I've had people ask me before whether I really like things as much as I say in reviews, whether I'm just sugar-coating because I got to eat or stay somewhere for free. I can't help but laugh when I hear this, because anyone who knows me well will agree that's it's almost impossible for me to hide how I feel about things, and lying just isn't in vocabulary. I'm always honest and have just been lucky that so far I've never really had a bad experience when I've reviewed products or places, but that doesn't mean I would hide it from my readers if I did. I actually had my first disappointing experience at a restaurant review a few weeks ago and wanted to make sure I shared this with you, because my blog is about life - the good, the bad and the ugly. No sugar-coating and no editing out the bad bits, just honesty about my experiences so that perhaps they can help you to plan yours.You guys will already know I went on a little weekend jaunt to London a few weeks ago when I stayed at the gorgeous Mandeville Hotel - find my review here - well I actually went to London because I had a series of restaurant reviews booked in. Lucky me, I love food and I love visiting new restaurants so this is a serious perk of running this blog, and I wanted to make sure I squeezed them all in quick before I head back to Australia. The first restaurant review of the weekend was actually the one I was looking forward to the most, and sadly it was the most disappointing. Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant in Notting Hill was where we were headed and I was looking forward to a night of Caribbean cuisine and rum cocktails. It was a cute little restaurant with all the colour and character a Caribbean restaurant should have and the Rhum Bar looked like a fabulous place to sip on a cocktail. So what was the problem?Well, from the second we walked in the door, we just didn't feel very welcome. The service sucked, big time. The staff barely looked up when we came in and just seemed like they couldn't be bothered to chat to us or welcome us as we went to our table. It took about 15 minutes before anyone even came over to ask if we actually wanted any drinks or if we understood the menu, I could understand if they were busy but this was a quiet Sunday night. For me, the service really makes a restaurant - whether it's a fine dining or a budget chain, the level of attentiveness can turn an average dinner into a really lovely evening. As someone who has worked in hospitality across pubs, restaurants and bars, I know full well how much it sucks to work the Sunday shift when perhaps you're tired or hungover from the night before, but that doesn't mean you offer lower quality service. It's always so important to remember that each customer who comes in is paying for top quality service and food and I just didn't feel like that was a factor in our meal.We indulged in rum cocktails - I went for the Wild Tiki which was spiced rum flavoured with Maraschino liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, kafir and lemongrass. It was delicious, like a slightly more exotic Pornstar Martini. While my friend went for the Reggae Rum Punch - going for Wray and Nephews rum mixed with fruit juices - always pretty tasty. The cocktails were a real highlight of the night because I'm pretty picky about the quality, I hate when you get a cocktail and it is just watered down juice. Then our dinner arrived, I'd ordered the Spiced Coconut Seafood Casserole which was packed full of clams, squid, crab and red mullet, annatto potatoes and was served with scotch bonnet rouille. It was fantastic, the coconut flavour was absolutely delicious and I loved the mix of seafood as I'm a big fish fan. But my friend was left rather disappointed by the Montego bay Jerk Pork and Ribs - he actually ordered off the Caribbean Classics menu so we expected that to a lot better but there was a real lack of meat served. As someone who has worked in a Caribbean restaurant and who loves the food, he was pretty disappointed with his meal.In the end it was a pretty bittersweet evening, while the cocktails and my dinner were good, my friend's meal and the service on offer left a lot to be desired. I personally wouldn't eat there again, if I fancy Caribbean food in future I would probably try to track down a different restaurant. It's a shame because the restaurant was in a great location in Notting Hill and had most of the ingredients to be a success but it just didn't quite make it. Here's hoping the staff were just having an off-night, but having someone walk off as I started to place a drinks order wasn't a good sign. I'd be curious to know if anyone else has eaten at one of the Cotton's Restaurants and whether you enjoyed your experience - please leave a comment below and tell me about it.
How was your Cotton's experience? Can you recommend any other Caribbean restaurants in the UK?
