Thursday, 30 April 2015

Hen Weekend - Amsterdam

I was the first of my group of friends to take the plunge and get married. Therefore I was very aware my hen do would be setting the precedent, as a result I decided to stay out of it and let the maids do the planning.

The girls did a fantastic job keeping the whole trip a secret for almost an entire year. I was given a short packing list and a pick up time and other than that I just had to put my faith in the best girls on the planet.

We flew from London Gatwick with British Airways direct to Amsterdam before jumping on the cheap and very convenient airport train straight into the city center. Our accommodation of choice was this bad boy apartment on top of a quirky cafe right in the heart of the city: Inner City Centre Loft Apartments, which was booked through Air B&B. There were enough beds for all of 13 of us, we had three bathrooms and a separate toilet, two kitchens and two lounge areas. Everything was clean and modern with great views.

After dropping our luggage the girls had arranged an amazing Prosecco Brunch at G's, which was a great little find by the group. It was there my sister (The Maid of Honor) presented us all with a personalized "Hen Do" bag from not on the high street complete with princess crowns, badges and a survival kit of sweets, chewing gum, plasters, blister plasters, paracetamol, lip balm, nail varnish etc etc. Fed and watered we decided we should do something cultural and hit the bus tour of Amsterdam relaxing and taking in all of the major sites.

It was back to the apartment for a shower and change before the amazing maids produced a supermarket shop of drinks and snacks to get the party started. First up was a video from one of my best friends in the world who currently resides in Hong Kong and couldn't make the weekend shenanigans. Needless to say the tears were streaming! Next up was a hilarious game of Mr & Mrs with a full on video from the hubby to be! I was actually better at this than most people expected, tick for me!!! We also played dress the best bride using toilet roll, which naturally my group had to win and my youngest sister had brought a Polaroid so I could have my photo taken with each hen and they could then write a little message along with a wedding wish as a keepsake of my weekend.

After plenty of Prosecco we took a taxi to the Supperclub, Amsterdam. This place is expensive but the tasting menu is good and the entertainment is hilarious. You sit on big beds all comfy and cosy in groups chatting and giggling the night away. The girls also had a neat idea to dress me in white whilst they all wore black so I stood out as the bride to be. Once the food and the little gimmick shows are over it's down to the basement to dance until dawn.

The next day the girls cooked a full English to cure the sore heads and fortunately had left plenty of time for recovering before hitting a Prosecco bike. This is an excellent idea for a hen weekend. It works out at 425 EUR for up to 17 people, which actually for a couple of hours entertainment and 10 liters of Prosecco isn't bad value. Book here through

Slightly tipsy we returned to the apartment, some via a cheeky "coffeeshop". The evenings game of choice was guess which hen from the humiliating and hilarious stories on offer. We then headed to Restaurant Red where we had an excellent set menu of half a lobster to start followed by fillet steak with fries and salad. Perfect evening and choice! After dinner we decided to catch a cab to take a little wander around the Red Light District and all try out a Peep Show for a few Euro's each, which was quite an eye opener!!! As we had gone a little over the top on night one from being way too excited we called it a night here and headed back to the apartment for some gossip in our PJ's before bed.

On our last day in Amsterdam we took our fragile bodies through the boat tour as it was raining and was a good way to see some of the city without getting wet. We then split, some for shopping, some to experience Anne Frank's famous house and the rest to grab some Amsterdam Apple Pie, which personally is a must do in this city! After our alone time we all met at The Sky Lounge at the Doubletree Hilton for a few more drinks, to share our memories of the weekend and to pass on my wedding wishes from the girls. It was then a quick cab back to the airport and our short flight home to London.

I could not have wished for a better send off into marriage, I had the most incredible time with my favorite girls. Everything was organised to a tee and not a single little bit of tackiness was in sight. For future "maids" a little advice, my girls had pre-ordered set menu's in all of the restaurants and taken money for all the food, a little extra for drinks and service so there was never any arguing about bills, we even had enough left in the kitty to buy a breakfast and round of drinks on the last day. I would definitely suggest everyone pays into a kitty in advance as it really saved so much hassle. Also factor in time for a large group of girls to shower and also recover after a big night the following morning (sometimes, less is really more).

Other fun things to do in Amsterdam from another trip I have been on previously are:

  • The Amsterdam Zoo
  • Madam Tussards
  • The Amsterdam Dungeon
  • Van Gogh Museum
  • The Sex Museum 
  • House of Bols cocktail experience
  • The Flower Market

Also a less fun activity but poignant is the Anne Frank House. It's a real eye opener and hard to understand what happened here and how these two families lived in the house, which is still intact today.

Happy Travels

Mustard Tasting @ The Maille Boutique

My sister won this weird and wonderful experience for four randomly at a charity Dodgeball evening. She kindly invited myself and the hubby along with her and her boyfriend despite the fact she had no idea what this would be all about.

We turned up at the boutique in the Piccadilly Arcade one very wet and windy Thursday evening. Before the tasting began we were given a glass of champagne and were able to wander around the empty shop admiring all of the mustard and other products for sale before we were whisked upstairs to find out what was in store for us.

