Friday, 31 July 2015

Cocktails & Canapes, The Coq D'Argent

This years work summer party was held at the Coq D'Argent. I actually really like this overpriced city escape. On arrival you will have to queue (on busy days) to take one of the two elevators to the top, however, if you have a private party you are able to queue jump, which is a good perk! There is a large indoor restaurant as well as an outside bar and seating. You can then move into the gardens for standing room only drinks. On a summers day you can't really beat being here.

Our company had a private outdoor area, which was covered over with patio heaters. We were served up fruit punch (mango, orange and pineapple with grenadine), pimms and three different wines. My favorite was the pretty gorgeous rose from France. It's not a cheap option at £38 per bottle but it was really lovely. You can't miss it on the menu as it's the only rose they sell! We also had giant games of Jenga, Kerplunk and Limbo. The restaurant tried to charge £500 for hire, however, these were purchased for just over £100 on Amazon and they let us bring our own!

The food was all served canape style and the selection was very well presented and vast. From what I can remember we tried these tiny goat cheese and chive terrines as well as ham hock and parsley cubes. Next up were arrancini risotto of seasonal vegetables as well as mini fish and chips with tartar sauce. We had tandoori marinated lamb skewers with a minted yogurt, half of which ended up down the front of my dress and char grilled chicken skewers with pepper pesto.

We had wild mushroom and Parmesan vol-au-vent and honey glazed cocktail sausages. I think the favorite was the suckling pig belly with lightly caramelized apple. There were smoked salmon and cream cheese pancake rolls, which were delicious but absolutely teeny as well as very tasty salmon and spinach ravioli with herb butter served on a large metal spoon. The mini beef burgers with red onion compote were the final treat and went down very well.

For dessert we had mini choux and eclair with vanilla and caramel cream as well as lemon tartlets. The little lemon tartlets were the best! The difficulty with canape eating is everything tastes great and the selection looks amazing, however, you don't leave feeling very full! So I am not sure how I feel about these little parties but it was nice to be treated!

The Coq A'rgent isn't cheap, I think the food and drinks for 50 people was nearly £4,000 so that's about £80 per head! It's a great little place to go to so try and persuade the social sec's to host a party here, although book early as we had a Wednesday due to popular demand and limited availability or save this spot for a lunch on expenses!

Soho Social

My friends and I met up last night to check out THIRST on Greek Street in Soho. The bar is set over two floors, although we only stayed on the ground floor. This level was small with low to the ground seating and some outside space. We arrived at 6:30pm and managed to find seated space for all of eight of us. By the time we left at 8:30pm things were busier and finding a table wouldn't have been as easy. The bar has "stupid hour" cocktails until 7:30pm, which is two cocktails for £10. They range from a mojito to a vodka martini. To be honest the list wasn't hugely inspiring and the cocktails weren't amazing. However, for a cheap night two for £10 can't really be beaten in this area.

After wandering the streets looking for some food to sober us up we decided to hit Byron. Our original choice Bo Drake was closed due to a private party and Jackson + Rye had a 45mins wait. This is the issue with eating in Soho in a large group on a Thursday night. Most places don't allow you to book in advance and everything gets filled up really quickly.

Anyway, the Byron in Soho is spread over two floors and we were sent to the basement, which still had a fun and loud atmosphere. The toilets here are individual cubicles and tiny but perfectly clean and adequate and we never had to wait. We had a round of milkshakes, vanilla, chocolate, banana, strawberry and oreo were all great. The banoffee wasn't as good, you got a mouth of banana and then a mouth of vanilla, it didn't mix too well! The shakes here are super thick so feel like drinking pure ice cream!

We chose a side each, skin on fries, fries, courgette fries, mac & cheese and coleslaw. We kind of put them in the middle and all dived in. For the burgers I had a chicken with added avocado and no Byron sauce as this is mayo based and I dislike mayonnaise! We ordered a cheese with Monterey Jack and a Byron. The boys all went for smokey's and the B Rex and then doubled up the patty's for an extra £3.50. They were huge!

We did a pretty good job of polishing off the food but unfortunately we were defeated and some had to be returned! The bill was £23 per person including service, which isn't cheap for a burger and sides but isn't bad for Soho. It's nice to go somewhere chilled like Byron in a big group as you can be as loud as you want and everyone will find something they like on the menu, plus it's inexpensive and easy to split the bill. The staff here are great and are used to later in the night and larger parties. They are happy and helpful and earn all of their service charge!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Sandwich in the City

In my opinion and I am a massive sandwich lover so have experienced many an establishment, the BEST city sandwich has to be found at Verde & Company Ltd. They are a very small but insanely cute and quaint little shop found on Brushfield Street in Spitalfields. This makes it the perfect city sandwich shop as is walking distance from most offices.

They are open for breakfast (8am - 11:30am) and lunch (11:30am onwards). You can pre order lunch in advance before 11:30am to collect as well. Verde do sell soups and quiche. Also all of the sandwich fillings can be turned into salads, however, I have had one of these and whilst nice, it's all about the sandwich, there are better salad stops elsewhere.

The sandwiches come on white or brown bread and are served with butter, mayo or oil as the base. They come packaged in brown boxes, which is a great way to eat. There are some really unique sandwich combos or within reason you can make up your own. The salami with brie is an excellent idea and the smoked salmon with lemon juice is so simple but tasty. I can highly vouch for the overfilled smoked chicken with guacamole. You will get into a mess with this one but it's great and the roast turkey with cranberry is like Christmas all over again. My favorite though is the coronation chicken with grapes!

