Monday, 29 February 2016

Touring the Norwegian Fjords

As we booked our Northern Lights hunt with Arctic Explorers they offered us 10% off of their fjord tour. The trip therefore worked out at 1,050 NOK per person.

We were collected promptly from our apartment and jumped into a minibus of only eight people. If you needed warm gear or snow boots you could pre order your sizes in advance for the guides to bring along on the day. We went in our normal cold weather outfits and walking boots and were fine as you are in and our of the car all the time.

The trip begins at 10am and you will be back in the city by 3pm latest. We simply drove around the stunning scenery stopping at several points along the way to take photos. My future brother in law is really into photography so had a field day with the locations. The guide was really knowledgeable about the area and helped us capture the best shots.

We also stopped off to visit some wild reindeer and to play on a frozen solid lake! Our guide pointed out bars and restaurants for the rest of our trip too. At lunchtime we were served tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as a variety of Norwegian pastries. I had a chocolate chip brioche bun, which was delicious! There was also fruit on offer. A toilet stop in both directions was also included.

The fjords in Norway are incredible, every view will take your breath away. I can thoroughly recommend this slow paced and relaxing trip whilst you are in Tromso as it's a perfect way to see the scenery in the warmth and with the ability to ask questions.

Just in case you need anymore encouragement check out what we saw:

Northern Lights Hunting with Arctic Explorers

I was recently lucky enough to head to Tromso for three nights of Northern Lights hunting. After trying very hard to see only a glimmer in Iceland last year we knew we had to try again ASAP! In Iceland we self drove and decided as these trips are so tiring it would be best to go with a guide. After hours of research we eventually settled on using Arctic Explorers. The trip costs 1,450 NOK per person and you venture out in small groups of eight people.

We were collected promptly from our apartment by our wonderful Italian guide Stef. She took us to the warehouse about ten minutes outside of the city where we were given thermal suits, woollen socks with snow boots, hats and mittens. We then drove on windy roads in between the fjords for around an hour where we reached a private beach away from any light pollution.

Here we set up camp. We had a campfire with marshmallows to toast and yoga mats to perch on. We had a variety of camping dinners to choose from including reindeer stew, pasta bolognaise, lamb stew, fish curry and vegetarian rice. We were also given the option of hot chocolate, mocha, coffee and tea to keep us warm! As an FYI there is a toilet at the warehouse and one on route (the way there and the way back) but if you need the toilet on the beach it's al fresco!

Stef helped everyone set their cameras to the correct Northern Lights settings as well as ensured she took plenty of her own photo's of the group. It was great going with a guide who knew the area and the lights inside out and who could take care of the late night driving.

We then spent a few hours chatting and watching the sky, which lit up on several occasions with various patterns of lights!

If you are in Tromso and are interested in the lights I would not hesitate to book this trip. Imagine sitting huddled in your warm gear, around a campfire on a snow covered beach, under the moon and stars waiting for one of natures most fascinating phenomena's. This was genuinely one of the most incredible nights of my life and one I will never, ever forget.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

British Airways Business Class - Meal Time

I know it's a tough decision to determine whether business class is really worth the extra cash! I thought it would be a great idea to share some of the recent menu's I have experienced to give you a little taste into the food options to help make up your mind. Some services on British Airways now also allow you to pre-order food up to one month in advance to guarantee your first choice.

Staple items on all BA flights is the bar! The bar is complementary and offers unlimited beverages.

Aperitifs and sprits:
  • Gordon's Gin
  • Tanqueray
  • Smirnoff Blue
  • Johnnie Walker Black
  • Jack Daniel's
  • Bacardi
Liquers and digestifs:
  • Otard VSOP Cognac
  • Cointreau
  • Kahlua
  • Baileys
  • Southern Comfort
  • Drambuie
  • Glenlivet
  • Warre's LBV Port 2009
  • Fuller's London Pride
  • Lagers including Heineken, Tiger and Amstel Light
  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Tomato
  • Cranberry
  • Kir Royale
  • Bucks Fizz
  • Tattinger Brut Reserve NV
  • Castelnau Brut Rose NV

Two white wines and two red wines will also be offered, along with a large selection of soft drinks including Fever Tree tonics.