I have to say the tasting room was very impressive. There were floor to ceiling windows overlooking the busy street below and welcoming lighting with a long bar laid out with canapes as a pre-tasting snack. We were given plenty of wine and water throughout our two hour experience as well.

We learnt all about the history of mustard production and La Maison Maille. We were taught how best to taste and smell the mustard to bring out the particular flavors and we were given the opportunity to try as many as we liked on small pieces of bread. As you can imagine we went mental and made ourselves almost sick! I think we probably tried twenty or more mustard types between us.

The standouts for me were the Honey and Balsamic Vinegar and the Cognac and White Wine. I know the Sun-Dried tomato was also a popular choice among the group. Almost every flavor you could imagine was represented and the very kind mustard Sommelier even gave us recipes. For example glazing meat in the mustard before cooking or adding a mustard containing Truffle and Chablis into scrambled egg.

The best part of the evening was after our tasting and purchases we were given a free gift each in a beautiful bag of a black truffle and Chablis mustard as well as their aged balsamic vinegar. This was a pretty generous treat bearing in mind the cost of the products.

I didn't know anything about mustard before this experience, to be honest, I didn't even know that I liked it but this really was an insightful evening. Go down to the store in London, they will allow you to try before you buy or if you are more confident in what you might like check out the website where you can buy online:

Happy Tasting

Ladies that brunch - Roka

A friend and I hauled ourselves down to Roka, Canary Wharf one cold, wet February afternoon to experience their weekend brunch. Brunch is served between 11:30am - 4pm Saturday and Sunday. Book your table as early in the slot as possible to fully make the most of what is on offer.

There are three menu's at various prices but we went for the cheapest option at £42 per head.

Once seated you will be handed a Bellini or Bloody Mary or the non-alcoholic option of green tea and passion fruit iced tea. Once you have had a chance to browse the menu and demolish your cocktail the waiter will bring the wine glasses for either the unlimited red or white option. Next you must select your main dish. I went for the tiger prawn and vegetable tempura and my friend gave the rib-eye a go.

After your order has been taken it's time to let loose at the buffet. The buffet is excellent and is constantly being topped up by chefs working behind the grazing counters. There is sushi and sashimi on offer with the usual ginger, wasabi and soy dips. There are also a few different types of salads to try as well as a large selection of mini starters. The best part of the buffet is, it's limitless during your time at Roka so make sure you keep going back for more of your favorites or to give everything a try! This idea of unlimited eating is also great when the wine is free flowing as the wine keeps you hungry and the food stops you becoming silly drunk!!!

After a while of buffet grazing out came the fabulous main courses and it was nice to have something hot after a large consumption or the cold food. Post the mains we were given quite a while to sip wine, relax and chat, and if necessary head back to the buffet!

Dessert was served as a platter for the table and it did look rather impressive on arrival. It mainly consisted of exotic fruits but to be honest this was great to refresh the palate and have a taste of something sweet without filling up too much more.

The wine and food really are limitless and free flowing at this brunch spot. It's busy so book well in advance. It's dark and it's very noisy so get ready to laugh out loud and be boozy! You will have to stagger back through the winding underground route of Canary Wharf but you will be warmed, full and satisfied when you do!

A Long Weekend - DUBAI

I have been lucky enough to visit Dubai three times but I thought I would combine my trips into one ultimate Dubai break.

Firstly and most importantly check yourself into one of the luxurious hotels, I have reviewed a few to choose from on this blog as Dubai is all about pampering, resting and relaxing. Make sure you therefore spend some much needed time napping and reading by your pool or on your beach as you have paid for the hotel, you need to make the most of being there.

I would also recommend an afternoon at a water park, you won't need a full day at either of these choices and some hotels will come with free entry thus swaying your decision. I think both are a fun and a great day out, both are clean and both have a large variety of rides so I would go with the one closest to your accommodation. Aquaventure at the Palm or Wild Wadi part of the Jumeirah Group.

During the evening I would take a trip to one of the malls. The Mall of the Emirates is bursting to the seems with shops and restaurants, my fav is Johnny Rockets for some good old American grub. This mall is also home to Ski Dubai, which for ski lovers is a great experience and one I would recommend. Equally though there is the The Dubai Mall home of an aquarium (although I wouldn't pay to walk through), plenty of designer shops and a Magnolia Bakery (for a cheeky take away cupcake) and The Cheesecake Factory for some good old fashioned junk food! At the Dubai Mall don't forget to go outside and watch the fountain display with lights and music, you can also eat at one of the many outdoor restaurants along here. Finally take the opportunity to head up the tallest building in the world The Burj Khalifa for some insane views over the city. Tickets are timed so head to buy your ticket and then get some food and watch the fountains before returning for your slot.

Another top Dubai late afternoon and evening is a desert safari. They tend to leave your hotel around 3-4pm and return around 10pm. You are picked up in a 4x4 wheel drive and take a 20-30 mins dune bashing journey (literally bouncing around in the sand dunes) followed by camel rides, belly dancing and a massive BBQ in the desert under the stars. It is a little obviously touristy but it's also great fun!