All sandwiches will come with tomato and lettuce unless you specify otherwise. The store has a selection of quirky drinks including a delicious ginger beer. They also have a range of gorgeous looking chocolates. They usually have a cake or two of the day, you never know what will be there but I can say their chocolate brownies and their bake well tarts are so worth trying! The sandwiches are really overstuffed and large and will leave you satisfyingly full! So maybe save your sweet treat for later in the afternoon.

Get here early as the queues out the door will be long and sometimes ingredients run out! There are a couple of small tables and window seats inside, probably around 10 people can eat their lunch in the quirky surroundings. Otherwise there are some little benches outside where one can sit with a sandwich and watch the hustle and bustle in the sunshine.

I really cannot rate this place highly enough, the staff are so sweet and the sandwiches are amazing! You can use credit card but there is a minimum £10 charge and most sandwiches are just under £5 so the prices are more than competitive with other options in the area. Give it a go, you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


K10 is the perfect little lunch or post work dinner spot. They do take away and delivery but I always prefer to eat in. The Copthall Avenue branch is small and cosy so turn up early, walk past the take away shop and down the stairs and wait to be seated at the sushi bar. Try and arrive before 12:30pm otherwise you will definitely be waiting in line. Appold Street is a much bigger branch. I don't think the sushi bar actually fits more covers, however, it's lighter with large windows and feels more spaced out.

You will be perched on stools up against the bar. There are glasses on the table for still or sparkling water from the taps. Soy sauce and dishes, wasabi and ginger are also all provided so there really is no need to ask for anything. I always have a glass of Prosecco, which goes incredibly well with sushi! As usual with a sushi bar everything is color coded so pick up your plates and get stuck in. You will be given a little menu with the price list and also for the hot food. They have tempura, teriyaki, gyoza and katsu curries to order.

Service is quick, you won't be rushed but you won't also be encouraged to sit for hours on end after you have finished eating. You can definitely squeeze this into a one hour lunch break. The chefs are busy working away in the middle to keep everything fresh and topped up. Try the baby squid, it's really good. The salmon sashimi is excellent as are the spicy salmon rolls, the soft shell crab and the chicken katsu and avocado rolls. To be honest, try whatever floats past and takes your fancy. Lunch with a glass of Prosseco will cost about £20-25 per person.

The last time I went it was my sisters birthday! The whole restaurant sang to her and the staff made such a fuss! She was given a little chocolate cake, which she loved! Honestly it was such a sweet little touch and completely unexpected for a Japanese conveyor belt restaurant.

You cannot book here and the concept is the same as Yo Sushi, however, the food is miles better and the atmosphere is great, it's loud and busy every lunchtime so fun to be among the hustle and bustle. Only Appold Street is open for dinner, Copthall closes after the lunch rush. Dinner is a very different affair, it's so quiet, you can simply go with a newspaper or for a subdued chat with a friend. It's nice to experience the bar without all the craziness of lunchtime. They have opened a new branch in Fenchurch Street so grab some work colleagues and go get yourself some sushi this lunch break.

Piccolino Exchange Square

If you ever fancy a post work drink or dinner head to Piccolino, Exchange Square. Exchange Square has an amazing atmosphere full of city goers drinking and laughing in the summer sunshine. They also have big screens showing a variety of sports and pop up activities. This restaurant is huge so there is plenty of indoor seating and usually there is no need to book. They also have a large outdoor bar area with high tables to lean against and enjoy your drinks and nibbles. Or you can sit outside on their undercover terrace with patio heaters, which is my favorite area.

The restaurant is a stones throw away from Liverpool Street station so is super convenient as well. This place has hit the nail on the head with Italian food. OK, it's a chain and there are more authentic places to try but you cannot beat the location and the food / service is pretty good too. They are open from brunch through to dinner and I can vouch they are busy for both lunch and in the evening so don't be put off by the vast space, you won't be dining alone.

They serve Pinot Grigio blush, which is always a winner in my book as well as Prosecco at £28 a bottle, which I guess isn't horrendous bearing in mind you are in the city. The pre dinner bread and oil is always a nice touch whilst choosing your main. I always go for pizza or pasta, when in Rome after all! The pizza's are large and can just about be finished by one person. The chili oil here is a perfect complement. The pasta selection is also good with my favorite being chicken with vegetables, pine nuts and Parmesan cream. It's the perfect filling portion size where as the bolognaise was massive and far too much for one person!

I have never managed a starter or dessert as I am always too full but one day I hope to branch out. A pizza and a glass of wine with service will set you back £15-20 per person and you will be in lovely surroundings with friendly staff. I cannot recommend this place highly enough for a good quality meal especially as they won't rush you unlike other places nearby.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick

My Saturday afternoon was spent lounging in the sunshine at CRATE Brewery. The Brewery is about a three minutes walk from Hackney Wick overground station and is located on the canal. There are plenty of large outdoor benches, which makes this place ideal for visiting in groups. All the benches look over the canal and the boats so with the ducklings and birds it can become pretty picturesque for East London.

They have a main bar inside as well as a barge bar on the canal so you can choose, which is more convenient or which has the shortest queue to order from. The bar is all made from recycled materials such as ladders and railway sleepers, which is pretty cool. There is lots of wood and metal around so has an industrial feel, which suits the local area perfectly.

