Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As You Like It, Newcastle - You’ll love it. Promise




As You Like It is one of my top Newcastle hangouts.  Whenever I’m back, I’ll pop in for a girly dinner, a family lunch or a date (if I’m lucky).

It could so easily be a pretentious hang out with its stunning bar area, vintage pieces, lavish furniture and wooden floors.  There’s an amazing mezzanine balcony restaurant overlooking the main floor which also houses a pretty fancy dining room for private dining experiences.  Yet there’s something fabulously friendly about this place which makes it such a delight to visit every single time.




As You Like It is part of Apartment Group which is responsible for creating unique venues like Madame Koo’s (which is a club in a cave essentially), House of Smith – cool club and hangout; and Nancy’s Bordello, a swish, dimly lit boudoir style bar near the Quayside.  Basically, they know what they’re doing and at As You Like It, they’ve really tried to please everyone.  There’s a huge choice of food on the menu from sharers like bbq pulled pork flat breads to nachos smothered in cheese, guacamole and sour cream.  There’s starters like the handmade pumpkin torterllini which I’d absolutely recommend and mains ranging from Newcastle Brown Ale beer battered cod strips served with proper chips, to pan roasted sea trout and even thai red chicken curry.

From the grill you can choose from rib eyes to sirloins and there’s also a list of six big burgers beefed up with various toppings including streaky bacon, bbq pulled pork and spicy beer mustard.  The Mafia burger comes with pepperoni, sweet roasted piquillo peppers, cheddar cheese and crispy Serrano ham.  How could that ever be bad?!

With kids clubs on Saturdays, live Friday night music, The Boxing Day Ball and a club downstairs, As You Like It hits the spots every time.  And if you’re just there for coffee and dessert, then the raspberry crème brulee with shortbread finger gets my vote every time.

Boxing Day Ball tickets are now available, with DJ’s, live music, casino tables and a magical outdoor Winter Wonderland (£20 for bar tickets include cocktail on arrival and midnight bacon butties, or VIP tickets are £39 and include 3 course dinner).  As You Like It is also open Christmas Day with a great value 3 course dinner at £59.95.

If you’re visiting Newcastle over the festive period, get this one on your list.  (Don’t forget to book, they’re always busy!)


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

I’m in a Biskies Christmas heaven!





I’m sitting here on a Thursday afternoon home alone, feeling very guilty!  Why you ask?!  Well… there’s just been a rather special delivery of Cutter & Squidge’s absolutely beautiful Biskies made to my front door and I’m half way through my third!  Will somebody stop me?  Quick!

Trouble is, they are so more-ish!  And they’re also exquisitely and intricately designed, which makes you for about two seconds, not want to eat them.  Luckily that passes and you’re dying to dig in through the layers of chocolate and biscuit and mmm cream!  Now if you’ve not had the pleasure yet of trying a Biskie, then let me explain…  They’re a cup cake, which is also actually a biscuit and they have that soft, chewy consistency that makes you want another.  And another…  and ermmm another!



Now I shouldn’t actually feel too guilty to be honest, as Biskies creators, Anna and Emily Lui are well aware that girls like to have their cake, eat it and not put on a pound.  That’s why the buttermilk used in their products (and believe me, there is a lot of cream!)  is made with only half the amount of butter and sugar normally used in baking.  Plus there’s no margarine of hydro-fats, which to me, means you can eat double.  Excellent.

The packaging is girlie and gorgeous and the Biskies themselves are a work of art, so which friend of yours wouldn’t want to receive a box from Harrods full of Christmas treats?!  There’s ‘Merry Mincemas’ – mince pie meets Christmas pudding topped with an edible snowflake (so cute),  ‘The Nutcracker’ which has a 24-carat gold nosed reindeer  and is also my personal favourite, the ‘Pannettone Present’ to get you firmly in the festive spirit and the ‘Orange Chocolate Bauble’ which comes adorned with the Harrods Christmas logo.

So I’m in a Christmas Biskies heaven and no doubt you will be too when you try them!  Buy from the Patisserie counter in Harrods food halls, or order direct from:


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All about Ashleigh



Hi all

Welcome to the new blog!  If you know me already, then thanks for reading!  If you've never met me, then here's a little bit about me..

I'm a radio presenter, professional voice over artist, writer and reviewer.

I lived in Newcastle until 6 years ago where I was a radio presenter for stations all over the North East including Century FM many years ago (!), Metro Radio, TFM, Sun FM and Magic.  The big smoke beckoned and I moved down to London to become a TV announcer for BBC1, BBC2 and BBC3.  That means when I'm working, you'll hear me introducing the likes of Eastenders, The Apprentice or good old Homes Under the Hammer!