On a recent flight back from New York we were given a card to fill in for breakfast. Your items would be delivered if selected or you would be left to sleep if you would rather eat in the arrivals lounge. The options were:

On longer flights all passengers will be woken at breakfast, an example of a full menu:

Depending on the time of your flight will depend on your meal served. On our recent trip from London to New York we experienced lunch. The menu was as follows:

We both chose the seared king prawns with avocado, which was delicious! The hubby opted for the slow braised beef cheek whilst I went for the garganelli pasta with pumpkin. I chose the warm apricot ginger sponge pudding and he went for the cheese selection.

Occasionally you will find afternoon tea is served. A typical menu would be:

Finally dinner is usually a fancy affair! Some example dinner menu's include:

On a recent flight to Cape Town we both opted for the smoked salmon followed by the beef:

The meals served are usually very filling and I rarely make it through dessert. Especially as a basket of warm rolls will be brought round several times over! However, if you did find yourself a little peckish or thirsty throughout the flight you can head over to the "Club Kitchen" found in the galley.

Examples of items discovered in the kitchen are:

  • artisan biscuits
  • premium crisps
  • Mars chocolate selection
  • different flavours of ice cream
  • pastries
  • fresh fruit
  • yoghurts
  • variety of sandwiches
  • retro sweets

There is also a Twinings tea selection and coffee on board.

In general the food offered in British Airways Club World is pretty good. It's not quite up to restaurant quality but it's not a bad meal in the sky! 

Opera Tavern

We recently spent a Friday evening enjoying tapas with some friends. We began with a drink at the Crusting Pipe. This is a Davy's wine bar found in the heart of Covent Garden where you can sit back with a bottle of wine in the undercover open air space listening to music and wrapped in a blanket! The bar is waiter served too so no need to stand in line for a drink. They do have indoor seating if you prefer.

We then took a short stroll around the corner to Opera Tavern. This is a dark, romantically lit, small tapas restaurant. Ensure you reserve as it's a popular late night haunt and by 9pm you won't get a table. The menu is extensive and delicious. Between the four of us we opted for the following dishes:

  • confit of old spot pork belly with rosemary scented cannellini beans
  • chargrilled octopus with chickpea fritter, red pepper and mojo verde
  • patatas fritas with aioli and bravas sauce (2 portions)
  • grilled flat bread with honey, hazelnut and rosemary butter
  • crispy Iberico pigs ears
  • padron peppers
  • mini Iberico pork and foie gras burgers (2 portions = 4 mini burgers)
  • chargrilled duck breast with apricot puree skewer (2 portions)
  • Charred prawns with nero aioli skewer (2 portions)
  • prosciutto

We shared two bottles of red wine and managed three espresso martini's between the four of us. The bill was over £100 per couple including service but it was a delicious meal. The atmosphere is chilled and relaxed. You can order food in parts. We ordered some and then went back for seconds. This just means you can determine how hungry you will be as you eat. The dishes will come when ready and are all designed to share as a table, although some are easier to divide than others.

The service here is great and staff will walk you through the menu and help make both food and wine recommendations. There were lots of groups of friends and lots of couples on dates. There was no rushing, we were here for around three hours. Our favourite dishes were the mini burgers, these are amazing and must not be missed. We also enjoyed the patatas fritas as they were slightly different to the traditional patatas bravas dish.

This is definitely a treat restaurant but it's really cute and the food is very good. I would thoroughly recommend grabbing some friends for a civilised evening in London.

Monday, 15 February 2016

9/11 Museum and One World Observatory

Whilst in NYC we decided to check out the brand new One World Observatory after several friends had raved about the experience. It is recommended you purchase tickets in advance, which we did and turn up fifteen minutes before the allocated slot. It was chaos when we arrived as they had sold far too many tickets per time slot.

