Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bottomless bubbly Indian brunch at Cinnamon Soho

The prospect of Indian food for brunch may sound a little odd if you're thinking of classic British Indian dishes like chicken tikka masala and chicken korma, but one of my favourite things about London is how many authentic Indian restaurants there are.

Well, what I think is authentic anyway - I'm not Indian nor have I ever been there, but I love places like Dishoom and Talli Joe, neither of which have a korma in sight.

And so I think Brits are now realising that there's a lot more to Indian food than some of us had previously been led to believe, and yes, it can be a smashing brunch choice. Especially if you're brunching at 12 ergo it's essentially lunch.

Billed as "fresh, seasonal Indian cookery, with a quirky British twist," I was looking forward to visiting Cinnamon Soho to sample their new 'sparkling Sundays' offer of bottomless prosecco or mimosas with brunch.
The lovely Anna and I arrived at noon to find we were the only ones in the restaurant for a while - by the time we left, however, many hours and many mimosas (well, bucks fizzes really because we're British, but that's harder to pluralise so you'll forgive me for my Americanism) later, the place was packed.

It was quite dark for the middle of the day and as such the restaurant had more of a dinner than brunch vibe to me, but I liked the mismatched bulbs hanging from the ceiling and the random tandem bike on the wall.

The soundtrack to our brunch was somewhat eclectic - there was both Adele and salsa, but we enjoyed it.
Naturally, we kicked things off with mimosas, but I was dismayed to find neither the coconut water nor the freshly-squeezed juices on the menu were on offer. We ordered a tea and a non-fresh juice but unfortunately had to prompt the staff who had seemingly forgotten them.

Our food, however, came exceptionally quickly.

The menu is divided into parathas, Soho plates and sides. We weren't really sure how big anything was going to be but figured it best to err on the side of caution and order generously.
Anna and I both had the tandoori chicken malai tikka - it wasn't what I was expecting (I'd imagined a curry), but it was absolutely divine. Perfectly cooked chicken.
 My favourite part of the meal, however, was without a doubt the peshwari naan. Just look at it!
It was absolutely stuffed with nutty goodness, soft, warm and sweet.

We got some greens on the side for, ya know, health and whatnot. They were fine.
And I had the 'Bollyflower cheese' paratha - it looks just like a thin flatbread-type thing, but was actually stuffed with a thin layer of cauliflower cheese. Ingenious! I loved it.
Yes, it was quite a lot of food, but a Soho plate alone would not be enough to constitute a meal. And brunch is meant to be two meals anyway, obvs.

We sipped our mimosas as we chatted and munched and the restaurant filled up.
The finishing touch to the meal was a proper masala chai tea, which took me straight back to my time in Malaysia. Yum.

Whilst it wasn't the best service I've ever had in a restaurant, the food really was faultless and at the end of the day, that's the most important part of a brunch in my opinion. And anyone who disagrees is, quite frankly, wrong.

Anna and I were guests at Cinnamon Soho but all opinions are my own.
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Sunday, 12 February 2017

A luxury spa break in the mountains at Macdonald Monchique, the Algarve

Going to the Algarve in January may seem a bit rogue - surely you'd want to hit up those beaches in summer, no? Well, yes, that's delightful. But the Algarve is actually more than the coast, which I recently discovered on a little spa break at Macdonald Monchique.

The new five-star spa resort is found up in the mountains of southern Portugal, and I figured it might just be the perfect place to escape to at the end of January.

With my sister - who was certainly in need of relaxation after her finals at uni - in tow, we flew south for a spot of pampering and winter sun.


The resort as a whole
Macdonald Monique is by no means traditionally Portuguese in design, but it's modern, elegant and incredibly stylish. We loved the decor.
The resort is absolutely huge - spaced out over seemingly endless levels (this is up a mountain after all), it was a little confusing to navigate around, but we managed. It's very cleverly arranged really.
There are tons of eateries, all with a slightly different look, feel and menu. This being January and the resort being quiet though, unfortunately they weren't all open.

Throughout the resort, there seemed to be Michael Buble and general jazz tunes being played, but tbh I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was lovely and relaxed.


Our room
Holly and I were fortunate enough to be staying in a huge suite with an incredible balcony and view.
Not only did we have a spacious bedroom, but a living, dining and kitchen area too. So great! It was like our own little apartment.

Despite the fact that there's free guest wifi throughout the resort, each room has their own private wifi which was just incredible really. Deffos appreciated that.
Oh, and there were two bathrooms too, which - like the kitchen - was not really necessary but totally fun. It was nice to have both a shower and a bath, alongside our tons of toiletries and robes, but the towels were a touch on the small side in my opinion.
When we went out on to our balcony at night, I was blown away by just how many stars I could see - it was stunning.