Along with my BBC work, I'm a corporate and commerical voice over for lots of different companies - I've regularly work for big names like Felix pet food, Mothercare, The Early Learning Centre and Asda.

Voice over work luckily leaves me lots of time to do my favourite things in life - eating and travelling.  I set up my original blog 'The Girl About London Town' about 3 years ago, but I've done so much travelling since, I thought it needed a better name!  I've also branched out into travel writing with www.omotg.com, while writing for www.luxurialifestyle.com has seen me eating at some absolutely amazing restaurants and checking out some really fantastic events.  Sometimes it's all too exciting to keep to myself, hence the blog.

I hope you enjoy reading about my escapades which basically chart (in my opinion), the best places to eat, sleep, travel and party.  

Feel free to leave a comment, I'd love to hear your experiences if you've been to the same places!

If you'd like me to review, or you just want to get in touch, then you can email me ashleighwhitfield@hotmail.com

Love Ashleigh x
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Sunday, December 07, 2014

K West Hotel & Spa - Shop & Sparkle





Christmas means it’s time to ‘Shop & Sparkle’ and luckily you can do both with a brilliant offer at K West Hotel & Spa in London.  Get your girlies together and head for the Capital where you’ll be treated to a trendy hotel room, discounts at Westfield London, free Christmassy cocktails in the K Lounge and a sparkly manicure or pedicure!  What’s more, all this will only set you back £99 per person (based on two sharing), which means more money for you to spend in the shops!

The K West in a great location – it’s about 4 minutes walk from Westfield, to get you into that designer village as quickly as humanly possible.  It’s also worth noting that Portobello Road and the King’s Road are also both within very easy reach to satisfy all of your shopping needs!  This independently owned quirky and contemporary 4 star boutique hotel has just been given a beautiful facelift, so a light and airy reception area leads through to a cosy bar and lounge in sumptuous shades of greys and silvers where you can enjoy your free cocktails.  Make sure you check out the library while you’re on this level too – it’s a comfy space where you can enjoy a coffee, read up on the latest celeb news and take in the view of an exclusive Andy Warhol style painting of Amy Winehouse.

The building actually used to a BBC recording studio too, so you’ll notice the musical theme throughout, the corridors are long and have been graced by some really massive legends like Bob Marley and David Bowie.  Its proximity to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Hammersmith Apollo and the Kensington Olympia and of course its heritage, means the crowd staying here are seriously cool - including loads of bands.  (Just remember it’s rude to stare, but not if you do it sneakily…!)





There’s six room categories including the K Suite which is just made for the rockstar – glass walls, massive bed, bottles of spirits… (upgrade if you feel the need!), while the room you’ll be staying in as part of the package is the ‘executive’ – a comfortable, modern, spacious area which’ll make you feel right at home as you lounge on the oversized bed, watching a huge flat screen and scoffing complimentary Tofiffee’s (it’s amazing how many you can get through in one sitting – trust me!)  

If you’ve over-indulged in the super stylish Studio Bar and Kitchen which has a great no nonsense style menu with some seriously tasty burgers, then feel free to grab one of the personal trainers (they’re hot) for a sesh in the gym which is actually one of the biggest in a London hotel.  If you happen to take a liking to said instructor, you can actually sign up for membership on a monthly basis – who knew?!


And then of course, there’s the massively impressive spa area which has been awarded ‘five bubbles’ – that’s the equivalent to Taylor Swift winning five awards at the Brits.  There’s 8 treatment rooms and the mani / pedi room is colourfully decked out and filled with every colour you can think of.  After your sparkly treat, you can let those nails dry in their chill out area which has lay down beds, low lighting and a tonne of magazines.  I actually wanted to stay in here forever… and would have if it wasn’t for their amazing hydrotherapy pool which you can relax in under the twinkly lights and London’s only snow paradise, which means when you’re too hot, you can have a refreshing blast of the arctic to wake you up and get the circulation pumping.  It’s quite extraordinary and a definite must try.

After a day of shopping, spa-ing and sparkling, you’ll sleep like a dream in that super king size bed, and then you can enjoy a full English breakfast as part of the package to set you up for….another full day of shopping!

What more could a girl want?!  (Apart from that diamond from Tiffany’s?!!)  Round up the girls and get your stay booked right now!

Shop & Sparkle Package at the K West Hotel & Spa includes:
  • One night’s stay in an executive room
  • VIP Westfield discount card
  • 30 minute glittery manicure or pedicure
  • Winter Cocktail in the K Lounge
  • Full English  breakfast




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Shopping & Steak at TheMeatCo, Westfield

So the season of goodwill is upon us, or as I like to think of it, ‘one present for them, one for me…’ and one of the best things about Christmas shopping is that I can more often than not, combine my two favourite things, that’ll be spending money… and eating!





