Last weekend I was lucky enough to have one of my most exciting collaborations with a brand yet! Combining my love of festivals with my love of fashion, I was invited to join the crowds at Wireless Festival in London, wearing all Debenhams attire as I mingled among the VIPs. I was so excited to be among the girl gang invited along for the day, a mixture of travel, fashion and beauty bloggers, each excited to be a part of such a fab event. Not only did it give me a good reason to fly home for the weekend and to catch up with friends and family, but it also gave the a perfect excuse to hit my first UK festival in years! It was a hectic weekend, filled with train, plane and bus delays and sadly I didn't even get to see my sister on her birthday thanks to the transport issues, but I'm just glad I didn't miss the festival and that I got the opportunity to see some of my favourite people.I arrived at the festival on the Sunday, excited to see what the line-up would hold, all the favourites were on there, Rick Ross, Wretch 32, Giggs and more, but everyone was waiting with bated breath to see who would be replacing DJ Khaled as the headliner for the day. He had pulled out due to "transport issues" and we were all praying Drake would be the one replacing him – I for one had been dying to see him play live since university so we all said our prayers and hoped he'd be the one to hit the stage. READ: You can check out my last Wireless Festival experience here.Debenhams had kindly allowed me to pick out an outfit and some fab trainers to wear, I naturally picked out my old favourites, Off White Canvas All Star Converse (£50.00), which are without doubt some of my favourite trainers of all time. The comfiest and the best, even for backpacking round the world. I've worn them dancing in clubs, on beaches, pacing across cities, hiking in forests and they always last me no matter what. These teamed with a gorgeous sparkly dress (Girls On Film Aion low cut back dress in metallic sequin £40.00) – because if you ask me, festivals mean glitter everythingggg! And if you can't dress up as a giant disco ball for a festival, when the heck can you? I was gutted though because sadly the pair didn't arrive in time for the festival, so I had to sub in a vintage playsuit and my old reliable Adidas trainers instead.But what lovely items did arrive? Well, everyone on my social media has been talking about the most amazing jacket I wore, blue denim with amazing fringing tassels hanging from the arms – talk about a statement piece! This Tassel Sleeve Denim Jacket (£25.00) was from Miss Selfridge via Debenhams and I absolutely love it, it's definitely holding pride of place in my wardrobe right now and will be cracked out at every available opportunity. I was just a bit sad that although I rocked it for the pics, it was then checked into the VIP cloakroom until the end of the day because the heat was too much, 31 degrees is definitely not usual UK festival weather but it did mean no jacket needed.Of course, I'm all about the fab accessories for a festival and what better to choose than a cute little backpack to store your camera and festival make-up? I chose the Parfois Black Tulum Backpack (£24.99) (similar available here) which was the perfect size for festivals – especially with the smaller than A4 size rule for some UK festivals – and held all my stuff safely out of my way for the day. Very budget-friendly and style friendly, I know I'll be using this one a LOT. This was teamed with more colour from the gorgeous Red Herring Multi Colour Feather Drop Earrings (£3.60) which were a fave item from the day, I loved how vibrant but wearable these are even for a non-festival event if teamed with a more neutral or black outfit, plus very purse-friendly to jazz up your outfit for more festival vibes.Finally, Quay Australia were seriously repped on the day, with several of us bloggers picking out a gorgeous pair of their sunglasses to wear – and with the insanely hot sun that day, they were necessary! I picked the Black Mod Star Round Sunglasses (£45.00) which are such a fab shape and are my new faves, such simple and elegant shape with lovely dark lenses, they work perfectly with every outfit and