we have around here. I tried cupcakes and a victoria sponge with a generous amount of buttercream. It's really worth checking out her page as she can bake really intricate, colourful cakes which would steal the show at a party.



Clares Home Bakes


IG: @clares_home_bakes
  • Based in Newport
  • Enquire by DM or email, more details on website


Website: http://clareshomebakes.co.uk/


I recently had a box of treats sent to me from Clare and I will remember this for a long time, thanks to the epic coffee, walnut and caramel cake. I'm trying to cut down but part of me wants to order an entire cake right now, must restrain myself!!! Right up my street because with many other cakes, I'm usually the one weirdo who doesn't eat much because it's too sweet. This cake was the perfect fluffy texture and the amount of sweetness was just right. Clare also specialises in lovely mini welsh cakes, which would be lovely for a party or baby shower!


Photo credit instagram.com/cardifffoodiefan - thank you!!!!

Sueperlicious Bakery  


IG: @superlicious_bakery

  • Based in Cardiff
  • Enquire by DM or use website




Last but not least, if you like wonderfully creative and exciting desserts, you absolutely have to check out Sue! I first tried her pandan salted caramel blondies from the Sunday Riverside Market in Cardiff and I was hooked. Sue brings authentic Malaysian home baking to Cardiff, with baked and steamed treats and desserts such as tarts, cakes and cookies. Give these a try for something a bit different.


So there you have it :) next time you have an occasion coming up or fancy getting an edible gift (or just want to try something new yourself) consider some of the fab bakers we have in Cardiff, rather than getting something boring from a supermarket. Yes, it will cost more - but it's supporting local and it's likely to taste a lot better!

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Review: The King and I at Wales Millennium Centre

*Invited - Press night*



My first musical of 2020 brought me back to one of my favourite places in Cardiff, The Wales Millennium Centre, to watch The King and I. I know the film adaptation of the classic musical has been popular for years, but I've never actually seen it. I was interested to learn that the show is based on the real memoirs of Anna Leowens, who became the teacher to a Siamese King's children in 1852. It was during a period where great threats of colonisation inspired the King to hire a Western schoolteacher to help modernise his country and teach his wives and their children.

Bartlett Sher's revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein production felt very traditional from the offset, as opening music played for a little while before the curtain went up. As the show went on, I didn't respond that well to the slower pacing and how the story was told. I think the more shows I go to, the more I learn about what I like most. I do feel the more contemporary musicals keep me entertained throughout, whereas some of the older ones can have gripping moments but then drag and my attention wanes.


Performances, though, were fantastic. Jose Llana as the King of Siam brought a fitting sense of humour to the role. He perfectly conveyed this real sense of silliness and mischievousness which balanced out the King's fiercer traits. There was good chemistry with Anna as well, played by Maria Coyne in last Thursday's performance. She was simply delightful; a fantastic actress with a perfectly smooth, clear voice which was well suited to the score. Anna is warm, empathetic, strong-minded and intelligent - exactly the sort of person the King needed to meet to help him become a better person and leader. I loved her feminist attitude and how outspoken she was about equality for women.

The songs were pleasant enough, but other than the familiar "Getting to Know You", I didn't really care for them - they just weren't to my taste. Jessica Gomes-Ng gave the most memorable vocal performances with her unique voice as the tragic, inspiring character of Tuptim, a slave girl sent from Burma as a gift to the King, who is secretly in love with another man. Cezarah Bonner as Lady Thiang was my favourite to watch, I found her hugely charismatic, regal and elegant, one of those where you just keep looking at them and look forward to seeing them come on stage. The Royal children were also very sweet. So although the show wasn't my cup of tea on the whole, all of these cast members gave performances that did keep my eyes glued to them at certain points.


The set design was extremely opulent and detailed, as was the costume design. I did expect more dancing and more of a lively vibe to it all, I think that would have been amazing with such lavish surroundings - I suppose some of the promotional images lead me to assume wrongly about that. The part with the most dancing was "The Small House of Uncle Thomas", a show within a show which  was not a part of the musical I enjoyed, sadly. The choreography was well done and the costumes were outstanding, but it was incredibly bizarre and not in a good way, I just found it grating on my ears. Again, that's just my opinion. I know it's a hugely well-regarded production and I can appreciate that. I must remind you all that I have not studied musical theatre and I merely offer my thoughts as an honest local blogger who just really loves doing to shows. A large portion of any audience will be be made up of people like myself, so I think my opinion is just as valid as anyone's, right?

