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After spending a month exploring the wild landscape of Sri Lanka, we were keen to relax and spend the next two weeks on the beach soaking up every last bit of sun before heading back to a European winter. It had been a month of constant movement and amazing adventures, but after a while you really start to need some time to just chill and we were long overdue for an actual holiday. Originally we had planned to spend two weeks exploring the Maldives but sadly bad weather put paid to those plans. So when the team at Ammatara Pura Pool Villas invited us along to stay with them in Thailand where we were promised a lovely 30 degrees, we quickly snapped up their offer. Now if you guys remember correctly, I was actually in Thailand three years ago so it felt amazing to be returning to the country that started off my three years of travelling and to be doing it with my boyfriend who was visiting for the first time. I couldn’t wait to share my experiences with him and to relive some of my favourite moments with him by my side.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe last time I was in Thailand – despite spending three months exploring the country – I never made it to Koh Samui and always wondered if I had missed out. Arriving on the island, we were glad to see the sun shining after a particularly stormy few days on Koh Tao where the roads had been flooded more thank ankle-deep with rainwater. I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the island, compared to Koh Tao and Koh Phanang it seemed huge and a lot more commercialised, but we quickly moved out of the busiest areas as our minibus made it’s way to the resort. The island is very much made up of resorts from the budget-friendly to the utmost in 5* luxury, but there is a trip to suit all. We were excited for our next adventure to be taking us to quieter area of Lamai Beach, where the extreme luxury of the Ammatara Pura Pool Villas awaited us. Arriving at the gates, we were instantly bowled over by the incredible palatial buildings and knew we were in for a real treat. As you can see from the photos, it really was an absolutely beautiful place, a real oasis in the midst of busy Koh Samui.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandImagine waking up in the morning in your enormous princess-worthy bed then wandering out of your own private garden villa to find your own private pool with jacuzzi waiting just outside. Just metres away you can glimpse white sandy beaches, palm trees and fresh coconuts, and the sounds of the ocean wash over you. Styled after a 1,200 year old Thai palace, the villas and restaurant are set around a stunning temple, swimming pool and gardens for the exclusive use of the guests. With just 18 of these incredibly luxurious private villas on the property, the boutique resort offers complete privacy and a chance to really unwind on the holiday of your dreams. After so long spent on the road, we were very much in need of a real treat and a chance to just relax and we couldn’t have found a better place to do it. This amazing getaway gives visitors the chance to live like royalty during their stay, designing their perfect holiday with an attentive staff who are always on hand to make it a reality.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandI won’t lie, I felt like an absolute princess during our visit. The enormous villas are the epitome of luxury and have everything you need and everything you never dreamed you might have. From the beautiful outdoor rain shower and the huge jacuzzi bath, to the walk-in wardrobe and the gorgeous bed draped in the softest sheets which overlooks the swimming pool. With a choice of the sea view villas or the garden view, each had it’s own private area complete with a patio, balcony, swimming pool with jacuzzi. We spent our days basking in the sunshine, splashing around in our own private pool overlooking the ocean or dining in the resort’s beachfront restaurant on the most delicious Thai cuisine. Can we just talk about the food for a second? We’re talking not just some of the most delicious Thai food I have eaten, but amazing Western options, plenty for vegetarians and even halal. We were greeted with fresh juices and breakfast each morning was an international feast of delectable delights from all over the world.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe Thai owners pride themselves in the resort remaining a truly independent hotel and ensure the friendly staff are there for your every need during your stay. For guests who are looking to be pampered, the resort boasts a stunning open air yoga centre, complete with a panoramic ocean view, a fitness room equipped with state of the art machines and a spa with a huge range of treatments. The resort lies just a short and complimentary tuk-tuk ride away from the centre of Lamai, which is filled with restaurants, bars and entertainment. We had a great night when we went to watch Thai boxing at a bar in town for free, and there are plenty of opportunities to book tours or trips from the travel agents. For those who wish to explore further afield, the island lies just a couple of hours by ferry to nearby Koh Phanang and Koh Tao.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandIt really was a perfect way to round off our time spent travelling around Asia and I can’t imagine a more luxurious place to treat yourself, and your partner, to a romantic few days by the ocean. Fancy a taste of luxury? You can book a villa for your next visit to Thailand here.