Breakfasts

The best meal of the day did not disappoint at Macdonald Monchique. There. Was. Everything.

In fact, we didn't even realise at first quite how much choice there was as it was all a little hidden, but it didn't take us long.

There were six different juices, still and sparkling water, and even espumante (sparkling wine) so obvs I had a bellini because they are possibly my favourite drink in the world.
There were loads of pastries and cakes including classic Portuguese custard tarts. The array of fresh fruit was fantastic - there were some tinned peaches but tbh I like them too.

I was also pleased to find peanut butter on offer because - as someone who has spent many a summer holiday in the Algarve - I know it's not so easy to come by.

There weren't loads of cereals, but there was a good hot menu, from which you could order everything from freshly scrambled eggs to pancakes.


Lunches

We ate our first lunch out on the terrace in the sunshine which was just the dream.
I really enjoyed how lunches and dinners always started with a beautiful bread basket (alongside interesting dips, spreads, butters and olive oil) - why isn't that a thing in the UK? We would probably all be obese if it was but dayyyyyum bread tho.
We chose relatively simple dishes - bolognese and a burger...
With grilled veggies and a salad. Do be warned there aren't many veggie options at Macdonald Monchique, and as someone who isn't a huge meat-eater I wasn't spoiled for choice.

The food was all delicious and definitely fresh though - the menu changes seasonally and focuses on local ingredients, which I love.
Followed by a local speciality: tarte de Alfarroba e figos (basically carob and fig tart).
And a chocolate mousse for Holly.
We stayed inside for our second lunch (the next day, that is), and it was a deliciously carby affair:
Is there anything more comforting than a huge plateful of pasta? I'm not sure.
A beautifully colourful fruit salad and hot chocolates to finish.


Dinners

Although some of the restaurants were closed, the bar was fortunately open, so Holly and I took the opportunity to have a couple of Champagne cocktails one evening. Yeahhhh we classy.
I had three very different but delectable dinners at Macdonald Monchique - there was a traditional chicken piri piri with the most scrumptious yellow sweet potato, a bun-less burger (not my choice and seemed a bit random but was delicious nonetheless) and a surprisingly amazingly delicious veggie curry.
I loved that for most of the dishes, you could choose whichever two sides you like - I thoroughly recommend the spiced wedges. They were absolute perfection.
For her part, Holly fell a little in love with the green beans with bacon.

We had a couple of cracking puddings too - one night I went for that classic Portuguese dessert of apple crumble (ahem), however I had it with peanut butter icing which OMG you must totally do. It was scrumptious.

I was most excited upon seeing the below on the menu: chocolate brownie with peanut butter ice cream, caramelised walnuts and banana puree.
Obviously, it was delicious, but tbh somehow wasn't quuuuiiite as good as I'd been expecting. Personally, I think it would've been better warm. The presentation was beautiful though and I loved the flavour combo.


Activities

There's a lot going on at Macdonald Monchique, but one of my favourite activities during our stay was actually being taken on a guided walk of the surroundings.
We strolled up and down the mountains, past waterfalls and natural hot springs, through different terrains and the nearby little town.
I could hear birds singing, the air was so fresh and it was so wonderfully green.
As a Londoner, it felt so wonderful to be properly in nature, and I was loving all the greenery.
It was so calm and still and really felt like spring was on its way.
The next day we did a BodyFit class back at the resort which I was surprised to actually enjoy - there are lots of classes on offer which I thought was great.


The spa

The spa is perhaps the most unique part of the resort, and we loved it - Holly and I both had full body massages which left me feeling v zen.

We also made the most of the thermal circuit which included lots of fun things like scented rain showers with rainforest sound effects, steam rooms, foot jacuzzis and a sauna.

Unfortunately it was a little chilly to take a dip in the outside pool but we did have a little swim in the indoor one.
As the sun made its way to bed, it was bathed in the most beautiful light.
I actually would've liked the pool to be warmer still but what Holly and I both did love were the heated loungers.
Absolutely dreamy.

It's safe to say I left Macdonald Monchique feeling wonderfully relaxed and happy - it had been the most delightful and luxurious stay, and the service had been faultless throughout. The staff really were fantastic.

I half want to go back in peak season to make the most of the heat, but at the same time, it was pretty darn awesome feeling like we had the resort to ourselves half the time. It was possibly the perfect sister break too - I think the (Portu-)gals will be back.

Holly and I were guests at Macdonald Monchique but all opinions are completely honest and unbiased.
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