Thursday, 4 February 2016

A Pancake Week dinner at Lanes of London

Pancake Day came early for me this year. Early, and in the snazziest form I've ever experienced courtesy of Mayfair hotel, Lanes of London.

The most dedicated amongst you may recall that I first visited Lanes of London (can we call it LoL for short? I'm going to go with it, for obvious reasons) over a year ago when I enjoyed their wonderful Christmas champagne afternoon tea. So when I was invited back, I knew I was going to say yes before I'd even learned what for.

And when I found out, I was even more keen.

Pancake Day is one of the best days of the year, amiright? Of course I am. How to make that better? Make it Pancake Week! Why haven't we done this before?

Pancake Week is exactly what's currently going down at LoL, and I couldn't wait for the chance to experience it.

On a chilly evening after a long day of work, I strolled through pretty night-time London to the end of Park Lane, just by Marble Arch.
Walking into LoL's sumptuous interior was perfect after being blown away by bracing winds - the fire was roaring, the armchairs were calling, and pancakes were on their way. Yes please.
My dinner companion was another pancake-loving Rachel, and we were excited to catch up over some delicious food and drink.

We sat ourselves down at one of the beautifully-laid tables, our coats were whisked away and before we knew it we were sipping the finest champagne from the most chic of flutes. (Don't you love this shape? I do!)
With just three savoury and four sweet pancakes from which to choose, you'd think it wouldn't have been a difficult decision. Not so, mes amis.
The menu is particularly creative and all the pancakes sounded so different, interesting and delicious. We eventually got there though.

For my main course, I chose the cheese and chicken pancake. And I wasn't expecting what I got.
Oh my days, this was so damn tasty! Way better than I could even imagine.

It doesn't even look like a pancake, does it?

Essentially what was going on was a load of chicken and glorious melty cheese, wrapped up in a pancake and deep-fried in breadcrumbs. I think.

It was not my healthiest/vegan-est/gluten-free-est choice but it was insanely good.

Rach also chose well, opting for these bacon-topped fluffy (IT'S SO FLUFFY I WANNA DIE) pancakes with grated apple, maple syrup and the scrummiest creamy sweetcorn sauce/dip.
Gimme a jar of that and a spoon and I'd be a happy bunny.

Now I must tell you that choosing a sweet pancake was an even tougher choice. There was only one thing for it: get two different ones and share.

So...
The Tea Party pancakes - delightfully thick, fluffy, sweet pancakes topped with cherry compote and green tea ice cream. The flavour combo was interesting and the ice cream genuinely tasted so much like green tea!

And the Choco:
The same sweet pancakes topped with roasted banana, chocolate sorbet, chocolate sauce and toasted almonds.
Aww yeeeaaah.

The chocolate sorbet was nice as it was less sweet than ice cream, and the flavour combo was a definite winner. Better than the Tea Party, in my books.

By this point, we were two very full Rachels, so a digestive tea was just what the doctor ordered.

Having had the pleasure of a LoL afternoon tea before, I knew the selection was impressive.

Restaurants with separate tea menus are my kinda restaurants.
And I was really pleased with my choice: fresh rosebud tea.

Look! Look how preeeeetty!
I was sceptical as to how flavoursome a pot of roses in hot water could really be, but the tea was delicious and the flavour was really strong, which I loved.

Rach chose jasmine pearl tea which was also delicious. They were just perfect after our pancake feast.

It had been the loveliest evening and the perfect way to catch up in style. At £10 a pancake (well, a portion of pancakes), it obviously isn't the cheapest of dinners. But I suppose you're paying for the location, five-star service and sumptuous surroundings. If you want to treat yourself this Pancake Day (Week?), I'd say a trip to LoL is a fine way in which to do it.

And if you go, make sure you go to the loo as they're suuuuuuper nice! Don't you love a nice loo? I do.

The Pancake Week menu is on at Lanes of London (or LoL to its friends) until 9th February. I was invited as a guest to the restaurant but all opinions are 100% honest as lying is baaaaad.
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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Stay focused and extra sparkly

A month or so ago, as 2015 drew to a close, I did what everyone else does and reflected on what I'd like to achieve over the next year. Having just got back from my travels, my next immediate aim was to get a job and move to London (exciting progress has been made on that front, but I'll tell you all about it in another post).
"I've finished uni, swanned around an exotic part of the world, 2016 will be the year I become a proper adult," I said to myself.

I decided that in 2016 I would wear heels, lipstick and eye-shadow IN THE DAYTIME *gasp* (the fact that I was kindly given the Urban Decay Naked 3 eye palette for Christmas is massively helping me keep up with that last one as I am in LOVE with it!)

This year, I'll overhaul my style and dress like a grown-up - I'll gradually replace my sequinned jumpers and bright patterned dresses with sleek, chic blouses and jackets in grey, black, white and beige. I will look sophisticated.

Yeah, or not.

My downfall came just a few days into January courtesy of a certain bright turquoise glittery wallet in the Kate Spade sale (where else?). Behold, the Glitter Bug Stacy:
You guuuuuys, it was 50% off and I had been needing a new wallet and JUST LOOK HOW SPARKLY!!!
For sure, it was pretty embarrassing when my card was declined upon attempting to purchase said beautiful wallet but thanks to the wonder that is mobile banking (who needs savings?), the beauty was mine within moments.

