31 October 2013

Happy Halloween!

All Hallow's Eve. Legend (or rather Wikipedia) has it that Halloween is the initiation of the three day observance of Hallowmas, the time in the year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.

To many people (and it seems to be gaining popularity every year) it's an excuse to wear costumes, go apple bobbing (nb: surely this is unhygienic?) and go trick or treating. To me it hails Autumn, and the best excuse to break out the Pumpkin. Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed Pumpkin, Vegetable Lasagne, Roast Pumpkin and best of all Pumpkin Pie. I love 'em all.

Whether you celebrate with, ahem, afternoon tea...

... dressing up & partying...

...or having a quiet bevvie (if you are in London, Waxy O'Connor will probably be your wackiest bet. This is how it looks year round) be safe and watch out for mischievous sprites out to make trouble.

It's not very widely celebrated in New Zealand so my American blogger friends I need your help - what's a Kiwi to do? (Ps. if you're in London, +Londonist have a great Halloween guide).

What is Halloween to you? And most importantly, Trick or Treat?

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30 October 2013

A Malaysian Street Feast Supperclub - Foodie-in-training

It's really hard to say no to a home cooked Malaysian feast, inspired by the varied street cooking of tropical Malay towns. It's especially hard to say no when it's cooked by May, of @MalaysianbyMay, and you've been invited to come and try their new menu. She's pretty hard to resist.
What is a supperclub when it's at home?
Essentially they are part-time restaurants  where you go to eat delicious dinners for much less than you'd pay in a big name establishment. They are usually hosted in the home of the chef (or roped in accomplice) where you are sat with other selected diners and served a menu of home cooked delicacies. It's a well established Foodie craze, with roots in Prohibition speakeasies and Cuban paladares,
What happens during a supperclub?
Once you've booked the date, you're normally emailed the directions and address in advance and reminded to bring plonk the drinks you prefer (they are normally unlicensed). Once you arrive, it's a introductions to your fellow diners, a quick chat and a few hors d'oeuvres before you're seated. It may be a single long table (ours seated 11) or several small tables, but be prepared to mix and mingle, and meet a few new foodies.
What will I get to eat?
Now, this is the 64 million dollar question. Some pop-ups pre-empt you with the menu, and some simply present you with delectations as you go along.
For once in my (blogging) life, I'm not going to describe every small iota of my newest discovery. Ours was eight almost mini-courses of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya and other unique fusion cuisines that co-exist along the busy streets of Malaysia, slightly anglicised for our London palates.
Each course was a revelation of spice, flavour and colour - Curry Laksa KL Style, Kajang Satay, Penang Rojak and some Nyonya dishes to name but a few. Each course was explained by the busy chefs, and seemed to come out of the kitchen at just the right pace.
Each dish is explained as it's served (bar the first salad which we were encouraged to guess the mystery exotic vegetable - my money is still on water chestnuts). The time floated by comfortably as we chatted with our table companions and more courses appeared in front of us.
We loved it. Conversations ranged from Travel to the weirdest thing you've ever eaten (with some very surprising ingredients and a really interesting discussion on what a 'weird' ingredient is) and the surprising revelation to our dinner mate that Chablis is made with Chardonnay grapes (much to his amusing distaste). 
I highly recommend it as an experience. From the clandestine nature of where you'll end up eating to the interesting people that you'll meet it was great fun. We left with another 'armchair travelling' experience under our belts, with full bellies, missing Asian cuisine tried on our travels and we barely had to leave Zone One.
My tips?
  • Be sociable. The group we were in had a real mix of fascinating personalities, and several couples as well as singletons.
  • Take ample supply of your favourite tipple. Some research suggests that if you leave a Supperclub earlier than midnight you're not doing it right (or in our case are having to travel on the last tube trains).
  • Be prepared to share and try new favourite tipples.
  • Go with an open taste palate and mind. If you are allergic, or don't like a particular flavour let the Supperclub host know in advance so they can assist or tailor their menu for you.
  • Bear in mind that this someone's home which you have to respect, and let the chefs know what you enjoyed - they will never know if you don't tell them...
  • Be nice and you might even get seconds (or thirds if you're really lovely).
  • There is a Supperclub for everyone. Go, google and explore.
  • Check out the up-coming nights hosted by the Malaysia by May team & tell her I sent you!