Westfield London is a fantastic place to do both – a mall which never seems crowded, and that also has Zara, Prada and Topshop all under roof?  How could you possibly go wrong?!  And so it was during another mammoth shopping sesh last week that I discovered one of the best steak restaurants ever – TheMeatCo.

Located on Westfield’s ‘eat street’ just off ‘The Village’, you’ll find this impressive, understated-from-the-outside, unbelievably-amazing-from-the-inside enormous steak house.  With an inviting reception area, a beautiful bar area and a stunnng staircase which leads up to the restaurant, MeatCo is my top recommendation for a lavish dinner after a day of frivolous spree-ing.

You’ll see from the photos, just how spectacular the dining area actually is - cosy and warming red hues and browns, thick swirly carpets, the twinkling flicker of candles and fire light everywhere.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a glass of red wine so much!  (By the way, the wine list is also extensive.)

The crowd is a good mix – lots of couples, friends, groups of men who clearly know where to head for a good cut of meat; it’s an instantly comfortable restaurant where you can just relax and enjoy the brilliant service.



The company started off in South Africa in 2000, then branched out to Dubai and into the whole of the Middle East, so if you’ve been to steak houses in that part of the world, you’ll notice the grandeur, the ambience and the attention to detail which Middle Eastern restaurants are known for.  Although there’s lots of South African influence on the menu, which provides a great choice, there’s also some dishes which have been adapted or created specifically for the British market, the sauces for the steaks are a good example, as are the desserts, although you can still order the Malva Pudding which was a Nelson Mandela favourite and remains a bit of a classic.

The staff are also exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to the wines and of course the dishes.  Ask them anything!  They’ve been highly trained and the company pride themselves on sending their managers to eat at every other steak house in London and once a year in the Middle East, to ensure they’re going above and beyond by sampling the competition and learning from it.  It most definitely shows…

Our server happens to be the Manager, Tiago – a charming gentleman, who during a busy rush hour, still spends long enough helping us select wine and starters for us to think we’re a little bit special!   We’re encouraged to (and I’m eager to) try some South African delicacies, so we go for Bilton – thin slices of chewy, flavour packed meat – somewhat of a South African tradition.  It’s beautifully presented and goes fantastically well with the wine we’ve chosen.  We also try the Boerewors – African beef sausage with chakalaka sauce and rocket leaves on a bed of polenta.  They’re just sooooooo tasty.  I want more, but know the steak is on it’s way…

I decide to go for the North American rib-eye, as I like my steaks quite well cooked, while Leo opts for the fillet as she likes hers rare (like, really rare!), so she’s advised that a softer meat is a better choice with less marbling content.  We’re both blown away when they arrive.  The glaze on the steaks (which hopefully you see from the photos), makes you salivate immediately!  It’s apparently a secret recipe which we couldn’t manage to bribe out of the staff (we did try!)  The steaks are served with chunky chips and amazing sauces which we manage to consume in about five minutes flat, while the wine which Tiago has selected for us is a perfect choice (and now one of my favourite reds of all) – it’s a 2010 Chocolate Box Truffle Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia, which blasts the tastebuds with blackcurrant, vanilla oak and chocolate notes on the finish.  



For dessert, we actually end up getting three (yes three!) as we really can’t decide, which include dark chocolate fondant literally ooooozing chocolate just as it’s supposed to (a text book example!) served with salted caramel ice cream - now how good does that sound?!  But then the Peanut Butter Cheesecake is also a very close second...

This restaurant is just so comfortable and so ambient that we really don’t want to go out into the cold.  We don’t need any persuading, and decide it’s he perfect excuse to nightcap with a gorgeous dessert wine and forget we actually have work the next day.  

Eventually, we do have to leave though!  But not before booking up for next time which of course will involve a huge pre-banquet shopping spree.  (Probably time to take my bank balance…!)

TheMeatCo is the only branch of this international chain, although we’ve heard whispers that’s there’s another restaurant opening in the St Pauls area next year.  Watch this space.

Unit 1026
Westfield London Shopping Centre
Ariel Way
London
W12 7GA



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Canvas Chelsea – wipe the slate clean and try a new fine dining experience




For me, dining out should be far more than just good food.  Yes I write restaurant reviews, but I’m most definitely not a food ‘critic’ per say…  I do however like to think I know a good restaurant when I see one.  Somewhere that offers up a bit of an experience; something a little different…   Good service is a must of course and while my favourite haunts might not always be Michelin starred, they tick all of the boxes for a great night out.  Canvas, which has recently opened in Chelsea (Wilbraham Place) with head chef Michael Riemenschneider at the helm, is most definitely, in my opinion, one of those box tickers.


