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?
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'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?
There's been a lot of big posts on the blog of late and I think it's time to take it back to one of my biggest loves - FOOD! Anyone who knows me will say how much I like my food - people are often shocked by the amount I can put away. But what is more important to me than quantity, is quality. I would always rather have something cooked from scratch, something with all natural ingredients, preferably local, and something delicious than a plateful of greasy crap. I know everyone says that, but I actually mean it. Of course we all have our days when only a takeaway will do, but after being raised in a house where everything is cooked from scratch I find I seem have have significantly less of these cravings than my friends. So for someone who is more than a bit of a foodie, this restaurant review was a long time coming!
I'm lucky enough to live just a short distance from the North-Norfolk coast, one of the most beautiful locations in the country, which is packed with gorgeous seaside towns, quaint old-fashioned pubs, and plenty of amazing gastro pubs. Working at the paper, we are always hearing about awards given to local pubs and restaurants for their fare and one name that comes up time and time again, is The Orange Tree at Thornham. We have wanted to go there for years and have heard so many amazing reviews and recommendations, but it is one of those things that has always been forgotten and put off to another date. Randomly, boyfriend decided to surprise me with dinner at this lovely little restaurant last weekend and I just couldn't resist sharing our amazing meal with you.
We started with a refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio which happily washed down our amazing starters. I had scorched king scallops, crispy ham hock with aloo gobi, black curry salt, mango sour, white chocolate and cauliflower purée (first picture). This dish was an incredible mix of flavours and I think you'll agree the presentation was stunning. I loved the combination of the curry salt and the ham hock, and the purée was very tasty. Mark had barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay, kohlrabi & apple rèmoulade, nuts and seeds (second picture) which was a really delicious dish - even I enjoyed a taste and I'm not usually a big pork lover, but the satay was fantastic. Both were the sort of dishes you really want everyone to experience, but you know it would be heartbreaking to share.
The restaurant itself was lovely and really cosy, with just enough tables to make it feel busy, but not so it was too loud. It was fully booked when we arrived, so we were glad we had booked a table, and they put us on a lovely one in the corner, right by the window. I was surprised to see a few families in there as I wouldn't have thought of it as the typical place for those with young children to head, but then we realised you could also order off the bar menu, which offered a more casual meal.
Our mouths were watering as we watched other peoples' mains being brought out, with a salmon special also catching my eye. But shortly after, our waitress headed over with two stunning dishes both trailing rich aromas of barbecue pork and Moroccan spice in their wake. I found it pretty difficult to conceal my excitement, which was a pretty big thing for me. An incident with some rotten lamb last Christmas - cheers Tesco - has meant I haven't happily eaten the meat since, but after a meal at The Orange Tree, I am firmly back in love with lamb.
My dish is pictured at the top - at least most of it is, I struggled to fit the cous cous in the frame! I ordered rump of salt marsh lamb with aubergine kofta, spiced vegetable tagine and rose water Israeli cous cous and all I can say really is WOW. This dish was a perfect combination of Moroccan flavours, the stunning blend of spices in the tagine set the kofta and cous cous off a treat. I reached the end of the dish and wished I could have eaten it all over again! Mark's dish was duo of Blythburgh slow roasted pork belly with seared bbq loin, smoked potato pie, wild mushrooms, 62° poached egg, caramelised onion purée and truffle jus. This fantastic combination of the smoky pork and potato flavours, mushroom and the truffle jus created a light but flavoursome dish - and again, I was impressed at how much I liked it for someone who is not much of a pork lover. We both cleared our plates - absolutely stuffed but refusing to waste even a morsel.
It seemed rude not to take them up on a dessert, but already full, we decided to share the pear, caramel and chocolate brownie with caramel bavarois, textures of pear, caramelized puff pastry, chocolate sauce and mascapone sorbet. A very rich dish, we were glad to have shared one as it provided just the right amount of sweetness to round off the meal. I adored the use of pear and caramel with the brownie, and I love sorbet, so it was a perfect dish for me. Mark really enjoyed the brownie, but left me the pear to enjoy as he wasn't a big fan of the texture - but I was pretty happy about that! It was an amazing meal and the staff were really welcoming and friendly, it had the aura of a country pub with the dining experience of a five-star restaurant.This family-owned business describes itself as "a stylish, contemporary dining pub that serves award-winning food, from top quality local produce in a laid back, ‘unstuffy’ environment." And I have to agree, if you like an informal and cosy setting combined with a fine dining experience, look no further than The Orange Tree. You won't regret it. Don't believe me? Take note of all the amazing awards they have won:
Check out the website, and pop in next time you're passing. You can even stay there and make a weekend of it!
Have you been to The Orange Tree - what did you think? Can you recommend any other fine dining pubs you think I'd like?