29 October 2013

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith - Reading Review

Sweet nostalgia combined with adventures, family fiascos and the coming-of-age told in such a lovely tone of discovery. I Capture The Castle is told as a few months of journals by Cassandra, a 'consciously naive' seventeen year-old trying to capture the essence of her family. 

This tells the story of Cassandra, her sister Rose, Father and Stepmother Topaz. They live in a castle, but it's far from glamorous - they can barely afford to eat as their author Father can't get past writer's block and artists model stepmother Topaz can't leave her husband to pursue work in London. We enter the affray at the arrival of a new Landlord. But what will happen to them?

"I shouldn't think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea."

I'm not even going to attempt to review this, me who doesn't know a thing bar what she likes, but the book is thoroughly charming. It's life how you imagine rural England to be; swimming in moats, dancing around Midsummer fires and the odd escapade to the bright lights of swinging London. The introduction explains the detail to which the author edited through the book, and her eye for details shines out - in the characters, the descriptions and happenings. You almost feel as if you are Cassandra and are able to step back and analyse the goings on.

Sometime you pick up a book without expectation, and find yourself irresistibly drawn in. If, in the last few days, you saw a brunette girl with glasses and a far away expression on her face, drifting around London with this book clutched in her hand, the odds are it was me. I couldn't put it down. Escalators, tube platforms, coffee shop waiting areas. All me - at one point I even opted to go without an umbrella to fit my book in my bag, crazy I know.
I Capture The Castle very much reminded me of the Secret Garden, innocent adventures into an adult world, but a world vastly different from our own. A world of slow romance, ruffles and gramophones; where "Ham with mustard is a meal of glory" and it's possible to lock your Father in your castle dungeon. I loved the characters, including the splendiferous and beautiful Topaz, the cunning Rose and especially the twinkling eyed Vicar with an eye for mischief.

Kit, thank you for your recommendation - it was softly glorious classic which I heartily recommend for the romantics in your life. It will catch them unawares as well, I can almost guarantee it.
(Please note any links to Amazon are through my Amazon Associates account, which means I make a little money (less than 5%) from any purchases made after clicking through these links and it adds nothing to the price of your book. This helps support my book addiction, so if you are interested in buying the book, please click through the top link)

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28 October 2013

Ceremony of the Keys, The Tower of London

Some of the best things in life are free. Additionally (and somewhat surprisingly) some of the best (perma)tourist secrets are free. Take for example: climbing to see Big Ben, fantastic Museums such as the Tate Modern and the V&A, and getting to hold a gold bar at the Bank of England.
I've recently discovered another one - the 700 year old Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. You know I love the Tower because
a) I'm a London geek
b) it's really old and very awesome
c) Priceless Diamonds & Sapphires, Murder, Kings, Queens, 1000 years of history, Ravens, Torture & Beefeaters float my boat.  

Well, how about taking a combination of the Changing of the Guards, the history of the Tower of London and that funny time in the evening where you have eaten but can't think of anything fun to do?
The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place on each and every night, without fail, for at least 700 years. The importance of securing this fortress for the night is still very relevant because, although the Monarch no longer resides at this royal palace, the Crown Jewels and many other valuables still do.
It's a serious tradition around twilight (we went during Summer) involving entering the grounds of the Tower of London, armed guards, snippets of history, beefeaters, standing in cobbled courtyards, an eery atmosphere and a giant cat-door. Don't be cheeky though, they might lock you in the dungeons with the ghosts.
Tickets are issued free of charge but, due to the popularity of the ceremony, it is necessary to write to the guards with the dates you'd like to go (it needs to be booked fairly in advance), your contact details and a stamped self-addressed envelope. Further details can be found on the Ceremony of the Keys website.
You can't take photos during the Ceremony, but you can take in the beautiful view of the Southbank reflecting in the Thames. If you're really lucky like we were, you might even get to see the raised Tower Bridge which is breathtaking even after living here for so long.
What's your favourite icon (London or internationally)?

