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?
There's no doubt about it, backpackers may give it the bigg'un about how few items of clothing we need and how we can survive with just a bar of soap instead of all those luxury beauty items - it's true, most of the time when you're on the road you realise you need very little luxury to have the time of your life. But there are times when every single one of us craves a treat, misses some of those home comforts, or just doesn't want to share a room with seven other people! We all get pushed to our limits in order to keep travelling for as long as possible, and often we don't realise how much we have sacrificed in order to extend our trip, to make our money last and to keep going just that little longer. I know I'm guilty of it as much as the next person and can remember several times where I have sacrificed staying somewhere nice for an absolute hole just so I can save those pennies to do an awesome boat trip or yoga retreat. I like to weigh things up and instead of ever turning down an experience, I just see which I would rather have - more often than not, a luxurious night in a big, comfy bed with a hot shower is the first to go. But then there are those times when I just can't stand the thought of staying in another dorm, listening to someone snoring as I lie awake knowing I have to get up in a few hours. Those times when all I crave is space to unpack my bag and some time on my own - we all feel like that sometimes, and it soon becomes all we can think about.
I've noticed in my ten months travelling that there are some things that just stay in my mind, things that I perhaps never fully appreciated until I came away. Particularly recently, because I've just moved into my own place as part of my new job and have all my food provided for me - I'm suddenly living in more luxury than I have for nearly a year. And it's really making me realise how grateful I am for even having the opportunity to go away and experience other cultures, to be both deprived and enriched at the same time as I learn to truly value what I have. So in the spirit of being grateful, and of dreaming of far off luxuries - here's my list of 35 things you really learn to appreciate when you've been backpacking for a while:
All of these are things we talk about longingly about with other backpackers over long nights by a fire on the beach, over beers by the swimming pool, or when we meet other travellers. But as much as we talk about how amazing it would be to have a nice long, hot shower with luxurious products before getting into a huge double bed in a private room, we also know we wouldn't give up this life for the world. That these bed-bug infested rooms and long nights out are worth every second. That the feeling of sand between your toes and those moments when you catch two people at it in the bunk next to you aren't all part of the experience. That we've never felt freer and happier than we do right now. And that every sunset and sunrise brings new excitement into your life at the prospect of what is to come. Home comforts are great, but nothing beats adventure. If you fancy a little luxury and want to leave the kids at home, why not check out the adult-only holidays available at Tropical Sky?
What at home comforts and luxuries do you miss when you're away from home? Do you like to treat yourself every now and again when backpacking?