will definitely be getting worn a LOT this summer. I loved some of the great reflection pics I managed to get on the day, really showing off these gorgeous glasses and the ones chosen by the other bloggers.Of course, we're never complete without talking all about the festival hair and make-up. I arrived with my hair out on the day but quickly realised it was way too hot for hair out, so myself and a few other bloggers headed to the Schwarzkopf tent where they were offering free hair makeovers whether you preferred festival braids or any fab new style – I went for braids into space buns and they quite seriously saved me in the hot sun, I felt like a new woman after having my hair done! For make-up, I was wearing my fave Lancôme Teint Miracle foundation (06), Kat Von D Tattoo Liner, a Soap and Glory palette of eyeshadow, Pick n Glitz in Pink from Barry M and bronzer from Benefit Dallas. My perfume was also Kat Von D Saint, which has a gorgeous floral but crisp scent and comes in a fab travel-size which is perfect for slipping into your handbag!All in all, a really fab day spent surrounded by amazing and inspiring women who really reminded me why I love the blogging community so very much. I had the best time at the festival, dancing and drinking with new and old friends, and eventually getting to see Drake perform live! Even if he was only on for 20 minutes, it was still a perfect end to a really great day. I could waffle on for ages about it, but to be honest I think the pics really speak for themselves and I'm really proud of the amazing pics I managed to get to capture the day, they really do give you the best behind-the-scenes view of what we all got up to! Also, if you're lusting after any of the items I ordered, check out the website as most, if not all of these were seriously reduced in the sales and were great bargains!
I also want to say a huge shout-out to my fellow festival blogger babes who all made the day so much fun! Check out their blogs by following these links and tell them I sent you - Noelle, Luisa, Martha, Jessi, Richeal and Giulia.
Did you go to Wireless Festival? Tell me about your summer festival plans? What big events have you got coming up?
You could never run out of things to see and explore in London, it's a city that is buzzing with nightlife, entertainment and fun. Every weekend there is something happening and you can easily understand why so many flock to live there. Next time you're planning a weekend in the Big Smoke and you're at a loss for something to do, why not check out some of the best attractions in the city:
One of the most popular places to enjoy London's iconic skyline, The Shard's observation deck sits 800ft (244m) up Western Europe's tallest building. A perfect place to enjoy a meal or a drink while taking in the view.
Take to the skies with Coca Cola in one of the 32 pods, in just 30 minutes you can see more than 55 of London's famous landmarks set against that famous skyline. At £22.50 for tickets, it's a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and to get to know the city from a different angle.
Tower of London
Discover the building's 900 year old history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and even a zoo. Take a tour and explore the walls of history from years gone by, even marvel at the Crown Jewels!
Sea Life London Aquarium
Home to over 500 species of aquatic life, the Aquarium is the perfect place to retreat to when the British weather hits. Enjoy an afternoon of talks and special feeding sessions with the experts and take your time spotting everything from sharks to Nemo!
Afternoon Tea at Harrods
Tired from all the walking around the London streets? Take the weight off and relax as you enjoy the famous Harrod's afternoon tea. Delicious treats await for those with a sweet tooth.
This 90-minute experience throws you headfirst into a time of years gone by, with live experience actors, amazing special effects that will send a chill down your spine and exciting rides.
Still can't decide on what trip you want to try out first? Head to Attractiontix for all the latest in special deals and discounts for a whole range of trips to London.
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?