After a swift glass of Chablis in the Botanist (a favourite haunt of ours), we found Canvas on the street directly behind – just a minutes’ walk away.  Unassuming from the outside, we made our way down the stairs and into a small and intimate, beautifully set restaurant.  There are simple tables and striking red chairs, white walls with a contrasting black ceiling.  It’s all so elegant and contemporary and has a really fabulous feature wall - panning the entire width of the back of the restaurant, is a glass fronted wine cellar, meaning you can see the sommelier select his wines from a choice of around five to six hundred (that’s as far as we got counting…)



To the left is a stunning bar area, running the length of the restaurant.  No drinks menus here (well we didn’t see any!), which I loved.  Yep, just tell the wonderful bartenders what you fancy, whether it’s amaretto, vodka or sazerac and they’ll whip you up a clever concoction within minutes.  They use pebbles to chill the glasses (ice is so last year!)  They’ll even go as far as to provide a bit of theatre with some very clever dry ice trickery which makes you feel momentarily like you’re in Inferno’s dancing to the Baywatch theme tune with the smoke machine on full blast.  Except of course you’re just off the King’s Road supping on a sophisticated champagne cocktail with what look like real gold flecks in it.  If you want to order one, it’s a ‘Gold Aviation’ and it actually does have 24 carot gold liquer in it – how showbiz.  It’s all a bit Tom Cruise ‘Cocktail’ meets ‘Sex and the City’ and quite frankly I’m sold.  And that’s before we’ve even gotten to dinner.  In fact we’re having such a laugh with Kamil (formerly head of the Polo Bar) that we forget why we’re really here!

Lucky then, that the chef arrives to introduce himself at that very moment.  He’s a very tall man prompting us to ask if he’s a basketball player moonlighting as a chef.  It turns out that’s not the case (although he did used to play ice hockey.)  So, a man of many talents – his passion for food being the number one.  Michael Riemenshneider (he has his name printed on his whites so you’ll never forget how to spell it), trained in France, before working with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsey and takes great pride in his cooking.  So much so, that he doesn’t mind an audience, so if you’re after the full theatre experience, there’s the chance to book the ‘chefs’ table’ so you can watch the master at work in his kitchen.

What’s really nice about the menu is that you can basically create your own, from between one (that was never gonna happen) to 16 different dishes.  Then the sommelier will match your wines accordingly.  Fabulous idea.  Our tipples across the evening were really quite splendid, ranging from a 2012 Puligny-Montrachet through to a Louise Cheze 2009 Anges.



Presentation of the food is spectacular.  I suspect Michael might spend as long drizzling and dotting his balsamic, as he does cooking up these wonderful experimental dishes and with a menu like this, it’s a great excuse to experiment with food and flavours you normally wouldn’t go for.  We took full advantage of this.  Smoked crab with broccoli puree came first – served in an oversized brandy glass!  I’ve never had a broccoli puree and I’m happy to report that I may try it in my next smoothie.  Cod with barley, onion puree and wine puligny followed.  A gorgeous combination of flavours – the barley al dente and slightly sweet, the contrasting sharp smooth bite of the onion and the pan fried cod, tender and delicately flavoured, and absolutely deeee-licious.  Other highlights included the seabass with artichoke and onion, pigeon with home made sausage and that broccoli again…   A roller coaster of light and intense flavours for the palette and not a stomach churner in sight.  Every single dish, a winner.



With an early flight to catch the following morning, it was time to call it a night, but not before rounding off the evening with a cocktail designed to cleanse and settle.  Concocted using a home made lavender based syrup, lavender and lemon juice, we were again impressed by the flair and imagination of the brilliant and very talented bartenders.

A fantastic chef, brilliant staff, an inventive menu and beautiful beautiful dishes make Canvas one of my London ‘must eats’ right now.  It’s definitely a fine dining favourite.


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VQ – 24 hour dining in Central London

We’ve all been there.  A quiet couple of drinks on a Saturday night leads to a few more, then a club, then an after club, and before you know it, you’re stumbling out of Raffles on the King’s Road at 5am wondering where you can get some decent food.





Until fairly recently in London, the choice would’ve been limited to a kebab, chips, or pizza home delivery – if you’re lucky… (I think there actually is only one…)

For the past few years, VQ at 325 Fulham Road, was first choice.  Where else could you continue the party?  Enjoy the music, drink tea, or beer, or even champagne depending on your preference and indulge in a slap up meal worthy of an 8pm restaurant booking?  Well now, there’s now one smack bang in the middle of town, in Bloomsbury at 11A Great Russell Street.  And it’s a pretty classy joint.  

Of course VQ stands for Vingt-Quatre and does what it says on the tin.  It’s a café for breakfast, a restaurant for lunch and dinner and a late night hang out for those all-night revellers.  You could see yourself in here enjoying a cup of coffee and doing some work on your laptop at 11am, or equally, rocking up after The Box closes at 4am.