I felt it was the perfect complement to the pink Glitter Bug Slim Bee purse I'd also received for Christmas:
And look you guys! This one's still in the sale online! GO GO GO!
Have I ever mentioned turquoise and pink (and glitter) are my favourite colours? Well they are.
Kate Spade also do this range of glittery deliciousness in gold, but unfortunately I didn't quite manage to get my hands on any of them.

I actually looked at the Glitter Bug range online before Christmas and contemplated adding a little summin' summin' to my Christmas list, ya know, just to help the old man out (I made a Google Doc, natch). But I decided against it, as I thought all the glitter would fall off before long. Don'tcha hate it when that happens!?

HOW-EV-ERRRRR, it turns out that the marvellous people at Kate Spade have actually solved this problem before it could even materialise. What you don't see in pictures is that all the glitter is covered in a clear patent layer so it's smooth as a (shiny) baby's bottom. 

Both my wristlet/purse and wallet have Kate Spade's beautiful 'quick and curious' lining and they're practical too.

Inside the wallet there are tons of card slots, a zip pocket both inside and out for change and whatnot, and sections for receipts and cash. I actually really like the zip around the wallet too as it means you can't just keep stuffing more and more bits and bobs in there, as I had a habit of doing. A loyalty card from the cute diner in Paris I went to four years ago? Sorry, you don't make the cut anymore.

Whilst I may not use the wristlet/purse as much as the wallet, it's still useful. I can fit my phone, lipgloss and cards inside so if you're good at packing light on an evening out, this could be the one (and you'll still have your hands free for Champagne and canapés!) 

However on a day-to-day basis I'll probably keep mine inside my handbag. Isn't it annoying when bags don't have inside pockets and you can never find small essentials like keys or lip balm when you need them? I don't think locating this pink sparkly beaut will be too much of a problem.
These Kate Spade beauties bring smiles to people's faces. Every time I get my wallet out to pay for something, it catches someone's eye. The cashier at Le Pain Quotidien complimented me on it, we discussed how it went with her sparkly nails and both of our moods were boosted.

So I've decided there is no reason why I can't be bright and sparkly and grown-up and sophisticated. If you ask me, adult life could do with a bit more sparkle. Don't you agree?
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Monday, 25 January 2016

11 reasons for going travelling with a tour group

For the majority of my trip through South-East Asia, I was travelling with a tour group run by G Adventures, and I could not recommend it more (no-one's paid me to say that, honest!)

Although guided tour groups may be associated with retired folk on Saga cruises, a lot of young people - particularly solo travellers - go adventuring with tour groups these days. Contiki is a big one, but there are tons of companies. I booked mine through STA Travel who work with a bunch of tour companies, including G Adventures.

As a 23-year-old girl heading off to Asia for the first time by herself, it was absolutely perfect for me.

Some people turn their noses up at tour groups, but I think they're wrong. Sure, you may lose a smidge of spontaneity, but you gain so much. It's just so much fun and so easy! Here's what I mean:


1. It's hassle-free before and during, thus also a timesaver. 

You can just recline like Buddha here
With my trip, the accommodation in each place and travel from place-to-place was all organised for me. And that's the stressful part of travelling, am I right? On travel days, all I had to do was dump my backpack in the back of a minibus and relax or follow my guide through an airport or train station. Simples!


2. It's targeted to your budget.

G Adventures offer trips at various different levels of luxury (or basic-ness!) so you know that the places you'll be taken to will fit your budget.


3. You know each place you stay will be decent. 

Alas we did not stay here as I was on a budget tour, but some day I plan to.
We've all heard accommodation horror stories from travellers who've backpacked through Asia, but by travelling with a tour group, you now you won't be taken anywhere too horrendous.


4. You're taken to all the best places. 
If I'd had to research everywhere I wanted to go in advance, I'd never have gone! Having run their tours for yeeeaaars, G Adventures know which places you're going to want to visit and how long to spend in each.


5. You're taken to places you wouldn't have thought to visit. 
Had I been travelling by myself, I'd never have spent nights in the Sumatran jungle but I am SO glad I did! My trip was ace as we went to all the tourist sights you want to tick off your list, but then also loads of places that were genuinely off the beaten track where we didn't see any other white people for days.


6. You're free to do as you please in each place.

Day on the beach with a coconut? OKAY THEN!

Although travel from place-to-place is organised and the itinerary is fixed, you can do whatever you want in each destination.


7. You get ideas of what to do from fellow travellers and your guide.

The amazing Indian restaurant we found thanks to Alice's guidebook

In each place we stopped, our guide gave us recommendations of what was actually worth seeing and doing, which was great. The other guys on the tour also suggested things that I hadn't heard of which was fab too.


8. You get the best of travelling alone and travelling with friends.
Want to spend some time by yourself? Off you pop. Fancy a big group dinner? You've got chums!