So many bloggers focus on one type of travel, but for me that's just not possible. You see, I like to vary my travelling style as much as I do my clothes. While sometimes I'll be backpacking on a budget, I still see the importance and the fun in enjoying a slightly more luxury stay whether for a holiday or city break. For me, it's all about finding that balance between big blowouts and treating yourself, to the times when you're making every penny stretch. I find you appreciate one so much more when you've experienced the other, and you learn a heck of a lot more about money along the way. I was lucky enough to live the Absolutely Fabulous lifestyle of dreams last weekend when I was invited to review The Mandeville Hotel. In a collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix, the entire fifth floor of this luxury boutique hotel was redesigned with each room telling a different story from the French Riviera, based on Maison Lacroix’s “Belles Rives” Collection. It was perfectly timed as the final weekend I would get to spend in London before I jet back off to the other side of the world, and as a couture treat before I head back to a life of hostels.Situated just a five minute walk from Bond Street Station, the hotel is perfectly located for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. Actually, I was so impressed at how close it was to one of the busiest parts of London, and yet the hotel seemed a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. It was actually a lot more peaceful in the streets surrounding the hotel with people sitting out to eat and drink in restaurants. As we walked up to the hotel excited to experience the decadence of Lacroix, we were greeted by the friendly staff who offered to take our bags to the room and organise any restaurants or taxis we might require during or after our stay. As we headed up to our room, we were left to check out the fifth floor makeover. All the rooms have their own individual flair and style, from The Jardin Exotique to Midnight Blue telling the story of the secret midnight bathing society, all telling beautiful stories with inspirations from Lacroix’s upbringing combined with Grace Kelly’s 'To Catch a Thief’.If you're like me and have grown up on the antics of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, you'll probably have been just as excited as I was when the new movie came out. So to get to stay in a hotel that was every bit as fabulous as the crazy pair was one of my best London experiences yet! You'll see from the photos the decor was over the top in all the right ways and combined bright, clashing patterns and accessories with sleek designs to ensure maximum comfort. We were staying in The Jewel Box room, which combined Classic Lacroix with whimsical colours and bejeweled designs inspired by Grace Kelly’s stolen Cartier jewels. The lace and mantillas worn by women in The Camargue inspires the Macarena lace wallpaper around the room, balanced with classic Lacroix silver and black striped wallpaper, a true haven for fashion lovers. I was completely taken aback by the room when I walked it, it just screamed Absolutely Fabulous and I was so excited to be staying there. After the long journey, it was nice just to pop on the robes provided and have a coffee from the Nespresso machine in our room (I know where was the Bolly darling?!) and just take in the luxury. Heading into the gorgeous white marble bathroom, there were a selection of lovely products there to enjoy as I got ready.That night, after dinner and cocktails, we headed back to the hotel and I couldn't wait to get a good night's sleep. It turned out the room was the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening, not a single sound from the street outside or the other rooms could be heard while we watched a movie. And when it was time for lights out, the room fell to complete darkness and silence. Combined with that incredible comfy bed and the lovely turndown service that had cleaned the room and organised the pillows for us, I was in heaven. It was the best night's sleep I've had in weeks. I woke up with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the hotel's breakfast - we'd been booked in for the full English breakfast with continental. Now I never normally order a full English breakfast so I was quite excited to have one for the first time in years - and I was so impressed with the high quality of everything on the plate, including the perfectly poached eggs. Plus over on the continental table there was plenty of fresh yoghurt, juices, fruit and muesli to choose from, as well as platters of croissants and pastries. It was the breakfast of dreams and with checkout not being until 12pm, I took advantage of the opportunity to go back to bed and catch up on even more sleep.I'd just like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff at the hotel for making our stay there exceptional. I felt so welcome from the second I walked in the door and they really worked hard to make sure every tiny detail was thought of and catered for. It really is a mark of excellence when you don't have to think of anything the whole way through your stay and come away from a weekend in London feeling rested and content - normally my weekends there leave me feeling exhausted. The Mandeville Hotel is perfect for a luxury treat if you're visiting London for a special occasion, at £317 a night for the room and full English breakfast, it is expensive but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Staying at the hotel is a whole experience that goes far beyond just a bed for the night, and one I would really recommend to anyone who fancies treating themselves. Find out more or book to stay at the website.
Have you stayed at The Mandeville Hotel - how was your stay? What other luxury hotels would you recommend in London?