This is a real working brewery so tuck into a wide and interesting range of beers and ciders. Or, break the norm completely and work your way through several bottles of prosecco with your girlfriends, which I think was £17 a bottle but this became a little hazy half way through the afternoon! The best part of this place though is the pizza. They serve up wood fired pizza's in about 20 mins and they are amazing! The menu is a little out there but everything we tried was great, especially when needed to soak up prosecco! Give the middle Eastern lamb a shot, they were super generous on the lamb mince and everything combined really well! The sage and truffle is also very good as is the courgette, feta and red onion. I think one pizza can be shared between two as they are large and they come sliced on wooden boards so are super easy to tear and share between friends.

You can take tours around the brewery and they have an event space to hire for large parties. However, you cannot beat relaxing by the canal in the East end sunshine sipping a drink and gorging on pizza with a large group of friends sitting comfortably on a bench. This place is really busy so head down early for a good spot and be prepared to wait in line at the bar. It will be so worth it though and is a great place to gossip all afternoon long.

The Bishop, East Dulwich

Some very lucky friends of ours have just bought a place in East Dulwich! So we have decided to join them in investigating the area and trying all of the local eateries. First up on a very wet and windy Sunday afternoon we booked in for lunch at The Bishop on Lordship Lane.

Lordship Lane is great, it's filled with loads of independent restaurants, cafes, shops and pubs so always good for a spot of lunch and a wander. They also have a Picture House in case you fancy catching a movie. This area is walking distance from several train stations and also has free parking on most of the back roads.

The Bishop is a large but cosy pub. The staff are really friendly, helpful and attentive, which is just what you need on a Sunday! Also dogs are welcome. We all went for a roast, the pork, the chicken and the beef and the portions were perfectly huge. There was lashings of meat with buttered veg that were extremely delicious, a few roasties and a ginormous Yorkshire pudding to top it off all with extra gravy!

I really cannot fault the roast dinner, it was perfect and almost as good as the home cooked version. This was washed down with a beer and four glasses of wine for a total bill of £90 between the four of us, including service. Bearing in mind the time, effort and mess a roast dinner makes I would definitely consider this as a good and reasonably priced home made alternative.

We were too full for dessert but these also looked delicious. Next time I will save room as I had my eye on another customers sticky toffee pudding and I don't think I will be able to resist again! They had veggie roasts available and roast alternatives that also looked great, definitely check out their menu online!

Make sure you book in advance as we witnessed some unlucky folks get turned away! All in all the Bishop was a great introduction to East Dulwich and we already have our eye on some other places to try! Watch out for future blogs.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Meat & Shake

Last night I was lucky enough to head to the little, bustling Tooting Bec based establishment Meat & Shake. It was a Wednesday night, there were six of us and we didn't have a reservation but we were seated at 8pm without a wait. The restaurant was busy though and full for most of our visit so it is probably best to book ahead if you can.

Service here is slow as there are not many staff and the kitchen is open so you can see the chefs whipping up the magic! The best part of this place has to be the shakes. I personally opted for a small vanilla milkshake, which came in a ceramic cup that looked like paper, was pretty cool. On the table we also tried salted caramel and chocolate with chips both of which were delicious but there were loads to choose from including Oreo and apple pie! YUM! I would order a small individually or a large to share as the large is rather a lot for one person! The milkshakes are like drinking pure ice cream, thick and delicious! Aside from a cider and a beer there is no alcohol on offer but trust me the soft drink options more than compensate for this.

There are several burgers to choose from. I personally opted for the Johnny complete with sauteed onions and very delicious creamy mushrooms, which I have never had in a burger before! The veggie option includes sweet potato rosties instead of beef patties. The rib and cheese was ordered and the pulled beef stacked on this was delicious. The smoking bandit is great, it comes under a dome and once lifted you will end up in a cloud of BBQ smoke, which is just mouth watering!!!! All burgers will be cooked to your liking but medium seemed the standard option if you didn't specify.

Three helpings of fries and one coleslaw were more than enough sides between the six of us. I don't think anyone finished everything on their plates! It was a bit much! We also had a side of southern brined chicken as we fancied trying other options. The chicken was good with an excellent breadcrumb coating! Definitely a good burger alternative.

On the table were ketchup and BBQ sauce, both unbranded but very delicious. There was also a selection of four hot sauces from the brand Psycho Juice. The hottest was ghost pepper, which was hilarious to try. It left your mouth burning for about ten minutes and a tingling sensation for far, far longer! I think it had a 70% heat rating! Habanero and scorpion pepper were also available!

The bill was just under £20 each including service, which isn't bad for how full we were and the fact we had burgers, sides and drinks! It's a short 2 mins walk from Tooting Bec station too so is doable if you don't live nearby! They are open everyday for lunch and dinner so why not check this place out?!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Barry's Bootcamp

My sister and I have just signed up to Barry's Bootcamp and are two sessions in!

Firstly you buy classes individually or in blocks. One class is £20 and buying in bulk makes it cheaper. You can also share purchases. So we have bought ten classes for £170 and are going to take five each and see how it goes. This makes a class £17 instead. They do also do memberships but for £90 a week you need to go at least four times to make it worthwhile.

We are going to the brand new London East location, which is on City Road. As you walk in there is a shop selling all the branded work out gear and a drinks cabinet. There is also a protein bar where you can order a shake to have pre or post shower. They will whip up the shake during your class to minimize waiting time. You will be given a sweat towel, which is compulsory! There are no water fountains but water is available to purchase or you can bring your own.

