Sunday, 26 June 2016

A lovely long weekend in Edinburgh

Remember how I told you about my ridiculously amazing stay at the Balmoral a few posts back? Well, I failed to reveal why I was in Edinburgh in the first place.

The reason was that my dear, dear old friend Emily has got engaged, and exciting news like that is definitely worth a trip up to Edinburgh to see her, congratulate the happy couple and celebrate.

Can we all say congrats to Em, please!
Woo! I'm so excited. And yay for rosé in the sun.

And as it tied in with the Bank Holiday weekend and I could spend a couple of days exploring Scotland's capital city, it made the 10 hours of train travel from London and back much less painful.

I was exceptionally lucky with the weather - the sun was shining brightly which was highly conducive to ambling the beautiful and extremely insta-worthy streets of the city. Having been to Edinburgh a few times, I wasn't too fussed about ticking off the main tourist sights, but let me take you on a little tour with me anyway...
Edinburgh Castle
I wandered up and down the hilly-but-oh-so-pretty streets of the old town...
Princes Street gardens were unsurprisingly a popular spot...
...but there was a bit more space to stretch out on the Meadows
It was the perfect location for a lazy Sunday afternoon picnic.

Having partied on Saturday night in a very Scottish fashion (well, we did have an engagement to celebrate after all), Sunday evening was a more chilled affair involving a sunny stroll through the beautiful Georgian new town (well, newer than the old town), wine and a wonderful dinner.
We hadn't made a reservation for dinner anywhere, but upon finding ourselves in the charming area of Stockbridge, we stumbled upon a great place called Hamilton's and it ended up being ideal.

Em and I both went for the halloumi, courgette and kale fritters and they were in-SANE-ly good.
The lighting was terrible and my picture does not do them justice so you're just going to have to take my word for it. I also recommend sweet potato fries on the side because, well, sweet potato fries. Always and forever.

I really love Edinburgh. It is a fantastic city. And although I wouldn't change my student years in Bristol for anything, I think I'd have really enjoyed studying in Edinburgh. In a way, I think there's a similar charm to them both.

I'm so glad I made the effort (and spent the ludicrously expensive £90 for the trains - I mean srsly National Rail, that was with a railcard and booked way in advance) - spending a whole weekend with one of my bestest gals AND getting to do so in Edinburgh was too much fun. You should do it.
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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A magical Midsummer Night's Dream afternoon tea at Swan, London

The Globe theatre is iconic, almost as famous as Shakespeare himself.

Lesser known, however, is Swan (apparently sans article), the Globe's restaurant.

I paid my first visit to the riverside eatery recently to sample their Midsummer Night's Dream-themed afternoon tea, which is inspired by the play and ties in with its run in the theatre.

I met my friend Rach and we went to the upstairs part of the restaurant which has a lovely interior is slightly snazzier than downstairs. It didn't have a pub vibe but it was informal and definitely more chilled than your usual posh hotel afternoon teas.
One of the main attractions of the tea has to be the view over the Thames - it's amazing.
What's more, it made a really nice change to a lot of the posh hotel afternoon teas which are often served in ornate rooms that are beautiful but lack any daylight.

Everything is pretty and magical in the Midsummer afternoon tea, from the menu to the crockery. I adored it.
We started with the love potion cocktail - a mix of Earl Grey infused gin, honey, blackberry puree and prosecco, topped with fresh blackberries.
 It was utterly delicious and I loved how it was served.
The same can be said for the tea, which we enjoyed from a big silver teapot. The staff replenished it over and over again, which is always good.
We had the sapphire earl grey which was light, fragrant and perf with the treats we enjoyed.

So, on to the food! Doesn't it all look fab? And let's be real, we eat with our eyes first.
Let's start with the sandwiches, as one should.
I liked how all the savouries were served differently - there was only one actual finger sandwich. The duck egg mayo one wasn't too eggy, which I liked. The mushroom and truffle cheese tart was creamy and truffly. The smoked salmon, grape mustard and dill pancake was perfect (or so I'm told, I don't like salmon so had an extra chicken one). And the lemon chicken with pea flower was my fave - it was a big sweet brioche roll well-stuffed with tender lemony chicken. Deeeelish.
The scones were absolutely fab - they were big and not at all dry, as scones so often are. One of them was supposedly a mulberry scone, but the mulberries weren't very noticeable. The scones weren't warm unfortunately but that was OK.
Alongside our lovely scones, we had 'midsummer' jam (I wanna say blackcurrant?), which made a nice change, and I liked how the jam and cream were served in little mason jars. We could've done with a bit more though.
On to the cakes and a glass of champagne too.
The cakes were beyond beautiful.
I really liked the creamy hibiscus and apricot shot. The chocolate and violet chouquette however was a bit meh and had a funny texture in my opinion. The strawberry delice with an elderflower macaron was bursting with strawberry flavour, and inside was like a lovely thick creamy yogurt. I wasn't sure about the little lemon and rose cake - the texture was somehow dense but also dry, but the icing was really well whipped and light.

Throughout our tea, the staff were very attentive and can't be faulted. It was a really lovely experience and great fun to do something a little different.

It strikes me that Swan is not just a restaurant attached to a theatre but rather a good eating destination in its own right.

The location lends itself perfectly to a digestive stroll along the Southbank afterwards too. Sunny London. Can you beat it? I think not.

I loved my tea at Swan and would thoroughly recommend it.

Rach and I were guests at Swan but all opinions are my own. Are you tempted by the tea?
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Cruising from Portsmouth to St Malo with Brittany Ferries

Remember a couple of weeks ago I told you about my wonderful weekend in St Malo? Well ma dears, now I want to spill the beans on how I got there. And back. Because unfortunately I did have to come back.