For nights out my favorite is the open air Nasimi Beach at the Atlantis on the Palm with it's own table service and great DJ's. Another great spot is the Madinat Rooftop and the other bars available in this complex. I also especially like the night club at Raffles Hotel. Another excellent place for a cocktail is the Skyview Bar at the Burj Al Arab Hotel (dress smart) and also Jetty Lounge at the One & Only Royal Mirage.

Whilst in Dubai you must take advantage of the food on offer. All of the big names and chefs have restaurants here and every single type of cuisine you could imagine is represented. Aside from the hotel restaurants I have already blogged about my all time favorite in Dubai is Hakkasan at the Emirates Towers Hotel. The restaurant is split into sections making your dining experience feel quite private and is very dark, cool and romantic. There is a long bar for a pre-dinner tipple with excellent cocktails. Make sure you order the prawn toast with fois gras, they are the best version of a prawn toast on the planet. The XO lobster is great but at £50 for a small dish I think a tad overpriced. Other dishes to note are the roast chicken in satay sauce and the duck spring rolls. Dinner for two with drinks will cost £150 ish so it is a splurge but the quality is amazing and the experience very special.

For my next visit to Dubai I want to try afternoon tea in one of the famous hotels such as the Burj Al Arab and also one of the big named champagne brunches, which look simply divine.

All in all Dubai is a great little place for a long weekend away. It's well connected and a reasonably short flight from London. You are almost always guaranteed heat and sunshine and the luxury will not fail to disappoint. Go and check out this bizarre man-made city in the desert for yourself, I would love to hear your post trip thoughts.

City or Beach Hotel? - Dubai

Where to stay in Dubai is a very confusing decision! There are so many options to choose from with luxurious 5* hotels all over the show. I think I have always associated Dubai with a beach holiday but there are some absolutely fantastic city options out there. This post will compare two of the most insanely beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in, one in the city and one on the beach.

First up, Raffles, Dubai. Not only does the beauty of this pyramid structured hotel impress but it is also a very short drive from the airport, which is perfect after a long flight. As always in Dubai the staff cannot do enough for you, the lobby is mesmerizing and the rooms, well, this may be one of the best rooms I have ever stayed in. The room was more like a suite, the bathroom had a separate bath and shower, robes and slippers with an abundance of fluffy towels and products. You could also open the shutters to look through the large window from the bathroom into the bedroom, if you desired. The bed was huge with a large flat screen TV full of English channels, there was a separate seating area with corner sofa and desk and a balcony with the comfiest loungers I have ever experienced in a hotel room.

Again, as with other Dubai hotels the pool area was spotless, calm and relaxing. It wasn't as large as some of the more resort style hotels but it was never busy and you would have no idea you were staying in the middle of the city whilst sitting in this oasis. The staff were attentive bringing water and fresh fruit. The poolside cafe served everything you could need for a lazy lunch, a good caesar salad and ice cream with chocolate sauce, oh and also proper skinny fries! They had a large gym with everything you could require and a beautiful spa with plenty of enticing treatments on offer.

The food choices here are great too. Firstly breakfast is great, a large buffet with lots of options to keep you interested. You can sit inside or outside as well. They have a lovely little cocktail bar (Raffles Garden) on the terrace for the evenings with shisha and live music. Finally the rooftop restaurant with excellent views over the city TOMO dished up some very tasty treats indeed. We also had a "club room", which gave us a couple of hours each evening with alcoholic drinks and canapes, which was a great pre-dinner treat. Afternoon tea was also served and soft drinks were available all day long.

Although this isn't located in the center of Dubai, taxi's here are reasonable so it is possible to make the most of Dubai despite being a little out of the way here. The hotel is beautiful and very relaxing, it is definitely a good option as city hotels go.

Next up is the beach hotel Mina A Salam. Again, they have a gorgeous lobby and you are invited into the air conditioned haven with a lovely welcome drink concoction during check in. Rooms here are large, bathrooms have a separate soaking tub and rain forest shower, double sinks and all the other luxurious amenities expected. Balconies look over the Venice style water ways and the beds are the biggest I have ever seen, you genuinely will lose your companion in the night time. 

The hotel is located right on it's own stretch of private beach and has a smaller than expected but very nice pool area with all of the service you would expect (fresh fruit, sorbets, water, cold flannels etc etc) and a full poolside drinks and food menu. You can also wander or take a golf buggy to the massive swimming pool located at the sister hotel Al Qasr. Being part of the Jumeirah group your room will also come with free entry to the water park Wild Wadi, which is well worth an afternoon! 

There is a full spa and gym on site but the best part of this hotel is taking the little boats around the hotel and going to the spa, gym, dinner or drinks this way is fun, romantic and makes you feel like you really are staying somewhere very special. 

Mina A Salam is connected on foot or by waterway to the fantastic Madinat Jumeirah, which has every kind of bar, restaurant and also plenty of shops set out like a traditional souk on offer. Everything can be signed to your room for your convenience. Our personal favorites during our five night stay were MJ's Steakhouse (self explanatory), The Noodle House (cheap, quick dining) but most of all Pierchic. This was a seafood restaurant situated a little out to sea via a wooden walkway. Here you will be treated like kings and queens, lovely cold towels on arrival, blankets if your cold, gorgeous melt in the mouth seafood, beautiful views of the ocean and chocolates served on dry ice to finish! This really is a romantic treat restaurant, it's expensive but so so worth it for a special occasion! You are in Dubai, go for it!