We entered the line at our slot time and proceeded to wait for 45 minutes in the freezing cold temperatures before being given access to the buildings warmth. It wasn't really on, you turn up 15 minutes early to then be kept waiting 45 minutes. This was a bad start to the experience and reminded me of the corporate greed of the West. There were no food, drink or toilet facilities whilst in the 45mins holding queue and no shelter from cold, wind, rain etc etc.

After entering the building you then queue for security (15mins) and then again to access the lifts (another 15mins). So all in all we had been kept waiting a long time. The lift itself is quite gimmicky highlighting how the New York skyline has changed over the years. Guests are then herded into a room to watch a short video before a surprise occurs. To be honest the end of the video was great and did make me smile.

The observatory itself is wicked. The views are incredible with huge floor to ceiling windows overlooking Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. We went at night time and New York looked beautiful. The Observatory views are worth checking out but the performance to get to the top is absolutely ridiculous so maybe try and research a quieter time to visit. Standard admission is $32, however, you can buy queue jump passes too for more money!

We also decided to check out the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Again, you can pre-book tickets online for $24 per adult. The queues weren't as manic for the museum as the Observatory but I would still recommend booking in advance. The museum was incredible and very moving. There was lots of information, which I had not discovered before included in the exhibits. The museum itself is built into the basement of the south tower. It is quite an insane feeling to be stood at the bottom of the original World Trade Centre.

Whilst in the area also check out the memorials. Twin reflecting pools stood in place of the North and South towers. The pools are calm and peaceful and a great place to spend some time reflecting.

All in all the World Trade Centre area has been reworked magnificently. Everything there is worth a visit when in NYC.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Kilworth House Hotel

Recently we spent a weekend with friends in the Midlands. On the Sunday we booked in for lunch at the Kilworth House Hotel. The drive through the grounds is beautiful and you arrive at a large car park with plenty of space. The hotel has an open air theatre for the summer months. The house itself is really grand and oozes opulence and luxury.

The hotel was buzzing with activity on our arrival with plenty of smartly dressed patrons having pre lunch drinks in the bar. We went straight to our table in the orangery. The orangery is absolutely huge and incredibly bright. I can imagine at night time it's stunning by candlelight. We had requested a 1:30pm table but were told they were fully booked, however, whilst busy this wasn't the case so was a shame we had to have an earlier reservation.

The Sunday lunch menu consists of three courses for £24.95 per person. There are a selection of starters, main courses and desserts to try. The menu online, however, was not the menu we were presented with in the restaurant. I personally had a chorizo risotto, which whilst tasty was nothing special. The hubby opted for mushroom soup. Both were served with bread and butter.

For main course we all had the roast beef. The portion was huge with lashings of beef and gravy, Yorkshire puddings and carrots and greens for the table. There were three roast potatoes per person too. Again, the food was nice but I wouldn't say anything outstanding. We heard others send theirs back as it was not warm enough. The menu looked quite simple but tasty and the food was presented really well, it just didn't live up in the flavour.

The dessert choices were a little average and standard including fruit salad and apple pie. The portions here are so large we decided to skip dessert as by this point we were uncomfortably full. Unfortunately there is no two or three course option so we did waste a part of our meal.

The issues really began at this stage. We asked for the bill, which was presented. After around twenty minutes of waiting we figured you do not pay at the table but at the bar. We waited patiently at the bar for around ten minutes before wandering to reception who took us back into the bar. Paying the bill took over half an hour, nobody was helpful and nobody seemed interested in our money. The bar staff despite having only one order to service were snappy, stressed and came across short because they felt under pressure.

The issue was the average age of the staff was around seventeen years old with no management in sight. The "children" working here were not properly trained or capable of the level of customer service associated with an establishment of this sort. Also, on a side note, their uniforms were terrible! The final laugh was when we saw this sign!!!!!!!!!!

All in all we had a good lunch and nice chat in attractive surroundings. However, the food and service were not up to scratch. With service and a carafe of wine the bill was £35 per head. It wasn't extortionate but I think I would rather spend my money elsewhere.