26 October 2013

Who and what is Adventures of a London Kiwi?

Nearly a year and a half ago I sat on my usual train into work reading someone elses blog and was inspired to begin writing my own. I don't know if it was one particular person, or a group of people and events (lets face it, I'm getting old and my memory is shocking which doesn't bode well), but they conspired together to plant a seed which has grown into Adventures of a London Kiwi.
I look back at old posts and I grimace. Heck, I look at recent posts and I still grimace, but I grimace vaguely less often which is quite some feat considering I don't in any way consider my blatherings to be proper writing. Maybe my photographs are improving. Whew.  

I got thinking again today. Why did I start blogging? Enter stage left my About page.

Hello world!
For me this is the hardest part, a blog-osphere wanna-be, trying to figure out what I want to tell the world, and to some extent who I want to be. Well, I can start at the beginning, and who knows where we will end up!

I came to the UK travelling, intending to take a break year from my architecture degree, to explore real buildings rather than try and understand them on paper before returning home to finish my degree. Fast-forward 5+ years, I’m still living in London with my hubby and our wee cat, enjoying life!

I love photography, reading, wandering, trying new things, finding a balance between eating deliciously and healthily, hanging with friends, driving my hubby mad, listening to great music & I hope to add blogging! I vaguely attempt creating beautiful objects, writing, drawing, DIY, home design, understanding rugby and Football, comprehending the wild and wonderful English way of life. Oh, and talking. I do love talking.

Currently hubby & I are going through a Renaissance, battling the bulge. I also wanted to pen a love letter to London, the place I call home. I hope you enjoy the journey.

You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Bloglovin, on Google+ and follow my blog posts by subscribing to the right of this post by RSS or Email (see the righthand side-bar). I'd love to hear from you - drop me an email, or say hola on Twitter. Let me know what you think about the blog - I'd love your feedback.

PR etc. If you are a company and want to send me items to try and review please feel free to contact me, I'm very honest and will review items candidly. Anything that is comped is fully disclosed.

Nothing has materially really changed, but time has moved forward, and not only have I done some amazing things (directly and indirectly) because of this blog, I've met some really lovely people (directly and indirectly). I've certainly learnt to seize more opportunities, seize the moment and that creating and working towards completing a 101 in 1001 goal list is hardwork but something attainable.
(This is seriously not a humblebrag post, but a rather considered view of where I've come from.) I still don't know what I want to tell the world, or who I want to be that's for sure.
Would you consider a 101 in 1001 goal list or maybe a reverse bucket list?

25 October 2013

Friday figments and fotos

My blogging week was full of a small bloke who wears spectacles and waves a wand. I did warn you...

My normal life week though has been full of Malaysian feasting, Art Deco spotting, afternoon teas, champagne quaffing, lovely Venetian sweet treats, cake eating and Kiwi chatting. It's not even Friday yet!
How is your weekend shaping up?
Did you like the random theme?

24 October 2013

Universal Studios: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter #travelthursday

The best kind of travel when you can't afford it or can't be bothered has to be armchair travel. No rain delays, no lost luggage, no upset baby crying for hours and your husband physically wincing everytime a child wimpers... but I digress.

Sit back, do not adjust your seat belt, and let me take you on a magical journey to... somewhere very English in one of the friendliest states in America.
We decided that our big trip for 2013 was going to be New York, and hey, as we were in the neighbourhood(ish) we'd add Orlando's Giant Orange into the mix. We planned to trip all over the State, exploring several different places; Cape Canaveral (NASA), Georgia, the Florida Keys and Celebration, the town of Walt Disney perfection. 
We stayed in a small town called Kissimmee and a definite stop on our agenda (after an evening of lying by the pool with fruity drinks) was Universal Studios: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Disney's Epcot. Far from being excited, I was stressed. Pacing up and down, convinced that as an inexperienced driver I was going to make Biscuit (our wee moggy) an orphan ((I'm not nuts or a crazy cat lady I swear)) it wasn't a good start. Once landed we roll up to the airport hire company after booking the smallest car we could find only to be offered a cherry-red Ferrari. What!? I was tempted, but couldn't risk it, and so took a larger safer car.