Deciding between the two is difficult, Raffles is a more boutique, quiet and relaxing but city stay whereas Mina A Salam is a large, busy resort style hotel. If you can, why not mix it up and have a few nights trying both options, then you really can have the best of both worlds.

The One & Only Royal Mirage - Dubai

During a recent trip to Dubai the almost hubby and I stayed for four nights at The One & Only Royal Mirage. Check in was quick and easy, it took less than 10 mins whilst seated in a comfy lobby chair. We were also shown to our room before 10am, I would consider that VERY early check in! The room was large and clean but most importantly up to the luxurious Dubai standards. Every product and size of towel was available in the bathroom as well as robes and slippers, the balcony had a nice table and chairs, plenty of channels in English on the TV, a huge comfy bed, a perfect view over the pool and the beach, nice crisp and cold air con as well as a good room service menu!

The pool area was large and spotless. It was very calm and relaxing and whilst children are allowed here it was mainly adults seated around the pool. The loungers were perfectly spaced out and water was constantly topped up along with fresh fruit, sunglasses cleaning, cold face spray and frozen flannels. There was also a full poolside drinks service, however, you could not eat by the pool, which is a shame as I love this part of lazy holidaying. The pool side cafe was good but with limited options so after day one we chose to have a break from the sunshine and retire to our room for an hour of air con and some good room service grub, which was always with us within 30 mins.

Whilst staying here we checked out the Beach Bar & Grill and Nina's (in the adjacent hotel - a lovely walk through the grounds) for dinner. Nina's provides high end Indian cuisine with some fantastic a-la-carte options. Service is efficient and presentation is excellent. The atmosphere is dark and moody. The Beach Bar & Grill provides inside and outside dining over looking the private stretch of beach. We ordered T-Bone steak and jumbo prawns, both were great and with one starter to share, a dessert to share, two soft drinks, a bottle of water and glass of wine the bill was just over £100, which isn't bad these days for Dubai and for what we had you cannot complain too much!

This hotel is in a good location. It has it's own large stretch of private beach and is a short drive from the Palm. They do also provide a boat service to a sister hotel on the Palm. Our room came with free tickets to Aquaventure Dubai and they also provide as expected a full concierge service. We never waited longer than 5 mins for a taxi ordered from the hotel and could be at Emirates Towers, The Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall within a short and relatively cheap journey.

As a final note the hotel gave us late check out until 2pm and also enabled us to shower in the spa before our flight!

Marriage - Did you change your name?

As many of you will have already gathered from this blog I am a newlywed and like many I faced the big question, should I take my future husbands surname? Now, the future husband was absolutely adamant there would be no wedding unless I took his name, I had always planned to but the closer it got to the big day the more nervous I became about leaving my maiden name behind.

I eventually came to the decision that we were choosing a traditional Christian church wedding and I have always been brought up with traditional values. As a result, we were creating our own "new" and "unique" family and it didn't make sense to have separate surnames and obviously this would become more important as time goes on and children are brought into the mix.

So, the next step was actually putting all of this into action. The following is a check list of everything you need to do to change your surname.

  • Passport

Now this is a unique one as your passport can be changed into your new name up to three months before your wedding date by asking the post office for the normal passport forms as well as a Post-Date form 2 (PD2), which must be signed by the conductor of the ceremony. Please also be aware the new passport will be valid from your wedding date and you will therefore be unable to travel from the handing in of your old passport until your marriage. The cost for this will be the same as a brand new passport. Please also make sure travel for your honeymoon is booked in your new name if you renew before your wedding date.

I did renew before my wedding date and it was great to travel together as husband and wife with the same surname. It's also a nice reminder that my passport start date is our wedding anniversary! The process was so simple and easy and my passport was up for renewal anyway so it all made total sense to start the name change in advance of the ceremony.

Once your passport has been changed you have kind of started the ball rolling and from experience it is much easier when everything is in your maiden OR your married name. A mixture of both becomes very confusing so my advice would be IF you are going ahead with the change to get on with things as soon as possible post the Honeymoon.

  • Gas and Electric bills
  • Water bill
  • TV Licence
  • TV, Phone and Internet provider
  • Contents Insurance
  • Life Insurance
  • Pension
  • The Deeds to your Home (contact the land registry for a form)
  • Mobile Phone bill
  • Work / National Insurance
  • NHS records
  • Dentist
  • Bank - current accounts, joint accounts, credit cards etc
  • Savings / Premium bond accounts
  • Student Loan Company
  • Driving Licence
  • Council Tax
  • Online accounts such as ASOS and Amazon
  • Online Food Accounts such as Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado etc etc
  • Mortgage
  • Any direct debits from your account
  • Car ownership / Car insurance

The list is long but most changes take a simple phone call or quick log into the account. Some, however, will ask for a certified photocopy of your marriage certificate to be popped in the post, some will return the document for future use, others won't. If you work for a large company like me this is easy, just ask the legal team to certify this for you (maybe get several copies done at the same time). Our mortgage and life insurance providers as well as the DVLA and Land Registry all needed the certified certificate as evidence. Aside from the passport all name changes were free and all the people I spoke to were so friendly and helpful, it became a very easy process once I got started!