As a travel blogger, I've spent a heck of a lot of time out of the country since I started blogging which is fantastic but can be a bit lonely when it comes to having real life blogger pals. The internet is a saviour in this case and means I'm found some pretty amazing friends from every niche, but it's always nice to actually meet in person. I actually first started my blog after being inspired by some pretty incredible bloggers who had turned a hobby into a full time job when I attended a bloggers party as a journalist. I was encouraged to start a blog of my own and thus Absolutely Lucy was born, three years later and I was invited to the Blogosphere Magazine summer party - an incredible event organised by the only industry magazine currently running.Appealing to all of our good taste as bloggers, the team at Blogosphere organized an amazing event full of tea, cake and some beautiful jewellery, plus plenty of opportunity to meet some pretty inspiring ladies and have a lot of laughs. It was so lovely to spend time with bloggers who have also followed their passion to write about travel, food, beauty, fashion, parenting and all kinds of cheeky topics. To be surrounded by vibrant, real, exciting women who have something to say for themselves and understand the commitment we have all made, the time we spend curating something beautiful for the internet. It's easy for people to brush over the time and effort that is put into blogging, so it's lovely when you meet others who do what you do and understand the pressures we put ourselves under for the love of blogging.
For the two hour train to London in 26 degree heat, an event has to be pretty good and this one was great - serious props to Albertine Brandon for organising such a beautiful event. We chatted away the afternoon with delicious teas from The London Tea Company and some incredible gluten-free cakes from Pearl and Groove - the raspberry and white chocolate was to die for! It was great to finally meet Albertine, Elaine and editor-in-chief Alice Audley after so long admiring their work, I'm looking forward to more events in future. And I found some great new blogger friends in Oh It's Sare, Han Meets World, Taylor Mae Makeup, Honestly Aine and many more. Plus it was good to meet the girls behind brands including World Duty Free, The London Tea Company and Jewellery Box. A day spent talking everything from travel and Pokemon to vlogging and photography is never a day wasted in my book.It was a pretty busy weekend, even before I had set off to London for the Blogosphere party I had spent a full day reliving my travels at the Cambridge Thai Festival - a day full of Muay Thai, ladyboy shows, traditional dance performances and some delicious food. I went along with one of my blogging friends, Vikki of FrickingVikki, and had a fantastic day in the sunshine. Luckily we managed to skip all the queues to get in, for food and drinks, as we saw some people waiting for quite a while to get tickets, but for £3 entry, the whole event was a total bargain. A full programme of entertainment for two days over the weekend had something for everyone and certainly kept us entertained on Saturday afternoon. Browsing the stalls, there was also a beautiful Buddhist stand where you could meet the monks and chat to some lovely ladies about blessings. Further round we even found a cheeky photobooth where you could get dressed up and take pics in Thai traditional dress - this was a lot of fun! It was a great event and if you get the chance to attend one in future, I'd take it with both hands. It's always worth checking out what amazing free/cheap local events are taking place right under your nose - next weekend I'll be checking out a free day of folk music in my home town! Here's some pics from the day.
Did you go to the Blogosphere Summer Party - what was your highlight? Have you found some great, free local events?