Still, I digress, sorry. So the next morning, up we get and make our way to Universal Studios. Best tip ever? Get there EARLY. We were almost first into the Park but as Harry Potter World is so busy and right at the far end of the Park and everyone heads to Hogwarts as their very first stop of the Day, we were still at the end of a long queue.
It. Is. Amazing.
Borrowed from Zomppa

I'm not a Potter-fanatic, just a big kid at heart and I was gobsmacked. Even Mr Kiwi who isn't a fan (hasn't read the books and only lasts about 20minutes into any of the movies) was astonished at the level of detail.
It's like stepping into a dream.
You line up at the gates of Hogwarts Castle in order to queue for the biggest attraction, the Forbidden Journey ride. It's a long snaking queue, but the genius Park designers have you wending your wa through various rooms of the Harry Potter School. From the Herbology glasshouses stocked with mandrakes...

...the Dark Arts Classroom through to Dumbledores office and so much more. It has every imaginable prop, holograms of the actors and talking/moving pictures. It is crazy. (For a much better 'walk through' see the Universal website, it's 3D recreation is incredible).

Borrowed from TheVacationGals

Before you know it 50 minutes of gazing and wandering have passed and you're about to join the ride itself. It's insanely fun - the setup is as if you're on a broomstick and having adventures that Harry Potter and his mates take. It's 3D with fantastic holograms of swooping through the trees, being chased by Dementors and over icy lakes.
I would line up for 3 hours to take this again. I'm not even kidding. Even Mr Kiwi came out swearing that was the best ride he's even been on.

I sometimes think this could apply to the London tube...

Once we left the Forbidden Journey ride it was onto the Dragon Rollercoaster. I left this one to Mr Kiwi, bottling it at the very last moment and he assures me it was fantastic.

After a touch of Butterbeer tasting (yummo!) we wandered into Hogsmeade village, letting the boy recover from his rollercoaster, and explored the Owlery (^), Ollivanders Wand Shop and Flourish & Blotts. Harry Potter heaven.

Every detail was covered.

Once thoroughly explored we began to flag, and we decided to repair for repast in the Three Broomsticks. We decided to test the Pumpkin Juice and Cornish Pasties.
The Pasties were about as expensive and ok as you'd expect, but I really enjoyed the Pumpkin Juice. Cinnamony and really refreshing.

Then, as good soldiers it was onto Zonko's Joke shop and Honeydukes. They were flabbergasting (and a marketers dream). Every item from the books you could think of was stocked there.

We went on to other areas in the park subsequently, but they didn't quite live up to the excitement and sheer attention to details like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Well worth the stress of driving on the wrong side of the road for.
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23 October 2013

Harry Potter Cheat: Butterbeer Recipes (Simple & From Scratch)

The most iconic drink throughout the books and movies has to be Butterbeer. Drunk as refreshment, comfort and during the initial Dumbledore's Army set up session, it's as essential as round glasses, wands and familiars. 
Butterbeer may be based on Buttered Beer, which was a real drink. The earliest reference to Buttered Beer is from, 'The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin' published in London in 1588 A.D., made from beer, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cloves and butter back in Tudor times. Another old recipe for Buttered Beer, published by Robert May in 1664 A.D., from his recipe book, 'The Accomplisht Cook' calls for liquorish root and aniseeds to be added. (Thank you Harry Potter Wiki). 

Now, down to the nitty gritty. One could say that having tried it in America at Universal Studios and at the Warner Brother Studios in the UK, that Mr Kiwi and I could almost be considered a connoisseur of the butterbeer beverage variety. Sadly in the muggle world you can only get it by training to Watford or flying to Florida. Any excuse, right? 

