Tryanuary – the Southampton edition

Southampton hasn’t always been a great town for beer but thank goodness this little town’s fortunes are changing. With the rise and rise of the micropub, the best beer emporium on the South Coast and a beautiful brewpub housed in a medieval warehouse, there’s never been a better time to get out there for a drink or two. So Southamptonites, this Tryanuary there’s plenty to be cheerful about.

Bitter Virtue

Continental corner

Continental corner at Bitter Virtue

Having just celebrated it’s 18th birthday, this hoppy haven should need no introduction for the beer-loving population of Southampton. If you haven’t been there, save your excuses, I don’t want to hear them. Next time you’re thirsty, get down there and let the expert team of Chris, Anne and Claire guide you on an adventure across the world of IPAs, ESBs, porters, geuzes, saisons, stouts, you name it… This is a place run out of genuine love of beer by people who really know their stuff and are always happy to share their recommendations. They stock the best selection of real ales from local and national breweries alongside traditional continental styles as well as experimental craft brews. Highlights include Siren, Buxton, Magic Rock, Cloudwater, Tilquin, De Molen, De Struise, Rogue and To Ol, with takeaway cask from a revolving selection including Dark Star and Bowmans. Check their website for the latest arrivals and make sure you check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

The Butchers Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher's Hook

The board of beer at The Butcher’s Hook

Until March 2014, the majority of my beer consumption here in Southampton was at home thanks to Bitter Virtue. That all changed with the arrival of the city’s first micro-pub run by local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson in a former butcher’s shop in Bitterne. The much anticipated opening night weekend saw queues out the door and beer selling out faster than they could restock and it hasn’t calmed down that much since. Luckily, the locals of Bitterne are a friendly bunch and there’s normally room for everyone to squeeze in at the communal tables. With room for only three keg and four cask beers, the guys can be relied upon to choose their selection well so there’s generally a good range of styles but check out their great range of bottles too.  You can see what’s new on their ever-changing menu here.

 

The Dancing Man

The Dancing Man Brewery

The Dancing Man Brewery

Way back in 2012 the guys at the Platform Tavern said ‘you know what – we want to start making beer that we want to sell’ so that’s what they did. The Dancing Man brewery began in one of their disused kitchens and quickly developed a superb reputation for some delicious brews. Only a year later, a proposal was submitted to turn a  nearby grade two listed medieval wool house into a new brew pub and last year it became a reality. It would be worth a visit just to see how exquisitely they have restored the building which has previously had such diverse uses as a prison, transport company offices and maritime museum. Walking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. Apparently the food is wonderful (which I’ve sadly yet to experience) but the beer selection alone merits a visit. Standout house-beers include Last Waltz, a roasty, fruity black IPA (5.3%ABV) and bitter citrus-hopped IPA Big Casino (5%) (which is the first of their brews to be canned) but watch out for some great guests from the likes of Siren and Vibrant Forest. Be sure to pop in on a Friday if you can to see what concoction they’re putting through the Randal!

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Tryanuary – the Leeds edition

January has always been a month for reflections on the year gone by and resolutions for the year ahead. In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to give up alcohol for the month. For some, this is a challenging way to raise money for charities or just be a little healthier but for many independent breweries, bottle shops and pubs it can be a pretty long month. In fact, after the buzz of the party season, January can get pretty dull and the grey days can seem never-ending for most of us.

To encourage us to support independent businesses and brighten up our days, the wonderful chaps behind Hop on the Bike came up with an alternative to Dryanuary. Welcome to Tryanuary, a month of discovery and exploration rather than deprivation. The idea is simple; try something new and share the experience using the #tryanury hashtag on social media.

This isn’t about drinking more.
It’s about trying something different.
Tasting something new.
Experiencing something interesting.

If you need some inspiration, over the rest of January I’ll be sharing some of my favorite independent beery hangouts with you, starting with the glorious city of Leeds where I made a few new discoveries of my own over Christmas.