This one is a little later than the usual Monday morning post, but I make no apologies - I was off having far too much fun at the weekend and that's what this blog is all about! My weekend was filled with festival fun, barbecues and sunshine - the perfect English summer weekend and a great excuse to be reunited with a lot of old friends I've missed so much since I disappeared off to the other side of the world. After a ridiculously long two-and-a-half years since we last saw each other, I was finally reunited with five of the six girls who made my university experience incredible. Each one of these special humans, and one more who sadly couldn't make it along, were with me through every high and low, through every horrible exam and every drunken night - we started together and we finished it together. This might not sound that incredible to you - I know what you're thinking, everyone makes friends at university and goes through the same things - but the difference is we graduated five years ago. We're scattered all over now working different jobs, living different lives and following different dreams, and with me travelling the world, it's not easy to keep this friendship going. We work hard at making sure we stay in contact, at being there for each other when times are tough and at organising reunions when we can, but it's not easy to see each other as often as we would like. So when we finally do get to meet up, it's a whirlwind of a weekend filled with catching up, dancing the night away, making beautiful memories to carry us through to the next reunion and maintaining the connections that make this group special. Why am I writing about this? Because I used to know so many groups of friends at university who I know no longer keep in contact, I too have friends from school who have fallen by the wayside as our lives grew in opposite directions. It's hard to keep friendships alive when you're on the opposite side of the world, heck it's hard enough to keep them going when you live two hours down the road from each other let alone in a different time zone. We all grow up and we all create this amazing life for ourselves but it's often difficult to make space for everyone, so it's important put in the extra work to keep it going with those special individuals. It is actually possible to still keep those university and school friendships going five, ten, twenty years down the line and to preserve what was special about them from the start - it just takes time, patience and a lot of love.This weekend's reunion was at Wireless Festival - we went along for the Saturday when Chase and Status were set to headline, with the likes of J Cole, Wilkinson, Krept and Konan, Craig David and many more performing. With a few of the girls living in London, it was a perfect opportunity for a girly sleepover and to bring along some other old friends we hadn't seen for a while. It was also a good excuse to relive some of the fun we had when we organised a huge weekend trip to Parklife Festival in Manchester a few years ago - any excuse for good music, ciders in the sun and a lot of fun. I was really excited because I hadn't actually been to Wireless Festival before and you all know how much I love my festivals - this would be my first one in almost two years as I didn't manage to squeeze in any during my travels! Our hostess lived not far from Finsbury Park so we stopped off there to glitter up and get ready - there's nothing more fun than getting ready with your girls - then headed to the festival grounds. Despite the masses of people attending the festival we easily found our friends and made our way into the park without having to wait more than a few minutes. A well established festival, I was impressed at the speed of service on the gates and at the bars later on, it was clear the organisers knew what they were doing and had made every effort to ensure everyone had a great day and didn't waste time in queues.We were excited to see Chase and Status, I've lost count of how many times I've seen them live now but they never disappoint, and I couldn't wait to see Wilkinson again. After spending the last two years travelling Asia and Australia, one thing I had really missed was good drum and bass and the fantastic UK electronic acts, they just have a much grittier sound than the house I hear everywhere over there. I more than got my fill after about ten minutes of standing near the Smirnoff stage which had some incredible music coming from it from the very beginning of the day. I meant to head back there later on but completely forgot as we stumbled across more great acts. It's always tricky trying to manoeuvre your way around a festival and several stages when you have a group of around 10 people to keep track of, but we did a pretty good job. We made it to all of the performances we wanted to see - for me Wilkinson and Chase and Status were the absolute highlights, both dropping their classics Afterglow and Blind Faith to ecstatic screams from the crowd. But I know my girls were also seriously loving J Cole and Krept and Konan earlier in the day. We were a little disappointed that Craig David was just doing a DJ set instead of performing, but at least it meant we didn't mind when we couldn't get inside the tent because there were so many people crowding the entrances.Wireless is a fantastic festival, if you're not really into camping and don't want to venture far out of the city, it's a perfect event to try. It was really easy one for all of us to get to despite coming from all over the country and it was great being able to get day tickets so you could choose which acts you wanted to see and fitted around work. Also, despite attracting so many people to Finsbury Park, the festival never once felt overcrowded or too busy, which I have previously found at other events where there wasn't enough toilets or space to accommodate people in some of the tents. We also managed to get a great spot in the crowd for every single performance except Craig David, which was a huge plus with so many of us and so many shorties in the gang - there's nothing worse than not being able to see over the crowd! There was also a much better selection of food on offer and much cheaper drinks than I had expected - ciders were just £5 each - which made a huge difference to the day. I can't stand when you go to an event and have already forked out a lot of money for a ticket, then have to spend a fortune on bog-standard drinks and mediocre food.Wireless is also a great event to go people-watching at - I spotted one of my favourite rainbow bloggers, Lulutrixabelle, there looking fabulous as usual. Lots of my girls bumped into random friends they hadn't seen in ages, and I know there were quite a few celebrities in the crowd that I completely missed. The day finished with an amazing show by Chase and Status rounded off nicely with fireworks, we managed to escape the crowds and make our way home easily which was great, we didn't fancy getting stuck on the tubes as thousands wandered out of the gates. It was a perfect weekend and was made all the better by the fantastic weather - I had been worried I would be forced to wear wellies but the rain stayed away and it was so warm the whole time. The next day, after the long drive home, I even spent the evening at a barbecue with some other old friends before finally making my way home to my bed. There's no better feeling than your own bed after a festival whether it was a cheeky day one or a full weekend of camping. For someone who much prefers the full weekend festivals, I was glad to ease myself back into them with a cheeky one-dayer, especially when it was filled with some of my favourite people.