Good Luck with your own name changes and please ask for any help and advice needed.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Shoreditch Gem - Pizza East

As you can tell from my blog I eat too much and eat out way too much, I am also partial to a little comfort food, which is where Pizza East in Shoreditch comes in.

This restaurant is huge, very cool and industrial and full of the trendy East London crowd. Bearing in mind I work a short 15 mins walk away it has become quite an obvious post work dinner of choice for girly meet up's.

Firstly, the pizza's are great! They are big enough to really fill you up or to share with a friend providing you order a side salad.

My absolute favs are the buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil, as well as the San Deniele, burrata and rocket. The veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream is also very good and rich and another stand out is the spicy sausage, mozzarella and tenderstem brocolli. Be warned though, the spicy sausage is very spicy so it depends on whether you like spice as to whether you will enjoy this option.

Make sure you also order a side of butter lettuce, avocado and vinaigrette, this salad has hit the nail on the head for accompanying the pizza.

Desserts here are the best, try and order a few to share between friends. The salted chocolate caramel tart is a must try as are the cinnamon doughnuts, which you can dip in molten chocolate but the Gelato is also pretty delicious! Make sure you get really stuck in!

Try and book ahead as even on early week nights the restaurant can still be fully booked.

London Date Night - The Book of Mormon & Mint Leaf

All of the advice from other newlyweds was to book up lots of exciting things post the honeymoon to ensure the wedding blues do not kick in. With the help of some generous good friends who bought us theater tickets as our wedding gift we did just that.

As a little pre-Christmas and post-Honeymoon treat we headed to Mint Leaf, Haymarket. To start we tried the Chili and Basil Marinated Tandoori Tiger Prawns with a tasty chili and mango relish as well as the Tandoori Lamb Chops. The starters were very impressive and delicious indeed. They were well presented and hot, as well as different to a standard curry house offering.

The mains weren't quite as spectacular, which was a shame but still good. I had the Steamed Sea Bass and I felt it was a tiny bit bland, it could have done with some stronger flavors. The husband, however, went for the Tariwala Chicken that was absolutely delicious. I kept dipping by naan bread into the sauce causing him to give me the evil eye! We had a plain Naan, some cucumber and mint Raita and also lentils as sides and all in all we were quite full and satisfied with our choices.

The cocktails here also very good and rather a specialty. I am partial to a Porn Star Martini and Mint Leaf do know how to deliver a good one.

Next up was the best part of our evening, strolling literally around the corner to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see the highly acclaimed Book of Mormon. This is written by the creators of South Park so you can already imagine it will have a shock value. Essentially the story follows some young Mormon's on their Latter Day Saints Mission to Africa. It is absolutely stomach muscle enhancing hilarious! However, I have to admit, at the beginning I was so shocked I didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified. Once the audience started to relax and joined in the hilarity I was able to let myself go and laugh like a hyena.

The boy loved it, it is definitely one of his favorite shows and ideally suited to men! He still plays the songs once in a while from YouTube giggling to himself!

If you need a London laugh then treat yourself to tickets for this, I can't imagine anyone could fail to be picked up and come out smiling.

Toronto Travels

In winter 2014 when we heard on the news that Niagara Falls had frozen over we decided this was something we just could not miss, so we booked last minute flights from London Heathrow to Toronto with British Airways.

We spent three nights staying in a junior suite at The InterContinental Toronto Centre. The suite was huge and had a view of the CN Tower. The bathroom was a little dated compared to the rooms and the rest of the hotel but it was clean and functional. We arrived quite late so decided to just order some room service and jump into bed ready to begin our adventure.

Day one; we obviously couldn't come to Toronto without a trip to the world famous CN Tower. Being February, there were hardly any crazy tourists about like us so we didn't have any issues with queuing or pre-booking but this might be something to consider in more popular visiting months. It was quite an exciting lift journey up, not as flashy as other towers but still fun and it seemed to get higher and higher and higher, I don't mind heights but even I was relieved to step out of the lift and back onto a more solid floor. The views over Toronto from here are spectacular. There is inside and outdoor viewing and even a glass floor for those that are brave enough, I was not!!!

After the CN Tower we decided we couldn't last for very long in the biting cold, it was minus sixteen degrees after all, so headed to Ripley's Aquarium. This was a great Aquarium, it had a moving platform through the shark tank and lots of brightly colored tropical fish. It has been years since I have been anywhere like this and despite being full of school trips and families we found it educational and fun!

Bearing in mind we had, had a huge breakfast at the hotel (28 CAD for the buffet during the week and 32 CAD at weekends) we decided to grab a little snack for lunch and head back. We were freezing by this stage and quite jet lagged so we pretended it was the summer, headed for the hotel spa, sat in the hot tub to warm up and then snuggled into fluffy towels with a book on the sun loungers and napped and read.