Whatever time of the day of night, VQ  will welcome you, seat  you and serve you!  The menu is varied and there’s a great range on offer from breakfast favourites like pancakes, scrambled egg and the trusty full English breakfast, through to burgers, salads, pastas and dinner menu.  We tried the sharer mezze board which came with grilled rustic bread (still warm), tzatziki, hummus and falafels.  The portion size was generous and the dish totally hit the spot.  Fish and chips followed – battered to perfection with mushy peas and tartare sauce and a towering  basket full of fries.  Again, very good.  Never one to shy away from dessert, I went for the apple custard and crumble and definitely wasn’t disappointed!  A huge bowl filled with delicious fresh fruit and topped with a good layer of golden coloured crumbly crumble.  My favourite part of dinner for sure!  

VQ offers a special set midday to midnight menu which you might want to take advantage of -  2 courses for £11.95 or 3 courses for just £14.95.  They also have a great little selection of wines to suit any food choices, day or night.

So the next time you roll out of a late night club, or find yourself stranded in London town waiting for an Uber, VQ on Great Russell Street is the place to be.



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Sheesha Garden, Jesmond - A breath of fresh air






Osborne Road has long been a popular street for Newcastle’s social scene.  Lined with restaurants, bars and hotels, the long standing Osbornes bar is now breathing new life into the area with its very own sheesha garden.


Already very much part of the ‘scene’ in many areas of London (like the infamous Edgeware Road), sheesha itself is flavoured tobacco which is vaporised and inhaled through a hookah and comes in a wide variety of flavours.  It’s a relaxing pastime to be enjoyed with a glass of wine of a cold pint of beer while you while away the time people spotting.  Sheesha Garden offers up this experience for drinks and sheesha on the heated terrace, with a  Middle-Eastern inspired menu to boot, and its popularity is growing fast, so Luxuria headed down to kick back after a hard day of shopping and sightseeing to see how the new kid on the block is settling in.

Osbornes itself is made up of a 4 bars over 2 venues which are interlinked.  There’s a great cocktail list shaking things up in the main area and it’s also really nice to see the female bar staff mixing them up.  We’d recommend trying the ‘Beauty & the Bellini’ which is a sugar hit of strawberry liquer, fresh strawberries and vodka lbended together with crushed ice and topped with prosecco; meanwhile for rum fans, it’s got to be the ‘Spirited Away’ cocktail which combines 4 types of rum and shakes them up with pineapple juice, citrus and sugar.

As for the food, Osborne’s offers a separate menu, but we were keen to try the smaller mezze plates to go with our sheesha.  The plates are varied with a number of dishes ranging from warm spiced falafel and warm pitta, to grilled haloumi with cous cous salad and lamb kofta lollipops with coriander and cinnamon.  The dishes are small, but at £4-6 each, they’re reasonable and big on taste.  Our favourite was the spiced falafel served up with chunky, hearty home-made coleslaw, fresh gem lettuce and a touch of hoummous.  The pittas were also plentiful, warm and tasty.  There’s also a great range of straight forward snacks and sides including the super tasty sweet potato fries, and the slightly more quirky goat’s cheese and black pepper popcorn.

The sheesha itself comes in an assortment of fruity flavours from bubblegum to strawberry, fizzy lemonade, peach, watermelon and vanilla – (to name just a few), and there’s also a non-tobacco variety if you’re a non smoker who still fancies a try.

If you’re in the area, then be sure to give it a whirl, just don’t get too comfy, we almost missed our train back!



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Blind Dining in London – what an experience!

Blind Dining is about to hit London in a big way.  As part of the first ever London Without Limits Festival, dining while bindfolded aims to stimulate the senses and enchance eating, while supporting RLSB  - the Royal London Society for Blind People.  The aim of the festival is to provide a range of sensory and sociable events to help the RLSB defeat the lonely reality of childhood sight loss.



Across the course of the next week, guests at the stunningly contemporary Island Grill bar and restaurant at Lancaster London have the chance to try dining in the dark and Luxuria was invited down to an exclusive preview to  give our verdict on what was a truly surreal experience.

On arrival, you’ll be shown to your seat and given an information pack and of course, your blindfold.  You can either choose what you’d like to eat from their extensive menu, or as we did, leave it up to the brilliant team to decide on your behalf (which I think makes it all a little bit more fun!).

The food at Island Grill is seasonal, fresh and inspired by British produce.  Starters include Devonshire Crab, Pork Belly and slow cooked creamy Courgette and Artichoke Risotto, while the main a la carte menu caters for all tastes with Roast Suffolk Chicken, Seafood Bucatini and a selection of steaks.