Downstairs you will find a roomy changing room with three toilets and sinks. Five hairdryers and straighteners with plenty of well lit mirrors for makeup. There are benches with hangers and loads of lockers for your things. You won't need a padlock, you can choose a four digit code instead. You will be provided with towels so what you need to take with you is minimal. There are around eight - ten rain forest shower cubicles, I haven't actually counted all with MALIN&GOETZ shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Everything is very clean, the studio is even cleaned between the back to back sessions.

So, the class itself! We have done hardcore abs on a Thursday and chest, back and abs on a Wednesday. Each day the class will concentrate on a different part of the body and we intend to try all of them before honing on our preferred choices. We have had Shane and Jay C as instructors. Shane was far more easy going than Jay!!!

The class is split into three or four sections. On arrival you will be assigned a treadmill or a floor space and you will alternate three to four times in one session. On the treads you can expect interval training of sprints, runs and jogs all at varying inclines. It's hard work even at the beginners level and you will be really pushed by the instructors. However, I do hope by going more we will improve and maybe even make it to intermediate level. The instructor will count you in and give clear instructions for incline and speed. Each speed there will be three options of beginner, intermediate and advanced so you can pace yourself according to your level.

On the floor there will be various exercises on benches with dumb bells and weighted balls as well as actual floor exercises such as plank, press ups and mountain climbers. Again this area is hard work, don't think you are in for a break because you are lying down! The instructors will show you what to do and count you in and ensure you are pushed to your limit. Be warned, you will sweat in these classes!

The studio itself has twenty treads and twenty floor benches so forty people to a class. Booking opens one week in advance so make sure you book early as they do fill up even for the 7:10am pre work session! The studios are very dark with disco lights and loud music, which increases with volume during intense work out periods. It's an interesting way to exercise but so far I have found it very motivating.

The classes are designed to burn up to 1,000 calories per hour long session and are attended regularly by the stars such as Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham! I have thoroughly enjoyed everything so far. I am definitely at beginner level and have on occasion even been unable to keep up even at this level, which is tough. I plan to keep going and hopefully soon I will be finishing the class in full, I am about 90% there! The post work out feeling is euphoric and if I can find the funds I hope to maintain my sessions and make this a permanent part of my life!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

British Airways Business Class

I haven't taken any photo's for this post as I somehow feel inappropriate taking photo's when people are trying to privately enjoy their flight. However, I thought I would write a little review to help you decide whether it's worth the phenomenal cost of an upgrade!

On British Airways a business class passenger can still only check in 24 hours in advance and cannot pre book seats without a fee unless they are a gold card member. They will also have the same entertainment system as the rest of the flight so the same movies and TV shows will be available to watch.

The seat on a short haul European flight will be in a 2:2 dimension as opposed to 3:3 in economy and will therefore be slightly wider with slightly more leg room but it's not a huge difference. In club world the seats are positioned 2:4:2 unless you are in the bubble of a jumbo where they will be 2:2. The seats are quite impressive. If in a couple either take the window and aisle so you can face each other (one will take off backwards) or the two very middle seats, which do not have a divider and almost create a double bed type situation.

The seats will recline and coupled with your footrest will create a fully flat bed. They aren't much wider than economy but the bed is what makes everything so much more comfortable. You will have a little drawer to store personal items and a larger TV screen and tray table. Your seat will come with large noise cancelling head phones, which are worth the upgrade as well as a thin duvet and more substantial pillow. The wash bags are usually from Elemis and include a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, hand cream, body cream and lip balm as well as a soothing spray for your pillow on occasion. Socks and an eye mask are also included.

Another benefit to club world is there are less people per toilet. Most cabins will have three toilets available all with designer products such as hand wash and hand cream. Club Europe will have two toilets at the front of the cabin so an even better ratio. There is also a club kitchen serving sandwiches, yogurts, chocolate, crisps, fruit and soft drinks, which you can help yourself to between meal times. Sometimes ice cream and pastries are also available here. 

The biggest benefit to travelling in business class is the food. Passengers will be welcomed with a choice of apple juice, orange juice, water or Tattinger champagne. You will then be offered a newspaper. After take off more drinks and nuts will be served including premium wines and champagne cocktails. A menu is presented with a choice of two starters, three main courses and two desserts and your order is taken. We recently had marinated prawns with hummus, followed by a wild mushroom pasta for myself and braised beef for the boy and then a cheese plate. Warm rolls will also be served with dinner or lunch and a side salad. On our return we opted for tomato and mozzarella followed by a cod dish in a creamy sauce.

Breakfast will either be bacon rolls or on longer flights the full works. On our latest flight the option was a smoothie or juices as well as a selection of pastries, which did several rounds! The warm pain au chocolat were very good! We when had museli or fruit followed by a full English, a breakfast wrap or smoked salmon and salad, which I opted for. All food is presented with a table cloth and metal cutlery so you can actually enjoy your meal properly. Courses are also served separately so it is a bit like dining out as opposed to everything being on one tray!

Finally business class passengers will have access to the lounge. The lounge has short 15 mins spa treatments that can be booked on arrival such as an over the clothes massage or quick manicure. They also have lovely large showers and fluffy towels to use. There will be snacks such as cookies and crisps as well as soft drinks available to help yourself. There will also be premium spirits with mixers and wines and champagne is available on request. There is wifi, computers to use, a small playroom, TV's and newspapers. There are comfy chairs to lounge in and wait for your flight. At meal times there will be breakfast such as toast, pastries and some hot options, lunch or dinner, which will be buffet style. Usually there is a salad and jacket potato bar and a couple of options such as curry or pasta.