Food - for some it is merely part of surviving, of living from one moment to the next, and fuelling all your endeavours along the way. For others, it is a constant quest for new mouth-watering flavours and alluring aromas to tempt the palate and excite the senses. As a bit of a foodie, I'm always searching for a new lip-smacking experience and as you can imagine, I was in my element when the team at Jarrolds department store, in Norwich, invited me along to join them for their food blogging event to mark the opening of their new bistro restaurant, Benji's. Offering a whole new dining experience that is a step above that of the other three restaurants and coffee shop within the store, the restaurant has a fabulous menu designed to entice even the fussiest of eaters. The restaurant has such a sophisticated feel and the fine decorative touches really make it feel warm and welcoming, as well as exclusive and a real treat.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed with champagne and canapés - a warm greeting if ever there was one - with the intricately designed snacks artfully arranged on platters decorated with flowers. Each platter showcased the fantastic array of flavours evident throughout the menu, with some delicious battered smoky barbecue chicken served with a fiery sweet chilli sauce, plus a wonderful goats cheese and beetroot stack (cheese provided by local Fielding Cottage), and finally some crab towers that were packed with flavour. All of these delectable delights left us wowed by the combination of flavours that perfectly complemented the other tastes. Shortly after the introductions, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef, who has years of experience working in top London hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He swiftly whipped up a treat for the nose and the eyes with pan-fried sea bass on a bed of artichokes, samphire and salsa verde, with seasonal vegetables. It smelt absolutely divine, and looked so simple to prepare, although I'm sure mine would not look half as presentable as his. Reflecting the constant changes to the menu, this dish will only be available for a couple more weeks as samphire goes out of season. Using only local produce and producers, the restaurant's menu is dependent on what is available within Norfolk.
After the demonstration, we headed downstairs for a look around the deli and home-ware department, both of which had us all drooling over treats - both of the food and kitchen-ware variety! We moved between the shelves, checking out everything from chocolate pasta to parsnip and chilli chutneys, lusting over everything from Emma Bridgewater mugs and egg cups, to Artisan mixers. We were lucky enough to have a demonstration of one of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal smoothie makers, which was so easy to use and made the tastiest ginger, apple, orange and kale smoothies - a perfect palate cleanser before we headed back upstairs for our dinner. On the walk back upstairs, I finally got to indulge in that dream of having a department store closed just for you and yes, I did feel exactly like Topshop's Chloe Green, it was great to wander around the shoe department without any shoppers in my way!
There are not enough words in the English language to do justice to describing the amazing spread that awaited us back in the restaurant, with multiple platters lined up and packed with the most incredible selection of seafood, meats, vegetarian and even floral treats! I can't list everything that was there, but you'll be able to see from the photos the delicious piles of scallops, smoked salmon and mackerel, prawns on the fish platters. On the vegetarian plate, there were various raw vegetables, plus roasted aubergine and peppers, hummus and an onion chutney, with pitta and even edible flowers! Over on the meats platter, there were piles of chicken with peanut and barbecue sauces, mini sausages with a tomato sauce, terrine which went beautifully with an apple sauce and much more. It's making my mouth water again just thinking about it - and I haven't even added the photos yet! The food was accompanied by a great range of wines and soft drinks, for those of us who were driving, plus plenty of foodie chat about our favourite restaurants and dishes - thanks for the recommendations guys!
Shortly after, the main came out and although we already knew what it was, we once again marvelled at the beauty of the colours on the plate, before tucking in excitedly. It was an amazing dish, so tasty and I would really recommend trying it before it disappears off the menu! I'm a big lover of seafood dishes anyway, but this was a particular treat and I loved the sea bass - one of my favourite fish - with the salsa verde, it really enhanced the flavour, as did the delicious artichokes. It was so lovely to sit round with other bloggers who love food and local produce as much as I do, and how better to finish the evening than with a selection of the very finest local cheeses and chocolates?
We had a fantastic talk by Sam Steggles of Fielding Cottage, a family business based in Honingham who create their very own goats cheese, meat and skin care products. We tried two types of delicious cheeses, the Norfolk Mardler and the Wensum White, and I have to say the creamier Wensum White was my favourite, with a texture rather reminiscent of Brie - one of my absolute favourite cheeses. This was followed by one of the creators behind Dolce Momento, a company with a passion for the tastes of Brazil who develop an exciting and varied range of gourmet brigadeiros, cakes and treats. The chocolates were gorgeous in appearance and you really could see why them were such a hit at weddings with such stunning presentation. And the tastes were truly out of this world, with an amazing chilli and cinnamon one, plus delicious milk and dark chocolate treats - all sweeter and gooier than the average ganache thanks to condensed milk, good taste and a lot of love. A perfect end to an amazing evening.