So ultimately, it was a show full of immense talent, but one that I did find quite tedious to get through and I didn't love it. If you're familiar with the film, I've been told that the musical is super close to it, so you'll probably get on a lot better with the show. than I did. People who responded to my Instagram story told me they loved it and there are so many stellar reviews for it, I'm clearly in the minority. So please do go and see it if you like a more classical musical and don't be put off by me! 

The King and I is showing at the Wales Millennium Centre from the 8th – 18th January 2020 and you can purhase tickets here:  https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2020/the-king-and-i/


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Review: Thomas Restaurant at Future Inn Cardiff Bay


{Complimentary meal in return for honest review}

I've had more opportunities to try hotel restaurants this year and I’ve discovered there are a few where the standard of the food is amazing; I’ve recommended them to others and have gone back with friends or family. Thomas Restaurant is the newest one to add to this list.


Thomas Restaurant is located within the Future Inn hotel, which is just across from the Red Dragon centre in Cardiff Bay. I didnt know what to expect - I don't often go to this area of Cardiff, but when I walked up and saw the sparkling lights I was taken aback with how effective it was. The hotel instantly came across as warm and welcoming, with tasteful festive decorations up and friendly staff at reception. There's a bar area leading on to the restaurant, with modern hanging paintings adding a splash of vibrancy to the space.


Their menu has had a big revamp this month and the ‘Taste of Wales’ theme shines through with their traditional dishes with a Welsh twist (Welsh rarebit with rhubarb compote is one starter I need to go back for!). Having spoken to people who have worked on this menu, it's clear that they're passionate about changing people's perceptions of hotel restaurants as being stuffy, lifeless places that are only there for people on business trips. With the new menu, they're are establishing Thomas Restaurant as a standalone restaurant, which happens to be located within a hotel.

Starters

I went for the crispy squid. I can honestly say my dining partner (my mum!) and I agreed that this was the best calamari we’ve had in a long time. Tender on the inside with a light, super crispy coating, it was so more-ish, especially combined with that nice zing from the lemon and a kick from the spicy mayo.


My mum had the game terrine which came with celeriac slaw, and homemade sourdough bread. I was pleased to read that they use local produce throughout the menu, with everything made fresh on-site (even the bread is homemade, makes such a difference!). This plate was a delightful mix of textures and just tasted amazing, it was what I’d have if I go again. Perfect portion size too.


Mains

We both went for the same main course, I go through phases where I really crave a good steak with garlic butter so I couldn't resist. We got the rib eye, served with heirloom tomatoes, roast red onion, tasty fries and sides order of mushrooms to share (really recommend these!) as well as a small salad. We also had the peppercorn sauce which I don't usually like, but I tried a bit of hers and it wasn't too heavy or rich so I did use a bit of this. A really good, filling main course, you can swap chips for smoked cheese mash which was lovely.


Desserts

Feeling very full, I was still keen to try the homemade desserts. Raspberry & white chocolate cheesecake was served with a raspberry and basil sorbet, which I nearly swapped for regular vanilla ice cream because I wasn’t sure about the basil. We agreed that it did work really well and the basil was subtle. This was a super creamy, velvety, melt in the mouth cheesecake with that buttery base with a slight crunch.


We had half of the cheesecake each along with half of the ginger & lime sticking toffee pudding which was beautiful. You can really taste the ginger and a little hint of lime, it wasn’t too stodgy.


I really enjoyed my visit to the Thomas Restaurant and am hoping to go back on a Sunday to check out the Sunday lunch. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised if you haven't heard of them before but decide to pay them a visit after reading this blog!

View full details on their website at: https://www.futureinns.co.uk/cardiff/restaurant-bar/

Click to view full size menu:




Friday, 1 November 2019

October Social at Head of Steam, Cardiff!



I have been organising my social events free of charge and whilst some are a general drink or coffee catch up, I am open to collaborations too! 
Drop me an email on thelittlecardiffblog@gmail.com if your restaurant/pub/cafe is interested in hosting one of our 2020 events, or if you want to enquire about getting involved (local bakers, local photographers, etc.) or to discuss any other ideas you may have.

Head of Steam were absolute superstars this week as the hosts for my second Little Cardiff Socials event! A couple of months ago, I came up with the idea to bring together the people I interact with on a regular basis on 'the gram' into one room and just put a drink in everyone's hand and see how it went. I'm not a naturally confident person and have struggled with anxiety most of my life, so going out of my comfort zone in this way and testing my organisational skills has been really rewarding, and I've got to meet so many fabulous people too.