Is it worth paying for business class? If you have unlimited funds I would say 100% yes, it's a lovely way to travel. If it's going to leave you skint for years then do not do it! Everyone will recover from a flight and the plane gets every passenger from a to b at the end of the day. If you can afford a once in a while treat like for a honeymoon then I would say pay the difference and give it a go!!!! It's worth trying once!

Ho Chi Minh City

We flew from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh City in around an hour on Vietnam Airlines for £65. Our hotel of choice was the InterContinental Asiana Saigon. We caught a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which took around 40 mins in the rush hour traffic.

This hotel was lovely. There were no balconies in the rooms but there were floor to ceiling windows offering good views over the city. As an InterContinental member we were put into a draw and won some free laundry but lots of exciting things were up for grab! Our room was large for a city, we had a big bathroom with rain forest shower and bathtub, a large bed, big flat screen TV and seating / desk area. Everything was spotlessly clean and all of the staff were very friendly.

The hotel is well located and is a 5 mins walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral and central post office. You are also walking distance to the main market, lots of shops and restaurants and the war remnants museum. Taxi's here are very reasonable just make sure you use Vinasun. The hotel also offers a wonderful breakfast selection. There are cold meats, cheeses and smoked salmon with a variety of breads including delicious french baguettes. There are pastries, juices including whole coconuts, cereals, fruits and yogurts. There are some hot breakfast choices as well as Asian cuisine. The best part though were the made to order pancakes and waffles with maple syrup or dark chocolate sauce.

Whilst in HCMC I would recommend a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. We chose a half day tour with Les Rives. The tour was just over £100 for both of us. We were collected by mini bus and driven to the port where we were given water and a bathroom break. We then took a 90 mins speed boat tour up the river, which was picturesque. We were given lots of fruit including lychee, mango and the queen fruit mangosteen as well as water, iced tea and diet coke. On arrival we had our lunch, which was rice, sweet and sour pork, some vegetable soup, spring rolls and a spicy chicken dish and also another bathroom break.

Next up were the tunnels! Be prepared to get bitten as you are in the jungle and no amount of insect repellent can protect you! Exploring this area with an English speaking guide brought everything to life. The story of the Viet Cong is quite incredible and I really don't think anyone should miss this trip. You will have a chance to squeeze into an original tunnel and also shuffle through a Western size one to get a feel for how these people lived and fought. You will be told countless stories and will really see the area properly. We thoroughly enjoyed learning and experiencing everything on this day tour. Of course then it's back on the boat for another 90 mins journey with refreshments before being dropped back at your accommodation.

We also chose to take a walking and cyclo tour with Urban Adventures. We met at 8am at the Post Office to marvel at this and Notre Dame. We then walked onto the Reunification Palace before stopping for 90 mins at the war remnants museum. The museum was horrifying and harrowing to say the least but I am glad we went as I learnt a lot about the Vietnam War. Next we jumped onto the cyclo's for a ride through the city, which was amazing fun. We stopped at a market designed for locals with very cheap prices and grabbed some Banh Mi for lunch with the help of our guide. Next it was back on the cyclos for another ride before reaching the Ben Thanh market. Our guide gave us a brief tour before we were left on our own to explore. The trip was really fun but also a great way to see and experience the city so I would recommend visitors to give this one a go!

We had a very short stay in Saigon and hope to go back one day to spend more time in this wonderful city! It really is an incredible and overwhelming place that must be explored. Keep an eye on your bags as pick pocketing can be an issue and cross the road confidently and calmly and other than that just relax and enjoy this amazing place.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Saigon Special

Our final stop on this mammoth two week trip was Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now known.

On our first evening we chose to dine with a friend at Propaganda. This was such a cute little Vietnamese restaurant a short walk from the Notre Dame Cathedral. We went for a main course each, four Saigon special beers, a still water and a glass of wine for the bargain price of £35! I tried the sauteed prawns with Vietnamese basil and coconut broken rice, which was delicious. The portion size wasn't huge but it was more than satisfying. Our friend went for the shaken beef shank with sweet potato fries, which was a generous and delicious tasting dish. Finally the other half opted for the BBQ honey pork chop with pandan leaf broken rice, which he chowed down before anyone could try! The restaurant had inside and outside dining space and very friendly staff.

A short taxi ride or a 10-15 mins walk from here was a wicked martini bar 2 Lam Son at the Park Hyatt hotel. It's very loud at the weekend and is busy but we managed to find seats propped up against the bar. If you want table service there will be a minimum spend. The bar is dark with lots of wood and has incredible martini's. I tried a passion fruit, a lychee was definitely ordered although this was very strong and the lemon grass was delicious but the options were endless. I would definitely recommend coming here for a drink, although three cocktails will set you back as much as a dinner at Propaganda so it's not a cheap Saigon option.

Our final evening was spent fine dining alone at La Villa French Restaurant. This is a villa with a lovely pool and romantically lit garden. You can choose to sit inside or outside here. The restaurant is Michelin starred quality and is voted number one in Ho Chi Minh City. We chose a tasting menu for 1,290,000 VND per person and it was an incredible treat. Firstly we were given a selection of four amuse bouche. We had a mini leek and potato soup as well as some other delicious treats. Then we had a mini starter of steak tartar with quails egg. We followed this with crab ravioli in a foie gras sauce, which was incredible. Throughout the meal there were also several opportunities to grab a selection of homemade breads. My favorite was the olive flavored.

