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There's nothing better than spending an afternoon with your favourite people indulging in tea, cake and a lot of laughs. Since being back in the UK I'm doing my best to organise as many fun reunions with friends and family as possible, to make the most of every second I have here before I continue with my travels. When I was invited along to try K West Hotel and Spa's Glamrock Afternoon Tea, there was only one person I wanted to invite along - my mum. We always try to organise regular mummy-daughter days to treat ourselves with a day at the spa, cocktails or shopping, but afternoon tea would be a new one for us. Surprising, considering how much we both like cake! When I'm away on my travels we always have to postpone our special days so we try our best to catch up when I'm back and to really treat ourselves.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelAs you walk in the doors of the hotel, you're instantly bathed in the cosmopolitan vibe from the bold colours and luxurious decorations to the busy and well-stocked bar. Set just down the road from Shepherd's Bush tube station, the hotel is the perfect place to indulge in a really girly day with a spa on the premises and West 12 Shopping Centre just round the corner. Guided upstairs to the restaurant, you still retain the atmosphere of the bar downstairs but gain a little privacy to enjoy your dining experience. Given a warm welcome by our server, we were instantly in the glam rock mood as we heard the sounds of Steve Harley, Cockney Rebel, Blondie, Slade and even a bit of T.Rex. Having a mother who loved a bit of glam rock back in her day meant we were both singing and dancing along.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelThe Glamrock Afternoon Tea has lots of different options available from the classic afternoon tea, to the Glamrock Prosecco or Champagne Afternoon Tea, or even the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea. We couldn't resist trying out the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea after seeing the amazing cocktail menu and the huge range of teas available to try. After glancing over the menu, we started on our first round of tea - the Tea Rex! This bespoke K West tea offers a more daring cup of tea with a bold, smokey flavour and a soothing floral aftertaste - it's really delicious and left us excited to try some more of their exciting blends. Later on I tried the Very Berry tea which is actually made from dried fruit and was heavenly, while mum tried the Cherry Blossom which was beautifully delicate on the taste-buds. There were several other fascinating ones to try including the Bobby Marley Blend and the Rooibos Orange and Cactus Fig.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelDiffering from the classic afternoon tea, this one has a rather more glamorous twist with plenty of flavours to tantalise your taste-buds. If you've got a bit of a sweet tooth but don't fancy the traditional cakes of an afternoon tea, this one if perfect for you with lots of delicate sweet treats on offer. Starting on the savoury items we had a range of mini-sandwiches with fillings such as hummus and rocket or avocado, my favourite smoked salmon and cream cheese and some absolutely delicious halloumi, guacamole and tomato rainbow rolls. Then, we moved on to the delicious scones - my highlight of the afternoon tea - they were so tasty and served with strawberry jam, clotted cream and fresh berries. Before indulging our sweet tooth with no end of goodies from sugar confetti mini eclairs to cocktail macaroons and marshmallow, chocolate and nut sprinkles cones. We were in foodie heaven and were delighted when the staff brought us some more of the savoury snacks.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK TravelOf course, we couldn't resist trying one of the amazing cocktails on offer for the Rock'n'Cocktails Tea - after taking a look at the menu, we both went for the Yo Snow which is gin infused with Campari, Martini Rosso and Prosecco Vaporetto with lemonade. It was the perfect accompaniment to all the sweet treats and the crisp, tangy flavours were really refreshing - it was exactly the kind of cocktail I would want to make for my girls at home. They really embraced the seasonal flavours for the winter-themed Glamrock Afternoon Tea and I'd be intrigued to see how these change throughout the year. At the end of the afternoon, we were sad to leave after having such a fabulous treat and such wonderful service. Our waitress was fantastic and was keen to recommend teas or cocktails she thought we might like to try, she really made sure to give us the best afternoon tea experience. A huge thank you to K West Hotel and Spa for having us along, and if you want to book in for afternoon tea - click here.Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK Travel

What are your favourite afternoon tea treats? Who would you like to take along for a Glam Rock Afternoon Tea? Can you recommend any other afternoon teas?

Sweet Treats: Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel & Spa | UK Travel

I love wine. Whether it's a nice hearty glass of red with my dinner, a crisp white on a  summer's day or a glass of bubbles with the girls - I love wine and any excuse to drink it. So you can imagine I was the first to sign up when the owner of my hostel decided to organise a day of touring the vineyards and independent producers of Swan Valley, just outside Fremantle, Perth. I had only been in Western Australia a week or two and already I was loving life over there - check out my city guide to Perth - and especially since I had moved over to the lovely Fremantle - check out my Fremantle post here. It was great to be travelling again and to be able to just enjoy life, to say yes to everything instead of always thinking about money and working. This wine tour was the perfect excuse to escape life's worries for the day and to truly indulge.