How was your Wireless Festival experience? Which was your fave performance of the weekend? Are you going to any other festivals this summer?
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?
It's hard to match the high you get from travelling solo, that constant buzz of excitement and wonder at the world around you, and your own capabilities. Being back in the UK, it can leave some feeling a bit low without that constant adrenaline rush of living an untamed life. But if you ask me, one thing solo travelers learn is to be responsible for finding their own happiness, and just because you're home it doesn't mean you shouldn't still be looking for new ways to get that high you once had from travelling. I've been pretty happy to be home so far, but a lot of that is down to finding lots of amazing things to do with people I haven't seen for a long time, and taking up some awesome opportunities I missed out on through this blog while I was travelling. At the weekend, I was invited to try out Up At The O2 and to combine it with my love of all things fitness by trying out a Fitbit as I walked over the O2 Arena. You can't get much higher than that without stepping on a plane - so it was perfect for someone who usually gets their kicks several thousand feet above sea level. A perfect excuse to spend a weekend in London - my sister and I enjoyed two days of food, fitness and Fitbits.
Anyone who has read for a while will know I'm big on keeping fit and enjoying a healthy lifestyle, while I'm travelling my favourite ways to keep fit are walking, running, swimming and working out outside. Forget paying for gyms and classes when the sun is always shining and the beach beckons. But, it can be difficult to keep track of how much exercise you have done and quite how much distance you're covering when you're spending whole days walking around new cities or trekking through jungle. I tried out the Fitbit when I went running on the beach - something I've really missed since being away - and as somewhere I usually don't have phone signal to track my runs, it was a fantastic way to log my time and my distance, along with keeping track of my progress and goals.Now the idea of wearing a tracking device on my wrist does put me off slightly, it feels a little bit Big Brother to me. But wearing the wristband around the clock also means I've been able to use the app to track my sleeping patterns - something really useful when you're suffering jet lag! And I can keep track of whether I'm eating enough of the right foods, and how much water I've been drinking. I've got the Fitbit Flex, but there are lots of different styles and colours available depending on what suits your lifestyle. It really is a great addition for anyone who is interested in living a healthy lifestyle and keeping fit, or who wants to increase their fitness. I just wish I had it when I was travelling so I could keep track of the distance I covered by walking and cycling my way around Asia and Australia - particularly in Melbourne when I was working a job that had me walking a minimum of 25,000 steps a day! I'm already looking forward to taking it travelling with me again as a great way of keeping track of the distance I cover and quite how fit the lifestyle keeps me.