There’s also beautiful views over Hyde Park, although this isn’t something we were here to see.  Blindfolds on, we eagerly awaited our starters while the wine was poured and we got used to our surroundings.  Our waitress explained where everything was – fork to the left, knife to the right, water in the middle.  Wine glass to the side of the water glass, which is by the knife!  It’s  actually amazing how quickly you adapt.  By the time we got to mains, my friend Sylwi was actually pouring water for the both of us!  Other observations we made in the first 20 minutes of being blindfolded included feeling a little colder than usual – perhaps because we couldn’t see any lighting or candles around us… And it was extraordinary at how we could pick out the sounds around us too  – much more exaggerated and intense.  I almost felt as it I was eavesdropping on the conversation going on between a couple on the table behind us!

Our starters arrived and were placed in front of us (so we were told anyway!)   Seconds later, the delicious smells started to waft through the air to our noses.  We had cheated a little with this course by deciding what to order, so we did know what was coming… However what we weren’t aware of was how difficult it was to put together a forkful  of what was on our plates and successfully shovel it into our mouths without dropping any!  I had opted for the Ricotta and Herb Ravioli with a wild mushroom sauce.  Great strong flavours to get started with and an absolutely beautiful tasting dish.  Sylwi went for the Salt and Pepper Calimari – slightly easier to eat than my dish I thought!

Onto our mains and we allowed our knowledgeable waitress to make a choice on our behalf.  I asked for meat, Sylwi asked for fish.  This would be the real test as we’d have to use our tastebuds alone to work out what we were eating.  Ever tried to cut a piece of lamb without looking?  Tricky stuff, but from the first mouthful, (which I realised was huge – I had no concept of what I’d cut!),  I worked out what kind of meat it was.  Also interestingly, I ate all of the fat on the lamb which I’d normally avoid – who knew it was packed with so much flavour?!  What I couldn’t work out was what the sauce was made of.  A thick-ish consistency, tangy, sweet and sour at the same time and extremely more-ish.  We were told later it was a warm baba ganoush made with aubergines, garlic and lemon juice.  Again a really good choice for blind dining because it was so packed with flavour and it’s quite interesting trying to work out which taste is which.
Sylwi recognised instantly that she had salmon.  A fillet to be exact, in a saffron consommé with spinach, potato, brown shrimp and tomato.

Dessert I have to say, was my favourite dish to eat blindfolded.  I knew immediately that I had bannoffee cheesecake – the consistency of which was a giveaway in itself.  Fresh banana, soft cream cheese and the best biscuit base I’ve tasted on a cheesecake in a long time.  Turns it out it was hobnob – yum!  Sylwi had the Café Latte Crème Brulee which she now proclaims is her favourite dessert ever.  It came with a huge amaretti biscuit on the side, but she didn’t actually know it was there until we took our blindfolds off!  It went fantastically well with my muscat dessert wine – again a delight to drink while blind dining because the flavours are so sweet and delicious and exaggerated in the dark. 

We’re not sure if it was down to the fantastic food, or down to the experience, (I’m thinking perhaps both), but our meal at Island Grill felt really special.  I think we appreciated every taste of our dinner that little bit more and I feel especially lucky to have my full eyesight, when living in darkness is the norm for so many people.

You must try it for yourself.  Blind dining experiences are available at Island Grill until September 29th.  There’s also a number of other restaurants supporting the RLSB as are designers Giles Deacon, Wayne Hemingway and Lisa King who have designed a special set of limited edition blindfolds.





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Babbo - Fine Fare in Mayfair


Oh how I love mooching around the streets of Mayfair.  There’s always a street spot 
celebrity to tweet about and I always find myself spending way too much time (and money)  In Christian Louboutin.



Well, now I have another reason to hang out on Albemarle Street, because Babbo is one of the most charming, hidden Italian restaurants I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.

My flatmate Leonie was my ‘date’ for the night.  And what a great date place it is too!  Beautifully lit, with romantic tables spaciously placed under stunning sparkly chandeliers, Babbo is a hidden treasure in the Mayfair maze.





Black and white family photos line the back wall – mostly photos of the owner with his children, hence the name ‘Babbo’ which means ‘daddy’ in Italian.  It adds a homely, cosy feel to the restaurant which almost makes you think you could be sat in the dining room of a grand Italian mansion somewhere in Tuscany.  Huge vases filled with fresh flowers add welcome bursts of colour to the pale hues of beige on the walls and the understated and traditional, yet contemporary furnishings.  There’s also a staircase lined with bottle upon bottle of fine wines which leads up to a private dining area with a huge plasma screen.  What better place to watch that all important football game, or have a long overdue and intimate catch up with family and friends?

Presentation was faultless, the staff tended to our every need without it feeling obtrusive.  A bottle of Gavi was the perfect accompaniment to our rich assortment of breads, crisp breads and bread sticks  , dipped in thick treacle like balsamic, while we perused the antipasti menu and made our selections.