Known as Perth's "Valley of Taste" and boasting over 40 wineries, Western Australia's oldest wine region has plenty to offer visitors. This exciting fusion of wine, food, beer , cider, cheese and much more has plenty to keep the whole family busy against a stunning backdrop of Perth's countryside. While families and those on holiday can easily organise to join a tour or hire a car to take the day trip, us backpackers were on a tighter budget and found a perfect way to cut corners. Our hostel owner organised for a group of us to join him for the day in this van - we were all charged just $30 for him to drive us between the very best of the wineries and food producers for talks and tastings at each. Bearing in mind that most of the tastings were free and I only spent a further $10 for the whole day, yet went home pretty tipsy and with a belly-full of rich chocolates, cheeses and much more. I'd say that was a bargain trip.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

Something that really matters to me, is that Swan Valley is the first and only Humane Food Region in Australia. This initiative is a regional commitment to supporting the welfare of animals and producing high quality, healthier, tastier food. It's nice to know that when you go along and visit the area, that you are not endorsing the mistreatment or the farming of animals, and that you are only tasting the finest quality chocolates, cheeses, olive oils and much more.


What can you do in Swan Valley?

There is so much to do in Swan Valley, but I'm going to focus on the huge 32km Food and Wine Trail that is made up of more than 150 wineries, restaurants, cafes, breweries, distilleries, art galleries, farm gates and a host of other attractions. Whether you're visiting independently or booking one of the tours available from the area's visitor's centre, this is a perfect way to start exploring the area.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

Where to visit?

Sandalford Wines

One of Western Australia's oldest, largest and most distinguished producers of premium wine, Sandalford is definitely worth a visit as it was by far the best wine tasting of the day. The tasting did cost $5, but it was one of only two we had to pay extra for, and quite frankly it was worth every penny. The women who hosted our tasting was fantastic and taught us all so much about wine, particular red wine which is something I'm becoming a lot more interested in lately. She was keen to answer any questions we had and told us a lot of extra information about the estate including the high profile events and weddings that had been hosted there over the years. The estate itself is worth a good look, the cellars are at the centre of vast, stunning grounds around a lake - the perfect spot for a wedding.

TOP TIP: When you go along to wine tastings - even if you just want to get drunk - it works in your favour to really chat to the people who work at the vineyards. The more interested you are in their products, the more they will share with you. We got to try the most expensive wine the company produces for free because we were so interested in learning about Sandalford.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

Windy Creek

My other favourite winery of the day, Windy Creek is a third generation family-run business that has been running in Swan Valley since 1937. They have a delicious selection of wines and ports including some award-winning ones that will get your tastebuds tingling. While you're there, don't forget to try their fantastic range of cheeses and homemade jams, marmalades and relishes. Again, these are on offer against a stunning backdrop of rose gardens and endless vineyards - a perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon. There is also a small charge for the tastings at Windy Creek, but it is well worth the price.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

Margaret River Chocolate Company

For those who have a sweet tooth, you'll want to make sure you pop into Margaret River Chocolate Company to indulge in the huge selection of free tasters. As you walk in the door there are huge barrels of white, milk and dark chocolate buttons to munch on and you take in the walls of chocolate delights on offer. Everything sold from behind the counter on the left side is also available for tasting and it's worth trying a few before you decide which ones you want to take home, there are some unusual and delicious treats that might tempt your fancy including some award-winning options.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

House of Honey and Meadery

You'll be amazed at the uses for honey when you pop by House of Honey and see the shelves adorned with the countless types of honey and food products, beauty and skincare items, candles, gifts and much more. I was particularly excited to try the different types of honey -many of these I had never seen before and many boasted incredible healing qualities and health benefits. Plus the skincare range was amazing, the lotions smelt amazing and you could feel how good they were for your skin. There are also several meads and liqueurs are available for tasting and a cafe with honey products and more on sale.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

Cheese Barrell

This was a real highlight of the day - I'm a bit of a cheese fiend so I was keen to try the different cheeses and chutneys available. With a huge collection of 80 artisanal cheeses from Australia and around the world, these guys know their stuff when it comes to cheese and the staff were keen to chat and tell you all about the different cheeses. This was the one place where we all ended up buying some delicious cheeses to snack on and take home with us - I picked up some feta that had been marinated in garlic and herbs after we tasted it and I couldn't get enough. It's also a lovely place to stick around for lunch or a drink - there is a huge outside section that overlooks the woods and fields.Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia


These are not all of the places we visited during the wine tour - but they are the highlights of the day and I would definitely recommend popping in if you visit Swan Valley.

