Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Kenza, Devonshire Square

Last Friday some friends and I went for dinner at Kenza. The restaurant is in Devonshire Square, a short walk away from Liverpool Street Station. There is a large average looking door, which opens up into an Aladdin's cave. Inside there is a water feature and fresh flowers cascading down the winding staircase. At the bottom there is a huge lounge area and bar for pre or post dinner drinks. After having our coats whisked away we settled into the comfy sofa's and ordered a bottle of wine. The whole restaurant / bar feels and smells as if you are in Dubai, it definitely gave me a holiday feeling.

After our drinks we were shown to our booth like table in the main restaurant. I would definitely say visit in groups as the place is vast and it can get quite loud. As we were a party of six we had, had to pre order our food in advance (we also had to give a credit card against the booking, which would have been charged per person for any last minute cancellations). This is not an a la carte restaurant, the group had to order from a variety of set menu's.

All menu's begin with mezze of dips and delicious warm pitta bread. You can ask for more pitta bread too if you need it. Then there are few little appetisers such as deep fried lamb parcels and pastry filled with chicken and caramelized onions. The dips were pretty tasty and the bread was perfect, however, the appetisers were a little average, nothing wrong with them but nothing you would run home and shout about.

After the starters the lights dimmed and the music blared and we were treated to belly dancing from six ladies that danced around the restaurant for around fifteen minutes. They did their best to grab any female diners to dance too but most (myself included) were way too shy and sober to give it a go! It was good entertainment though and was definitely something different during dinner.

Unfortunately the pause between the starters and mains made us realise quite how full we were from the dips and pitta's so we didn't manage to finish any of the main courses. The mains ranged depending on what menu you had chosen. Four of us had menu three, which came with a variety of lamb dishes, rice and salad. The other two had menu four, which consisted of salmon, sea bass and tiger prawns again with rice and salad. The mains were OK, there was nothing to dislike but nothing to rave about, again a little average.

Desserts came in an impressive tower and were a variety of Arabic sweets, baklawa and Turkish delight as well as a fruit platter. Everything was quite tasty and was accompanied with a sweet mint tea.

The total bill for the evening was £57 per head including service. We had, had two bottles of house white wine and eight beers. The meal wasn't bad value for money bearing in mind how gorgeous the restaurant was and how good the service was and being London, however, the food was a little lack lustre and could really be improved.

I am really pleased I have visited Kenza, I have wanted to go for a while. I would recommend the experience and it will certainly impress a group of friends but I don't think I would rush back for the food.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

St Swithins Wine Shippers

This will be a very quick post but recently when walking to Cannon Street for the train home from work on a gorgeous sunny Thursday the hubby and I wandered past St Swithins. This is a wine shop that has a comfy terrace to the front with around eight tables. St Swithins lane is pedestrianized and the terrace has a glass screen and is under cover so is out of the wind and has no traffic running past.

We decided to stop and have a look. We were greeted by some incredibly friendly staff who swiftly seated us on a spacious table for two. They have a small menu with wines by the glass, which begin at around £5 as well as a few tapas bits of food such as a cheese board, a meat board, olives etc. However, you are also allowed to head into their wine store where you can choose from hundreds of bottles of reds, whites and sparkling wines and drink the bottle at your table with a £10 corkage fee.

In hindsight drinking by the glass may be a better option as you wave the corkage and could try a few different wines. We ordered a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which was £39.50 plus the £10 corkage and plus 12.5% service charge so this is definitely a post work treat. I am not sure I have ever spent over £50 on one bottle of wine before. Despite the cost the setting was gorgeous and we really enjoyed our sun downer drinks.