Up At The O2
I may not be much of a city girl, but I love a good trip to London. It's always a busy weekend packed full of catching up with friends and family, and lots of awesome events. Last weekend was no different, my sister and I crammed a ridiculous amount of food, fun and lots and lots of cocktails into two days, but it was all rounded off with a chance to see London from a different perspective. Travelling can be so much fun, whether you go to the other side of the globe, or you just take a chance to rediscover somewhere you know and see it in a whole new light. I've spent a lot of time in London over the years, and my sister lives there, so it was fantastic to try something a bit touristy and totally different. Up At The O2 takes you on walk like no other, straight over the top of London's O2 Arena, a venue that has housed performances by some of the world's greatest musical acts and has welcomed over 30 million people through its doors. The 365m walk stretches over the dome, reaching 52m in height at an angle of up to 30 degrees. Despite that, it's not a very steep walk and you don't need to be in peak physical fitness to complete it - that's the beauty of it - it really is an experience that anyone can enjoy!It's an amazing way to spend an afternoon, even if it's cloudy, gazing across the London skyline and getting some amazing photos from the 360 degree viewing platform at the top. The whole experience takes around two hours and is a perfect way to take in some of the sights of London from a different angle, we spotted lots of the city's most famous buildings while we were up there thanks to the labels around the platform to guide visitors. Walking over the dome is so much fun, you feel like you're moon-walking as you bounce over the tent-like surface up towards the platform and there's so much to look at along the way. I was so distracted by the view that I almost forgot I was wearing my Fitbit until after when I checked it and saw that I had completed a total of 1,260 steps going over the O2 - already over a tenth of my 10,000 steps a day target! I'm getting slightly obsessed with how many steps I complete each day, so I was shocked to see that my sister had taken 400 less steps than me during that time - just shows you how much longer her legs are than mine. We had a great afternoon at the O2 and all rounded off with a few cocktails at a bar inside, how better to round the day off?
Have you done Up At The O2? How was your experience? Can you recommend any other activities in London for a different experience of the city?
I'm sure you guys have gathered by now that I LOVE my food - I'm more likely to get excited about a pasta dish or some Mexican spice than I am about a pair of perfectly fitting jeans or some new perfume. I love to try foods from all different countries, and I love that about travelling - it opens you up to trying certain cuisines you might not previously have had on your radar. This isn't just true of those adventuring across the Moroccan desert or holidaying on the Italian coast - how about all those times you go away for the weekend and eat at a new restaurant? Sometimes it's great just to venture out of your home-town and to try a new restaurant in a brand new city. I know whenever I go away, whether to Brighton, Oxford, Norwich or London, I always make it my business to try different and new restaurants that either open me up to a different culture's food, or I like to try brand new dishes I haven't come across before. For me, it's all about pushing boundaries and testing your taste-buds with new flavours and making life, and your palate, just that little bit more exciting. So, as you can imagine, I was very excited to be invited to review an already critically-acclaimed Camden restaurant - conveniently when I already happened to be visiting London.On Saturday, the boyfriend and I went along to Namaaste Kitchen, a grill and modern Indian restaurant in the heart of Camden Town owned by chef Sabbir Karim, winner of The Best Chef Of The Year 2012. As I'm sure you'll agree, after reading a bit about the restaurant on their website, I had high expectations and was keen to try their authentic Indian and Pakistani grills. As a half-Tamil girl, who has been raised by a Mauritian father on a diet of authentic curries, biriyanis and plenty of spice, I'd argue my expectations were a lot higher than those of the average curry-lover. After growing up eating the real thing, not just these over coloured and over oily sauces they sell in the supermarkets, I am a hard woman to please when it comes to a good curry. But I was excited when I saw the chic little restaurant tucked away on one of the main streets just a couple of minutes' walk from Camden Town tube station. We were given a warm welcome by the staff, who took us to our table and settled us with some drinks. Now wine in restaurants is a big deal-breaker for me, it's so hard to choose from a list on a menu and often the ones listed can be a bit of a let-down. These were anything but, Mark tried the Sauvignon Blanc while I tasted the Pinot Grigio and both were delicious and smooth, perfect