Have you been to Swan Valley? What were your highlights? Where is the best place you have done a wine tour?

Perth | A wine tour around Swan Valley with the Pirates | Australia

My two year working holiday visa for Australia is nearly at an end and I can't help but find myself reminiscing over the best times I've had in this amazing country. I've been lucky enough to live in the "most liveable city in the world" twice now and Melbourne has always been an incredible home from home for me. What is it that makes this city so great? For me, I always have my home-base of my closest travelling friends who live there permanently so it will always be the place I keep going back to. But even aside from that, I've always had amazing jobs there that have pushed me in new ways and have brought me amazing opportunities, I've always had great places to live and a huge group of mates that make saying goodbye the hardest it could possibly be. Living in Melbourne is a whole lifestyle that I haven't found elsewhere in cities around the world - it's festivals and events, it's health and fitness, it's eating out and partying, it's a whole attitude and a way of life.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | AustraliaI loved every second I spent working and during my second year in Australia, I scored big when I managed to get a job cocktail waitressing at the number one rooftop bar in the city - Rooftop at QT. What at first seemed like just another bar job, soon proved to be so much more when I realised I would be working in such a high profile bar in the middle of the city at a 5* hotel serving celebrities on a daily basis. I hosted huge parties of up to 100 people almost nightly during the Christmas period from corporate functions to birthday parties and even later on working the Ferrari party for the Grand Prix, serving the likes of Nicole Kidman. It was a busy job, and a hard job at times. The hours were long and exhausting, I had to wear high heels and have my hair and make-up done for each shift. It was amazing, and I loved every second, but true to form I ended up working way too much and burning myself out as usual. So when it did come to my days off, I made sure to make the most of them and to get out exploring the city as much as possible.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | AustraliaOn one particular day off, a group of friends and I decided we deserved a chance enjoy the rooftop bars Melbourne has to offer, instead of always being the ones serving the drinks in them. We headed out on a bar crawl of the best rooftop bars in the city and this is my guide to the best ones I've visited.


Rooftop bar crawling the city:

Rooftop at QT, CBD

The newest rooftop bar in Melbourne's CBD and already one of the most highly acclaimed, this is the best spot to enjoy a late afternoon drink in the sunshine and to spot celebrities. Rooftop at QT is a quirkier little sister brand of the hotel Rydges, expect ultimate luxury and a corporate feel, plus cocktails to die for.

Imperial Hotel, CBD

Melbourne's third biggest rooftop bar, this is a great one to take a big group of mates to when you're all in the mood for good quality beers on tap and hearty meals like wings and nachos. Imperial Hotel is a great place to start a bar crawl if you fancy working your way down Bourke Street and visiting the huge number of rooftop bars along the way.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

Naked in the Sky, Fitzroy

Famous for it's amazing view, you can't miss out on a visit to this fabulous rooftop bar in Fitzroy. The cocktails are delicious and the bar even have their own spirits on offer including a spiced rum that I absolutely loved. The view is incredible both during the day and at night - head into Naked for Satan and wait at the lift to be escorted up to the rooftop. There is sometimes a queue but trust me, it's worth the wait.

Loop Bar, CBD

This cute little rooftop hideaway is easily missed from the street, but it's one you definitely want to know about because Loop Bar is one of the few bars that are fully kitted out to deal with Melbourne's crazy weather. Gas heaters and a large awning mean that even when it pours outside, you can still enjoy the rooftop experience surrounded by greenery and garden furniture.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

Madame Brussels, CBD

After something a bit fancy for girls' night? Look no further than the kitsch decorations, the pink theme and fruity punchbowls to share at Madame Brussels. The cute little outdoors area will be perfect for all your Instagram shots, and it's definitely a bit different to all the other rooftop bars around.

Bomba, CBD

I won't lie, Bomba had one of the most disappointing rooftop areas with no view and not much space for sitting but the menu downstairs more than makes up for this. Head upstairs for a quick drink then back downstairs for a delicious selection of Spanish tapas.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

The Emerson, South Yarra

Head out of the CBD and over to South Yarra for a change of pace and a nice chilled out bar right by the train station. The Emerson rooftop is lovely and has umbrellas so you can enjoy it even in the pouring rain as we did when I went. It's right on Chapel Street so perfect for heading out afterwards.