9. You make new friends.
No doubt about it, I have made friends for life, and I know I'm going to meet up with some of my new travel pals again. My group changed throughout the trip and although the majority of us were in our early 20s, our ages ranged from 18 to late 30s and we came from all over the world (but mainly the UK!). Even though I probably won't keep in touch with everyone, it was great to meet like-minded people - we were mostly young solo female travellers - and always have people to do things with. I know a lot of people meet up with friends from their tour group further into their travels, which is lovely. We had a ball!


10. Your guide keeps you safe.

Our fearless leader

As well as having a great group of people, our guide, Masha, was fantastic. She was so knowledgeable and warned us of any scams and the like, ensuring we didn't get ripped off or into trouble.


11. Your guide is there to answer all your questions. 
And I had a lot of questions. From asking where she'd recommend for dinner to random cultural curiosities, Masha knew the answer to everything. I learnt so much from her. What's that plant? Why do women work more than men? Is this safe to eat? She always had the answers.


Although travelling with a tour group may not be right for everyone, it was perfect for me, particularly for my first big exotic trip by myself. DO IT! I wanna go again!

Have you ever been travelling with a tour group? Or would you?
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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

An incredible tea-tasting at Piacha, London

“We should meet for coffee!” “New coffee shop opens!” “Look at all these exciting types of coffee!”

*raises eyebrow*

Coffee does not excite me. I do not drink coffee. Blergh.

Tea, on the other hand. Now we’re talking.

So when London tea bar and shop Piacha invited me in to sample some of their delicious brews, I was unsurprisingly keen.

I’d presumed it’d be a case of “choose a cuppa, take a snap, drink up and ta-rah.” But no. I was treated to a full-on tea-tasting with Piacha’s founder, Pia, which was a delight.

I’m not sure I’ve ever drunk so much tea in the space of two hours (and I do drink a hell of a lot of tea.)

You guys, I loved it.
Never in my life have I seen let alone tried such a diverse range of teas and such interesting flavours! Just you wait.
On a pretty street in Islington (I walked past both a gluten-free bakery and a sugar-free one on said road, you get the idea), Piacha was the perfect spot for some post-shopping recuperation as the sun went down - it was only 4pm, but this is January. Ya feel me.

One of the things I most loved about Piacha is the fact that they’re open till 9pm. It always bugs me when cafes close at like 4pm, because let’s be real here: tea and cake time is any time of day, am I right?

The tea bar has a trendy relaxed vibe - think exposed brick walls, orange armchairs and jazz playing in the background. No one is rushed to finish their tea or leave, but left to relax and take their time whilst sipping delicious mugs of freshly-brewed tea. It's not the cosiest of places, but I liked the ambiance.
Pia told me that before starting Piacha a year or so ago she was actually a technology lawyer! I love that she's had such a career turnaround.

I was welcomed into Piacha before being introduced to the many many teas on offer - I’m so grateful I was allowed to try a range as there’s no way I could’ve picked just one! I sniffed the different tea leaf blends and chatted to Pia about my tastes in tea and we eventually decided on a selection to try.
And it's not just tea on offer - there are of course other drinks (though why you'd choose one of them I do not know), sandwiches (complete with tea herbs!) and baked goods from a nearby bakery.

First up in my tasting was the milky oolong tea and apple green tea.
I loved both of these. The milky oolong was delicate, lightly sweet and scored a solid 9/10 with me.

The apple green tea was delicious and you could really taste the cinnamon - I scored it a fat 9.5/10! And I have to add that it went down a treat with an apple muffin, bursting with chunky pieces of fruit. Yum.

Next up: camomile citrus tea with a herbs and houmous sandwich.
The lavender really came through in this brew but I have to be honest it wasn't really my cup of tea. Literally. (6/10). The sandwich was nice enough but nothing to write home about to be honest.

Coming up next was the tea I'd been most looking forward to: rooibos rhubarb fudge, and chocolate cinnamon rooibos (yes, really.)
And do you know what? I think I actually preferred the chocolate cinnamon to the rhubarb fudge! The former smelled incredible and actually tasted more chocolatey than I'd expected upon taking a whiff - it's up there with the apple green tea on 9.5/10.

The rhubarb was still lovely and very rhubarby, scoring a highly respectable 8/10, so still yummy despite perhaps not quite living up to my hopes. Can we get a round of applause for rhubarb fudge? Good work.

We finished my tea journey with black teas: vanilla early grey and black cherry, with a little chocolate brownie bite:
The black cherry was reeeaaally yummy and particularly great with milk (9/10) and the vanilla earl grey was lovely - the citrus and bergamot of normal early grey was less strong, which I liked (7/10).

And despite feeling pretty gosh darn full by this point, Pia insisted I try one of their ice tea smoothies, and I chose earl grey peach.
I thought the peach and early grey flavours complemented each other perfectly - you could really taste both and it wasn't too sweet. The smoothie was delightfully refreshing and unlike anything I've ever had before.

All my teas at home seem super boring now.

And of course, mes amis, these are just my opinions. Tea's a personal thing, ya know? And there are so many more flavours to try at Piacha! I thoroughly recommend a visit. Which flavours take your fancy?

Thanks to Piacha for inviting me in for a tea-tasting but as always these are my honest opinions.
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