I’d heard that Babbo’s head chef Carlo Scotto is something of a rising star in the culinary world.  I’d also heard that the ingredients he uses are hand-picked and flown in fresh from Italy.  The burrata was said to be one of those specialities, so as a big burrata fan, that was the easy choice.  Balanced on top of a fresh slice of juicy tomato, the burrata came drizzled with basil pesto - creamy and buttery to the taste with its slightly slippery shiny texture and that unmistakeable subtle yet full flavour, it most certainly didn’t disappoint.  The calamari was a close second.  Topped with fried swede (sounds bizarre, but totally worked,) it came with a basil and milk mayonnaise.





The Lasagne al ragout di chianina at Babbo is legendary and the recipe has been passed down through the generations for over 100 years.  At £20, it’s a little more than I’d normally pay for a lasagne, but every mouthful was worth it!  Leo went for the rack of lamb coated in herb crust and served with lentil, chestnut and aubergine puree.  The lamb was tender and succulent resting neatly on perfectly cooked potatoes.  A delicate yet decadent flavour.

I almost resisted the temptation to order dessert, but the dolci list looked too good to pass up!  The Torta dip era con gelato alla canella comes with my highest recommendations.  It’s a pear tart served with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream – freshly baked and bursting with fresh fruit flavours, absolutely divine.

With the nights drawing in, Babbo is the perfect place to dine in elegant surroundings with first class service.  And if you can manage to get the ingredients for that speciality lasagne, then be sure to pass them on!

Babbo
39-40 Albemarle Street
London
W1S 4JQ




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Beaver Lodge - a brand new saloon in (Wild) West London!



Burrow your way through the streets of Chelsea, down the stairs and into a brand new drinking den!  Beaver Lodge is now open - the brand new brainchild of Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling.

We were treated to a sneak preview before opening night where we shook our daisy dukes surrounded by London's celeb set.  Beaver Lodge is a mountain cabin bar and dance saloon based on the boys' adventures in the Cowboy state.  


Walls are lined with moose heads and antlers and you'll be greeted at the door by a big old grizzly bear!  Staff are clad in lumberjack shirts, denim and cowboy boots and they'll serve you up some mean American liquors, Bulleit Bourbon, spinning shot Wagon Wheels and honky tonk cocktails.

Mixing up some classic Americana and rock ‘n’ roll, followed by commercial and old skool as the night goes on, DJ Lumberjack will get the mid-week party going from the horse and wagon DJ booth with 'Woolfpack Wednesdays’, while Desperate Dan will get the weekend started early with 'Gold Rush Thursdays'.  There's also sporadic linedancing breakouts from the staff which'll get everyone in the mood to party.

Charlie and Dunc have most definitely done it again, with a club every bit as good as their other themed venues which include Bunga Bunga, Maggie's and Mr Fogg's.

Beaver Lodge opens on the 12th December - don't forget your Cowboy hat!

266 Fulham Road
Chelsea
SW10 9EL


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What's behind The Little Yellow Door?

Little Yellow Door, Notting Hill – going out is the new staying in, sort of

'Arghh I can’t find it’ I shouted into my phone.  I’d become that annoying person, standing in the rain at the top of the stairs to Notting Hill Gate tube, getting in everyone’s way – you know, the ‘London tourist’ as they’re affectionately known!  ‘It’s right by the tube and it’s a little yellow door’ was Hollie’s reply.  She was right.  Doh, seeing as the bar is called ‘Little Yellow Door’, I perhaps should’ve known better.  Blonde moment.  I was actually standing right beside it.




Little Yellow Door is a brand new bar in West London.  You could imagine the concept was dreamt up by three men on a night out after one too many whiskies (I’ll have to ask them if this is actually true…)  When you stumble upon the doorway, and let’s face it, you’re bound to find it quicker than I did, either knock on the door, or get out your VIP Yale key and let yourself in.  Then, up the stairs you’ll find, well, someone’s flat.  A hall way, a front room, a bathroom.  But it’s like you just wandered into someone’s apartment who happens to have a full bar in their front room.  And a tree house.  (Standard).  

There’s a pair of trainers casually left under the side stand.  A table and chairs.  A sofa!  There’s even a fish tank on the window sill with a couple of fish just chilling out and taking in the vibe of the place.  It’s that cool.  So. you’re basically round at a mates, having a laugh, except you’re in what is essentially a bar.  It’s genius. And it’s not one of those flats that has one of those drink cabinets with a bottle of left over Advocaat in it.  Nooo, they do marvellous cocktails and sharer drinks that come in those blenders everyone bought in the 80’s.  I bet they even have a toastie maker somewhere too.