Ferdydurke, CBD

Ferdydurke is not technically a rooftop bar, but this cool little bar is on the top floor and has a cool little smoking area that overlooks graffiti-covered walls and Section 8's awesome little container backyard bar, giving a taste of Melbourne's edgier, hipster side.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

The Corner Hotel/Richmond Club Hotel, Richmond

Find yourself in Richmond? Look no further than these two unexpected gems for a perfect rooftop experience - both used to be locals of mine for after work drinks and you can always expect a great atmosphere especially with regular gigs taking place downstairs from The Corner Hotel. Expect busy venues and a lively crowd, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night. Richmond Club Hotel also offers an incredible view over the train tracks and into the city - head here for sunset.

Carlton Club, CBD

That old favourite will never leave my top list of rooftop bars - Carlton Club was just around the corner from Rooftop at QT so I was a regular there for after work drinks. It's always a guaranteed laugh with old school tunes on a Friday night and a busy dance floor, plus cheap drinks and a lovely outside rooftop area that is perfect for drinks day or night.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

Rooftop Bar, CBD

One I only finally visited just before leaving Melbourne but had spent a long time checking out from Rooftop at QT. You can see across the skyline to the other rooftop bars and this one always looked popular with a steady crowd up there drinking and enjoying the sunshine. Completely unpretentious, this bar doesn't even need a name, just Rooftop Bar, but for those who can't find it - you'll want to head to Curtin House on Swanston Street, the building that houses popular venue Cookie, then head to the top floor.

Good Heavens, CBD

An awesome little find - I love Good Heavens for brightly coloured afternoon cocktails with friends - think refreshing beverages, live DJ sets and a party atmosphere. It's all set right above Fancy Hanks BBQ joint that serves all the smoked meats you could possibly eat - so head downstairs for some dinner after a few drinks.Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia


Have you been to any of these rooftop bars? Which one is your favourite? Can you recommend any others that aren't listed?

Melbourne | My guide to rooftop bar crawling the city | Australia

14915668_10153918773132617_6088979687817940244_nTasmania is one of the most easily skipped parts of Australia for backpackers who are more often drawn to the commercialised party of the East Coast or the big city life of Melbourne and Sydney. Many know nothing about Tasmania, I certainly didn't realise it was a separate island until I actually arrived in Australia. But I knew almost straight away that the West Coast of Australia and Tasmania would be real highlights for me when exploring Australia. Don't get me wrong, there are some special sights to see along the East Coast but it is very much about partying and I think it is a shame so many never travel beyond it. When I returned on my second year visa, it was my absolutely priority to get myself to Tasmania as soon as possible, my tax back from the previous year was sitting in my account waiting to be spent and how better than on a month in Bali and a Tasmania road trip?14907078_10153918772997617_1715679100688056958_n

Flights and job-hunting

Flying into Hobart, I was excited for the crisp, clear air and the stormy skies after the last month in humid Bali and sunny Cairns. Flights to Tasmania are some of the cheapest I have found in Australia, I actually paid less than $100 for my flight from Cairns via Sydney, and landed in Hobart which I used as my base for the next few weeks. I originally arrived with hopes of finding work and staying over Christmas before returning to Melbourne, but friends I made in the hostel assured me it would be harder than expected to find work and I was best off just travelling then working in Melbourne. The farming season had been delayed in Tasmania due to the weather so those hunting for raspberry/strawberry picking work or cherries, were hanging around in the hope something would turn up. Hospitality work was hard to come by as there just weren't enough jobs for those looking and it always helped to know someone who could get you in. I personally would really recommend just travelling Tasmania so you can get the most out of it as it actually costs very little to have an amazing experience compared to other parts of Australia.14955928_10153918765567617_1970551983302675658_n

Where to stay?

In my view there is only one hostel even worth mentioning in this section - The Pickled Frog. Within minutes of arriving it became one of my absolute favourite hostels ever, not just in Australia. It was full of the most friendly and relaxed travellers I have ever met and many of them were there long-term to work so they made the place feel like home. Some were just about to set off on road trips around the island, others had just come back, either way, they were a wealth of information about what to see and do. The hostel was a pretty old building with creaky floors and two huge dogs, it had charm and character and all centred around a huge living area with couches and tables to relax on and hang out with other travellers. The kitchen was huge and was a great place to meet new people and cook up a feast before sitting in the living room to play cards all night and drink beers from the bar in the reception.14993574_10153918765507617_1387576738760546505_nSituated at the top of Hobart city, you can't miss the hostel which has been painted bright green and it is easy to get the airport shuttle to right outside the door. A bed in the hostel came to between $26-30 a night depending on the size dorm you went for - I always stayed in six bed dorms which were perfect as I wasn't a fan of the bigger dorms downstairs. Even better, you get a lot of great freebies for your money as the hostel provides free trips to Mount Wellington, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary where you can see Tasmanian devils. Trust me, staying in this hostel will make your Hobart experience!14938406_10153918768517617_7172613571368688482_n

Top 5 things to see and do:

  1. Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) - it goes without saying that you HAVE to experience this freakishly fascinating collection, you won't come out the same! Highlights include the wall of vaginas and the machine that makes poo.
  2. Mount Wellington - get the hostel bus to the top and take in the views before walking back down. It only takes about two hours to walk down and get the bus back to the hostel but it's a lovely stroll through forest trails.
  3. Salamanca markets - packed full of local produce including fruit, cheeses and smoked salmon, and soundtracked by talented buskers and musicians, it's the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning.
  4. Discover the flavours of local producers by spending day visiting them by car/bus and sampling wines/cheeses/beers/ciders/chocolate. I actually had one of my best dates ever doing this with a guy I met down there.
  5. Walk around the city - it's so small that you can easily walk the Tasman Highway bridge and make it to Battery Point to marvel at the quaint homes, antique stores and enjoy a beer all in one afternoon.

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Why I fell in love with Hobart

Hobart has a real charm that other parts of Australia lack, perhaps being English it was the quaint, older charm the city had that won me over. I loved the way everything had a real history and seemed from a time long before the modern skyscrapers of the cities. The solid wooden bars seemed like they had a story to tell, the musicians were quirky and brought unique talent to the table. The lifestyle was slower and more appreciative than the busy bustle of Melbourne or Sydney, less focused on partying and more on appreciating the great outdoors, and when it came to that, Tasmania had a lot to offer. Everyone knows from this blog that I am a total party animal, but there is another side to me, that country girl from the UK who loves getting outdoors and active. Tasmania was a perfect place to do this and so when I was in Hobart, I used my time to plan a road trip around the rest of the island - I'll be blogging about how I planned my trip at a later date.14908393_10153918768602617_7371877092977412756_n14980664_10153918773242617_260356493879465716_n

Have you been to Hobart - what was your favourite part? Can you recommend any things to do/places to eat at?

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imageI'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.imageYou 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?imageWell, 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.imageWe 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.imageIn 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?