The staff can recommend wines to all tastes and budgets so don't be afraid that everything will be expensive and they are really are friendly and helpful. If you fancy something a bit different or want to impress a date this is a good place to check out. Don't grab too many friends as the atmosphere is calm and sophisticated so is not the best venue for a loud catch up.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Wine Tasting @ The City of London Club

Last night I got to attend an event hosted by The Wine Company at the City of London Club. We arrived at the stunning venue a short walk from Bank tube station and were whisked up to the second floor where there were toilets and a cloak room. After getting comfortable we were handed a glass of champagne and sent to the roof terrace to bask in the last of the sunshine. There were plenty of large comfy sofa's and umbrella's as well as an amazing view of the Gherkin, Cheese Grater, Walkie Talkie and Heron Tower.

We were handed cards, which contained information on all of the thirty three reds, whites, rose's and champagnes on offer to taste as well as a £20 off voucher when spending £99 or more on a crate of twelve bottles. Everything ordered also came with free delivery. We entered the large room adjoining the terrace where for two hours we were able to wander the tables and try as many wines as many times as we liked. Sommeliers were on hand to offer recommendations and talk through each wine.

The wine evening cost £20 per head and was pretty good value for money. The wines on offer ranged from £8 to £38 per bottle. It was great to try so many different wines and have so much help finding wines that suited. There were around fifty people at the event and around ten members of staff so plenty of help available if you needed or wanted it.

All in all this was something fun and completely different. The Wine Company host lots of wine tasting events so head to their website for more information. They also have a store based in Colchester. The City of London Club was a beautiful venue and it was lovely to spend an evening in a building so steeped in history. This was a really sociable event and perfect as an ice breaker with work colleagues or a group of friends.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Escape Rooms (Spoiler Alert)

Last night four of us went to Escape Rooms near London Bridge. You cannot turn up for a game, you must pre book the experience. Slots are released a couple of months in advance and do fill up quickly. We had a 7:15pm slot for the pharaoh's chamber game. We arrived promptly at 7pm and were given a short briefing as to how the game would work and were supplied with a torch, a pen and paper and a walkie talkie to communicate with the games master. All belongings must be left in a locker (free of charge) and water / toilets are available.

The room was larger than I imagined and well lit. There is nothing scary in the game so have no fear. There are seven pharaoh's around the room all with a light above their head. The idea of the game is to light up all seven lights using less than three hints from the games master in under one hour to escape. Around 40% of teams are successful and those that are have their photo put up on the wall.

On entry we found a key inside a pyramid. The key unlocked a door, which had two pictures. The game was a "spot the difference" and once the difference had been found you had to hold your finger on both pictures to unlock a box. We were given a prompt for how to unlock the box. Inside the box was a piece of plastic. In fact several boxes and doors had plastic, which ultimately formed a puzzle and lit a pharaoh. The pyramid with a key was part of three pyramids, which all had numbers on the bottom. These numbers were the combination to a padlock on another door.

Inside this door was a map. We had four figurines, which had to be placed correctly on the map to open another box with plastic pieces. The formula was pretty complicated and we had to use a game master hint for this challenge. In the middle of the room was a rubix cube, which had to be built from very vague instructions. There was also a cryptic message, which resulted in feeling for numbers to open another combination lock.

Inside this door was a panel of lights, which corresponded to the patterns on the rubix cube. Again, we had to use another hint at this section as we were running out of time. There was a pillar in the room with a guide, we worked out we had to stand on various patterns on the floor to unlock the final door. In this door we had to return a possession to a pharaoh and grab a book, which the skeleton had stolen and return it to the book shelf. This unlocked the final door and we were literally on the buzzer.

In all the game was really fun and the hour flew by. However, it is quite difficult and does require you to think outside the box. We couldn't have completed it without the hints and without a little pushing in the right direction along the way. The game masters are good though at helping out without actually giving you the answers.

The prices differ depending on how many players and the games are designed for three to seven players. Although the bigger the group the harder I can imagine it is to co-ordinate. If you fancy doing something totally different in London then I would definitely give this a go. It isn't the kind of thing you will do every week but it was fun to challenge our minds and try something new.

The Beagle, Hoxton

Last Friday night some friends and I had dinner at The Beagle, which is based under the railway arches next to Hoxton over ground station. The d├ęcor here is industrial and trendy but warm and homely at the same time. They have a large bar area with inside and outside seating as well as a spacious dining area again with inside or outside dining. It was a glorious day last week so eating out was definitely an option but instead we chose inside so we could watch the open kitchen activity.