The team at HOS were just brilliant and they have been every time I've gone in. Really friendly and laid back, easy to deal with, knowledgeable about the menu and just a delight. Big shout out to Assistant Manager, Luke, who was an angel, and also to the head chef and kitchen staff for putting on such a feast.




I wanted to make this an extra fun event so I had a chat with the venue about a little collaboration and arranged for them to host our group in return for my social media coverage. So, we had the upstairs area to ourselves for the night, plus a showcase of dishes to sample from their new menu. I mentioned to guests that they were welcome to tag the venue if they enjoyed the food. From the amount of posts I saw popping up it was a definite hit :)


If you, a friend, or your office are looking to host an event I HIGHLY recommend booking out this area. It's spacious and as you can see from the images it has it's own very cool style with the decor; love the Welsh-inspired wall! It has enough of a buzz from a bit of music to not be irritating and as a bonus, the toilets are located upstairs which is handy! They're taking Christmas bookings now too.

For large parties they can sort out a buffet (even a fully vegan buffet), help you host beer tasting events and can always offer a variety of drinks packages for other events.

Click here to find out about private hire.



One of the best parts of Head of Steam as a venue is the fact you can bring your dogs with you. They offered cute little water bowls for our canine guests. Now, I don't even own a dog. But I know a couple of the girls from IG have some adorable ones and I wanted an excuse to spend time with them. Being quite a big event and the dogs being pretty energetic, their owners did comment ‘never again’ afterwards, which I begrudgingly respect but secretly hope they change their minds...


When the food came out we were all so peckish and couldn't wait to dig in :)


I have to begin with discussing the vegan dishes. Vegans of Cardiff - you need to go here!!!

So much appreciation for the fact their options are so varied; they’ve made a really strong effort to not just have one token mushroom burger. They use 'Moving Mountains' plant-based alternatives for their meat substitutes. I never even knew vegan duck was a thing! If you don’t like meat substitutes there are options with vegetables or jackfruit too.

Beer battered veg were so lush! I have had tempura veg before and this is similar, but I preferred the taste - less greasy and just more flavoursome. Amazing paired with that smoky mayo.

Selection of vegan dishes
I also really liked these crispy chicken vegan bites. At first I didn't even realise they were vegan. Proper impressed as someone who usually doesn't go for fake meat.

Trio of vegan sliders

Back to the rest of the menu. I absolutely loved the lamb kofta kebab, which is weird cos I always thought I hated lamb kofta. The halloumi one was also lovely. It was hard to share the kebabs so we just got stuck in, pulling off bits of bread and scooping bits of the filling up. My absolute favourite was the chicken burger, the brioche bun was just heavenly, it was like eating a burger wrapped in a fluffy cake. I really rate their food and urge you to pop in and try it for yourself!


If you're wondering about the drinks, HOS specialise in craft beer and real ale from across the globe. A few people bought the cherry beer which they all loved. They have some great deals in their happy hour (above) as well.

Click here for the drinks menu 



It was especially wonderful to see people made some effort with the Halloween theme!!

Events with this many people can be a bit daunting cos of course it is impossible to speak to everyone. What tends to happen is people go into little groups and then mix more over the course of the night. We had a few more people than at my first social so I was a bit nervous but I think it all went well and I hope everyone enjoyed the night. Every time we do one it means we get to know each other a little more in a low key, relaxed environment, and it's always great to see new friendly faces too. Cardiff is a small city and I just think it's nice to be creating good vibes.

Thank you everyone for coming, thanks for all your posts and tags and thanks again to Luke and the Head of Steam Team!!! x







(Click menu to view in full size)



Thursday, 31 October 2019

Review: 9 to 5 The Musical at the Wales Millennium Centre



"I'm just a backwoods Barbie
In a push-up bra and heels
I might look artificial, but where it counts I'm real
Yes I can see how I could be misjudged upon first glance
But even backwoods Barbies deserve a second chance"

Dolly Parton is such a treasure, I've always had a real soft spot for her. After watching an interview or two with Dolly it's impossible not to warm to this smart and savvy businesswoman who has worked her way up from nothing, but always remained humble. She radiates charm and always champions being true to yourself. With Dolly's name at the top of the bright, glittering gold posters dotted around town plus the intriguing addition of a past Love Island winner in one of the main roles, 9 to 5 was a musical I knew I wouldn't want to miss.