Butterbeer is a popular wizarding beverage with a very slight alcohol content and a taste “a little bit like less-sickly butterscotch.”
Quite honestly it's sweet and delicious. Quite similar to an unexploded spider or 'soda float' you get the crisp butterscotch soda on the bottom with the creamy slightly vanilla head on top. Delicioso.
You can make making this as difficult or as simple as you have time for.
Butterbeer - the simply delicious 'recipe'
Creaming Soda (*if you can't get creaming soda, see the below recipe) 
Butterscotch Sauce (normally for Ice Cream)
Icing Sugar
  • Fill your vessel with soda to around 2cms from the top.
  • Stir through about a teaspoon of butterscotch sauce for every 150ml or so, to taste. Stir to combine but don't overstir as you'll lose your bubbles.
  • In a separate mug beat the cream, a touch of sugar and and vanilla essence (I liked the ratio of about 100ml:0.5tsp:2 drops) just long enough to get air in the cream. Don't let it thicken too much or it'll whip. If it does begin to thicken too quickly, pause in your beating & let it relax a little before continuing.
  • Now, the magic. Get a metal tablespoon, flip it upside down and lean the handle against the glass and the tip just on the top of the soda and against the glass. Closely and slowly pour the cream. Et voila, you have floated your first Butterbeer. No flights to America strictly necessary.
  • Enjoy it shortly after pouring.
Butterbeer - the more hands on approach
Butterscotch Sauce (scaled down from FoodPreserving)
Vanilla Simple Syrup - 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, 1 vanilla bean
Icing Sugar

  • Make Butterscotch Sauce (sorry, cop-out but it's not my recipe!) and let it cool
  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan.
  • Split the vanilla beans lengthwise into halves and place in a heatproof jar or bottle.
  • Pour the hot syrup over the vanilla beans, cover, and let stand for 8 to 10 hours.
  • Fill your vessel with soda to around 2cms from the top.
  • Stir through about a teaspoon of butterscotch sauce & a teaspoon of vanilla simple syrup for every 150ml or so, to taste. Stir to combine but don't overstir as you'll lose your bubbles.
  • In a separate mug beat the cream, a touch of sugar and and vanilla essence (I liked the ratio of about 100ml:0.5tsp:2 drops) just long enough to get air in the cream. Don't let it thicken too much or it'll whip. If it does begin to thicken too quickly, pause in your beating & let it relax a little before continuing.
  • Now, the magic. Get a metal tablespoon, flip it upside down and lean the handle against the glass and the tip just on the top of the soda and against the glass. Closely and slowly pour the cream. Et voila, you have floated your first Butterbeer. No trains and coaches to Watford nessecary!
  • Enjoy it shortly after pouring.

22 October 2013

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

"A branch of magic is still open to you [muggles] - Curye, later known as Cookery, which combines elements of potion with transfiguration, a bit of herbology and divination." Can't argue with that, really.

Of the layers that were used to construct the world of this amazing boy, one of the most fascinating (bar Hogwarts Castle of course - how amazing would that be to visit!?) are the Wizarding foods that play such a pivotal role in establishing the whole world. From Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, to Cauldron Cakes and of course the reviving bars of chocolate:

""The mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the Muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings."

This book presents 150 directly mentioned (and a few fleetingly referred to) delectations that any fans of the books and movies will love. It seems to be written for a mostly American audience, and shares many common British dishes; mashed potatoes, toad-in-the-hole, treacle tart and 'four classically British Pies'. It also has 4 of the big 5; Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes (aka 'Big Fluffy Pancakes') and a chapter devoted to Honeydukes Sweets. Sadly, it doesn't include a recipe for Butterbeer (methinks that worry about Warner Brothers breathing down the authors neck plays a part) but overall is a fantastic book. I've cooked a few things and they seem pretty spot on -  a couple less Ice Cream recipes wouldn't go amiss though.
Each chapter of the Harry Potter Cookbook [UNOFFICIAL] has a random mix of recipes (eg. Chapter 4: Recipes from a Giant and an Elf) each accompanied with the book/chapter that it's related to in the books, and a random historical fact. Physically it's a beautiful book - hardcover that opens flat (perfect for cooking) and faux worn page edges. My nephews will love this... if they can pry it out of my hands that is. I always love having a look at peoples cookbooks because they say a lot about people, and this one sits proudly on my meagre shelf.