Tap water here comes in large fancy bottles but is very mildly carbonated. It reminds me a bit of soda water so it may be best to order a bottle of still if this is not to your taste. Whilst we were choosing our dinner we had some large tasty olives and some deliciously fresh, crusty bread with whipped butter. The girls ordered a bottle of wine and the boys had a couple of Hoxton lagers each.

For our starter we decided to share two plates of mussels between the four of us. They were a decent portion of very large, juicy mussels in a tasty sauce, which worked well with the crusty bread. For our main course the boys chose a rib of beef to share, which came with potato cakes. I went for a duck with lentils and spring greens whilst my other friend opted for hake with potato cake. We ordered a carrot and herb salad, an extra potato cake and spicy cabbage as side dishes. FYI the potato cakes are large fat crispy chips essentially.

We were all pretty full by this point but fancied a small mouthful of something sweet so chose a warm chocolate cake with a yoghurt ice cream. This was decadent and rich and delicious but the portion was teeny.

The menu changes regularly at the Beagle and they always have a specials board. Last Friday it was steak with chips, which came in a variety of different weights.

This restaurant is a great place to come with friends as it's busy (book ahead) and has the perfect bar / dinner combination. It would be OK for a date as it isn't too noisy due to the open space and high ceilings, however, it mainly attracts groups so I think it would be best to visit with companions. Our total bill including service from an extremely friendly, kind and polite waiter was £50 per head. So this isn't cheap bearing in mind we didn't have a tonne of alcohol, however, we did eat pretty well!

The food here is tasty, inventive and fresh. There will be something for everyone on the short menu and they can adapt dishes for different dietary requirements. It's a trendy place and seriously convenient for jumping on the over ground home! They have a great cocktail list too so I would definitely recommend a visit.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Barcelona Hen Weekend

For the May bank holiday fifteen of my closest friends descended on Barcelona to celebrate the latest marriage! I flew with British Airways for just over £200 return but others flew Easyjet and Norwegian Air for cheaper fares. We stayed at an incredible apartment, which had four twin bedrooms, one bunk bed room and one double as well as a double sofa bed, two bathrooms and a separate toilet. There was a huge roof terrace and large living / dining area, which worked perfectly for a large group of girls.

On the Friday evening the bridesmaids did a massive shop at the local supermarket and we made large meat and cheese boards as well as salads and pizza. We drank copious amounts of cava and Aperol Spritz. All of the hens bought a few photos of the bride to be so we created a massive photo wall of memories for her and decorated the apartment with bunting, pom poms and pineapples (our theme was tropical). The bride was dressed in a hula skirt and the rest of us wore bright colours with flower necklaces. We played some traditional hen do games such as make a wedding dress out of toilet roll and foil, Mr & Mrs and guess the grooms body part!

On Saturday after a healthy breakfast of avocado on bagels and strawberries with granola and yoghurt (all bought cheaply from the local supermarket) we headed down to the beach for a Flamenco lesson. The hour long lesson included a glass of cava, which was needed for the Dutch courage! After a tapas lunch we had a two hour wine tasting session. We tried a glass of cava, two white wines and three red wines in a private cellar. The tasting included a cheese board, meat board and some delicious warm cheese and tomato pastries. We had a private sommelier to talk us through all of the wines.

With a quick couple of hours to shower and change we met again for dinner at Los Caracoles, which was a huge, traditional Spanish restaurant. As we were a large group we had pre-ordered. We had some delicious crusty bread with oils, calamari and garlic mushrooms to start. It was then a choice of seafood paella or spit roast chicken and then lemon sorbet (which was delicious) or Catalan cream. After copious amounts of wine and some giant g&t's we all grabbed a quick espresso before heading onto the club.