The next course was scallops and this was followed by beef tenderloin cooked to your specification. We finished this with a cheese trolley, which had around thirty different cheeses to try and a chocolaty dessert that was delicious. After all of this food we were then presented with a selection of petit fours, a small cup of tea and a liquor. I really wish I had taken my camera as every course was delightful and definitely photo worthy. The wine and cocktail list is also extensive so you will definitely find something to suit your taste!

Whilst this meal set us back over £100 it was so worth every penny and would have cost triple the amount in France or London. I would highly recommend anyone to come here for a treat date night as it's a beautiful location as well as having a fantastic selection of food and staff that will bend over backwards to provide a pleasant evening. A cab from district one will cost around 6 USD each way and takes about 15 mins but please don't be put off by the journey out of the central areas as it is honestly worth every second!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Nha Trang

After an incredible time in Hoi An we jumped on a Vietnam Airlines flight, which took just over an hour and cost £70 down to Nha Trang. We then grabbed a taxi, which was a set fare of 300,000 VND on the way and 350,000 VND on the return for the 40 mins journey. Do negotiate a fixed rate as the meter was significantly more pricey!

Our hotel of choice for our three night stay was The InterContinental Nha Trang and what a treat this was! We upgraded ourselves to the club room, which meant we were whisked up to the 18th floor for check in. As we arrived early we were then offered breakfast as well! Our room was ready right away so we dumped our things and headed straight for the beach!

The rooms here are large. There is a huge rain forest shower and big soaking bath tub as well as a giant sink area and lots of mirrors. The toilet is separate. There is a massive super king size bed and seating area as well as a balcony with sea view and furniture to relax on. There are robes and slippers and the laundry service is quick but not as cheap as other places in Vietnam!

The beach area here is incredible and we enjoyed our time on the white sand and by the crystal sea so much we actually spent all four days lying in a comatose state on the super comfy loungers under over sized umbrellas with an abundance of towels. The guys running the beach area were incredibly sweet and offered a reasonable selection of food and drinks. They also had security helping you to cross the road from the hotel, which was a nice touch.

The highlight for us here were the club benefits. The room was light and airy with a balcony over looking the sea. Breakfast was served a la carte and complemented by a small buffet of fruits, meats, cheeses and pastries. We had waffles with chocolate sauce, pancakes with maple syrup, scrambled eggs to accompany baked beans, bacon, sausages and hash browns as well as tried the incredibly sweet ice cold Vietnamese coffee.

Afternoon tea was a variety of mini cakes and sandwiches such as mini ham and cheese toasties and smoked salmon bagels, macaroons, chocolate tortes and the best part was the fresh coconut juice.

Cocktail hour was a real treat. After a freshening shower each evening we were invited to the club room from 5:30pm-7:30pm for unlimited beer, wine, prosecco and spirits. Along with meats, cheeses, fruit, cakes, hot and cold canapes. Examples include seafood spring rolls, mini burgers, mini fish pies, seafood salads, meatballs, prawn cocktails, tomato and mozzarella skewers, melon and ham skewers, little pies and chicken wings. The choice was large and was constantly topped up. So much so this ended up being our dinner on all three evenings.

After cocktail hour we would simply go for a wander around the vibrant town and check out the various night markets. The city was crazy busy and full of traffic, locals and tourists, eating, partying and wandering but the atmosphere was buzzing and we really enjoyed being a part of it. Nha Trang is vastly different to Hoi An and I couldn't say for sure, which I preferred. I definitely think it's worth checking out both areas on your trip to central Vietnam.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hoi An

We spent five glorious nights in the wonderful town of Hoi An. This really is such a pretty little place full of lanterns and candles floating along the river. It's made up of lots of little backstreets with restaurants, souvenir shops and also clothes making vendors. Every budget can be catered for in terms of food and accommodation. The area is bustling with people every evening and the atmosphere is electric.

We flew from Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines to Da Nang airport in around one hour and for a cost of around £70. We were then collected by Hanoi Transfer Service (who were brilliant in advance of our trip and on time for the transfers) for £24 return for the 40 mins journey in each direction.

We spent our days either lazying by the pool or cycling the 20 mins ride through the rice paddies to the beach where loungers were available along with all types of food and drinks including whole coconuts for 50p! The water was warm and the beach was packed but clean and with a great vibe. The ride back at sunset was simply magical!

On one morning we chose to set out early and take a cooking class through Red Bridge Cookery School for 32 USD each. The day started with a welcome drink in their restaurant followed by a picturesque journey up the river in a motor boat. The scenery was lovely and this continued as the back drop to our lesson. Our teachers were great fun and we learnt a lot. The only disappointment was it appeared to be more of a demonstration and tasting as opposed to actual cooking.

We learnt to cook:
  • Rice paper 
  • Fresh Rice Paper Rolls of Shrimp
  • Crispy Hoi An Pancakes with Shrimp, Herbs, Bean Sprouts & a Peanut Sauce
  • Seafood Salad with mixed Vietnamese Herbs served in Half a Pineapple
  • Vietnamese Eggplant in Clay Pot
  • Food Decoration - Pineapple Boat, 3 Colored Flowers & Vietnamese Hand Fan
The food decoration was the best part, most of the group were totally useless but those that made a cucumber into a fan or a tomato into a rose was pretty impressive. As part of the day we were also split into small groups and taken around the Hoi An market. This was great to see the market in action and the locals working on their individual skills.