"He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs." 

Warner Brothers, you are missing a trick here. Seriously.
What's your favourite Harry Potter dish?

(Please note any links to Amazon are through my Amazon Associates account, which means I make a little money (less than 5%) from any purchases made after clicking through these links without adding any cost. This helps support my book addiction, so if you are interested in buying the book, please click through the top link)
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21 October 2013

The Magical World of Harry Potter - Warner Brother Studio Tours

Harry Potter seems to have turned into an international language that knows no borders. Everyone I've ever known, if they haven't seen or read J.K Rowling's series about a young boy learning about being a Wizard, they at least know of it because someone they know is obsessed.

Take for example my Italian friend - she learned English simply because the books weren't being translated fast enough for her. I have Harry Potter to thank for one of the loveliest friends that anyone could have.

There are so many intriguing levels to the book series. You have the basic story; good vs. bad, kid growing up, making friends, facing the enemy in incredible situations with the added layers fantasy brings; magic, monsters and the normal world (muggles). Then add growing pains, High School, living as an orphan, falling in love, death and living. Add a few dashes of some incredible historical research (there really was a Nicholas Flamel and each character's name was taken from history somewhere), adult themes running through the books (work, family, football) & the fact that secretly (and not so secretly) that feeling that having magical powers would be incredibly cool.

When I found out that Warner Brothers were opening an interactive exhibit of the Harry Potter movie sets I wasn't convinced about travelling all the way to Watford (North north London) or paying £30ish pounds for the delight. With all of the London landmarks it seemed pointless.

Holy moly was I wrong.

There are only a few attractions I'd heartily recommend tourists go and do when visiting London that are worth paying £20+ for. This makes the shortlist of 4 (the others are: the Tower of London, going on the London Eye at Twilight, and visiting Kew Gardens). There are London attractions too - eg. the film locations of Diagon Alley, the Ministry of Magic phonebox and of course Kings Cross for Platform 9&3/4s. I've been on a couple of tours (permatourist remember) and the walking ones are much better than the coach ones in my experience.

The exhibition consists of two huge sound stages (coincidentally named J & K as they are all alphabetical) jam packed with more memorabilia than you can shake a wand at.

That infamous cupboard below the stairs? It's the just the waiting area to get into the main rooms.

They have absolutely everything you could imagine. And more.

According to Rowling in interviews, she had a lot of input on how the various locations look in the films. "It was the most bizarre experience when I walked onto the set of the Great Hall; it really was like walking into my own brain".

Fabulous sets -

Costumes -

Interactive exhibits (ie. how to wave a wand properly & a green screen photograph of you on a broomstick (for an extra charge))

Props -

(at the top those are fake Turkeys, by the way!)
...and of course;

The level of detail was astonishing.

Did you know that Daniel Radcliffe was allergic to his glasses?

Or that Hermione’s buck teeth (as described in the books) were abandoned because no-one could hear what she was saying when she was wearing them?

As if you can't already tell I loved it, and could have spent a whole day in there. Easily. Then, then there is the ubiquitous gift shop. They sell everything you could possibly imagine. Gryffindor robes, replica wands, Hermione's earrings from the Twiwizard ball, Pygmy Puffs... the list goes on and on. It's expensive, but then that will be no surprise.

I've also decided that as it's my birthday soon, I'm going to totally indulge my inner child, and have a Harry Potter week on the blog. I'm sorry, but I suspect most of you will enjoy my ramblings (why you do normally I don't really know...) but in case you don't, normal (whatever that is) service will resume next week. I have so much to share!!

I definitely think my admission letter from Hogwarts must have gotten lost in the mail.

(Stay tuned for a recipe later in the week...)

(Btw this is the website site for Harry Potter Studio Tours - I've been in no way comped for this, I'm just sharing because it's something I really loved). You have to pre-book it and it's quite a way out of Watford but again totally worth it.

You can buy chocolate wands and Butterbeer. Need any further convincing?