Where is the most luxurious place you have stayed? Where was your favourite place in Thailand? Did you like Koh Samui?

Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | Thailand

Since I was a little girl I was always captivated by the idea of riding in a hot air balloon high above some beautiful country – gazing down across animals grazing on the Serengeti, or the strange buildings of Cappadocia. It always seemed such a magical way to experience a country, to feel the hush that breathes over the land at sunset or sunrise as you cruise across the sky. It was a bucket list item and one I planned to tick off one day, but never did I dream I would be doing it when I booked my trip to Sri Lanka. Planning the trip, I was keen to get a little surprise in there for the boyfriend to celebrate his birthday which had been the month before. So busy working all the time, we hadn’t had the opportunity for a big celebration so I wanted to really spoil him by sharing an experience we wouldn’t forget in a hurry. I’ve never been the kind of person who cares that much for physical presents, what I really love is sharing an amazing experience with someone I love and seeing their face light up with excitement.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaSri Lanka Ballooning invited us along to try out their epic sunrise ballooning experiences and we jumped at the opportunity to see both Sri Lanka’s incredible landscape and the Cultural Triangle from a unique viewpoint. Central Sri Lanka is made up on a beautiful combination of wild jungle, misty mountains and huge lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s a spectacular sight from the ground but an almost ethereal sight from the air and one that is sure to take your breath away as you gaze down on elephants roaming freely, birds soaring over the jungle and monkeys swinging from the trees. Despite the early hour, the locals come running out of their homes when they hear the rush of the gas to cheer and wave as you glide effortlessly over the trees waiting for the sun to creep over the horizon.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaWe were picked up before the dawn chorus had even begun and made our way by minibus to a nearby field where a group of shadowy figures were already hard at work preparing the balloon for take-off. Excitedly, the group of around 16 people were abuzz as they waited to board the craft. Found in Dambulla, the company are based in the middle of the Cultural Triangle and are surrounded by some of Sri Lanka’s oldest and most treasured sights including ancient towns and several UNESCO World Heritage Sights. This cultural centre is a real highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka – I’ll be posting in full about the best ways to experience the area – and how better to experience it than from a completely different perspective?Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | Dambulla Operating for over a decade, Sri Lanka Ballooning is owned by chief pilot Justin Patrick Moore, an Englishman who I was keen to meet after reading about his amazing experience of flying hot air balloons around the world for over 30 years – think everywhere from the North Pole to Australia. He has led an amazing life and after falling in love with Sri Lanka, he made it his second home and set up the company which allows him to live his dream life and fly daily over the incredible landscape. With each day starting by witnessing the sunrise over the mountains and champagne at the end of each flight – who can blame him? Interestingly, the company has been a real trailblazer for Sri Lanka – being the first hot air balloon company to host a wedding and a skydive mid-flight, featuring on TV several times and offering some very memorable surprises for birthdays and engagements.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaI can’t recommend the experience enough, it was without a doubt the most memorable part of our already incredible month in Sri Lanka. We were both completely taken aback by the beauty of the country that had already inspired us daily, but this was a moment I really fell in love with Sri Lanka. As a couple, we’re already lucky to have had some truly amazing experiences together, but this is one that will remain the most romantic and special yet. We both touched down on the ground and instantly wanted to be back up in the air again, it may have been our first hot air balloon ride, but it certainly won’t be our last. A huge thank you to Sri Lanka Ballooning and their amazing team for giving us such an unforgettable morning.

Visit Sri Lanka Ballooning’s website for more information or to book your flight.

Have you been in a hot air balloon – what was your experience like? Have you always dreamed of going in a hot air balloon – where would you like to experience this?

Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | Dambulla

One thing I really loved about Sri Lanka was that it wasn’t just beaches and cities, there was a whole other side to the country, a wild, rugged jungle waiting to be explored. With plans to explore not one, but three national parks along the way, I was excited at the thought of staying in the depths of the jungle with wild elephants and leopards hiding just beyond the boundary lines. So I was very excited when Wilpattu Treehouse invited us to come and stay with them for a few nights while we explored Wilpattu National Park up in the north-west of the country. We arrived at Wilpattu after around five hours on the buses travelling from Habarana in the Cultural Triangle and found Wilpattu to be tinier than we had imagined. With just one street heading off the main road, there are limited accommodations aimed specifically at those visiting the park. When planning your trip, you wouldn’t need much time in the area, just one full day for a safari would suffice, with a day set aside before and after for travel times.