The evenings is when Hoi An comes to life with an array of bars and restaurants. We had two favorites. Try Morning Glory and make sure your hotel phones ahead to book as this place is very popular. We seriously over ordered here but managed to consume everything. The food here is amazing and authentic and with two large bottles of water we managed to spend £15 per couple, which is a total bargain! Another great find was Brother's Cafe. The food wasn't quite as good and it's quite a walk out of town. However, the setting is gorgeous and romantic in a beautiful garden with the river on one side all lit by lanterns and fairy lights. Try an array of salads here as they were genuinely great. Dinner with water and soft drinks was around £35 per couple so this is a more expensive Hoi An option.

Finally go and get yourself some Banh Mi (Vietnamese baguettes with BBQ pork, pate and salad) for lunch. There are loads of great places selling them in Hoi An so ask your hotel to point you in the right direction. Four baguettes, three waters and a beer was around £3 so it's no wonder we became addicted and could not stop going back!!!

Hoi An is a great little beach side town with amazing food and nightlife. Do not hesitate to add this picturesque area into your Vietnam holiday!

Hotel Royal Hoi An

The next part of our Vietnam adventure took us to the wonderful town of Hoi An. Our hotel of choice was Hotel Royal Hoi An.

On arrival we were given cold towels and a welcome drink and were seated comfortably for the smooth and quick check in process. From here we were shown to our upgraded room with a balcony overlooking the swimming pool.

The rooms were gorgeous. We had a large free standing bath tub and a separate rain forest shower. The bathrooms were quite typical of many of the Vietnamese hotels we experienced where the bathroom was cordoned off by wooden shutters as opposed to be being a brick built room. Always an interesting one when needing the toilet!!!

The beds were huge, with loads of pillows and incredibly comfy. We had a seating and a desk area as well. The balcony had no furniture, which was slightly disappointing but aside from this the room could not be faulted. The laundry service was quick and reasonably priced too and wifi was free throughout the hotel.

The poolside service was amazing, the Vietnamese pulled chicken salad and also the Banh Mi were excellent as were some of the Western options. There was something very luxurious about a table being made up with cloth, silverware and bread basket for a poolside lunch! The drinks were very reasonable and there was a two hour happy hour each evening on BOGOF for alcoholic drinks. The hotel has free bikes for use, which we took down to the beach one day, which was a great perk and was only a short stroll into the main town so no taxi's needed.

We ate breakfast here daily and what a treat it was. There were plenty of fresh fruit and pastry options as well as some English breakfast items. The best part though was the egg station, which included pancakes and french toast. We also tried the sushi restaurant Wa Ka Ku, which had excellent quality sushi. This was a more expensive option but it was worth the little treat.

All in all this was a lovely hotel and I would thoroughly recommend travelers to stay here for a little taste of luxury in Hoi An.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Following on from our short but incredible stay in Siem Reap we flew with Vietnam Airlines direct to Hanoi for £128. The flight was a total of 1 hr and 40 mins. We were collected by our hotel of choice The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake for 40 USD for the 35-40 mins trip.

We used Vietnam Visa Corp to arrange a visa on arrival for us, which cost 19 USD per person. They also gave us the forms to fill in so once we got to the airport we handed over our visa on arrival letter, the forms, our passports and 45 USD each. Within around ten minutes we had our visas and were on our way!

Our hotel was stunning. It's set around the lake and has gorgeous views over the city of Hanoi. OK it's a little taxi ride into town but the journey was never more than 100,000 VND, which is around £3. The rooms were huge with massive king size beds and some English movie channels. The bathrooms were equally large with a rain forest shower and separate soaking tub complete with robes, slippers and double sinks. Each room has a little balcony with fantastic views. The room service menu had all of the classics you would expect.

The pool area here is delightful. There aren't many beds so be warned for busy season. The water is warm, the area is clean and there is a full pool side service of food and drinks. The staff here are amazing and helped us change travel plans as well as give amazing restaurant recommendations. The only restaurant we used was the hotels sunset bar, which had lovely comfy lounging chairs overlooking the lake and onto the bright lights of the city. We had a couple of signature cocktails each and some tasty treats of mini wagyu beef burgers, fish cakes, fries and lamb kofta's for a total of £40. All the food and drinks were delicious and this is a great price compared with the UK.

Whilst in Hanoi we ate lunch at Madame Hien. They had incredible BBQ pork Bun Cha and also Cha Ca Thang Long (catfish in turmeric). They have an inside air conditioned area or a lovely outside garden to choose from. For dinner we tried Cau Go. Ask for an outside table and you will be blown away by the gorgeous lake views. The restaurant is so reasonably priced for what you get! The Vietnamese spring rolls are amazing, also try the beef shank, the caramelized pork spare rib, the chicken with lemon grass and the sea bass with green mango salsa. Mix this with some seasonal stir fried vegetables and your tummy will be in for a treat!

Cha Ca Thang Long @ Madame Hien

View from Cau Go

During your time in Hanoi there are plenty of tourist activities, however, we chose to spend our two days simply wandering the old quarter and getting a feel for the city. We absolutely loved our time here and would definitely recommend a visit.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Siem Reap, Cambodia

The hubby and I had a very brief one night stop in Siem Reap in Cambodia so did everything we could to make the most of it. On landing you will need to fill out a visa on arrival form as well as bring with you the landing card from the plane. You will then queue up and hand over 30 USD, your passport, forms and a passport size photo. If you do not have a photo they will charge you 2 USD extra. The airport wasn't busy when we landed so the whole process took around 15 mins. You will then go through passport control with your visa and have your finger prints taken.