Our club of choice for the evening was Opium, which is right on the beachfront. We paid 900 EUR for three tables to accommodate all fifteen of us. This included three bottles of vodka and mixers as well as two bottles of cava. As an FYI cava was 100 EUR a bottle and jaeger bombs were 10 EUR a go so this definitely is not a cheap club but the music was great and everyone had a good time. Most girls didn't leave until 6am!

Everyone was up late on Sunday and the weather was glorious so we spent the day sunbathing, napping and chatting on our roof terrace with cava, white wine and some salads. In the evening we opted for a low key and relaxing dinner at the gorgeous beachfront restaurant Agua. We had a huge long table so we could thoroughly spread out and enjoy the food. The menu had lots of delicious looking options but in the end I chose a salmon tartar followed by paella and a warm chocolate cake with ice cream. Other options were steak, lamb, monkfish, stuffed octopus, squid. For dessert they had crumble, toffee with hot chocolate, sorbets and mousse. The menu definitely had something for everyone.

By Monday everyone was pretty zoned out so we went to the famous market in Barcelona for a wander and some lunch. We found a cute little place and had copious amounts of tapas and a glass of white wine for 20 EUR each (including chipping in for the bride). This was a perfect way to end the trip before heading back to London.

In all aside from flights we handed over £280 to the bridesmaids. This covered our club entry and drinks, Spanish dinner, Flamenco lesson, wine tasting, food and drinks in the apartment and our accommodation. Dinner at Agua was an extra 56 EUR per head (including chipping in for the bride). On top of this everyone spent about 80-100 EUR on taxi's and two lunches.

Going abroad is definitely not a cheap hen weekend option, however, we all had a wicked girls holiday and Barcelona was pretty reasonably priced for food, drinks and taxi's once you were there. I would thoroughly recommend this sunny, Spanish city for a hen party. We genuinely had an incredible time and are all suffering from major holiday blues.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Brighton Hen Weekend

The girls and I recently went on a hen weekend to Brighton. For a UK based hen this was ideal as we were able to jump on a train from London Victoria for less than £25 return, which only took just over an hour. This meant cheap and easy transport and our accommodation was a ten minutes walk from the train station.

There were eleven girls on the hen weekend and we found a house through TripAdvisor to accommodate us all. The property had a large living / dining area where we had a pizza, prosecco and PJ party with traditional hen do games on the Friday evening. There were three double bedrooms and a large bathroom with shower and bath as well as two separate toilets in the main house and downstairs there was a self contained apartment with room for four people and another bathroom.

The house was really modern and clean, a short walk from town and had plenty of keys so no need for sharing. I don't think they encourage hen and stag parties but as long as you don't wreck the place I think the owner will be pretty accommodating.

After breakfast on Saturday morning the Maid of Honour presented us with little bags of change and off we went to Brighton Pier to play on the slot machines and have some traditional fish and chips for lunch. We spent the afternoon at the newly renovated Grand Hotel. We had a coffee in the lobby with live music before our spa appointment.

After changing into robes and slippers we went off into several treatment rooms for massages, facials, pedicures and manicures. We then chilled out in the steam room and sauna before heading to the relaxation room where we snuggled up in blankets on the comfy sofas and put our feed up. We spent a couple of hours chatting, reading magazines and sipping a glass of bubbles. The spa had rainforest showers with shampoo and conditioner as well as hairdryers and straighteners so there was no need to bring anything with you.

Once everyone was ready and we had played the standard Mr & Mrs we headed out for a seven course Greek tasting menu in the Brighton Lanes. The food wasn't amazing but the experience was hilarious as the portions were just huge and kept on coming! By the end we were so full we couldn't face a night club so had a wander along the beach before heading back to the house for some more drinks and dancing. To be honest unless you book a bar in Brighton it may be difficult for a big group to find somewhere suitable.

Sunday was a free day to shop, enjoy the beach or lie in as we were given late check out until 6pm! All in all Brighton was a wicked place for a hen party. The whole weekend cost £250 per person plus trains but did also include paying for the bride so was not bad value for money. It is easily accessible and great in the sunshine as well as geared up for groups.