Northern Monk – The Refectory  

Housed in an impressive Grade II listed mill, the Northern Monk Refectory

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The impressive old mill

offers up to 20 beers on tap at any time alongside a beautifully curated selection of bottles from the best local and international breweries.

 

Northern Monk prides itself on a progressive approach to ingredients. Whilst they can serve you a perfectly well-executed pale ale or IPA for example, my advice is to try something a bit different. One of the stand-outs on the bar during our visit was the Parsnip and Black Pepper Dunkelweiss

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Proper kipper and egg

(6% ABV) which had a sweet, earthy flavor. The Smokey Plums (6% ABV) was also impressive with rich Christmas aromas and a gentle Russian Caravan smokiness.

With stacks of books and board games as well as ping-pong tables, it’s easy to loose an afternoon here. Food is provided by the excellent Grub & Grog who source all of their ingredients locally and use organic ingredients where possible. We dropped in for one of their legendary breakfasts; my perfectly runny poached egg and smoked kipper on delicious rustic bread was so incredible, we almost ended up going back the next day!

 

Bundobust

What do you get when the award-winning Indian restaurant, Prashad and

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Feel free to get carried away!

the home-from-home Bradford micropub The Sparrow Bier Cafe decide to go into business together in the most up-and-coming area of Leeds? Well I guess the only sensible outcome is Bundobust, a leading craft-beer destination serving up mindblowingly addictive Indian snacks. The extensive vegetarian food menu features small portions of heaven which I recommend must be ordered by the dozen and shared with your most valued companions. There’s a few standards like the massala dosa and dhal with rice but my advice is to be adventurous and order something slightly unusual. The perfectly spiced and battered okra fries will leave you wondering why anyone wastes time on stupid potato chips and the idli sambhar, is just so ridiculously delicious you’ll be licking the pot clean. Oh I almost forgot to mention the beer. With guest kegs from the likes of Mikkeller and Magic Rock and a well-curated selection of bottles it’s unlikely you’ll have trouble finding something to wash down all that delicious food.

 

Tall Boys Beer Market

Tucked away in the Thornton Arcade, just meters away from the madness

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Learn your ferns

of the high street, you’ll find this unique oasis of beer, coffee and artisan bread and cakes. Four taps serve an ever-rotating selection of craft beers which you can enjoy in the relaxed lounge upstairs or whilst you browse the incredible bottle selection, or you can even fill a growler to take home. We discovered this place on our last morning in Leeds but there were so many bottles we wanted that we just hadn’t seen before that it warranted a risky last-minute shopping spree at precisely 11am (when off-licence sales start) before the wild dash to our booked train. Luckily, they open a lot earlier (08:00) so we were able to chill out with coffee and cake (supplied by our friends at Grub & Grog) upstairs and enjoy the seasonal space collaboration with The Plant Room featuring calming ferns and local art and furnishings.

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! It’s at this point that many of us will be looking forward to the year ahead, making plans and promising that this year we’ll resolve to become new and improved versions of ourselves. The fact that I am actually writing this on January 2nd might tell you that I’m not really that committed to New Years Resolutions but following the Christmas excess it’s a good time to return to healthier food and exercise.

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Easing back into spinning classes

Obviously, the magazines are full of helpful advice on how you can kick-start your healthy new 2016 and the key to happiness seems to be (as it is every year) slim down and tone up. Yawn-fest. From experience, the weight-loss resolutions come around year after year but almost always fail. Creme Eggs hit the shops before the last of the tinsel is taken down so there’s not much chance for any of us. Of course, success in weight loss carries no guarantee that you’ll be happy if you achieve it (especially if it involves eating less chocolate), or even keep it off for that matter.

Instead of resolutions, I prefer achievable goals that involve doing something fun, and not just on January 1st but whenever I realize something’s going on that I want to be part of. For example, my main goal is a sunrise to sunset cycle ride on the longest day of the year. I know I have to do a lot of training but actually, cycling is so much fun it won’t feel like training anyway. As a Les Mills Body Pump aficionado, I also want to be able to squat 40kg for the entire 5-6 minute set by this time next year (OK it doesn’t sound like much until you consider it’s up to 100 reps in time to music). Any weight-loss or improvements to general well-being are purely coincidental and I get to do something I love so it’s a win-win.