Tamarind of Mayfair

Last Friday the hubby took me for dinner at Tamarind of Mayfair. We were welcomed into the restaurant and had our coats and bags stored away before meandering downstairs to the table. There is no bar here so if you do fancy a pre dinner drink head elsewhere. The dress code is quite casual and the underground restaurant whilst lovely isn't anything incredibly fancy or beautiful. However, it was refreshing to not be in a stuffy, OTT, pre-determined Michelin starred type restaurant. It felt like a very relaxed Friday night curry just in more luxurious surroundings.

This is probably one of the best curries I have ever eaten and I would say the food has definitely earned it's Michelin starred status. We started with a selection of poppadum and dips. One was flavoured with tamarind, one tomato and one date. The date was by far our favourite but all were a delicious pre-dinner snack! We both opted for a glass of wine. The wine list here is pricey so be warned! I had a gorgeous glass of Sauvignon Blanc, which was £12.50 per 175ml glass and the hubby had a delicious Malbec at £14.50 per glass.

To start I tried the grilled scallops with mixed peppercorns and topped with roasted peppers. They had a kick but nothing too spicy. They were large, juicy and melt in your mouth. I could not have faulted the flavour or presentation. The hubby had the lamb cutlets with ginger, dried mint, peppercorns and chili yoghurt dip. He was thoroughly impressed and the small bite I was allowed to sample was tender and tasty.

For main course I tried the Malabar Prawn. This was large tiger prawns with sautéed onions, chili, fenugreek seeds and coconut. The portion was large and the sauce rich and creamy. The hubby had originally selected the Murgh Makhni, however, was advised to try the special not on the menu chicken tikka masala as it was packed with more flavour and a little punch. We shared one rice, which was plenty but did work our way through two butter naans as they were so, so good! We also shared a saag aloo and some cucumber raita.

We were too full to even consider dessert but as it was my birthday the staff brought over a special birthday treat topped with a candle and singing waiters. The chef also did the rounds to ensure all guests were happy and enjoying their meals, which I think is a really personal touch. The staff here are incredible, so polite and efficient. My water glass was never empty yet I never felt as though they were intruding on our personal space. Equally tables are large and well spaced out so our meal did feel quite private.

This was such a great place to come for a relaxed, informal but at the same time intimate and special occasion. The bill was just over £150 for the food, service and three glasses of wine. They even serve you Indian sweets as you leave and incredible petit fours with the bill! Think dark chocolate orange truffle and mint leaf coated in white chocolate. Even the toilets ooze Michelin starred decadence.

If you enjoy Indian food then I would thoroughly recommend the fuss free Tamarind of Mayfair where curries you would find in other restaurants are taken and plumped up to a Michelin star standard. The meal was simply, in one word, divine.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


As you are aware my incredibly generous hubby whisked me off to spend new years eve in New York City! If anyone is considering this as a trip, I can highly recommend. We were staying in an apartment in Hells Kitchen and the area was buzzing. Every single restaurant and bar was packed out from 7pm!

However, as a special treat and because I didn't know how easy to come by reservations would be I booked into The Capital Grille. It was a little stressful to get to the restaurant as roads were being blocked off for the Times Square celebrations so we did have to walk the long way around. However, on arrival we were seated immediately. The restaurant is large and the tables very well spaced out. We had a private booth, which was lovely. It's quite moody in terms of lighting with dark furniture, just how a typical NYC steakhouse should be.

We ordered a bottle of Moet seeing as it was a birthday and new years eve! We then indulged in some delicious but filling bread and butter from a large basket! The hubby chose the shrimp cocktail to start, which had a spicy kick and I opted for clam chowder, which was delicious and just the right size!

For the main course I had the 10oz Filet Mignon, whilst the hubby had the bone in ribeye 22oz. Mine was melt in your mouth delicious. The hubby's was nice but mine whilst significantly smaller was an excellent cut of meat and a perfect size to leave you satisfyingly full. We had a side order of parmesan truffle fries, which were easily enough for two people to share as well as the fresh creamed spinach. We love a creamed spinach and this may well be the best we have ever ordered so if you are a fan definitely try it!