The food is fancy bar snack stylee.  The camembert is just to die for.  I ate lots of other good stuff, but got a little bit tipsy and can’t remember what exactly.  Oh burgers!  Yes the burgers are definitely slicker than you’re average.

I’d also like to talk about the bathroom here..   It’s got to be a very special bathroom to get a whole paragraph to itself!  Again, it’s like someone’s real bathroom!  There’s even a hairdryer and a toothbrush holder!  I just LOVE this place.

Little Yellow Door is open now and worthy of a visit.  Also look out for their new Friday night dinner parties –a specially prepare four course dinner around a massive table where you get to hobnob with hotties that you’ve never met before.  Sounds amazing.

If you’re reading this before Saturday 29th November, then get involved with ‘Christabel’s Mad Hatter Brunch’ from 1-6pm.  There’s glittery menus, sparkly drinks, crispy bacon with maple syrup and pancakes plus film screenings and a vinatage disco music from DJ Nicola Marian Robinson.  Tickets are £25 and even include a drink!

Check it out!  Just don’t get too comfy – you will have to leave at some point!


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Calling all Cool Runnings fans! The coooollest cinema experience, like ever!

In the famous words of that man I always get mixed up with Will I. Am, ‘What’s cooler than being cool?’ Well, the answer aint ‘ice cold’ (that doesn’t even make sense), it’s watching Cool Runnings on an ice rink with cosy blankets and hot rum punch to warm your cockles!  Obvs.  

Those forward thinking dudes at ‘Press Play’ have been, well, ‘pressing play’ all over London, with cinema experiences that promise to pale your retro Betamax from ebay into insignificance.  They did Gatsby on the roof at Broadway House, they sold out 60’s stylee Austin Powers screenings at One New Change (yehhhh baby!) and now their bob sleds are polished and heading right for an ice rink at Notting Hill!
So, time to brush the snow off your ski-suit and poddle on down to Queens Ice & Bowl for an unforgettable cinema screening.  Running from November 26th to 28th (with two screenings on the Friday), tickets are a steal at between £20-£30, and for that, you’re getting waaaaay more than just a film!  You’ll be greeted by the hosts and whisked off to a totally tropical place.  No Lilt, but there will be rum cocktails, Jamaican Ginger Beer and good old trusty Red Stripe, plus you can warm up to the reggae groove of Caribbean pop-up specialists Dubjam.  Popcorn will keep you toasty during the movie and it’s sweet coconut and vanilla flavoured! 
And what’s more, when Cool Runnings comes to a close, the party is just getting started…. At Bodo’s Schloss which is alpine ski-themed and won’t make you look like a douche-bag in your ‘retro Caribbean ski wear’ (that’s the theme guys, don’t let them down...)  Keep your ticket stub, you’ll get free entry.  And you’ll even get a free £20 cab ride from Uber to get you there, if you don’t fancy skiing.
More info here:
Get your tickets here:

Now where did I put my shell suit circa 1988?!!! #ontheice

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Franco Manca, Chiswick



Great pizza comes at a price and you’ll be shocked it’s under £7!



Walking down the Chiswick High Road on a sunny summers’ evening, I couldn’t work out why there was a huge queue of people down the street.  Either the Chiswick residents had just discovered the coffee shop that Brooklyn Beckham’s meant to working in, or something pretty special was going on.  For a start, Chiswick peeps don’t queue full stop.  (Unless there’s a champagne sale at M&S Foods…)





Turns out sour dough food chain Franco Manca has just opened!  And possibly everyone was  in shock that you can get a pizza in West London for under a tenner! 



Eager to find out what all the fuss was about, I joined the queue too (mildly excited at the thought that maybe Brooklyn was working here and maybe David would be milling around.)  I can confirm I was in for more of a thrill than any meeting with Becks would provide in the form of a pretty amazing pizza cooked in a very very very hot oven.



 After a very short wait, my friend and I found ourselves with a lovely outdoor table (luck of the draw I guess) and while I was slightly disappointed to be drinking my Sauvignon out of one of those weird glass tumblers as opposed to a normal wine glass,) I was also very much looking forward to the prospect of a tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarella baked at 500 degrees Celsius.



Apparently we have Greek settlers back in the 5thCentury BC to thank for this delicious pitta like sour dough base.  The high heat of the wood burning ‘tuff’ brick oven, seals in the moisture and locks in the flours’ natural aroma.  Sounds good doesn’t it?



I’m not gonna lie, it’s a pretty basic menu (6 pizzas in total), but you can add anything you like to them to satisfy your pizza fetishes, and they do a pretty mean burrata starter too.



Check out the menu at www.francomanca.co.uk



Franco Manca

Chiswick

144 Chiswick High Road

London

W4 1PU.


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