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A beery reward after kicking The Tumble‘s ass at Velothon Wales.

If you want to join me in ditching those stupid resolutions, my wish for you is that you can find something you enjoy, whether it’s running, lifting, cycling, hiking, whatever, and set a goal that will make you happy when you achieve it. Maybe you’ll run a marathon, maybe you’ll enter a ballroom dancing competition, maybe you’ll walk the Great Wall of China! Whatever it is, the adventure is getting there and the sense of achievement when you make it is a far greater reward than a smaller dress-size (although this might end up as a side-effect). It doesn’t have to be January 1st either – if there’s something that will make you happy, get out there and do it!

 

No such thing as bad weather?

Rule #9//

If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

As a year-round cycle commuter, out of all the Velominati’s rules, Rule 9 is my mantra. And Rule 5. But then Rule 5 is for everyone right. OK so if you believe John Ruskin then ‘sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.’ Yes to sunshine, yes to rain, wind….oh yeah sure there’s nothing  I love more than furious pedaling to move at approximately walking-pace and snow? So pretty when it falls from the sky, how funny when it tickles my nose. Then it turns to ice. Remember that bit where Bambi’s on the ice? Yeah that’s me. Every year. Except I’m clipped into my pedals. Every year.

Saturday December 12th was Rapha‘s annual Rule 9 day for women, Braver than the Elements. In recognition of the fact that for most cyclists, winter changes our riding habits, the luxury cycling brand extends an invitation ‘to all women who ride to step out into conditions you might otherwise shy away from.’ Why just women? Cycling is still a male-dominated sport; according to British Cycling statistics there are now more than three times as many men cycling as women. It’s easy for anyone to be put off by the cold and the dark and it can be hard to get back on the bike after months off. Could ‘Braver than the Elements’ motivate women to challenge themselves to keep cycling through the colder months? 37 organised events around the world with a photo competition and wide participation via social media certainly go some way to enable a sense of camaraderie that reaches across continents, even for those riding alone.

Since there was no organised ride near me and I hadn’t summoned up the organisational skills to do anything about it, I embarked on my battle against the elements with my long-suffering boyfriend for company. With my monthly Strava Gran Fondo badge (and my pride) on the line, I was committed to 100km. Wind gusts were forecast to reach up to 40mph so it wasn’t going to be easy. Living in a city center, we are somewhat sheltered from the elements, but out on the open heath land of the outskirts of the New Forest there’s nowhere to hide. The first climb of the day, a subtle, steady grind, never worth more than three or four gear changes, became a monstrous peak worthy of inclusion in one of Simon Warren‘s top 100s. I wrestled my bike away from the ditches that the over-enthusiastic road camber seemed determined to tip me into and grinded the pedals to the summit only to be rewarded with a slight descent which demanded just as much effort as the climb. The shelter of the trees was my far-off oasis, beckoning with loving arms and whispering leaves. With streaming eyes I somehow made my way into the sweet relief of the forest. The ups and downs of the road didn’t matter now that the trees would protect me.

...and breathe!

…and breathe!

Reaching my old favorite roads around Beaulieu felt like a victory against the elements. Wiping away the tears from my windswept face, I stopped to commemorate the day with a picture at St Leonards Grange, dismounting to sidestep a rather suspicious-looking and rather large horse (I’m braver than the elements but not brave enough to risk a kicking). It was here that we saw our first fellow cyclists of the day, a club ride making it look easy. Damn them and their drafting. I don’t follow, I lead and that’s what I did. I led us round an old familiar loop feeling clever that in the direction we were going the wind would helpfully propel us from behind. How I chortled at the poor old chap struggling the other way, gripping the handlebars, head down. ‘It’s harder this way,’ he shouted. Funny. Until the next loop where I took a wrong turn and we ended up coming back on the same road. Of course I tried to imply I’d taken us the hard way deliberately. Remember Rule 5?