The service here was excellent. Our table was decorated for a birthday celebration and the other half was presented with a birthday card and a birthday dessert on the house complete with signing and candles. Despite being new years eve and rushed off their feet the service was relaxed and personal and at no point did we feel hurried. We were in the restaurant for almost three hours with no issues of table turnover what so ever.

The total bill including service was £204. This clearly isn't a cheap option but for a special occasion I would rate the quality of food and ambience very highly.

After gorging on steak it was time to head to the streets for the new years eve countdown. Unless you are prepared to arrive by lunchtime or pay an exorbitant amount of USD for a pass you will not be located in Times Square. As there are no screens or speakers you will not see or hear the entertainment anyway. As a result rather than queuing from 3pm to still be unable to see I would recommend showing up at about 10:30pm as we did. The pen's run from Times Square to Central Park along Broadway and 7th Avenue. We managed to squeeze into one about half way between the two.

The countdown is quite a long, cold wait and we only did it for ninety minutes. You cannot leave for the toilet, you cannot bring in food or drink or bags either so bear this in mind for your visit. There were vendors wandering around with coffees and pizza but I don't know how warm they would have been by the time you purchased one!

However, despite what appears to be an odd choice of celebration (literally watching a quite unimpressive ball slowly lower to reveal 2016) this was a wicked experience. Imagine several million people screaming at the top of their lungs a new years eve countdown. Everyone was jumping, shouting, singing and in general having a great time. Confetti pours down on the crowd from the buildings and the atmosphere is like nothing I have ever experienced before.

As soon as the countdown is finished the streets clear and everyone pours into bars to finish the evening. If you do find yourself in NYC for new years eve I would recommend heading to the streets around the Times Square area for midnight, it is well worth it just to feel the buzz of excitement from the crowds.

Eating in Hells Kitchen

Whilst in NYC we rented an air bnb apartment in Hells Kitchen, which was an awesome location for eating and drinking! After sampling many local restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner I decided upon three locations, which must not be missed!

First up was a lunchtime pizza! We were recommended Don Antonio by our air bnb host and the reviews on TripAdvisor backed up his claims! As we had tickets for a Broadway show we went early at 12pm on the dot. Lucky we did as the restaurant was already buzzing and a queue was beginning to form! The restaurant has lots of tables incredibly close together so creates a very intimate feel! Imagine exposed brick and basic wooden tables, not too far off an Italian countryside pizzeria.

The menu is huge and filled with, you guessed it, pizza! After much deliberation I opted for the Noci e Zucchini, which was smoked buffalo mozzarella, cream of walnut, zucchini, basil and extra virgin olive oil (22 USD). The hubby chose the Margherita with Prosciutto and mushrooms (17 USD). So this isn't a cheap pizza option but they are delicious! Had I eaten here on day one I think I would have had all meals at this restaurant. One pizza is enough per person to leave you stuffed or take a slice home for later! They are light and fluffy, full of topping and oily (in a good way)! You must go here whilst in NYC, it would be a crime not to visit!

The next must go to venue is a Mexican dinner at Arriba Arriba (on the corner of 9th ave and 51st st). The restaurant is very dark with a DJ playing music (think old school classics) so perfect for a night out with friends. It's super packed at weekends so try and go early to secure a table. Tables are pretty squished together but it all adds to the night out style atmosphere. Margarita's are a must here. They come frozen or on the rocks, in various sizes and in every flavour imaginable. Corn chips and salsa are served whilst you browse the menu and wait for the main event.

I chose a taco salad, which had the most moist and succulent chicken I have ever tasted marinated in the most delicious BBQ sauce. It was a seriously generous portion too, I couldn't eat everything and so the hubby stole some for his fajita's! The salad was served in a crisp, flour tortilla shell and came with rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno, onion, guacamole, cheese and sour cream. I promise not only is this salad packed with flavour but it will definitely fill you up too! The hubby had beef fajita's. The portion was large and the fajita's were the best I have ever eaten in a restaurant. The steak was marinated and grilled and served with beans, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce, onions, guacamole and flour tortillas.