9 to 5 features original music and lyrics by Dolly and is based on the 1980 film of the same name. Facing an excruciatingly awful amount of sexism and sexual harassment in work, mostly from their atrocious boss Mr Hart, three female employees end up kidnapping him and taking over the company by themselves. A lot of the content was very fitting for the current social climate, in the wake of what's been going on with the #metoo movement and the on-going issues with gender pay gap. As is touched upon in the show, we've come a long way but there's still, infuriatingly, a long way to go.

It's probably for this reason that the humour in the show didn't sit right with some people in the audience and I do understand why - some parts with the lecherous Hart made me cringe badly and I didn't find them funny at all. I wouldn't say I was offended and I understood that he was meant to be the villain, but when the audience were in hysterics at his gross antics I wasn't feeling it and found those bits quite crass and juvenile (not that my sense of humour is exactly high brow...!).



For me, the funniest parts of the show came from the three female leads, who were enormously talented and a delight to watch. I adored the character of Doralee, played by Georgina Castle. Her take on the lovable but misunderstood Southern blonde captured the spirit of Dolly (who played Doralee in the film) so perfectly. Commendable comic timing too. Caroline Sheen was great as the ballsy, ambitious Violet, a widow who has dreams of becoming the CEO of the business. I enjoyed getting to know her character more as the show went on and we saw a softer side to her as she contemplates letting another man into her life.


Amber Davies was the only actor I was familiar with and she was exceptional as the young and naive Judy. When she belted out "Get Out and Stay Out" all I could think of was how she could kill a number like 'Defying Gravity' or 'On My Own'. For someone so tiny, she was an absolute vocal powerhouse! I think she will go on to do amazing things, she wasn't just an amazing singer but also acted the part so well and made you call in love with Judy as she comes out of her shell and proves herself to be a multi-dimensional character with a super sassy side. Love Island won't be what comes to mind when I hear the name Amber Davies anymore.

Dolly Parton makes a few cameos through pre-recorded video clips and she had me in stitches as well. I particularly loved 'If you liked the show, remember to post about it on social media. If you didn't like it, keep ya mouth shut!'. 

The story-line was entertaining from start to finish. There were touching scenes, there were catchy songs, there were some completely bizarre bits - as I've already mentioned, some of these I wasn't a fan of but I was still entertained. I'd rather be anything but bored in a show and there was nothing about this show that was boring. Choreography and costumes were brilliant and coupled with the slick set design, it felt like it had a really high production value. A very shiny and glitzy show with so much joy and energy to it - I was seriously impressed.


9 to 5 is showing in Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday 2nd November!


Note - invited in return for press tickets


Thursday, 24 October 2019

Chef Tom Martin - Pop Up at Little Man Coffee Co


A new wave of pop-ups, residencies and supper clubs have been trickling into the Cardiff food scene over the past couple of years and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. At a time where committing to a lease for a permanent restaurant is increasingly tricky, due to the rising costs (we've sadly said goodbye to some cracking restaurants in the city this year), the kitchen takeover is proving to be a viable option for an emerging chef looking to build their brand. I can see the appeal - there’s a huge sense of freedom in it - chefs have complete control over their menu, as well as the ability to test out dishes in an intimate environment, getting face to face feedback.

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I’d noticed Chef Tom Martin's name cropping up over local social media channels throughout the past couple of months. His cooking style has been influenced and shaped through experience in some top London restaurants as well as through his work in kitchens in Cardiff, including Chapel 1877, Manor Parc Country Hotel and Holm House Hotel . He’s been the runner up ‘Junior Chef of Wales’ twice and last year was named Foundation Apprentice of the Year in the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru. The opportunity to sample his cooking arose when I received the invitation* to attend his third pop up at Little Man Coffee Co, which took place last Friday.

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This time, Tom was showcasing a seven course tasting menu featuring local produce and the finest ingredients of the season. A small room with stark decor and wooden chairs and tables, Little Man Coffee's basement area was warm and well lit, perfect for that contrast of sophisticated food and informal setting. I later found out the the kitchen had been incredibly small, which made the quality of the food even more impressive, considering the space had been less than ideal for a chef cooking so many courses in succession.


Cauliflower & Black Garlic Ketchup

This was the course that sounded least appealing, but I was shocked how much I liked it. Through attending dinners like this where there's a lot of interaction with the chefs, I'm finding out a lot about food and testing my taste-buds with dishes I'd never have chosen to try. I'm a novice with all this, so am also having fun bugging the chefs with my non-stop questions and childlike intrigue. I won't learn if I don't ask...