By now you guys will all know how much I love my girls, whether they're the ones that live on my doorstep, halfway across the country, or even thousands of miles across the world. They mean the world to me and I love the fact that I have managed to find so many amazing women who all share the same attitude as me to life. Even more so, I love that they have been with me through the very worst and the very best of times, have seen me in a complete state and at the top of my game, and love me no matter what. Men may mock girl friendships - and yes, some are a complete sham - but I reckon we girls have one up on you guys when we do things right.
You will, of course, get those friendship groups who chat shit about each other behind each other's backs, steal each other's boyfriends and generally make each other feel bad about themselves. Just like you do in some male friendship groups... But when we women club together, we have something you guys don't - and that is a closeness that can't compare to guy friendships I have seen. These girls are more than "just friends", they are my sisters and my family - the ones I have chosen to share my deepest, darkest secrets with and the ones who will pick me up in the middle of the night when it all comes crashing down. As they say, your friends are the family you choose - and my friends are firmly an extension of my family.A few particularly good girl dates recently have inspired this post because they really got me thinking about what makes my friendships special - then I realised, they aren't special at all to anyone other than me. Women up and down the country share equally incredible friendships with their girls - and while mine are completely unique and special to me, the general principals are exactly the same. For most of my life I have been more of a boy's girl, but amazingly I have found myself at this point of my life with more girlfriends than ever before, and I have to say, my tastes have definitely changed. I love being surrounded by girl power, loud voices, fierce personalities and loving support. It makes me feel stronger as an individual, and forever grateful that every single day I know I have a tribe of equally strong women fighting my corner and cheering me on.
What do I love about my girls?
Don't worry, I'm not shooting down guy friendships as I have plenty of my own. I'm just saying that girl friendships can sometimes get a bad rap thanks to those who don't understand the concept of true friendship. But the point is that actually we really have something going for us and girl friendships, in my experience, seem to reach a level that guys should be jealous of and that we should be proud of as women. If you ask me, some women need to realise that supporting each other and cheering each other on is far more admirable than tearing each other down and casting judgement.
What do you love about your girls?
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My Facebook is littered with students who are starting to get excited about going back to uni, some who are just starting and those, like myself, who wish we could go back, if only for one awesome night. The countdown is starting, and after the bank holiday, there really isn't long to go until the universities once again open their doors to the madness. Regular readers will know that I had a pretty awesome time at university, made some amazing friends and loved every second of studying - even those all-nighters in the library and the early starts! And I have to say, that although by the time I left I was rather more excited to get out in the world and start working, I would always love to go back and experience it all again - I wouldn't do a single thing differently and would love every second.One of the things I would particularly like the chance to experience again is living in such close quarters with all of my fabulous university friends. We had a group of around seven of us who spent most of our waking moments together throughout first and second year. By third year, we were spread across two houses just a few minutes walk from each other and some of us were even on the same courses! It was brilliant, especially for someone who previously had mainly boy mates to experience being surrounded by so many like-minded girls who (sorry to quote Cyndi Lauper but...) "just wanna have fun!" We all had the same priorities, we all wanted to study hard and do well, but made sure we had plenty of time for lots of fun as well - these are the girls who would be up all hours studying and revising with me. But they are also the girls I was out pretty much every night with, the ones who came on Nando's dates with me and the ones who came round for pizza and X Factor nights.It was always great to have a group of so many because you could always guarantee that no matter what you wanted to do, there was someone who was free to come along with you, there was always someone to get drunk with and there was always someone who could help you when you got stuck on coursework. It always really helped to have that support network when you were struggling because there was always someone around who could proofread your essays, test you before exams and to make sure you revise with promises of cocktails as a reward. Each summer, when we were all torn apart for three or four months, and now between each reunion I'm always thinking about all the silly and fun things I miss about my beauties. Trust me there are quite a few, but the things I miss most are the qualities that make this friendship and sets it apart from other friendships I share.20 Things I Miss About My University Girls: