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.As 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.The 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.Differing 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.Of 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.
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?
After spending so long out of the UK, one thing I've really missed is getting to hang out with other bloggers and writers. Travel and food are two of my favourite things, so getting to spend a day combining the two and getting to blog all about it – pretty much my dream day! So I was over the moon when I was invited along to a Middle Eastern cookery class with Visit Qatar and found out I would be spending the day cooking up a storm with a group of bloggers, journalists, food stylists and more. Watching the sunrise from the train as we powered through the misty and frosty fields towards London, I was on my third coffee of the day and couldn't wait to get started. The event was being held at The Cookery School, just off Oxford Circus, and it was such a perfect venue with everything we needed to create our feast, plus a great team of chefs on hand to help guide us through the process. After brief introductions, it was full speed ahead to create an amazing feast of middle eastern delights for lunch.
The aim of the day was for us to all work together on various recipes to create a feast for the whole group to enjoy over lunch. Whipping up everything from flatbreads, tabbouleh and a mezzo of dips including hummus, to a choice between lamb or vegetarian tagine with Persian rice, and rounding off with semolina cake served with yoghurt and fresh oranges, and homemade baklava. I couldn't think of a more perfect menu and I was so excited to get stuck in and learn some new recipes, I was especially looking forward to learning how to make hummus and to see how their tagine recipe differed from the one I make at home. We were all set to work on different tasks from chopping and slicing, to buttering and mixing. I love cooking and I love how social it is, we all had plenty of time to have a good chat over the mixing bowls.The first dish I helped out with was the baklava which I was very intrigued by, I personally have never been too keen on the sweet treat, often finding it a bit sickly. But after realising this one wasn't soaked in sugar syrup I was keen to find out if I would like it. Working with Amanda Bernstein of Glass Magazine, we teamed up to butter the many layers of filo pastry before adding chopped walnuts and cinnamon prepped by some of the other gals. I can tell you, after tasting the finished product, I am a total convert on baklava – the one we made was absolutely delicious and definitely wasn't too sweet.Afterwards, I was assigned to helping to prep the tabbouleh which ended up being the most colourful dish on the table! With all the bright colours of the herbs, tomatoes and lemons, it certainly brought a dash of the exotic to the table. This one was a nice easy dish, it just took a lot of chopping and preparing. I took the herbs to one side as I worked my way through chopping them for tabbouleh-duty.Finally, it was on to the dips and one of the dishes I was most excited to make – hummus. I've always wanted to make hummus myself at home but it's just one of those things I never get round to. Now, after seeing how ridiculously easy it is to make, I really have no excuse. We spent time perfecting the flavours and seasoning, adding a dash more lemon juice here, or a pinch of salt there, until we were happy with it.And finally, after hours of prepping and cooking, lunch was served! Everyone really enjoyed their food and we loved finally getting a chance to sit and enjoy all the unique flavours as a group.
This amazing event had been organised by the wonderful Jess and Katie, of Visit Qatar, as a way to celebrate everything about this beautiful and exciting country. Why? Well it's just become visa free for travellers from no fewer than 80 nationalities, so not only is it the most open country in the whole region, but there has never been a better time to visit!After reading this blog post by The Travelista after her visit to capital city Doha, I was already rather interested in what the city had to offer. Having spent very little time in the middle east so far, it's an area of the world that becoming ever more accessible with countless new and more direct flights being introduced across the UK. Apparently there are over 37million travellers passing through Doha International Airport each year, but very few are actually taking the time to enjoy the city while passing through. Perhaps, like me, they were simply unaware of the incredibly diverse travel experiences that await them there! But ever since the event, I've been dreaming of getting my heart racing by 'dune bashing' across the desert in a 4x4, or exploring the alleys of the Souq Waqif and taking in the stunning architecture. Whether enjoying a holiday, or just a few days stopover in the city, you can squeeze in a taste of authentic street food across the country or discover the breath-taking exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Art. More than 150 countries spread across six continents are now connected with Doha thanks to Qatar Airways, which means you could easily build in a visit to your next trip. When flying back and forth between Asia or Australia and the UK, my layovers have always taken me to the likes of Dubai or Kuala Lumpur, so I'm eager to take the opportunity to discover somewhere new on my next big trip. There are even new direct flights available from Cardiff to Doha as of May 1, flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, these will be available seven days a week. Find more information on the Visit Qatar website.
Have you been to Qatar – how was your experience? Do you love middle eastern food – what's your favourite dish?
There's probably a lot of people out there who don't know that these days I eat mostly vegetarian. I don't shout it from the rooftops like some vegetarians and I don't take a fuss if meat is put in front of me by an unsuspecting host. I will fully admit now - because I know someone I've had burgers with is sure to comment - I am not the world's best vegetarian. But since this week is National Vegetarian Week, I thought it was a good time to talk about why I have chosen to eat mainly vegetarian and how travel has affected my choice of diet. While many people will focus on how cruel it is to hurt animals and to kill them in order to feed our ever growing obsession with steak - that's not my reason for choosing to live this way. I don't dispute it being a good reason, but for me there are just many other important reasons for doing this.
Why am I vegetarian?
It all started when I first went travelling, before I left I was a big meat-eater who loved a steak, but once I discovered the delights of South-East Asian cuisine and their remarkable vegetarian selection, I was sold. A few experiences with some questionable meat and I soon decided to stick purely with the amazingly fresh veggies and tofu - what a discovery! No longer was it the soggy, tasteless meat replacement, but instead a meal all in itself - never have I had tofu as well seasoned, as flavoursome and exciting as I did when I was in Thailand. It really set my tastebuds on fire and made me realise I didn't really even miss meat when I had such amazing veggie options on offer. The rest of my five months in Asia, I pretty much lived off a diet of veggies, rice, noodles and fruit - and to this day I have never felt healthier, happier or stronger.When I reached Australia I ended up travelling around so much and then working jobs with crazy hours so I never bothered to buy meat to cook in case it just went off and was a waste. Instead I would raid the amazing range of tofu and fresh veggies for healthy meals or salads. I've seen a real transformation in my diet over the last three years and it has been a natural transition as I've realised what really makes my body feel good and healthy, I don't need meat to feel strong - I can get my protein elsewhere and I actually prefer the tastes and textures to eating flesh. I feel better for not eating meat - I actually notice the difference immediately after eating a meal with meat and eating a vegetarian meal - meat makes me feel sluggish, bloated and overly full.
But what's a bad vegetarian?
I will admit that I'm not always religious with my vegetarianism - I do have slip ups and when you're travelling it's not always easy to eat as healthily or as strictly as it would be at home. In Melbourne I ate so healthily because I was able to prepare all my own meals but when you're travelling all the time or have rubbish hostel kitchens to work with it can be more difficult. Check out my top tips for staying fit and healthy when you travel here. Plus there is the fact that I don't actually dislike meat - I still enjoy the taste and smell of it and if my mates decide to have a barbecue or someone wants to go for a burger or a steak - if I crave it I'll eat it. So yes, I'm a bad vegetarian and some may even consider me not a vegetarian at all, but I don't really care. The fact is, I've gone from eating meat every day to often not even once a month.
Why should you try this?
It might sound like this is just something I have done purely for my own health reasons, but actually since making this change I've done a lot of reading and watched a lot of documentaries about vegetarianism and the environment. I've steered clear of the usual "don't hurt the baby animals" ones and instead looked more at the effect a carnivore diet has on the environment as a whole. If you haven't watched Cowspiracy (it's on Netflix) then you should definitely check it out - it is the documentary that has stayed with me the most. This one focuses on the effect farming cows for food has on the environment and particularly on climate change - the facts and figures it offers pretty much shows that farming meat has had much larger effect on global warming than pollution and use of fossil fuels which I find both fascinating and scary. This fact is just brushed under the carpet because of the sheer amount of money the industry makes for the economy and the governments.I'm not proposing any huge move to change the world, but I do think that we as individuals can do small things both to help ourselves and the planet. I personally feel that not eating meat has made me feel much healthier and better in myself, and I also like knowing that I am helping the environment at the same time. I don't feel guilty if I slip-up and have a bacon sandwich but I do know I won't do it all the time. Since it's National Vegetarian Week, I challenge you all to just try it for one week. If you can't stand the thought of full vegetarianism, why not just cut back on eating meat every day and just have it twice a week? Even that would make a huge difference - not only to your health and the environment, but also to your bank balance. Give it a try, it's just a week and it could change your life.
I've been writing a LOT about travel lately, and while I still have so much to share with you all from my month travelling around Europe and now Indonesia, I thought it would be a nice time to take a moment's break to talk about two of my other passions. Anyone who knows me will know that I'm a big foodie at heart and that I love to stay fit and healthy - combining the two is a big love of mine and something I dedicate a lot of time to when I'm not travelling. We all know how hard it is to keep it going when you're on holiday - well apparently my life is a holiday but if there's something I hate, it's getting ill while travelling. I'm actually writing this when my body is a wreck - too much partying means I'm now popping Vitamin C and painkillers to stave off every illness going and I know exactly why. It's because my diet has suffered since being in Bali - I haven't been eating as many fruits and vegetables since being away, I haven't been eating enough and half the time I've had an upset tummy. Don't get me wrong, I'm having a blast here, but it does catch up with you! So now I'm taking a few days of good, healthy food, fresh fruit smoothies and good sleep to recuperate.A few days off partying and sightseeing has given me time to use my brain a bit and talk to people, quite a few of these conversations have naturally led to one of my favourite products and one that is widely available in Asia - coconut oil. I love everything coconut - from the meat, the milk and the water, to the oils and natural products created from them. It is lifesaver for a girl with skin as delicate as mine - coconut oil is one of the few things I know I can use liberally without causing rashes both to eat and on my skin - it's so pure that it can do no wrong. And one of the lovely things about buying it out here, is not only that it is so cheap, but that it has no preservatives or nasties added to it - it's pretty much as pure as you can get it without the "health food" price attached. Even when I'm in the UK, I try to make sure I drink as much coconut water as possible and use coconut oil on my skin, hair and nails - it's definitely a lot more pricey than it is out here but it's worth it. Even long before it became "fashionable" I knew the value of using oils instead of lotions and creams that were packed full of things I could be allergic to. Trust me, once you find that out the hard way a few times, you become very cautious about what you are putting on, and in, your body.If you do struggle with your skin like I do, particularly with eczema and dry patches, it's a really good idea to take a look at your oil use. I've always alternated the use of coconut oil with olive oils to get the best results - both in my food and on my skin. While both have amazing affects when you add them to your diet, I notice huge differences when I also apply them externally. Often before going to bed I will cover my skin in coconut oil, or will coat any dry patches in olive oil, then allow it to soak in. By doing it when your body is resting, it has so much more time to really soak in and work it's magic, trust me - as someone who has suffered with these problems for years - nothing has ever worked better than simple oils on your plate and on your skin. It's also great to combine the oils with a body butter, if you can find one pure enough, that way the deeper layers of your skin absorb the oil while the butter moisturises the top layers. I personally find The Body Shop's argan oil or cocoa body butters work really well this way, plus they smell amazing!If you followed my blog over the last few months, you'll know that I holidayed in Santorini with my parents for a few weeks. Greece is a big favourite with my parents - they love the food, the culture, the landscape, and after years of holidays there I can only agree with them. It's a fabulous country and particularly when you get down to the islands, each one is completely different but still maintains the charm and traditions of Greece. One thing I really love about Greece is their Mediterranean diet, I do think Greek food is one cuisine that I could happily live off for the rest of my days. Maybe less of the bread, but throw all the seafood, salads and wine at me! We were living off the most delicious Greek salads, and even Santorini salads, dressed in the simplest of dressings, just the very finest olive oils and vinegar - so good they speak for themselves! When it came to seafood, the simpler the better. I'd have sea bass or bream, or even snapper, dressed simply in herbs and drizzled with olive oil before being barbecued. It was some of the most delicious food I've ever had and yet some of the simplest. The Greeks sure know the value of quality over quantity - they would rather serve just three ingredients but the very finest quality and flavours than have a whole plate of tastes that don't quite get your palate excited.At home we use a lot of olive oil in cooking and preparing meals, so if you're struggling to think of ways of integrating more good oils into your diet it's worth trying out some of my favourites. Salads are an easy way to introduce olive oils to your diet - drizzle olive oil and either balsamic or white wine vinegar over your salad, and the beauty of salad is that it doesn't just have to be boring lettuce. You can mix it up and try quinoa, pumpkin, cous cous, spinach and all kinds of other tasty treats. If you like seafood, you can't beat a nice bit of salmon wrapped in foil in the oven for 20 minutes, drizzle oil over it and add chilli or paprika for flavour - serve with sweet potato fries or minty potatoes. And if you need a little something for the side, why not add roasted vegetables? Just chop up loads of veg in a tray then drizzle oil all over it and season, stick it in the oven and roast for half an hour or until soft - perfect side dish. Or if you're just cooking for one - do what I used to do at uni, roast loads then keep it in the fridge for wraps - yum! If you want to learn a little more about the different types of olive oil and what to do with them - you should check out this great infographic from Jamie's Italian. It tells you all you need to know about how to cook with different types of oil to get the best results.
Or, if you're feeling like treating yourself, why not click here to book a table at Jamie's Italian and let the pros show you how it's done?
I'm so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I've had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad - I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I'm passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.As we arrived at the restaurant, you can't help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you've read my review from Cottons, you'll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn't fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening - the perfect balance.We kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef's passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn't recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.For our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I've completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn't have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn't want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.Apologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven't come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you're heading to London, or you're already living there, I can't recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it's extremely affordable! It's not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.
Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?
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?
It's been a long time since I've eaten Chinese food, but anyone who has been following my travels through Asia will know how much I loved the food there. Asia food is one of my absolute favourite cuisines and something I just know I could eat every day for the rest of my life. I love how fresh, light and healthy it is, and I'm a huge fan of their colourful dishes whether Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. When it comes to Chinese food, I've always been a little put off by memories of greasy Chinese takeaways filled with stodge and feeling really sick after scoffing one. It put me off for years but when I was invited along to try out the special Dim Sum menu at Royal China's Queensway Restaurant, I figured it was time to give Chinese food another try at one of Royal China's eight restaurants.We were welcomed by the staff as we arrived and were taken to our table - I was astonished by the size of the restaurant, it was huge, but was told that it has recently been extended and yet still has queues out of the door some days. It seems Royal China is a bit of an institution in the area and after being there for 20 years, who can be surprised? You walk in and see a room filled with 85% Asian people and quite frankly you know the food must be good if they're choosing to dine out here. I was impressed by the decor at the restaurant, instead of the bright and colourful designs of most Chinese restaurants they had gone for a much sleeker and more elegant look that really gave the place a great atmosphere for a dinner. We were just having lunch but already the restaurant was mostly full on a Monday lunchtime, you can understand how busy it must get at peak times.I really felt the restaurant would be a great place to come with a larger party, the tables are big and could easily seat bigger groups and if you ask me, Asian food is always great for sharing with friends. We ordered several items off the Dim Sum menu including the sesame prawn rolls and the plain Cheung Fun with peanut sauce, seafood pancakes and the roasted duck dumplings, then picked others off the larger menu such as the aromatic duck, the spicy prawn stir fry and the pak choi. The food was delicious and served quickly but goodness me there was a lot of it. It would definitely be a place to go with friends, between the two of us we struggled to eat everything but really enjoyed the flavours. Although I have to admit, I'm still not entirely sure what Cheung Fun is - it was a very strange dish I have never tried before. The service was excellent throughout and the staff kept coming over to check if we needed anything at all, or just to talk to us about the dishes. Overall I would say the restaurant was lovely, we really enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere of Royal China. But we did find the dishes rather expensive for the size of the meal, perhaps it would have been less noticeable if you were sharing the meal with a group and were sharing lots of dishes but for two people I think it would have been an expensive meal out if you wanted to taste several dishes. However, the food was of a very high standard and very well prepared, it wasn't at all greasy and had lots of flavour. If you were going to eat Chinese food, this would be the place to do it. For me personally, I don't think Chinese food is for me, I'm glad I've given it another shot but I think I'll stick to Thai and Vietnamese food from now on. If you fancy trying out Royal China, you'll find restaurants on Baker Street and in Bayswater, Fulham and Canary Wharf. More information about Royal China available online.
Have you eaten at Royal China - what did you think? What's your favourite Chinese dish? What other restaurants would you recommend in London?
It's about time I gave you guys a little life update - those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter may already know about my plans, but for those who don't I'm sure you can guess they include travel! When I came back from Australia, the first question everyone asked me was 'What next?' - they just knew how incredible my experiences had been and couldn't imagine I could settle back into life at home. At the time, I had no immediate plans but knew I would be returning to Australia in the autumn, this gave me just long enough to spend time with all the people I've missed so much over the last year-and-a-half and to take on some freelance work at the newspaper to earn a few £££ while I was back in the UK. I started out at a relaxed pace with a few days freelance work each week - plenty to pay the bills and save - and plenty of time to work on this blog and catch up with friends. If I had only thought about the kind of person I am, I would have realised there was no way things would remain this chilled.
Instead I've ended up taking on so much extra freelance work that I'm working full time hours across six newspapers lately - this is great money but it has eaten into my time to spend with friends and family. Typical me, especially when you add in that I've been trying to squeeze in as many blog reviews/events and working with as many brands as possible during my time in the UK. I've never been a stand still and let life happen to you kind of gal, I prefer to go out and seize the day in any way I can. While I was away I was contacted with so many amazing opportunities, but they were all based in the UK so I wanted to make the most of them while I was back over here. It's a really exciting time for this blog and I'm so happy to see how it has grown since I first started travel blogging. Some of my most incredible news yet is that I have been invited on my first press trip as a blogger - more to come on that later - and I couldn't be more excited about it! To actually be recognised enough as a travel blogging brand to be approached for a press trip is amazing and more than I could have ever dreamed of at this stage.I've been pretty busy in the last two years despite travelling and, often, working full time along the way. I've worked with some incredible brands during this time including some well-known names such as Durex and The Flight Centre, with plenty more coming up. I hosted an Instagram takeover for Travelex UK and have worked with some amazing travel and technology brands plus I've featured in a lot of articles by brands and bloggers alike. I've recently guest posted on some amazing websites and written pieces for brands including Base Backpackers. I've been invited to some amazing events such as the Blogosphere Magazine Summer Party, and reviewed some incredible restaurants and hotels. I also have one very exciting announcement coming up that cannot be revealed until September, and some very exciting partnerships for later in the year - all very hush-hush at the moment but I can't wait to share them with you. It's safe to say all my hard work is really paying off and I'm so happy to see more people enjoying my content than ever before.
So what is my big news?
Well despite having just returned from two weeks in Santorini, it's just a few days until I'm off again! I've currently waiting for my second year visa for Australia to be approved, so in the meantime I've decided to explore some parts of Europe I haven't yet had the chance to while catching up with some of my travelling friends. I was already planning a trip to Bulgaria for a reunion with some of the best travelling friends I have made - trust me, we have matching tattoos to prove it! The five of us made some serious memories after we all crossed paths back in February last year when we were all exploring Thailand - two amazing weeks spent on Koh Phanang and Koh Tao together. We're talking a lot of partying and the infamous Half Moon Party, boat trips, markets, food, ladyboy shows and a LOT of fun. I can't wait to reunite with the others in a whole new country and explore together, despite having been to Bulgaria years ago I'm looking forward to experiencing a bit more of the local culture.
When we started planning the trip, I had in my mind I would Euro-hop a bit by myself after, not expecting to be invited on a press trip to Slovenia a few days later. In the end, my trip almost planned itself. From Monday, I'll be spending around a month away, starting with just under a week in Bulgaria then a few days in Berlin, heading to Slovenia for the press trip for five days. Then I'll move on to Budapest - a place I have long wanted to visit - before finishing up in the Netherlands, with a few days staying with a friend in Amsterdam followed by a visit up north to see my Melbourne flatmate. It's going to be a pretty amazing trip mixed between catching up with a group of friends, travelling solo, experiencing my first press trip with other bloggers and visiting both friends from home and those I have met around the globe. A perfect combination if you ask me. And I'll round it off nicely with a few days in London which will be spent reviewing hotels and restaurants. It'll be totally different to my previous trip and I'm looking forward to trying something new and experiencing a whole new world. I'm quite excited for the feeling of rocking up in a hostel in a new city and not knowing a soul - after making so many friends in Australia that became hard to do after a while!
Thanks so much to everyone who has offered me a place to stay, a tour guide, recommended places to stay/eat and things to do - you're all getting me so excited! If you have any other suggestions please leave a comment and I'll add them to my list! And of course, I hope you'll join me every step of the journey right here!
Have you traveled Europe - what were your highlights? Any ultimate hostel experiences to share or unusual activities to try?
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter have been berating me over the last two weeks for teasing you all with photos from my rather lust-worthy holiday. Sorry, I'm so not sorry about it. It was without a doubt one of the best holidays I have ever had and oh my, have you seen how crazy beautiful Santorini is? I'm not lying when I say the Greek island has been on my Must Visit list for years, and now having spent two weeks there I can officially say it is just as incredible as I dreamed. All those times I scrolled infinitely down websites and Instagram feeds taking in every dreamy image and every scrap of information about the island, and finally I had the chance to see it with my own eyes. I am such a lucky girl. Even more so, because I wasn't supposed to be going! My parents had booked themselves a holiday, not knowing when I would be back in the country, but when they realised I would be home, they booked me on to the holiday with them as my birthday present. Officially the best parents and the best birthday present I could ever dream of.
Where to stay
We stayed on the south-east of the island in the popular resort of Perissa - it's a good choice if you find the prices a bit steep in Oia and fancy actually being on the beach. After visiting both Oia and Perissa, I would say that for a week or longer holiday, Perissa is a perfect place to stay, but if you're just going for a few days you would probably want to stay in Oia. Perissa is nestled at the bottom of the mountain and it's the only place in the world I have seen the mountains meet the ocean on a beach of black, volcanic sand. Even in peak season, Perissa has a relaxed and quiet feel to it and the beaches are never overcrowded, nor are the restaurants. It's a good place to stay if you want a mixture of relaxing, exploring and activities during your stay - we found it a great base for visiting the rest of the island and enjoying trips. The buses give you great, reliable access to other areas such as Fira, Kamari and Oia, or you could hire and car or bike. Most places in Perissa come with a pool and there are a lot of self-catering apartments available which is great for those that have children or prefer to do their own thing.I stayed in a self-catering apartment at Sandy Villas, this place was great with huge rooms, private bathrooms and balconies for each apartment. My room also came with a small kitchen including a hob, fridge and basic items. It had a bar and lounge area with wifi (although rubbish) and offered the largest swimming pool in the area. It was set back from the main strip and closer to the mountain, but I loved that it was a short walk away from everything and it meant having a stunning view of the mountain and the ocean from my balcony, and getting woken up by the donkeys in the morning. A true Greek experience. The owners were very welcoming and friendly, all of the staff were so lovely, especially when they realised I was staying alone. I was really impressed with the place and would definitely recommend it for others travelling as a group, a couple or independently. With a shallow pool, this place is well-suited to young children and many of the groups staying had children with them.If you're looking for something a bit more adult, try Anezina Villas, it's much more suited to a couple on holiday with smaller rooms and more of a hotel feel. It was a lovely apartment for my parents with a private bathroom and balcony, although they did find the rooms a little stuffy. It came with a small kitchen area with a fridge and all that was needed to make simple foods if you preferred to have breakfast at the apartment. The outside area was the absolute highlight - the bar and seating around the pool was gorgeous and for sunbathers, you were treated to the most comfortable sunbeds I have ever laid on. Short of being a waterbed, I don't think they could have been better quality. Likewise, the pool was fantastic for adults, very deep and large enough to enjoy a good swim - not great for children due to the depth.The apartments also come with a swing and play area, a hot tub, and sit nicely in the centre of the town, perfect for strolling to the beach or out to dinner. Both places were fabulous and we would really recommend them if you're planning a trip to the island.
Where to eat
If you're heading to Perissa, have a wonderful time. It's a fantastic place to stay and perfect for a holiday in Santorini. If you have any questions about the area or planning your trip, leave a comment and I'll do my best to help you out!
Going 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.London 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.One 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.For 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!Watching 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.
Have you been to RustiKo - how was your experience? Can you recommend any other independent restaurants? What's your favourite Italian dish?