Tom describes this as a classier spin on cauliflower cheese, made using every part of the vegetable. The florets are used for pickling and roasting, the stems are roasted then puréed with a small amount of potato and chicken stock. The pesto is made from the leaves and then the black garlic and roasted yeast bring the dish together. All of this with that subtle nutty flavour and soft creaminess of the cauliflower - superb.


Slow Proofed Bread, Roast Chicken Butter

Tom told me this course takes him back to his favourite Sunday feast as a child, reminiscing over all those lovely smells at the dinner table; sneaking a crispy bit of skin from the chicken and dipping his mother’s homemade bread in the chicken juice.

The butter, made with rendered chicken fat, was super meaty, smooth and pleasantly salty. I was a fan, but I did find the bread a little too dense and could have done with half of the amount of it, or perhaps if it was sliced thinner. My dining partner disagreed and ate both of his slices plus one of mine.


Roasted Cabbage, Pork Broth, Smoked Snowdonia Cheese

Goodness, that has to be the nicest cabbage I've ever eaten. I am such a weird one with broths, it's a love hate relationship, but I loved this one. Tom adores Asian cuisine and there are elements of this influence throughout the menu, particularly in this dish which hes describes as his tribute to Japanese ramen noodles.

We tasted his Tonkotsu ramen broth, which was made using pork tails, cheeks and trotters. A lot of time and care had gone into this dish; the stock was boiled for 48 hours until the fat had emulsified with the broth, producing a creamy, full-bodied, steaming bowl of goodness. So you get this rich porky taste with the shredded ham hock as well, paired with charred cabbage then topped with smoked cheese, puffed pork skin, fresh coriander and coriander oil.

The sweetness was brought out nicely in the cabbage, there was this beautiful caramelised texture with those charred edges - heavenly. A comforting, hearty dish with amazing flavour.


Poached Cod, Greens & “Tartare Sauce”

The fish course is another nostalgic one, paying homage to happy afternoons when a young Tom would pop across to the local chippy for tea, back in the day where you'd also get scraps for twenty pence a bag. The cod was beautifully tender and melt in the mouth, with that moisture preserved through the gentle cooking process. Capers gave a tangy, sharp pop of flavour to each bite and added to the interesting texture mix with those scraps and greens as well. A simple and stunning dish. I probably shouldn't admit this, but someone on a table to the side of me didn't touch hers as she didn't eat fish, so I just asked if I could eat it and she said sure - happy days.


Welsh Lamb Rump, BBQ Lettuce & Anchovy

The lamb was based on the first dish Tom ever put on a menu, in his role as first Head Chef at the Brook Bistro in Llandaff. This one throws it back to the moments where he started to establish his personal style and creativity in the kitchen.

The lamb was cooked in foaming butter and served alongside a tangy barbecue lettuce, which was cooked in the fat from the lamb for more depth of flavour. There are touches of anchovy and basil in the purée on the side and soy pickled onions are tossed in as another hint towards his Asian inspiration. Lamb fat fried breadcrumbs add to the crispy textures on the outside. The generous layer of fat across the top made for maximum juiciness...I relished every bite, it was possibly my favourite of the evening.



Coffee, Cream & Chocolate 

Tom spoke about how he was always noting that the adults in the room would have coffee and chocolates at the end of the meal. He came to see it as a decadent, grown up treat and incorporated it to the menu here, putting his own twist on things by mixing the two together. I can appreciate it was well done and it was a pleasant chocolatey taste, light and not too rich, but it wasn’t my kind of dessert (I usually would opt for cheese).


Pear, Nuts & Berries

The final dish of the night was my preferred of the two desserts. Tom designed this as a sweet, dressed salad with the pears as one ingredient rather than the main component. The pears are poached, puréed and pickled and mixed in with the marinated berries, berry purée and berry granita. Topping it off are nut cream, toasted nuts and winter berry powder. A vibrant, delicious and striking dish that worked well as the finale when we were full and winding down.

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Priced at £40 per person, I believe this is fair for what you get for your money. I had a really lovely night, for me it was all pretty spot on. I also much prefer the ambiance here when trying this type of tasting menu, rather than a stuffy, overly formal restaurant. I would highly recommend keeping your eye out for whatever Tom gets up to next.

Tom's next event is fully sold out - he'll be at Mr Brightsides on 7th November serving up a 7 course welsh showcase. You can follow him on Instagram here.

Notes:
  • *I was invited to dine in return for social media coverage of the night. I was not required to be positive in my review, nor was I obliged even write a full blog, but I loved it so much I felt it deserved it.
  • I referenced this source for the first part of this write up.

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