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imageGoing out for dinner has always been one of my favourite things to do. It doesn't matter whether it's street food in Bangkok, a luxury three-course meal in a fine-dining restaurant or a stuff-yourself-silly night at the local steakhouse. I'm always open to trying new foodie experiences and I'd always much rather that than a night of partying, money much better spent if you ask me! Especially when it comes to supporting independent and local businesses, I'm not really one for chain restaurants and would always much rather eat at restaurant that isn't mass-producing its food. Give me fresh, local produce and a creative means of cooking any day. It's not just the food - although that is a huge part of why I love it - it's also the social experience of trying new foods with friends or loved ones, of sitting around a table and eating together. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to meals, growing up it was always the one time of day my family all sat down together with no TV or other distractions to eat and catch up on what we had all been up to. When you're living such busy and different lives, I think it's important to really take this time together. As a backpacker, getting to know people always seems to be done over dinner and a few beers, eating together is once again the thing that brings us all together of an evening.imageLondon is a city full of chain restaurants and well known brands, but for me, this just doesn't do it when I have a weekend away. I'd much rather peruse the food markets and explore quirky little restaurants with a lot more personality for a bit of a unique experience. I was invited along to review RustiKo Soho, a new independent Italian restaurant in the heart of Old Compton Street, just a stone's throw from some of the best theatres in London. As we walked up to the restaurant, we were excited by the cosy look of the place, the quirky, candle-lit interior, and a funky blues playlist we could hear muffled behind the windows. I was promised "the vintage Soho experience" from an evening there and I can't say I was disappointed, we were made to feel so welcome from the second we stepped in the door. The size and the decor gave it such a friendly vibe, more like you had hired out the whole venue for your friends than the formality of a restaurant. Every bar stool was already taken by those enjoying the fantastic range of prosecco, classic and twisted cocktails, as we were escorted to our table. I loved the rustic vibes of the restaurant, it was just my kind of place and I could only imagine the other levels would deliver more of the same.imageOne glance at the menu showed me we were in for a treat as we struggled to choose our favourite dishes, there was so much choice and so many of my favourite dishes. Despite having limited numbers of dishes on the menus, every single dish on there sounded fabulous and there was definitely something for everyone. The waiters were incredibly helpful with suggesting wines to go with the dishes and offering recommendations for combinations of dishes. In the end, we started with the garlic chilli shrimp and polenta chips to start, with some garlic pizza bread. It was the first time I had tried polenta chips but they were delicious, and the garlic pizza bread was a huge hit with that super melty, delicious cheese. My favourite had to be the delicious garlic chilli shrimp - one of my favourite dishes to have as a starter - I was so impressed by the flavours and spice, it was perfect and I'll definitely be ordering that again.imageFor our second course, we spent ages choosing our dishes, but in the end we couldn't resist the lobster linguine and the gnocchi. Now gnocchi is a dish that I've had a lot of disappointment over in the past, I've had the sad looking potatoey lumps slapped on a plate several times and decided it wasn't for me. But finally, we tried a gnocchi that was tasty and had the perfect texture, the dumplings were cooked in a tasty mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil sauce that was perfect for my vegetarian sister. The absolute highlight was my lobster linguine, a dish that I have loved for many years, I couldn't resist seeing the chef's take on it. This time it was half a lobster cooked with cherry tomatoes, spring onions and a brandy sauce, even now as I write this my mouth is watering at the memory. It was a deliciously rich dish full of flavours, but the chef had combined them so perfectly that they didn't overtake the delicate taste of the lobster. It's a fine balance and there's nothing worse than a seafood dish that overpowers seafood with strong flavours, the brandy was a perfect accompaniment. I was so impressed with the quality of the food, and the portion size, we were left stuffed and couldn't even manage dessert!imageWatching the other patrons, I couldn't resist peeking at their food and was excited at the sight of the juicy steaks, the light pasta dishes and the small plates (piattini) that were perfect for sharing. The couple next to us were loving their meal and really recommended the dishes, particularly the rib-eye. Showing the diversity of Soho, the restaurant was filled with a real range of people, it really showed how it was perfect for all occasions whether it was a family meal, a romantic dinner for two, or cocktails with the girls. Even better, after dinner, we were taken downstairs to explore the newest addition to the restaurant, the newly-opened basement bar, The Shed. With a real vintage Soho feel, the bar is a perfect place to relax with a drink after dinner, or to spend an evening with good friends. Just a small bar, it has a really exclusive feel as you walk down the spiral staircase to see cute wooden seating, bookshelves and quirky little decorations. I loved the swing music soundtrack and it went perfectly with the amazing look of the bar. There were already a couple of groups down there enjoying a few drinks and I noticed, that although the place felt busy and bustling, it was never so loud that we struggled to hear each other. RustiKo had managed to find a perfect balance between atmosphere and the foodie experience, and the result was just lovely. It really was the rustic Italian experience nestled in the streets of Soho, and I can't recommend this hidden gem enough. Book your table now.image

Have you been to RustiKo - how was your experience? Can you recommend any other independent restaurants? What's your favourite Italian dish?

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Scorched king scallops and crispy ham hock

There's been a lot of big posts on the blog of late and I think it's time to take it back to one of my biggest loves - FOOD! Anyone who knows me will say how much I like my food - people are often shocked by the amount I can put away. But what is more important to me than quantity, is quality. I would always rather have something cooked from scratch, something with all natural ingredients, preferably local, and something delicious than a plateful of greasy crap. I know everyone says that, but I actually mean it. Of course we all have our days when only a takeaway will do, but after being raised in a house where everything is cooked from scratch I find I seem have have significantly less of these cravings than my friends. So for someone who is more than a bit of a foodie, this restaurant review was a long time coming!

I'm lucky enough to live just a short distance from the North-Norfolk coast, one of the most beautiful locations in the country, which is packed with gorgeous seaside towns, quaint old-fashioned pubs, and plenty of amazing gastro pubs. Working at the paper, we are always hearing about awards given to local pubs and restaurants for their fare and one name that comes up time and time again, is The Orange Tree at Thornham. We have wanted to go there for years and have heard so many amazing reviews and recommendations, but it is one of those things that has always been forgotten and put off to another date. Randomly, boyfriend decided to surprise me with dinner at this lovely little restaurant last weekend and I just couldn't resist sharing our amazing meal with you.

Barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay

Barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay

We started with a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio which happily washed down our amazing starters. I had scorched king scallops, crispy ham hock with aloo gobi, black curry salt, mango sour, white chocolate and cauliflower purée (first picture). This dish was an incredible mix of flavours and I think you'll agree the presentation was stunning. I loved the combination of the curry salt and the ham hock, and the purée was very tasty. Mark had barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay, kohlrabi & apple rèmoulade, nuts and seeds (second picture) which was a really delicious dish - even I enjoyed a taste and I'm not usually a big pork lover, but the satay was fantastic. Both were the sort of dishes you really want everyone to experience, but you know it would be heartbreaking to share.

The restaurant itself was lovely and really cosy, with just enough tables to make it feel busy, but not so it was too loud. It was fully booked when we arrived, so we were glad we had booked a table, and they put us on a lovely one in the corner, right by the window. I was surprised to see a few families in there as I wouldn't have thought of it as the typical place for those with young children to head, but then we realised you could also order off the bar menu, which offered a more casual meal.

Our lamb and pork mains

Our lamb and pork mains

Our mouths were watering as we watched other peoples' mains being brought out, with a salmon special also catching my eye. But shortly after, our waitress headed over with two stunning dishes both trailing rich aromas of barbecue pork and Moroccan spice in their wake. I found it pretty difficult to conceal my excitement, which was a pretty big thing for me. An incident with some rotten lamb last Christmas - cheers Tesco - has meant I haven't happily eaten the meat since, but after a meal at The Orange Tree, I am firmly back in love with lamb.

My dish is pictured at the top - at least most of it is, I struggled to fit the cous cous in the frame! I ordered rump of salt marsh lamb with aubergine kofta, spiced vegetable tagine and rose water Israeli cous cous and all I can say really is WOW. This dish was a perfect combination of Moroccan flavours, the stunning blend of spices in the tagine set the kofta and cous cous off a treat. I reached the end of the dish and wished I could have eaten it all over again! Mark's dish was duo of Blythburgh slow roasted pork belly with seared bbq loin, smoked potato pie, wild mushrooms, 62° poached egg, caramelised onion purée and truffle jus. This fantastic combination of the smoky pork and potato flavours, mushroom and the truffle jus created a light but flavoursome dish - and again, I was impressed at how much I liked it for someone who is not much of a pork lover. We both cleared our plates - absolutely stuffed but refusing to waste even a morsel.

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Pear, caramel and chocolate brownie

It seemed rude not to take them up on a dessert, but already full, we decided to share the pear, caramel and chocolate brownie with caramel bavarois, textures of pear, caramelized puff pastry, chocolate sauce and mascapone sorbet. A very rich dish, we were glad to have shared one as it provided just the right amount of sweetness to round off the meal. I adored the use of pear and caramel with the brownie, and I love sorbet, so it was a perfect dish for me. Mark really enjoyed the brownie, but left me the pear to enjoy as he wasn't a big fan of the texture - but I was pretty happy about that! It was an amazing meal and the staff were really welcoming and friendly, it had the aura of a country pub with the dining experience of a five-star restaurant.This family-owned business describes itself as "a stylish, contemporary dining pub that serves award-winning food, from top quality local produce in a laid back, ‘unstuffy’ environment." And I have to agree, if you like an informal and cosy setting combined with a fine dining experience, look no further than The Orange Tree. You won't regret it. Don't believe me? Take note of all the amazing awards they have won:

Check out the website, and pop in next time you're passing. You can even stay there and make a weekend of it!

Have you been to The Orange Tree - what did you think? Can you recommend any other fine dining pubs you think I'd like?

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Gorgeous canapés on offer

Food - for some it is merely part of surviving, of living from one moment to the next, and fuelling all your endeavours along the way. For others, it is a constant quest for new mouth-watering flavours and alluring aromas to tempt the palate and excite the senses. As a bit of a foodie, I'm always searching for a new lip-smacking experience and as you can imagine, I was in my element when the team at Jarrolds department store, in Norwich, invited me along to join them for their food blogging event to mark the opening of their new bistro restaurant, Benji's. Offering a whole new dining experience that is a step above that of the other three restaurants and coffee shop within the store, the restaurant has a fabulous menu designed to entice even the fussiest of eaters. The restaurant has such a sophisticated feel and the fine decorative touches really make it feel warm and welcoming, as well as exclusive and a real treat.

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The starter platters really did have something for everyone!