Our little afternoon relax meant we were fully ready to head to the Air Canada Center to watch the Toronto Raptors Basketball. This was brilliant fun! I would thoroughly recommend anyone heading to the US or Canada to check out a Basketball Game. Make sure you pre-book tickets, which were not too expensive for the Raptors and get ready to cheer on the team US style. Imagine cheer leaders and people selling over sized food and drink treats, games and competitions at each "advert" break as well as live music and lots of screaming, clapping and at times sighing with disappointment.

After a good post Basketball lie in we were ready to collect a coffee and head for the Hop on Hop off Sightseeing bus. Be aware that in the winter time this does not run very regularly! Also the boat tour was unavailable during our visit due to the weather. The tour was interesting and a great way for us to see the city without getting freezing cold. We eventually jumped off to have a wander through the St Lawrence Market and grab some lunch in the Distillery District, which is a very cute area filled with places to eat.

We were quite tired out from the cold, it's more exhausting than you think so after another little nap and some down time we were ready for dinner. The driver of the bus had told us about an area close to our hotel for food (come out of the hotel main entrance, turn left, wander until you hit the traffic lights, take a right at the lights and continue for a couple blocks, then take the street to the left and you will find lots of eateries to choose from). Unfortunately as this was a last minute trip and we were particularly weathered from the cold we didn't look around too much and quickly settled on an American BBQ type establishment. However, if I ever get to visit again I will do my research as the Toronto food industry is world famous.

After a refreshing sleep we hired a car from around the corner of our hotel and took the short drive to Niagara Falls where we camped for one night at the Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel. The hotel is nothing special but it does provide spectacular falls views from the balcony. After checking out the frozen and insanely impressive falls on several occasions from the viewing platforms (the boat under the falls does not run during winter time) and doing some of the tourist gimmicks such as the IMAX, which did have some interesting falls stories it was time to get ready for our evening.

Our only evening in Niagara could not have been spent in a better way. We used Niagara Vintage Wine Tours to take us on a dinner tour with wine pairing. We were collected promptly from our hotel and taken in a minibus with one other couple to three different wineries. In the first we had a full tour of the wine making process and six tastings and in the second two we had three and four tastings respectively. By this point we had tasted a large variety of wines including the areas famous ice wine. We were also given plenty of opportunity to purchase wines as well. All of the wineries were beautiful and homely and had I known I would have stayed in this area rather than the falls itself.

Next up was dinner at the Charles Inn in Niagara on the Lake. This was amazing, we were sat in a candlelit conservatory with snow falling outside; it could not have been more romantic. We were also given two tables for two, which was a nice touch. We could choose from three starters and mains and two desserts. We both chose the mushroom tagliatelle . I then chose the salmon and the boy went for the beef and for dessert the cheese cake. Everything was beautifully presented and tasty, all paired with wine expertly chosen depending on the food you had ordered. We of course also had ice wine with the dessert!!! We arrived back to our hotel at about 10pm, warmed from the wine, filled from the food, bursting with new knowledge and smiling from all of the newly created happy memories.

On our final day in Canada we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on my Dad's favorite Nestle Turtles, if you haven't tried one do attempt to get your hands on these little pralined pecans covered in chocolate shaped like a turtle, they are good! We then took the Niagara parkway drive from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is a stunning 20-30 mins drive, past gorgeous countryside, the river and beautiful houses, I think I drove past several of my dream properties all covered in snow!

On arrival at Niagara-on-the-Lake we were not disappointed and were glad to see the place in daylight after the evening before. We parked the car and had a wander through the town looking in all of the specialist shops and admiring the quaint and pretty surroundings. We chose to eat lunch at The Prince of Wales Hotel sat on a table in the window overlooking the lake and the cute wine trains collecting the tourists. Lunch for me was an exquisite Charcuterie board and for the other half a thick cut sandwich and hand cut chips all washed down with more local wine.

Post lunch we had to head to the airport to drop off the car and fly home. Our time in a very cold and very snowy Canada we felt had been well spent. If you can detour from Toronto to visit Niagara it is well worth the short and easy drive (even as Brits who aren't used to driving in the snow) but I would treat yourself to a luxurious and romantic stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it's a world away from the tacky, tourist filled Niagara Falls area.

The Big Easy

Having previously visited the Kings Road branch a couple of years ago I decided to try the relatively new Covent Garden location with the hubby to be a short few weeks before the big day. American BBQ probably is not the best pre wedding grub but hey ho, sometimes you have to give into the cravings in front of you!

On my first trip here I distinctly remember ordering some very delicious ribs that came in a platter almost as large as the table whilst the other half tucked into a whole lobster (they sell larger ones than on the menu by weight depending on daily availability), bib and all! I do also remember finishing up with a large plate of my favorite waffles!

As this occasion was a little closer to my stomach being photographed in a tight white dress, copies of which will remain on mantelpieces for decades to come I decided to tone things down a bit. So I went for a whole Atlantic Crab, steamed with butter! What a treat. The crab came whole staring at me, I did feel a little sorry for it until I tasted the first bite and all guilt melted away along with the butter and soft crab meat. Now this is a slightly "healthier" option on the menu and will not leave you with that absolutely overfilled and stuffed feeling you would normally associate with American BBQ. However, the crab meat is delicious and if you order a cheeky side of fries (dip these in the butter) you will not go home hungry.