This restaurant is seriously great. The food is good, the margarita's are amazing, the atmosphere is wicked and the price isn't too bad either. The waiters are lovely and I can guarantee you will have some fun here. We have no photo's as it is dark inside but grab a group of friends and enjoy yourself.

Finally a brunch / lunch at 5 Napkin Burger should be on the to do list! Make a reservation as this place is packed out at the weekends. The Hells Kitchen branch is large, light and airy. We had a booth so felt quite private despite being in a bustling restaurant. Firstly on arrival order a milkshake! This was one of the best I have ever had! It had large chunks of vanilla ice cream mixed in, super indulgent and delicious.

Being a burger joint we felt it would be rude not to select burgers from the menu! I don't think a starter is needed, the burgers are pretty filling on their own, especially if coupled with a milkshake. I personally opted for the avocado ranch. 8 oz. fresh ground beef, pepperjack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, ranch. The boy opted for a lamb kofta. Lamb & beef ground with onions, garlic, parsley & spices, tomato, cucumber, pepper & onion relish, tahini sauce. All burgers come with hand cut chips. Food is quite pricey for a burger, mine was 16.50 USD and the hubby's was 17.50 USD. However, we were beyond full until dinner time and they were good quality plus very tasty.

Hells Kitchen is full of wonderful places to eat and drink, I don't think you will go too badly wrong wherever you choose to try! However, the pizza, Mexican and burgers we ate were insanely good and come highly recommended from me.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Plaza, NYC

For the hubby's birthday I decided to treat him to lunch at The Plaza. It has been a lifelong dream to stay there, ever since watching Home Alone 2 as a child! However, the price of a room was phenomenal over NYE so we opted for lunch instead. Unfortunately you cannot enter The Plaza lobby unless you are a guest at the hotel. I do understand as there are literally hundreds of tourists and real guests would have to fight their way through. It was a massive shame though to be unable to even have a peak at the luxury.

After plenty of research we decided to eat at The Todd English Food Hall. You can reserve online and I would recommend doing this as it was heaving when we arrived at 1:30pm. The hall is large and you are seated at a mixture of tables and bar stools but a reservation will prevent a potential long wait! The hall has a great atmosphere, it's buzzing with people and dishes are handed out in droves. However, it is therefore very noisy so don't expect a romantic, luxurious and intimate experience. The name is quite literal, this is a food hall and I would say less impressive than the London version at Harrods but that is just my personal opinion.

We ordered two glasses of Veuve Cliquot as we were celebrating and these were a generous size. We were then advised to order three tastings between us. There are main options if you wanted to eat an individual meal but we wanted to try a few dishes. We opted for the lobster sliders. These were three very generously filled brioche rolls with lobster, brown butter, shallots and aioli. They were beyond delicious and I would thoroughly recommend them.

We also tried the prime rib sliders and to be honest these weren't too impressive. It didn't help that we had ordered too much food so by the time these were delivered we were too full to enjoy them but they were just normal burgers. Lastly we had the mini lamb gyro, which was sliced roasted leg of lamb, tahini yoghurt and a minted cucumber salad. These were well presented and delicious, however, the salad was so cold it meant the lamb was only luke warm. If these were piping hot they would have been much better. We were recommended the parmesan fries, which was a little much for our order but they were thin, crispy and tasty.

The Plaza did plate the remaining food to go, however, it didn't heat amazingly well in the microwave so did unfortunately ultimately go to waste. I was pleased we went and did enjoy the experience but I don't think it was worth the over £100 bill we received.

If I were to go back I would either order a main each or have two tasting platters and one side between two people. Obviously not drinking champagne would reduce the cost further. I would say this is definitely more of a lunch venue, the price for dinner would be high and I think when spending that level of money you deserve something a bit more sophisticated. If you want the real Plaza experience it might be better to book cocktails or afternoon tea at one of their other venues as the food court was really designed for tourists, I doubt a single guest has ventured into the basement for this experience.

In all this was not a bad lunch, it just wasn't quite what I had in mind or expected!