After several choppy loops and some exciting interactions with the New Forest’s excellent drivers, we were kindly aided on the long road home by a wind that for once was in our favor but reaching the shelter of the apartment block I dismally noted the number on my Garmin. 99.14km. In the face of adversity, failure is not an option but having faced up to the grueling wind, having come so far, my laps of the car park felt like victory laps (rather than ‘oh hell I’ve miscalculated my 100km route’ laps).

With my trusty Beast safely locked away (you name your bikes too right?) it was time for hot chocolate and a leisurely scroll through the Braver than the Elements photos from the rest of the world, feeling proud to have joined so many strong women at least in spirit for a badass ride but disappointed to have only seen two women on my local route. Watch out though New Forest – next year I’m getting myself organised and I will lead a ride, come rain or shine (but preferably rain right?) because there’s strength in numbers.

Ride-a-long at The Women’s Tour

Here in the UK we are lucky enough to have one of the top-ranking women’s road races. Rated as a UCI 2.1, The Women’s Tour takes place over five days and features a total of just under 600km of riding. Twelve of the thirteen top-ranking women’s teams in the world took to the start line, bringing with them no less than 11 national champions. In a sadly rare example of equality in cycling, this year’s edition is extra attractive because the prize money is equal to the fund available for the men’s Tour of Britain. With thousands of spectators lining the roads at each stage and an hour-long highlights show on ITV4, The Women’s Tour is an excellent showcase for women’s road racing.

Our ride

Our ride

Last year I managed to enjoy the electric atmosphere of the exciting sprint finish of stage 4 of the inaugural tour in Welwyn Garden-City so this year we were eager to catch a bit of the action in Waltham Cross. Thanks to my employers the Ordnance Survey and their support as the official mapping partner, I was fortunate enough to get on the guest list for hospitality and a ride-along in the convoy. As you know, I’d always rather be riding on my bike than in a car but there was no way I’d be able to keep up with these girls, averaging around 40kph over each stage.

Way too fast for my camera

Way too fast for my camera

The day started in Waltham Cross High Street. Super-excited we turned up far too early to get into the hospitality area and wandered by chance into the car park where the teams were preparing to race. Being a huge fan, I was far too star-struck to actually speak to any of the girls but it was pretty surreal to be standing just feet away from the greatest female cyclist of our time, Marianne Vos as she chats to Wiggle Honda staff. I wandered round in absolute awe of the level of talent just casually hanging around; Giorgia Bronzini, Elisa Longo-Borghini, Lucy Garner, Laura Trott, I could go on. Oh and don’t get me started on the bikes. I was so busy gazing at the beautiful bikes I could have almost bumped into poor Alan Sheldon, a lovely chap I’d met a couple of weeks before at Canary Wharf who was on the staff for Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International at the Tour. Being a huge fan of Katie Archibald, I was glad I’d brought my Pearl Izumi team cap because Alan very kindly got it signed by the whole team just before I had to run back to the start line to meet my driver, Stuart Hourigan.

The mighty Team Rabobank

The mighty Team Rabobank

As we got settled into our Skoda we were given a copy of the Race Manual, the source of all information from detailed routes to where each team is staying each night to diagrams and guidance for each and every piece of signage associated with the tour. Accompanying us there was over 60 police motorbikes as well as a whole host of other vehicles and as we set off ahead of the peloton, it was almost hypnotic to watch the chaotic yet beautifully choreographed rolling-roadblock in action, each motorcycle briefly taking a position at any side-street or junction where traffic might emerge, swiftly moving on once another had taken their place. Stuart explained to us that we would remain ahead of the peloton until a significant breakaway occurred, at which point we might be able to slot the car in behind. We kept track of the race over the race radio comms listening out for any opportunity for our car to drop back and catch some action. The first three stages had seen some exciting breaks and Stuart remarked that this was becoming more common for women’s racing as the sport became more mature and strategies more developed. Unfortunately there was no significant break in stage four; Sabrina Stultiens and Elisa Longo Borghini staged a heroic getaway in the twists and turns of the final quarter but were swallowed up within the last couple of KMs.