accompaniments for the food.We were brought those well-loved Indian hors d'oeuvres, poppadoms with a selection of sauces and dips - something so simple, but very effective if served with the right combination of flavours. I was impressed to see something slightly different to the standard offerings of most Indians - these had a trio of a spicy tomato chutney, a fresh green chilli and coriander dip and a mango chutney. All three were delicious and complemented each other well - I also loved the table-wear the restaurant served the food on. All of the plates and dishes were really nice and I loved the slate the starter was served on. Speaking of starters, we tucked into the rather tasty dishes - Mark had the Jungle Style Char Grill Lamb Kebab (Hunters favourite grilled lamb escalopes served with fresh mint sauce) which was a fabulous dish that started out fresh and left your taste-buds tingling with the chilli after-taste of the mint sauce. I ordered the Tandoori Aatish-e-Jingha on Grilled Pineapple (Jumbo prawns marinated in English mustard, carom, yoghurt and special spices) and oh my goodness it was good. So spicy and warming with the zingyness of the mustard and prawns, but the sweetness of the pineapple - which is one of my favourite fruits and not one I have tried alongside savoury dishes before. Both dishes were really delicious and were presented beautifully on the slates.Between dishes, I have to say there were one or two things I wasn't so keen on - the music selection in the restaurant was pretty dire with some kind of Crazy Frog Christmas song being played not once, not twice, but THREE times during our meal. Something a bit more chilled would be much better for the ambiance. But it certainly didn't detract from the food or our enjoyment of the meal. I was slightly disappointed to see that the hand-dryer didn't work in the ladies loo, things like this either need fixing straight away or there should be towels left for those dining. But, these were just very small issues within an absolutely delicious meal in a great little restaurant. The meal continued as our mains came out, and again we tried different dishes to get a taste for the menu. This time, I ordered the Tandoori Rubiyan Duck with Roasted Tiger Prawn (Glazed with pomegranate and star anise, served with tossed garlic baby spinach salad) which was beyond anything I expected. I love eating duck in Indian dishes because it is always so meaty compared to Chinese or Asian dishes, in which I can often find it fatty. The meat was beautifully cooked and the tandoori spices really melded well with the richness of the meat, combined with the freshness of the salad it really was a delight for the taste-buds. I ordered some Basmati rice to accompany it and we shared a Peshawari naan as well - both perfectly cooked and the naan brought a lovely sweetness to the meal that wasn't overpowering at all.Mark's dish came out and I think I saw a little flicker of fear cross his face, mixed with serious determination as his eyes fell on his Dumpukht Biryani (Famous recipe from Delhi, finest basmati rice cooked on Dum - sealed with a pastry lid - with Welsh lamb, served with raita). It was by no means a small dish, and even the waiter said it was not a dish that was supposed to be finished, but he gave a valiant effort. I know from experience that every single time my dad has every cooked biryani we have spent the next week eating it, or it has filled the freezer - you just can't cook a small one! The flavours again were amazing and the lamb was so tender it almost melted in your mouth, and the rice was so tasty. While I polished mine off, Mark's was very much the kind of dish you are desperate to finish because it is so delicious, but your body just physically can't do it. In the end he had to give in, but he gave it a damn good go and we finished the meal with smiles on our faces and full bellies. Sadly we were too stuffed for a dessert, but they had a great selection which was far more extensive than those I have previously found on the menu at Indian restaurants.Overall - pretty bloody impressed. This is more than just your average Indian restaurant, this one packs a good punch full of flavour and spice. You get all those authentic flavours that are sometimes lost in Indian restaurants in favour of the greasier, over-spiced and tomato-heavy dishes, but with a modern twist that looks pretty spectacular and really colourful on your plate. This is a great place to go on date or with a small group of friends, being a small restaurant it could get pretty loud with a big group - although you would be very well looked after by the attentive team. I would love to go back and check out the food being cooked live in front of the diners, which unfortunately wasn't on until the evening. I think this would be great entertainment, and how much fresher can you get? I would really recommend you check this place out next time you're in London and fancy a meal with a bit of a kick.
Have you tried out Namaaste Kitchen - what did you think? What are your favourite Indian dishes to eat out and have you got a favourite one to cook?