I've always been a health conscious kinda gal and liked to keep track of what I was putting into my body - from the food I was eating, to how much water I was drinking, to the beauty products I chose. As someone who has annoyingly sensitive skin prone to allergic reactions, eczema and flare-ups, it's important for me to use the most natural products available and to avoid overly-processed foods. Travelling gave me the opportunity to take full control of this and to really reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I always ate very healthily at home and exercised plenty before travelling, but going solo meant every decision was up to me and that I was able to try out different lifestyle choices that perhaps I didn't have as much opportunity to pursue before I went away. Starting out in Asia, my diet changed dramatically as I gorged on the delicious fruits available and cut out meat almost completely, replacing it with tofu or other vegetarian options. It was something that happened very naturally and I found that I didn't even miss meat. Throughout travelling I never gave up meat entirely but I very rarely ate it, and I almost never cooked it - watching more and more documentaries about the farming industry made me stand by my decision.Likewise, away from European beauty standards and living in a much more relaxed backpacker culture, I found myself living months on end without wearing make-up. I never wore that much to begin with, but never quite felt comfortable leaving the house without at least a bit of mascara or concealer. Asia changed all that, the humidity and the heat made make-up pointless unless you wanted it sliding down your face, and we all know that everyone looks better with a tan anyway. I was confident and happier since travelling, I was comfortable with the way I looked, and more importantly I just didn't give a damn. I liked rolling out of bed and straight to the beach, I liked applying sunscreen and a dash of coconut oil to my skin, and more importantly, my skin liked it. I didn't have spots or patches or any sign of irritation, the one thing I did have was a big smile on my face. I can tell you that my happiest moments in the last few years have all happened when I've been barefaced except for a smile, with messy hair that smells of the ocean. It just shows you, once you take all the clever advertising and society pressure away, when you really get back to basics, whats really important - health and happiness.Being more aware than ever of the importance of knowing exactly what we are putting in our bodies, when Time Of The Month contacted me to ask whether I wanted to review their organic range - I jumped at the opportunity. Starting out back in 2012, the company was founded as a way of empowering women to make their own choices about their gynaecological health while offering them products that were made of the purest and cleanest materials. Founder St. John Burke said: " I was motivated to develop a brand I'd be happy for my daughter to use." Your vagina is the most absorbent part of your body, and sanitary products full of harsh chemicals can be absorbed into your blood stream and cause problems with your immune system and hormones, with links to reproductive issues and cancer. We refuse to use sun beds for fears of skin cancer and regularly check for lumps in our breasts and yet we still use products in our most intimate area that could cause severe health problems on a daily basis. But it's not something we think about because it's never talked about!Did you know that tampons and towels have been around since the 1930's and that most are still made from the same man-made materials used back then? So for almost 100 years we've been using the same products to deal with our periods - think how many versions of the iPhone have been released in the last six years alone. So if we can update our phones that often, why haven't we found a healthier way to deal with our periods? For some women, moon cups have provided a better option, but for many girls that method just doesn't appeal. The average women is using up to 17,000 tampons in a lifetime, so for those who prefer traditional methods, perhaps it's about time we started looking at healthier, more organic options. If not for our health, then think about the damage your time of the month is doing to the planet - every tampon you're currently using takes six months to biodegrade, while the plastic applicators take a further 25 years to break down, and don't get me started on pads which take a whopping 500-800 years! TOTM offer a fantastic range of 100% biodegradable tampons which dissolve naturally in landfills and unlike many other brands, they only use natural, organic cotton that has not been genetically modified or treated with chemical fertilisers or pesticides.I don't know about you, but doing my bit for the environment is pretty important and if it helps keep me as healthy as possible at the same time - we're onto a winner! I trialled out a selection of TOTM's products to see whether they would marry up to the standards I'm used to, and the truth is they far surpassed them. When you open the tampons and sanitary towels you're not overwhelmed by that chemical smell you get from high street products, yet the absorption rate is just the same, if not better than the products I would normally use. I was also really impressed to find that TOTM run a tailor-made service to suit your period, they'll deliver your chosen products directly to your door each month to fit with your cycle, or you can choose a one-off delivery. TOTM really puts women's health at the heart of things, and makes times of the month as hassle-free as possible - isn't that what we all want? I loved the way they were delivered to my home and having a regular delivery would stop you from getting caught out each month. After all that drama about the tampon tax, it's clear that female health is less of a priority to our government but that's why we need to make it more of a priority personally. TOTM exists to empower women to make real decisions about what is being put into your body - its a luxury that generations before us didn't have. Let's take advantage of it and take control.