OK it was pretty tempting to put Strava on

OK it was pretty tempting to put Strava on

We agreed with Stuart that the break wasn’t to be early enough to leave the race far behind and zoom into Stevenage in time to catch the finish. Having experienced the course, albeit from the comfort of a car, I could appreciate how tough the rain-slicked, twisty, pot-holed roads would have been. I could only cheer my loudest and hammer on the boards as the girls sprinted to the finish line.

Trott prepares for an interview with Ned Boulting

Trott prepares for an interview with Ned Boulting

Giorgia loves her dog!

Giorgia loves her dog!

Getting Liv Envie <3 <3 <3

Getting Liv Envie

Swag

Swag

Fin

Fin

Introducing Team OS!

When I found out that my employer Ordnance Survey would again be the official mapping partner of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series I was hopeful about the possibility of blagging my way to an event to hand out leaflets or maybe the marketing team might procure some merchandise to give away as prizes. I never imagined that I’d be taking part and yet there I was in the pit area, discussing hill-climbing technique with Team NFTO Director Sportif Dave Povall waiting for the race to start.

The calm before the race

The calm before the race

The Tour Series is five weeks of adrenaline fueled pro-level crit-racing in city centers up and down the country. Some of the top teams in the UK battle it out racing laps of courses featuring tight corners and unpredictable British weather. It’s the only domestic crit series to be televised and attracts thousands of spectators to every venue. The Canary Wharf stage also features the Pro-Am Corporate Grand Prix which is a unique opportunity for event sponsors and Canary Wharf residents to race on the same circuit as the pros in a relay.

Pro-team talk

Pro-team talk

Whilst it was clear that some businesses clearly had a more scientific method of selecting a team of 5, we decided to approach the event with a healthy dose of fun and chance; the team was selected by pulling names out of a hat and luck was on my side. As the only woman in the whole of the business to volunteer I was determined to get a place; most cycling events have a woefully minute ratio of women to men (the last sportive I rode had a shameful 47 women to 614 men – that’s 7%!) so it was important to me to hopefully set an example that other women might follow if we send a team next year. So, the debut line-up of Team OS ended up as me, Andy Revell, Ray Patrucco, Richard Brettell and Matt Whitely.

Smile for the cameras!

Smile for the cameras!

OK I’ve never raced on the road before but neither had the rest of the team. What better place to start though; the positive energy and atmosphere on the day took care of any nerves. So what if the other teams were rocking up on carbon-fibre beasts that cost the same as a small car whilst in our team there was a cyclocross bike complete with Brooks touring saddle and my bike had a bell on it? What we lacked in form we made up in enthusiasm. When Ned Boulting, in a rather surreal moment, asked me on camera if we were in it to win, I wasn’t lying when I said we were going to ride our hardest.

Team OS with fan Ned Boulting (l-r Richard Brettell, Matt Whitely, Ned, Ray Patrucco, me, Andy Revell)

Team OS with fan Ned Boulting (l-r Richard Brettell, Matt Whitely, Ned, Ray Patrucco, me, Andy Revell)

The format was simple: each of the five team members takes a 1km lap, hand-clapping the next one into the race in the changeover area. The final lap is taken by a pro-rider and we couldn’t have asked for a better choice than Ian Bibby of NFTO, the winner of the sprint competition at the previous event in Croydon. The course, a long rectangle, is deceptively simple on paper but a lot more fun in real life. By the time my turn came, the team already had a lot of ground to cover and I can honestly say I have never ridden that fast in my entire life. I was flying up the first long straight and it seemed like it took seconds to reach the first corner which I almost flew into but somehow managed to get round. Taking the short back straight and hitting the second corner all too quickly, I found myself on the long finishing straight, lined with spectators cheering and banging the advertising boards. The support was overwhelming and gave me the energy to push myself back to the changeover area to tag in the last man of team OS. I’ve no idea where we came in the standings. I know we were was close to the bottom but I think we went home feeling like winners that day.

Whee!

Whee!