The hubby to be decided to put the wedding diet to one side for an evening to tuck into a "surf and turf". He ordered a big, fat, juicy and underdone steak just how he likes it with a half a lobster, although he tried to be cheeky and add a whole but they didn't have the weight he wanted. A steak sauce was definitely ordered along with creamed spinach and fries. This was definitely an eyes bigger than belly occasion.

Everything was washed down with a few signature Margarita's and a little less girly craft brews for the boy. This place gets busy, book well in advance to secure your desired time and date. The restaurant is spread out onto two floors, it's big, it's crowded, it's noisy but it's fun! A loud, boozy, good food evening was just what we needed to calm us before the upcoming big day.

Also as a little FYI, the atmosphere at both the Kings Road and Covent Garden are similar, so choose, whichever location is more convenient for you.

Pizza Pilgrims & Once

Having visited the Soho Pizza Pilgrims for Prosecco and Pizza on various occasions, I decided to recommend this as a pre theater meal during a recent double date.

So firstly, like with many Soho establishments you cannot book, which can cause issues for larger groups or Friday nights, so I would recommend getting here as early as possible. The restaurant is not very big, therefore you may leave disappointed.

The restaurant serves up no fuss thick dough Italian Pizza's with a small variety of toppings. They are doughy, chewy, fluffy, crispy, delicious meals! Everyday there is a different "guest pizza" so definitely go ahead and ask about this.

The buffalo burrata is a must order, you won't regret it and from experience I have tried and loved all of the Salami, Margarita with buffalo mozaerlla and the Salsiccia E Friarielli (broccoli on a pizza is never a mistake!)

A pizza restaurant serving Prosecco on tap for a reasonable price is always going to get a thumbs up from me.

Then it was onto Once the Musical around the corner featuring lots of Irish music but most importantly lovely Irish accents! The stage is set out as a bar and is a very simple set. Before the show and during the interval guests from the audience are invited onto the stage to share a beverage from the bar with the cast, I thought this was a unique little idea.

The theater is small and intimate providing the ideal setting for this fantastic show. I don't want to give too much away but the music is catchy and well presented and is a nice break from the more obvious musicals one could choose from in London.

Day trip to Edinburgh

OK, so you may think I am mental but in my bid to travel the world sometimes you have to do crazy things! So with my two younger sisters and my mother in tow the four of us set out for a day trip, YES, a day trip to Edinburgh.

We found return flights from London Gatwick to Edinburgh for £50 per person on Easyjet and cheap car parking at the airport. We did have to leave home at 4:45am so an early night was essential but we were in Edinburgh city center before 9am after landing and taking the Airlink 100 bus, which leaves every 10 mins and takes 25 mins and costs £7.50 return each.

For our first stop we walked straight to the Elephant House cafe for breakfast, which is famous as it is where JK Rowling is alleged to have sat and started writing the first book of the Harry Potter series. There are lots of Harry Potter references all over the cafe and as my youngest sister is a huge fan it just seemed a place we could not consider missing! From here we were a short walk down to St Gile's Cathedral, which has free entry and is well worth popping into.

We then wandered down the entire length of the famous Royal Mile before hitting the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Admission is £11.60 per person and cheaper for students. I would thoroughly recommend picking up a free audio guide as it really brought this interesting and historical palace to life. Do spare a little time to wander through the manicured gardens as they are beautiful.

Next up was a walk up hill to the Scott Monument, commemorating Sir Walter Scott, which is also the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world. Admission is £3 and whilst there are lots of steps and thin passageways I would recommend a journey up just for the impressive views over the city.

Finally, our exhausted little feet were rested for a good couple of hours for lunch! There are loads of places to try in Edinburgh but we went for Browns as you always know you will be looked after and the food will be good.

After lunch we took a brief wander around Princes Street Gardens and the little gallery housed there, with free entry before making the climb up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. We bought tickets prior to our visit online for £16.50 per adult to avoid the queue on arrival. The castle was really interesting and was brought to life by our guide on one of the free tours that depart from the castle gate at regular intervals. The views over the city are also astounding from here.

Our final stop was a tour of The Real Mary King's Close. It's £13.95 per person and you tour in a group with a time slot, I would book before you visit to ensure availability and the tour will last for one hour. This was very touristy and incorporated some "ghost stories", however, it was also interesting as you could really see the old streets of Edinburgh and how the city has been built up therefore creating these underground areas.

Finally, it was time to head back to the bus, which is right next to The Real Mary King's Close and back to the airport. After a smooth journey home we were in bed by 11:30pm! It was an exhausting day but we really did encompass the best of Edinburgh, we saw, experienced and learnt a lot and it was so much cheaper than needing overnight accommodation!

Happy Travels.

Le Petite Auberge - Islington

I have been to this restaurant twice and on both occasions have been very impressed. The first was for a double date and the second as a girls night. The restaurant is cute, cosy and split level and so is ideal for any kind of gathering.

From experience I can thoroughly recommend the pan fried vodka and chili marinated king prawns and also the mushrooms filled with garlic butter! Make sure you order some french bread to go with the starters, I can never resist some good bread and butter when dining out.