After work on Friday evening, I met up with my absolute sass-pot of a school friend, Jess, and we squidged ourselves in with all the commuters on the train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour. From the train station, it was just five minutes in a taxi to the actual harbour where we met the rest of the gang and checked in. Simple.

Just before 8pm, we boarded the ferry and it was time to set sail.
You would think just nipping over the English Channel would only take an hour or so, wouldn't you, but Brittany Ferries somehow make it take around 11 hours. For an overnight crossing, however, that works rather nicely.

Our journey back was a daytime crossing taking up most of Sunday, but you've got to think of the time on the ferry as being part of the holiday, in my opinion. And the timings are perfect for a weekend break without having to take any time off work - we arrived in St Malo on Saturday morning and got back to Portsmouth on Sunday evening with enough time to get back to London at a decent hour.

I'd never been on a ferry for more than an hour or so which meant this was all a new experience for me. So, let me fill you in on what it's like...


The ship as a whole

The ferry was huge. Like, it is a hefty hunk of metal cruisin' over the water (best not to try and think about how that actually works, I find). But it's pretty spacious too.

There are a couple of deck areas too where you can admire the vast expanse of blue all around, and marvel at the coastline of England and France.
Champagne optional but recommended.

Inside, well, I'm not going to lie to you - the decor is looking a little jaded and it's not exactly super stylish, but it's fine.

On board

Considering how long the journey is, it's a jolly good thing there's entertainment on board, particularly on the daytime crossing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there was a proper, albeit slightly smaller than usual, cinema. You had to buy tickets, but they were cheaper than usual ones, thank goodness.

There are various little shops on the ship, but between you and me, there's nothing particularly interesting for sale in my opinion.

Although I didn't actually go to any, there were various performances on too.

There's wifi on board, but unfortunately not in the cabins, which was pretty annoying.

And of course, there was plenty of scope for my fave activity: eating. But we'll get to that.


The rooms

There are four different levels of room on a Brittany Ferry, and we were in the second best type.

That said, our cabin was pretty basic. It had everything we needed and was pleasingly clean, but it was nothing special. I did like the pinkness though!
The beds were comfy, but I think if there had been four people in there (the top bunks fold up at the side), it would have been veeeery cosy.

What's more, I couldn't sit on my bed with my back to the wall because the top deck got in the way, despite the fact that you were clearly meant to as there was a back rest. Maybe children can fit, who knows.

We had a TV with an array of channels, which was great, and I was obviously thrilled to find tea, coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits.
 There were hangers too which was useful, and the shower wasn't bad either.
Apparently the most basic cabin doesn't have TV or even a window which I don't think would be particularly nice, so maybe if you can afford it, I'd pay a little extra for the window at least.

Whilst on board, we were fortunate enough to be shown the highest level room, the Commodore cabin.

And it was pretty sweet.
I don't think my picture does it justice but the Commodore cabin was really lovely and spacious too - it was more like a hotel room that just happened to be on a boat. I'd treat yourself to that if you can.


The food

Both on our outbound and return journeys, we ate in the à la carte restaurant which was lovely. White tablecloths and all, people. I was really pleasantly surprised by the standard and quality of the food actually.
And what was great was that the menu for dinner on our way to Brittany was different to that of lunch on our return voyage.

After settling in on the Friday evening, we went up to the bar for drinks.
Champagne as served in a flute, prosecco in a wine glass. I don't know why.

As we sat down, we were brought warm bread rolls to nibble on whilst perusing the menu. Although you can order each course off the menu, there's also the option of a buffet for the starter and pudding. And who can resist a pudding buffet!? (Not this gal.)
There were lots of interesting dishes and I liked being able to try different things and choose exactly what I wanted. There weren't loads of veggie options though.

Our main courses were significantly better presented:
I had the move vegetarian ravioli which ended up being somewhat deconstructed. They were tasty though.

And behold, the pudding buffet:
Yeah, I went to town. Classic.

All the cakes and puddings were French-style - my favourite was the pistachio cake - but I liked that there was fruit salad too. You know how sometimes all the time you want to finish your meal with something sweet but you just want something light? Exactly. Or you could just have fruit AND cakes. No regrets.

Breakfast the next morning was much like any French hotel breakfast, and was really decent.
Man, I love breakfast.

For lunch on the way home, I started with a starter buffet once again, before demolishing this here ciabatta burger with pesto and mozzarella. The meat was a tad dry for my liking, but the chips on the side were perfection.
Once again, the food was beautifully presented.
What with having spent the past day eating all the French food, I was more inclined to go a bit lighter on the pudding buffet this time round.
Yes, that is a small pudding for me. And no, I could not resist the pistachio cake again.

It was all really really tasty, and I liked the experience of being in a good restaurant that just happened to be in the middle of the sea.


The experience

We hadn't been expecting to, but both Jess and I slept surprisingly well.

What we didn't like, however, was being woken up at 6am by bizarre folk music being played out on the speakers in all the cabins. Quote Jess: "I feel like I'm in a forest in medieval times." It felt a bit patronising to be forced to get up at a certain time.

The staff, however, were all fantastic. They're nearly all French but were really friendly and helpful. The idea is that as soon as you step on board, you're in France, and I liked that.


So, is a journey with Brittany Ferries a luxury experience? No. Not unless you're in a Commodore cabin. Would I do it again though? Absolutely.

It was fun, really affordable, and the timings mean you get the most out of one night in St Malo. Plus, the pistachio cake *insert emoji with hearts for eyes here*.

Jess and I were guests on board Brittany Ferries, but as you can probably tell, I have been 100% honest in my views. What do you think? Would you do it?
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