A huge thanks to the team at Jarrolds for inviting me along, I had the most amazing night and loved meeting all the other bloggers. I look forward to more events in the future, but in the meantime, you guys should all get yourselves to Norwich and check out this amazing hidden gem - have fun working your way through the menu and enjoy the fact that you are eating local and supporting local businesses. They're much more important than eating out at yet another boring, soulless chain restaurant!
Have you eaten out at Jarrolds - what did you think? Will you be checking out the new menu at Benji's?
My apologies for the delay, but as you guys have probably seen of late, I have blog posts coming out of my ears! I seem to have all these amazing posts running around my head, barely the time to write them and certainly not enough time to post them. I would post every day on my blog if I had the time to maintain this, but sadly working four jobs does detract from the amount of time I can spend on this. So sometimes there are a few posts that I put on hold, just so I can make sure I do them justice when it comes to writing them up to share with you guys. A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic girl date with one of my best friends and in our usual style, we decided to go all out and treat ourselves. Although we speak pretty much every day, it had been a while since we had the opportunity to really catch up after we had been working lots and away at festivals - we're both pretty busy bees! But that's the great thing about our friendship, although we are both always busy as anything, neither one of us ever takes it personally when the other can't make it along to something. We always know that when we do finally get a chance to catch up, that we will more than make-up for it.
We headed to one of the newer restaurants in King's Lynn, Marriotts Warehouse, for dinner - a real treat we had both been excitedly awaiting as neither of us had tried it out yet. I had actually been there previously for a Christmas meal with friends, and the food was incredible, but it was a completely different menu to usual, so I considered myself a newbie to the restaurant. As you guys will know by now, I'm a bit of a foodie and I love going out to eat, but in King's Lynn we are sometimes a bit lacking in different types of restaurants - we have loads of Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants, but very little else and it was great to go to a real bistro-style restaurant. After all of the local restaurants I have been to, I have yet to find another that serves the same type of food as Marriott's.The restaurant itself is in a fabulous place along the quayside, the old warehouse building overlooks the water and at sunset provides a stunning view. The outside seating area has seen various new additions of more benches, seats and plants which, although a little busy, was a lovely place to sit out in the sunshine with a glass of wine, as Vikki was doing when I arrived. Inside, the building is softly lit and has a cosy feel, with lots of wood panelling, beams and a huge wooden bar. The restaurant has a great atmosphere because although there are plenty of places to sit, it is not over-filled with tables so it is never too loud and voices don't echo, even when it is busy. They have plenty of staff, perhaps too many considering the volume of tables, but they give a very personal service and are on hand to cater to your every need.The food itself is outstanding. I don't really know how to describe it beyond that. The flavour combinations are fabulous and in some cases very unusual, they use local produce and it is all presented beautifully.
We shared the Marriott's Sharing Platter to start, which had a delicious combination of feta stuffed peppers, potato and chorizo salad, jerk chicken skewers, minted yoghurt dip and spicy jerk sauce, goat’s cheese, mushroom and sun-dried tomato bruschetta, chicken liver pate with malted bread. Wow, it may have sounded over-ambitious, but we finished everything and it even shut us up for a few minutes because everything was so tasty. It was the perfect accompaniment to a glass of Pinot Grigio and a great conversation. I always love the sharing platters when out with friends because it is such a lovely tradition to share a meal and I love the mezze-style of eating lots of little bits of bigger dishes - as you can imagine I absolutely love tapas!For mains, we actually both went for the same dish because it sounded so tasty! We had the pan-fried duck breast served with chocolate and chilli sauce, potato rosti, braised red cabbage and caramelised oranges, and we ordered some onion rings on the side. I chose the duck because I have never really had duck out in a restaurant and I was dying to try it, my main experiences of duck are having it in pancakes as part of a Chinese. The richness of the meat really appealed to me as a big lover of venison, and I loved the idea of chocolate and chilli sauce with red cabbage. It was absolutely delicious and I struggled to keep chatting because it was so damn tasty. I loved the combination of the flavours, particularly because I would never think to have a chocolate and chilli sauce with meat, or to combine it with oranges - but it really worked and it is making my mouth water even now to remember the dish.
The whole meal was fantastic and I can't recommend this restaurant enough, the whole venture was a brilliant idea and I'm so pleased it is paying off for the guys behind it all. Particularly after they suffered so much with flooding and even a fire earlier this year. I have heard nothing but good things about Marriotts and I always think that is the mark of a good restaurant, not what you read on websites by people who have had a free meal and rate it, but people like me who just love the food and genuinely want others to share the experience, and those who can't stop raving about a place. Marriotts is easily one of my favourite restaurants in Lynn and I will definitely be going back again to try more on the menu!
Have you been to Marriott's Warehouse? What was your favourite dish?