Upon arrival, we were welcomed with champagne and canapés - a warm greeting if ever there was one - with the intricately designed snacks artfully arranged on platters decorated with flowers. Each platter showcased the fantastic array of flavours evident throughout the menu, with some delicious battered smoky barbecue chicken served with a fiery sweet chilli sauce, plus a wonderful goats cheese and beetroot stack (cheese provided by local Fielding Cottage), and finally some crab towers that were packed with flavour. All of these delectable delights left us wowed by the combination of flavours that perfectly complemented the other tastes. Shortly after the introductions, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef, who has years of experience working in top London hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He swiftly whipped up a treat for the nose and the eyes with pan-fried sea bass on a bed of artichokes, samphire and salsa verde, with seasonal vegetables. It smelt absolutely divine, and looked so simple to prepare, although I'm sure mine would not look half as presentable as his. Reflecting the constant changes to the menu, this dish will only be available for a couple more weeks as samphire goes out of season. Using only local produce and producers, the restaurant's menu is dependent on what is available within Norfolk.

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Myself with Leah of Roots & Toots (left) and Gabriella of La Scarpetta (right)

After the demonstration, we headed downstairs for a look around the deli and home-ware department, both of which had us all drooling over treats - both of the food and kitchen-ware variety! We moved between the shelves, checking out everything from chocolate pasta to parsnip and chilli chutneys, lusting over everything from Emma Bridgewater mugs and egg cups, to Artisan mixers. We were lucky enough to have a demonstration of one of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal smoothie makers, which was so easy to use and made the tastiest ginger, apple, orange and kale smoothies - a perfect palate cleanser before we headed back upstairs for our dinner. On the walk back upstairs, I finally got to indulge in that dream of having a department store closed just for you and yes, I did feel exactly like Topshop's Chloe Green, it was great to wander around the shoe department without any shoppers in my way!

The amazing seafood starter platters

The amazing seafood starter platters

There are not enough words in the English language to do justice to describing the amazing spread that awaited us back in the restaurant, with multiple platters lined up and packed with the most incredible selection of seafood, meats, vegetarian and even floral treats! I can't list everything that was there, but you'll be able to see from the photos the delicious piles of scallops, smoked salmon and mackerel, prawns on the fish platters. On the vegetarian plate, there were various raw vegetables, plus roasted aubergine and peppers, hummus and an onion chutney, with pitta and even edible flowers! Over on the meats platter, there were piles of chicken with peanut and barbecue sauces, mini sausages with a tomato sauce, terrine which went beautifully with an apple sauce and much more. It's making my mouth water again just thinking about it - and I haven't even added the photos yet! The food was accompanied by a great range of wines and soft drinks, for those of us who were driving, plus plenty of foodie chat about our favourite restaurants and dishes - thanks for the recommendations guys!

And some of the treats on the meat platters

And some of the treats on the meat platters

Shortly after, the main came out and although we already knew what it was, we once again marvelled at the beauty of the colours on the plate, before tucking in excitedly. It was an amazing dish, so tasty and I would really recommend trying it before it disappears off the menu! I'm a big lover of seafood dishes anyway, but this was a particular treat and I loved the sea bass - one of my favourite fish - with the salsa verde, it really enhanced the flavour, as did the delicious artichokes. It was so lovely to sit round with other bloggers who love food and local produce as much as I do, and how better to finish the evening than with a selection of the very finest local cheeses and chocolates?

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The main event - pan fried sea bass

We had a fantastic talk by Sam Steggles of Fielding Cottage, a family business based in Honingham who create their very own goats cheese, meat and skin care products. We tried two types of delicious cheeses, the Norfolk Mardler and the Wensum White, and I have to say the creamier Wensum White was my favourite, with a texture rather reminiscent of Brie - one of my absolute favourite cheeses. This was followed by one of the creators behind Dolce Momento, a company with a passion for the tastes of Brazil who develop an exciting and varied range of gourmet brigadeiros, cakes and treats. The chocolates were gorgeous in appearance and you really could see why them were such a hit at weddings with such stunning presentation. And the tastes were truly out of this world, with an amazing chilli and cinnamon one, plus delicious milk and dark chocolate treats - all sweeter and gooier than the average ganache thanks to condensed milk, good taste and a lot of love. A perfect end to an amazing evening.

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Thanks guys! Looking forward to the next event!

A huge thanks to the team at Jarrolds for inviting me along, I had the most amazing night and loved meeting all the other bloggers. I look forward to more events in the future, but in the meantime, you guys should all get yourselves to Norwich and check out this amazing hidden gem - have fun working your way through the menu and enjoy the fact that you are eating local and supporting local businesses. They're much more important than eating out at yet another boring, soulless chain restaurant!

Have you eaten out at Jarrolds - what did you think? Will you be checking out the new menu at Benji's?

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