Wilpattu National Park

This sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938 and lies just 188km away from the capital, Colombo, with Wilpattu Treehouses situated just a minute’s drive from the park entrance. Visitors to the area can take full or half day jeep safaris in the park through several companies, where they can spot the likes of the Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar and mongoose. The park is also fantastic for birdwatching and has an interesting array of flora scattered amongst the dry, dense jungle which couldn’t be more different to that of Yala’s National Park. February to October is considered prime time to visit, however, we visited in late November and had amazing sightings of most animals plus perfectly fine weather. If you are arriving by public bus as we did, ask the bus driver to alert you when you arrive as you could easily miss the tiny town. Jump off the bus and grab a tuk-tuk which should cost no more than 400 rupees to drive you the 7km to the edge of the National Park where the treehouses can be found.


Now I want to take a moment to just point out that out of all the places I review and visit, whether I pay for them myself or are gifted accommodation, it is very rare that I am disappointed. I don’t write fake reviews or compromise my views for free stuff, I pride myself in being completely honest because otherwise what is the point in sharing my views? So when I am left disappointed by a place, I will also share my experiences with you so that you can make an informed decision over whether to visit during your own trip. In this case I was gifted three night’s accommodation, but have remained honest in my review.Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

Wilpattu Treehouse

In the case of Wilpattu Treehouses, I was left a little disappointed by our stay. I had been looking forward to staying there from the beginning of our trip and saw it as a great way to round off our time in the country. However, from the moment we arrived, I could tell it wasn’t to be quite the experience I had anticipated. We arrived at 3pm to find our room was still being cleaned which wasn’t a problem, we relaxed in the lobby with a fresh lime juice until our room became available. We were excited to check out the treehouse as we could see it through the trees and bushes across the yard, it would be overlooking the rice paddy just as I had hoped. After seeing images on Booking.com and the company’s website, I was eager to have a look inside. When we made our way upstairs, on first impression we were delighted with the room which was all wood finished as a treehouse should be. We had a lovely big balcony overlooking the rice paddy, a big comfortable bed to lounge on and a lovely little bathroom with a luxurious looking shower. The website had promised luxury so this is what we were expecting and we were instantly happy with our room, but upon closer inspection we found a few issues.

The hasty cleaning after the previous guests had left late had been less thorough than it should have been, leaving us with a filthy fridge and even mouse droppings on one of the beds! We also noticed that there wasn’t really a view from the balcony as the branches from the trees completely blocked any real sight of the rice paddy. And as the afternoon drew on, the mosquitos became rife but with no mosquito net in the room and gaps by the door, we were both bitten to pieces despite using bug spray and a room repellent. We later realised that the mouse droppings had not been the fault of a stray mouse but of a regular to the room who would run around the beams at the ceiling while we sat in bed. The creature would even scamper across the room leaving droppings in the bedroom and bathroom every time we left as he searched for crumbs. I could find it cute and outdoorsy except we left the room for less than an hour for dinner, and came back to find droppings on the bed and across the floor which we had to clean up.Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

We also had an issue with several chipmunks and small squirrels who would run across the same beams in the evenings looking for food. We had stayed in many jungle locations by this point and can definitely appreciate the nature, but we know it is not necessary to have issues with animal faeces being found around the room. Later we also had problems with the shower, which despite just the two of us thing showers once a day, started to flood and the water would take a long time to drain. When I mentioned to the staff, I was told to clear the drain myself and if it wasn’t fixed someone would be sent to check it in the morning, but no-one ever came.  During our three night stay, the rooms were not cleaned once, leaving us to tidy up the animal mess left behind and to deal with a shower that would not drain. Due to the remote location, there are no restaurants around so visitors to the site will be limited to eating meals at the accommodation. These are cooked onsite by the staff and include a mixture of Sri Lankan and western breakfast, and a three course dinner with vegetarian options available. While the food was certainly good enough to survive on, it was also some of the blandest and most uninspiring food I have eaten in Sri Lanka. I was disappointed by how tasteless the meals were after eating some delicious meals since being in the country at much cheaper accommodation.