The Moules Mariniere a la creme are absolutely delicious and come with the obligatory french fries as well! The steaks were also a good sized portion and cooked very well.

For dessert you must tuck into some crepes or waffles. I personally being a massive waffle fan went for these with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream but all of the crepe options are quite irresistible as well!

I can safely say the liquor coffees are also great here and the wine is very reasonable indeed.

This is an ideal place for a meal, the food is good, the service is attentive, the atmosphere is busy but chilled at the same time and most importantly the prices are very reasonable. This restaurant is a great little Islington gem.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


I absolutely LOVE Dishoom, so much so I have had several dinners here in both the Covent Garden and Shoreditch branch and also recently came for a breakfast.

Firstly, please be aware for small groups you cannot book so come early! On both the occasions I have dined in a two I have been seated straight away, as a four we had to wait maybe 15 mins and the other dinner and breakfast have been in pre booked groups. The restaurant is always busy during the week so the earlier the better to secure a table.

For breakfast Dishoom provides a very unique cafe style experience. The bacon and sausage Naan rolls are something else! They are tasty, filling and completely different to anything I have ever tried for breakfast before. The Naan is like a little cloud of perfection and the chili jam complements the meat perfectly. If you are feeling adventurous you can also add a fried egg into the mix but be prepared to eat this concoction with a knife and fork! Both of my friends Fruit & Yogurt and House Granola did look delicious but why would you choose the healthy option when a Naan roll is calling to you.

For dinner dishes are served "family" style and you are encouraged to share. Being an Indian restaurant they cater very well for a vegetarian crowd as well. You do need quite a few dishes between you and if there is something you will all like order a couple. The staff are great though and to an extent you can order as you go along! I would personally recommend the bowl of greens, the okra fries, gunpowder potatoes and black house daal all washed down with a buttery naan.

I have always been too full for dessert but have heard good things about the variety of Kulfi on a stick available although I would avoid the Kala Khatta Gola Ice. They do warn this is an acquired taste and improves as you continue through the dish, however, the couple of mouthfuls I tried were not to my liking at all! It was salty and strange and cold!

Cocktails here are also good and they have quite a range of interesting choices. My personal favorite is the Bollybellini, you can't really go wrong!!!

So grab a small group of friends and head to Dishoom for dinner, also clear your diary for breakfast time the following day and you won't be disappointed.

Scoff & Banter

This is a new little chain of restaurants around the Covent Garden area serving up British Soul Food.

A group of eight of us dined one Friday evening and thought for a casual friends dinner it was pretty good and reasonably priced. Don't get me wrong, I do believe there are "better" places in town but I really enjoyed my evening here.

Between us we tried a variety of different food, all centering around British classics such as Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips. A starter and a main per person left most of us full so we all skipped dessert.

The cocktails were good and strong, the wine list had plenty to choose from and the bar was big enough to retreat to after dinner and continue the night.

This place is better suited to groups than to couples as it's busy and quite loud, plus service can be slow, which is ideal in a group of friends who want to catch up but not so great for an intimate meal.

Happy Scoffing.

Slinging in Singapore

As already mentioned we stopped in Singapore for two nights on our way home from our Malaysian adventure. Our hotel of choice was The Royal Plaza on Scotts. Singapore is expensive for accommodation and this 5* hotel was no exception.

The location of the hotel is great, being right by Orchard MRT station and the breakfast is good. The rooms are a good size for a city center hotel and very clean. The staff are friendly and helpful. Overall, I would say this is a good if not pricey place to stay.

Singapore is a great city and the list of things to do are absolutely endless. We obviously only had three limited days and were also visiting friends at the same time. For our first day we decided to get acquainted with the city and chose to wander through the shopping district and famous Orchard Road. We then went onto explore Little India and China Town as well as heading towards Marina Bay to see the impressive hotel and modern gardens.

In the evening we dined in Arab Street, which was brilliant fun before partying the night away Ku De Ta on the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands Sky Park. You do queue to get in, you do pay a door charge and please remember smart dress (no shorts, sports wear or trainers allowed)

For our second day we decided to have a fun back to our childhood experience by going to Universal Studios on Sentosa Island. Sentosa is a completely man made island and reminded me of Disneyland. It has a Universal Stuidos and Water Park among man made beaches, bars, restaurants, beach clubs and a whole host of other activities.  

In the evening we explored Clarke Quay, which is brimming with bars and restaurants catering to a young crowd. Lots of flashing lights along the river and a really fun party atmosphere. 

Finally, on our last day in Singapore we spent the day like a local with our friends before finishing our trip with a famous Singapore Sling at the Long Bar in Raffles, Singapore. This bar isn't quite how you would imagine, it's colonial, wooden and old school with a long bar and big fans. You wait to be seated and once you have ordered your drink are handed peanuts in shells, which you are encouraged to throw all around the bar to create a crunch underfoot when you walk! It was a bizarre experience but I am very pleased to have ticked this off the life list.

Singapore is great fun for a few days, there is so much to see and do and you can find inexpensive food, drink and taxi options plus the metro is excellent. Shopping is in abundance and the party atmosphere is most definitely alive. If in the area I would thoroughly recommend a weekend in this unique, clean and crazy city.