How has travel affected your health? Have you become more health-conscious since travelling? How do you feel about the sanitary products available and knowing what you are putting in your body?
There’s no denying that for many, their student days conjure up memories of wayyyy too many cheap baked bean cans, far too many hungover lectures and amazing memories that will last a lifetime. My university life was no different - it was something I had been looking forward to for years: a chance to get away from all I knew, to study something I was passionate about and to live as wild and freely as my bank balance would allow. That first taste of freedom is the make-or-break moment for many and while some will flounder in the face of independence, spending every penny of their student loan in the first few weeks and scraping by for the next three years. Others thrive, finally given the space and time to live the way they deem fit, growing as an individual into the person they always had the potential to become. It’s a fantastic opportunity for teenagers to learn some serious life skills because so many at that age have been molly-coddled with no real work experience or life skills.
Now I would never say that university is right for everyone, especially when there are so many different paths these days that can help get you into the career of your choice. But there is one lifestyle that I think student life could really help prepare you for - backpacking. Travelling has been my life for almost 18 months and the whole experience has really opened my eyes to the different types of young travellers out there - from the very youngest at barely 18-years-old, to the mid-twenties and beyond. It’s amazing how difficult it becomes to read people as they are travelling - but once you remove many travellers from the “real world” their life experience and confidence just soars. I’ve been astonished to find how much I have in common with students who are barely out of university, and it has made me respect their maturity in new ways. Seeing their bravery in boarding that plane to the other side of the world, I wonder if I could have done it at their age and whether I would have had the same experiences.Looking back, I was always an independent person, someone who was always looking for opportunities to strike out on her own. But it was when I went away to study that I finally came into my own, being wholly independent was amazing and gave me the space I needed to grow as an individual, to really take control of my life. Student life gave me an amazing basis for becoming a traveller - it taught me to be independent and strong, yet flexible around others. It taught me the standard at which I want to live my life and a respect for how that measures up to the standards of others. It taught me basic skills like money management and the value of money, it taught me how to organise EVERYTHING for myself and others. It taught me time management and ways of having it all - of balancing my studies and personal life. It taught me to be creative - with everything. It taught me to be brave and to put myself out there in terms of my career and life opportunities. It taught me that life waits for no-one and you have to make the most of every second. UNiDAYS are life-changing in so many ways and I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. Not when it was those student days that prepared me for the world.
Talking to friends who are just beginning their studies, I can’t help but reminisce about the amazing memories I hold of my university days. Of those incredible friendships you build along the way, of the opportunities that await on every corner, the chances to excel both in your studies and extracurriculars. I remember the impassioned lectures, the fiesty discussions in seminars and the keen eye of the lecturers as they watched your ideas develop in front of them. The sporting events, the gigs, the events, the groups and all the rest. Those days where you had to get creative with baked beans because it was all you had left to eat, the nights you can’t remember and the times you’ll never forget. It all hopes your experience and changes your world without you even realising - but it’s these changes that set you on the right course to success in every aspect of your life. But it wouldn’t be student life without all the perks that come with it - I’ll never forget those student discounts! From £5 pizzas at Dominoes to free cheeseburgers at McDonalds, to that cheeky 10% off at all my favourite clothes shops - it was the dream!
If you’re just starting your studies then you should join the 7.2million students who are already signed up and saving with UNiDAYS - free to sign up it gives you access to the best range of student discounts online and in-store with all the leading brands. UNiDAYS is partnered with the biggest brands including the likes of THE ICONIC, Glue Store, ASOS, City Beach and Beginning Boutique. The free UNiDAYS App gives you instant access to student discount at home and on the move. When shopping in participating stores, just flash your UNiDAYS iD at the till point to redeem your discount. Save money on everything from the essentials to life’s little treats. Enter exclusive competitions and be the first to hear about exclusive student-only events, new store launch parties and much more. To find out more and sign up to start saving straight away - click here! Or find UNiDAYS on Facebook, Twitter (@UNiDAYS_AU) or Instagram (@UNiDAYS_AU).
What are your favourite student memories? Where did you study? What are your best tips for new students?