My real disappointment stemmed from the fact that Wilpattu Treehouses claimed to be luxury accommodation on their website but that the food, service and accommodation was definitely not luxury quality. The staff were lovely, but they do need to work on making their guests feel a little more welcome, and they really should have more knowledge about the bus timetable for those arriving and leaving the area. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my experience of staying in Wilpattu on the very borderline of the national park and I really cannot complain about being so close for our safari. It was a beautiful treehouse and a fantastic location, very convenient for your safari stay and truly magical to return from a day of spotting leopards and wild elephants to still hear them from your balcony. We also really loved the next-door neighbours who were having a family celebration while we were there and it was lovely to hear the music throughout the day. I just found that the disappointment over some of the less desirable features of Wilpattu Treehouses outweighed the positives for me. We stayed in the deluxe triple room, and I felt the £95 a night price (Booking.com) was far too expensive for what I could not consider a luxury stay.

Have you been disappointed by a luxury stay? Or by any accommodation on your travels? Tell me about your worst travel accommodation experience?

Sri Lanka | Wilpattu Treehouses - A disappointing jungle experience

imageOkay so my travels kind of ran away with me and writing has taken a bit of a back seat lately. The last six weeks since I left home have given me endless reams of adventures to share with you all, but I just haven’t had enough time to sit with my laptop and actually write. It’s frustratingly satisfying when your life is so full that you don’t have time to share it, but I can’t help but miss the process of writing and sharing every step with you guys. So I’m here, I’m back guys, and I bring endless amazing photos, anecdotes and reviews of all the fabulous places I’ve been over the last few weeks. I’m writing this from Sydney Airport, halfway between Cairns and Tasmania, but I want to take you back in time a few weeks to when I first arrived in Bali. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Grandma’s Hotels in both Kuta and Seminyak during my first week in Bali and I think it’s about time I shared my experiences with you. I was invited along to review the two hotels and I was excited to check them out – as part of easing myself back into backpacker life it was nice to start out with all the luxuries of a hotel but perfectly aimed at business or budget travellers.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Seminyak

We started off by spending a couple of nights at Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Seminyak and it was a perfect place to kick off my time in Bali. The hotel is perfectly positioned to enjoy all the bars, restaurants and nightlife Seminyak has to offer while also being right next to the beach. Despite being so close to several big clubs, the hotel is very peaceful and you wouldn’t even know that you were just down the road from some of the biggest nights out in the area. As we pulled up in the taxi, we were instantly impressed by the style and design of the hotel, unlike others on the street it looked almost as though it had been reclaimed by nature. The tropical greenery and vines wound through the walls and around the pathways throughout the building, it was such a unique look and I loved the way all of the interiors had been designed to fit with this natural theme. Combining natural jungle paradise vibes with a sleek, modern layout worked really well and set the hotel apart from the rest.

As we walked past the swimming pool and made our way up to our room, I was even more impressed by the high standard of comfort available for those on a budget. We had a twin room with an en suite, but doubles are also available, and my oh my, let me just tell you about the beds. Now beds are a big deal, especially when you’re a budget traveler or backpacker, all too often I end up sleeping on springs or some lumpy mattress! So laying down on this incredible mattress was an absolute dream – I almost didn’t get out of bed the whole time we were there! After spending a month in Bali I now know how often you get promised hot showers and actually find cold water running out of them, so the showers in the hotel were heaven – powerful and with endless hot water. The room was great, it had everything we needed and more, it was compact and well-designed so that it actually had those fun hostel vibes but with the privacy and comfort of a private room.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Legian

After a couple of nights in Seminyak, we moved to the Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Legian, not far away but in a whole other section of the popular stretch of Kuta. Streets lined with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants awaited us, this section was far busier but proves a big draw for travellers of all ages who want to relax or party on their holidays. This hotel is designed along a similar theme of jungle greens and staff welcome you in to the towering structure through a leafy pergola. This hotel is set around the restaurant where breakfast is served, with huge, high ceilings and trailing vines dangling from the rafters, it’s a beautiful place to start your day with a delicious breakfast included with the room price. You can choose from an Indonesian breakfast to Eggs Benedict and all plates come with fruit and treats from the bakery – a perfect meal to set you up for a day of sunbathing or exploring.

The hotel has the feeling of an oasis after stepping off the chaotic, busy street outside into the cool, calm atmosphere, it’s soothing. Again the rooms are of the usual high standard and came with all the amenities we would need during our stay, and the beds were just as comfortable as the ones I had just left behind at the other hotel. The only thing we did notice with this hotel was that there was a bit of street noise despite us being seven floors up, but understandably we the hotel was in the middle of the busiest part of Bali. I can’t fault the staff at both hotels, they were amazing and so helpful. Everything from moving us into our rooms to organising taxis and even trying to help me fix a SIM card for my phone. They made our stay go from good to excellent with their great attitudes and friendly manner.image

Spa time

While we were staying at the hotels, we were also invited along to try out their spas. At Grandma’s in Seminyak we headed to De Nyuh Spa and Salon for a full body Balinese massage – my first in the country – then at the hotel in Legian we went to Rehat Massage and Reflexology. Both spas were located within the hotel building, so super convenient if you fancy a pamper but aren’t ready to face the outside world yet. Both were beautiful designed and brought instant calm and peace to you as you walked in the door, the soothing music combined with the floral displays and the dark wood kept the spas cool and laced with gentle Balinese aromas. Having now had several Balinese massages, I can say that these two massages were actually two of the best I had while in Bali. If you’re staying at either hotel, I would really recommend visiting the spa for a bit of me-time – you’ll come away feeling like a new person and ready to really embrace your holiday.

Have you stayed at Grandma’s Hotels – how was your experience? What kind of accommodation do you normally go for on holiday? 

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island-grill-copyI’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.island-grill-barAs 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.imageWe 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.imageFor 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.imageApologies 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?

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imageI’ve had people ask me before whether I really like things as much as I say in reviews, whether I’m just sugar-coating because I got to eat or stay somewhere for free. I can’t help but laugh when I hear this, because anyone who knows me well will agree that’s it’s almost impossible for me to hide how I feel about things, and lying just isn’t in vocabulary. I’m always honest and have just been lucky that so far I’ve never really had a bad experience when I’ve reviewed products or places, but that doesn’t mean I would hide it from my readers if I did. I actually had my first disappointing experience at a restaurant review a few weeks ago and wanted to make sure I shared this with you, because my blog is about life – the good, the bad and the ugly. No sugar-coating and no editing out the bad bits, just honesty about my experiences so that perhaps they can help you to plan yours.imageYou guys will already know I went on a little weekend jaunt to London a few weeks ago when I stayed at the gorgeous Mandeville Hotel – find my review here – well I actually went to London because I had a series of restaurant reviews booked in. Lucky me, I love food and I love visiting new restaurants so this is a serious perk of running this blog, and I wanted to make sure I squeezed them all in quick before I head back to Australia. The first restaurant review of the weekend was actually the one I was looking forward to the most, and sadly it was the most disappointing. Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant in Notting Hill was where we were headed and I was looking forward to a night of Caribbean cuisine and rum cocktails. It was a cute little restaurant with all the colour and character a Caribbean restaurant should have and the Rhum Bar looked like a fabulous place to sip on a cocktail. So what was the problem?imageWell, from the second we walked in the door, we just didn’t feel very welcome. The service sucked, big time. The staff barely looked up when we came in and just seemed like they couldn’t be bothered to chat to us or welcome us as we went to our table. It took about 15 minutes before anyone even came over to ask if we actually wanted any drinks or if we understood the menu, I could understand if they were busy but this was a quiet Sunday night. For me, the service really makes a restaurant – whether it’s a fine dining or a budget chain, the level of attentiveness can turn an average dinner into a really lovely evening. As someone who has worked in hospitality across pubs, restaurants and bars, I know full well how much it sucks to work the Sunday shift when perhaps you’re tired or hungover from the night before, but that doesn’t mean you offer lower quality service. It’s always so important to remember that each customer who comes in is paying for top quality service and food and I just didn’t feel like that was a factor in our meal.imageWe indulged in rum cocktails – I went for the Wild Tiki which was spiced rum flavoured with Maraschino liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, kafir and lemongrass. It was delicious, like a slightly more exotic Pornstar Martini. While my friend went for the Reggae Rum Punch – going for Wray and Nephews rum mixed with fruit juices – always pretty tasty. The cocktails were a real highlight of the night because I’m pretty picky about the quality, I hate when you get a cocktail and it is just watered down juice. Then our dinner arrived, I’d ordered the Spiced Coconut Seafood Casserole which was packed full of clams, squid, crab and red mullet, annatto potatoes and was served with scotch bonnet rouille. It was fantastic, the coconut flavour was absolutely delicious and I loved the mix of seafood as I’m a big fish fan. But my friend was left rather disappointed by the Montego bay Jerk Pork and Ribs – he actually ordered off the Caribbean Classics menu so we expected that to a lot better but there was a real lack of meat served. As someone who has worked in a Caribbean restaurant and who loves the food, he was pretty disappointed with his meal.imageIn the end it was a pretty bittersweet evening, while the cocktails and my dinner were good, my friend’s meal and the service on offer left a lot to be desired. I personally wouldn’t eat there again, if I fancy Caribbean food in future I would probably try to track down a different restaurant. It’s a shame because the restaurant was in a great location in Notting Hill and had most of the ingredients to be a success but it just didn’t quite make it. Here’s hoping the staff were just having an off-night, but having someone walk off as I started to place a drinks order wasn’t a good sign. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has eaten at one of the Cotton’s Restaurants and whether you enjoyed your experience – please leave a comment below and tell me about it.

How was your Cotton’s experience? Can you recommend any other Caribbean restaurants in the UK?

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imageIt’s official – tomorrow is the day, the day when I get to start living my dreams again. This last week has been the slowest of all time, I’ve been clock-watching and calendar-counting, just hoping the days would pass by a little quicker. If you read my rather personal post last week, you’ll know I’ve been struggling a bit lately and that I really need to get away. Feeling like this was good in one way because it has prompted me to book my flights and get back out there, to put a limit on my time at home and actually go again. I’ve loved having these months at home, they have given me so many amazing opportunities to see my friends and family, to work as a journalist again and to dedicate real time to this blog. It’s been incredible to work with so many UK and international brands, to be featured in an industry magazine and to get to review so many amazing places. I feel so lucky and so grateful, but at the same time, the whole time I have been home there has been this nagging little voice in my ear telling me this is not where I am supposed to be.

Perhaps that’s what prompted me to travel around so much of Europe during my time back here, and that too has been incredible. I’ve visited so many amazing travelling friends, seen places I had only dreamed of before now and ticked off my 29th country. But still, it wasn’t enough, I returned home and have had serious post-travelling blues since, then with everything I spoke about in my last post, I just realised it was time to go. It sounds horrible to say but I just struggle to spend any length of time in this town now, I love being at home but beyond that there is nothing really here for me. I’ve exhausted all career options and I’m a working girl at heart – I need something I can be passionate and excited about to keep me in a place. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the sheer amount of freelance work I’ve been able to source and that has given me the money to do amazing things over the last four months. But there comes a time when it is just not enough and I know I’m more than ready to move on again.12140590_10153104137662617_1072458207340519505_n

So what’s next?

Well, that’s the big question. With all the stuff that has happened lately, I wasn’t quite ready to return to Australia and I think I’m long overdue for some serious relaxation time. All you guys see is fun and games from my travels but I can assure you I’ve been working A LOT since I’ve been back – my whole summer has been taken up with a huge amount of freelance work, running this blog and working with countless different companies. It’s been amazing, but also exhausting especially when you try and combine it with having a social life and now, I’m done. I’m completely emotionally and physically exhausted from it all – told you I always overdo it!

But that’s okay, because I think I’ve earned a week completely off from life. So I’m heading to – wait for it – my 30th country!! And I’m doing it with one of my best friends. I couldn’t be more excited to be travelling to Bali – a place I’ve long since dreamed of – and to be doing it with one of my closest travelling pals. When you feel a bit fragile, there’s nothing more important than surrounding yourself with people who mean the most to you and will bring nothing but happiness and laughter back into your life. I can’t think of anyone I will laugh harder with or be happier with at this moment in my life. I’m about ready for a week of cocktails, partying Dingos-style and relaxing. I’ll be taking a week off from blogging – but true to form, I’ve over-prepared and you’ll still be getting two new posts this week and two next week.12066066_10153150235258779_1396839736833225395_n

And after that…?

The travelling dream will be back on track and I’ll be heading back to Melbourne – the city that well and truly has my heart – to catch up with some amazing friends and start part two of my journey. I’ll be honest and say that while my body may have come back to the UK back in May, the last four months my heart has definitely been elsewhere. Other travelers will know that feeling of being torn between your heart and your head, between the reality of day-to-day life and the dream you’ve been living. Well I’ve had an extreme version of this and just couldn’t really settle at home, hence why I’m so excited to get back there and really feel free again. Right now my head is all over the place, but by the time I step back on Australia shores I hope to be a bit more ready to take on the next year of my life and live my dream again.

I remember the exact second I had my second year visa came through after weeks of angst and worry, I was in Amsterdam and celebrated with a friend I actually met the last time I was down under! It was the happiest feeling, knowing I was going back to a country that brought me so much happiness, so now I just hope it will do the same once again. Plans for this year of travelling include visiting the raw, natural beauty of Tasmania and road tripping the slightly more wild Western Australia, plus I’m sure I’ll fit in some time in Darwin and Christmas in Melbourne with all the friends I was so dearly missing during the last festive season when I completed my farm work. I’m looking forward to being that travelling version of myself again, I feel like I’ve been a watered down version of myself since I’ve been home and it’s time to get back to being the real me.13920864_10153669383367617_3668028187169531860_n

Here we go again!

Right now I’m spending the day packing and making last minute preparations and tomorrow I officially take to the skies for a delightful 20 hours of travelling (eek). I can’t wait to be back in the air and on my next adventure, it’s so much more special knowing some of my favourite people are waiting for me in Bali and Australia, but I also can’t wait to just get lost in these countries. Bring on solo traveler life again and bring on my return to Asia – it’s been far too long. Follow my adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – I’ll be posting all of our misadventures!

Have you been to Bali – any recommendations? Have you experienced any of these feelings as a solo traveler returning home?

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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.royal-china-queensway-restaurantWe 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.royal-china-queensway-barI 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.dim-sum-at-royal-china steamed-prawn-dim-sum-at-royal-chinaOverall 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.steamed-chilli-pork-dumplings

Have you eaten at Royal China – what did you think? What’s your favourite Chinese dish? What other restaurants would you recommend in London?

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imageWhether you’re a city break gal, a two-week holiday hell raiser or a long-term backpacker – anything that makes your life easier when travelling is only a good thing in my book. I’m always looking for any new addition to my collection that will help my travels run smoother, safer and more efficiently. Some of my favourites over the years have been travel towels and waterproof cameras, both have made such a difference to my travelling experience and are something I never leave behind. Just before I headed off on my holiday to Santorini, I was asked to review a few products and thought what better time to test them out? I’ll be continuing to trial them throughout my travels in Eastern Europe and Australia over the next few months, but as always all opinions are my own! These products are fantastic for all kinds of travellers and will make a huge difference to both living the experience, and capturing it – whether you’re a travel blogger or not.

First up are a couple of products from what is quickly becoming one of my favourite brands – Juice is an ethically sound, high quality company that works to create the best electronic accessories. Everything you could need to charge, protect and complement your devices and plenty of affordable additions that will not only look super cute but will make your life a lot more streamlined and easier when you travel.image

Juice Universal Travel Adapter

Something we all need when travelling is a reliable adapter that will fit with sockets in every country. It doesn’t matter if you’re off on a short holiday to one country or you’re crossing several borders, you’ll always need to charge your phone, iPod, or turn on your straighteners. If you’re the kind of girl who can’t go out without taming her mane, you’ll know the absolute annoyance when you can’t plug in your bloody hairdryer after a long flight. It’s one of those boring things your dad always has to remind you about, but really could make or break the holiday if you arrive without – you can’t get good replacements everywhere even in the modern world! One of the newest additions to the Travel Juice range, the Universal Adapter even comes in a range of cute colours!imageMy bright pink set definitely won’t be forgotten when I’m in a mad rush to pack my bags next time before a flight, and if my phone, MP3 or iPad cuts out I know the Travel Juice Adapter is equipped with FASTcharge and has three slots so I can charge all three at the same time. The set comes with four interchangeable plugs which are compatible with sockets in over 150 countries – now I’m only on 25 countries so far but I’m determined to trial the charger in as many as possible. If you’re sick of rubbish, cheap quality adapters, this is a good one to invest in for the long term, and best thing yet – it’s still a budget buy at £22.99 so you can keep your money for your holiday! Not yet available from the website, you can find it in-store in Sainsburys and it will soon be available from Tesco and WHSmith.

Juice Power Station

I’ve been in need of a power pack for my phone for a long time, let’s be honest no-one’s battery ever lasts long enough when you’re Instagramming your holiday snaps, Tweeting your pals back home and catching Pokemon. When you’re backpacking and need your phone to survive a 50-hour bus journey so you can use maps at the other end, it becomes even more important to be able to recharge. The Juice Power Station is a high capacity power bank which can recharge your iPhone 6 not once, not twice, but over six times.imageIt also works with your iPad or tablet and you can charge two devices at once, on a long journey, that could be one hell of a saviour and I sure could have used it when I was constantly on my phone in my sales job. With the same rapid charging function, it’s very efficient at giving your phone the boost it needs – trust me, I tried it out at a blogging event and a week later I was still able to use it to charge up my phone – it’s very good. The LED lights on the top let you know at a glance how much power is left in it. The hot pink means it’s never going to get lost in your bag, and if you prefer another colour it comes in any of 13 options. Costing £29.99, it’s a great investment and available here to buy.

Ordel GoPro Accessories

Another fantastic brand for travellers of all types is Ordel, they’ve got something to suit all your electronic needs and their range of GoPro accessories is amazing! Before I set out on my 18 month travelling adventure, I invested in a Go Pro – everyone had one and I kept reading they were just the best camera to take backpacking. I already had a waterproof compact camera at this point but was convinced I would use a GoPro as well – I was wrong. I barely used it in the time I was away and actually posted it home in the end. Since being in Santorini, I’ve rediscovered it thanks to Ordel who sent me some awesome accessories including the Monopod and a body and head harness. Having these really showed me how easy the camera is to use and the fantastic quality of the photos I can get that give a totally different perspective to those I’m used to. As someone who loves photography and is constantly trying to improve and capture images in a different way, I think it’s great to be able to take such wide images of the landscape.imageI’ll be honest, I’m not a selfie stick person. I’m the kind of person who finds the crowds of tourists with them so irritating when I’m trying to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat on no sleep. BUT, when you’re a travel blogger, a solo traveller, or just someone who loves a good photo – they are a fantastic addition to your travelling gadgets. Plus the Monopod is much slimmer and more streamlined than many of the other selfie sticks I’ve seen previously, much more subtle, and at £4.95 it’s a bargain! I have some great pics from the top of an active volcano and a mountain I climbed during the holiday, plus some great underwater videos from snorkelling. I loved that the pack also came with a head and a body harness – I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try these but they’re coming back to Oz with me for the ride! If you’re looking for a cheap and good quality kit to help boost your Go Pro pics – look no further than Ordel. You can also find the kit here on Amazon.

Any other travelling gadgets you’d like to recommend? If you’re a brand interested in sharing your products for a review – email absolutelylucy@hotmail.com

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13892178_10153669370592617_5126173372115806732_nThose 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.image

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.13872700_10153669383307617_2571551292654911782_nI 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.13906680_10153669381897617_6894478547748232475_nIf 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.13906635_10153669347502617_1002783273706622821_n

Where to eat

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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!

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IMG_6289I’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.IMG_6285IMG_6286On 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.IMG_6287IMG_6288We 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.IMG_6290Between 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.IMG_6291Mark’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.IMG_6292Overall – 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?

Ab Lucy sign off

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Scorched king scallops and crispy ham hock

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

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

Barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay

Barbecue teriyaki and sesame pork fillet with satay

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

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

Our lamb and pork mains

Our lamb and pork mains

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

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

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Pear, caramel and chocolate brownie

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

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

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

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