We chose to use the following company as our tour guides: Happy Angkor Tour. Everything was arranged in advance with a very friendly man named Mony. We were collected from the airport by our private driver and private tour guide Sopheap. We were taken to our hotel to check in, drop bags and freshen up before starting our adventure. We were taken to purchase temple passes (40 USD per person for three days), which you must show at the entrance to every temple.

On day one we visited Angkor Wat, Ta Promh and Banteay Srei. The sky was cloudy so we chose to skip sunset and instead head to the hotel for a pre dinner drink and some spring rolls! In the evening we took the hotels free tuk tuk service into town. We had a long wander around the fascinating night market before choosing a spot for dinner on Pub Street. I chose a traditional Khmer curry dish, which was delicious and for the total price of 6 USD. I can imagine there are loads of places to try away from the tourist areas but we only had one night so really wanted to soak up the atmosphere.

The following morning we were up early for sunrise. We were collected at 4:45am and driven to Angkor Wat with hundreds of other tourists. It felt like being on a pilgrimage and was an amazing experience. Unfortunately for us it was quite cloudy so the rise wasn't as spectacular as it could have been but we still loved every minute. Next it was onto Angkor Thom to visit Bayon, Baphoun, Elephant Terrace and the Liper King Terrace.

Our private driver and private tour guide for the entire trip cost 151 USD. We felt this was excellent value for money as we learnt a lot and always had a refreshing cold towel and iced water waiting for us. It also meant we could be more flexible on timings throughout the day.

The temples of Siem Reap are incredible and I gained such a euphoric feeling from standing in the middle of up to 1,000 years of history. Cambodia is a wicked country full of amazing people and I hope one day to come back and explore further. I think two nights in Siem Reap is plenty of time to see the temples, enjoy the night life and relax in the glorious hotels but longer would always be appreciated and you can definitely do it in a one night stay like we chose to.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Anantara Angkor

The boy and I flew from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap in Cambodia for a total cost of £100 between us on Air Asia! Our hotel of choice for our one night stay was the Anantara Angkor.

This hotel is absolutely beautiful. You will be welcomed with a cold towel and a refreshing drink and invited to relax in comfy seats whilst the check in process is completed. We had an upper level room with a little balcony including a table and chairs over looking the stunning pool area.

The room itself was gorgeous. We had a lounge area with large flat screen TV and a huge super king size bed. The bathroom had a beautiful roll top bath and separate soaking shower. The sink area was free standing and luxurious. We had a separate toilet and the best surprise was an outdoor rain forest shower, which I took full advantage of.

There were robes and slippers and beach bags and everything else you could think of had been provided even a variety of factor sun creams by the pool! The poolside and room service menu had all of the classics at very reasonable prices. 

The hotel provides a complementary tuk tuk service into the main center, which is available on request and takes around 10-15 mins. They will also provide a Cambodian mobile phone to arrange pick up with the driver on return. 

However, with out a doubt the best part of this hotel has to be the breakfast. The room is large and airy with tables very well spaced out. The breakfast is served a la carte and has everything you could wish for. A variety of juices, smoothies and hot drinks. A bread and pastry basket. Fresh fruit as well as cooked options such as waffles, pancakes or french toast. We also tried a breakfast bruschetta, which had tomatoes and scrambled egg with truffle oil on sourdough. This breakfast delight was also after we had devoured a breakfast box provided for our sun rise tour. This had orange juice, water, some fruit, pastries and boiled eggs included.

The hotel gave us free late check out until 7:30pm and is also located only a 15 mins drive to the airport. I cannot fault the lovely, friendly staff, the hotel rooms, the food or the ambiance. Yes, you are a little out of town but the fun tuk tuk ride makes up for this anyway and means everything is still convenient.

I would not hesitate to stay here and would recommend everyone to try this hotel when in Siem Reap.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Sama-Sama Hotel KL International

The hubby and I took our big holiday this year to Vietnam and Cambodia! However, our airline of choice British Airways does not fly direct to either of these countries so we flew into Kuala Lumpur. Bearing in mind we were due to land at 4:05pm and were flying out at 6:50am the following morning and have already spent time in this city we chose to stay at an airport hotel instead.

Our hotel of choice was the 5* Sama-Sama International hotel, which is located in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. An excellent perk of this hotel is you can check in at the desk in the baggage reclaim hall whilst waiting for the suitcases to arrive. You are then whisked off in a complementary buggy and are straight in the lifts up to the bedrooms.

The bedrooms have huge super king size beds and large flat screen TV's with complementary movies. We chose Couples Retreat as our film of choice! The rooms are seriously sound proofed as we did not hear one airplane for our entire stay. There are large windows with some quite good views bearing in mind the airport location. The bathrooms have robes and slippers with huge walk in rainforest showers and amenities. 

The pool area is large with a bar and poolside service and was a nice relaxing place to grab some fresh air after our flight. The room service menu is excellent and very reasonably priced. We opted for a dozen mixed satay (beef and chicken), a large California roll, some french fries and a curry with a delicious butter naan and raita for less than £30! Granted the food was a bit of a mix but was all very tasty and served promptly.

Our wake up call was on time and we were even able to purchase a shuttle fair to KLIA2 for our Air Asia flight for 9MYR each if I remember correctly. The shuttle was a private car and took about 5 minutes to reach the other terminal, which meant a little lay in before the flight!

Our stay cost £85 for the night room only with free cancellation and bearing in mind the hassle it saved with taxi's to and from the city center I believe it was well worth it. We had an excellent comfy night sleep and could not fault this layover service.