Our pro Ian Bibby shows us how it's really done

Our pro Ian Bibby shows us how it’s really done

Post-race chillaxing in the VIP area yeah!

Post-race chillaxing in the VIP area yeah!

Adventure Time

Enjoying a mid-ride snack :)

Enjoying a mid-ride snack 🙂

As a self-confessed Strava addict, this weekend’s long bike ride was very much inspired by the current Adventure Challenge. Just in case you’re not familiar, Strava is a fabulous app you can download onto your smartphone or synchronize with a GPS device to track your every cycle ride or run. Set up clubs or connect with friends and you can see each other’s routes and compete on segments of road or trail. Apart from my endless quest to capture those QOMs (Queen of the Mountains which, the award for fastest girl on a segment), I’ve become slightly obsessed by badges which are earned by completing challenges. They’re not even real physical badges but that congratulatory email that comes through after a long ride is (sadly) the cherry on top of an awesome day in the saddle.

To earn the latest ‘Adventure Challenge’ badge, Strava says we should go exploring and ride a route we haven’t ridden, taking photos along the way. Being the adventurous type, it sounded like an awesome idea to me so I turned to my expert navigator boyfriend and together we agreed on a 150km route (the length’s important – there’s also the Gran Fondo badge to earn!). Despite a super-chilly start, the day soon became beautifully spring-like as we sailed past bright green fields and luscious forests out of Southampton and up to historic Salisbury where we devoured delicious cakes at Boston Tea Party before heading out for the home leg. Having negotiated our way back out through the Salisbury one-way system, we enjoyed tackling one of the few notable hills in the New Forest at Blissford,  and meandered home through the pretty hamlets and villages, dodging ponies and donkeys as we went.

A good day’s riding makes for thirsty work and, as we all know, beer never tastes better than at the end of a ride. Having made a brief stop at home for food and showers, we continued the adventurous theme for the day and headed out to the new and only brewpub in Southampton, The Dancing Man. As a reluctant Southampton resident, I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoften find it difficult to find many nice things to say about the city. It’s dirty and boring and smells of wee and marijuana and for a long time there was nowhere to go to drink good beer. Thankfully, however, I now have three good things to say about Southampton. 1) we have the ridiculously tiny but incredible Butcher’s Hook 2) we have one of the best bottle shops in the country, Bitter Virtue and 3) we have the Dancing Man! Bet you wish you were here now!

When I heard the people behind the Platform Tavern (great beer but not a big fan of the entertainment because I am a killjoy) were buying the city’s only surviving medieval Wool House, I was terribly excited, not only because their beers had so far been a massive success but also because I had always been curious about the building but never been in. The Wool House was built after the French raid of 1338 by Cistercian Monks from Beaulieu Abbey and has had a variety of uses including a prison for French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. A building with such a rich history deserved loving restoration and the Dancing Man Brewery have totally nailed it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking in it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grand wooden staircase or warmed by the inviting fairy lights and candles. The two floors have been designed with a feeling of openness whilst retaining a cozy, rustic look, perfectly mixing the old and the modern. The move of brewing production to the larger space has obviously been a success. Being admittedly a little tired from our adventures, we only had one beer each so I went for a Last Waltz (5.3%), the house black IPA which was just incredibly fresh and delicious. Just think of the big bitter hops and hedgerow berries of Brewdog’s Libertine but then imagine it from a cask. Crazy stuff and without a doubt the best real ale I’ve had in a very long time. The boy went for local favorite Vibrant Forest‘s flagship porter, Black Forest, again expertly kept and served even if it wasn’t brewed on site.

So is there anything bad to say about such a gorgeous new addition to the city? Well, there was the small matter of most of the taps being off. For our needs there was enough to choose from but for a longer session we might have been stuck but perhaps on a Sunday evening this was just a sign that Southampton is thirsty for great beer and maybe the weekend hoards had almost drunk them dry. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking forward to my next visit and having had a good look at the delicious-looking menu I’ll definitely be back for food.

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Loving the lighting!

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Do I have to go back out there? The candles are so cozy!

 

Here's where the magic happens

Here’s where the magic happens