Saturday, 27 February 2016

An afternoon tea tasting at the Conrad London St James hotel

"All you do is drink champagne and eat cake."

That was the message my friend Sarah sent me after seeing what I was doing with my Thursday afternoon.

And I don't wish to brag, but I do seem to be consuming a lot of champagne and cake these days.
Sometimes I feel so jammy. Like, how did I get so lucky? How do I get the opportunity to do such fun, awesome stuff?! I don't even know.

But you know that I appreciate it for sure.
A couple of days ago I made my way to the Conrad London St James hotel for an afternoon tea tasting. And it was absolutely delightful.

The interior of the hotel is, as you'd expect, luxurious, stylish and elegant. And the afternoon tea is just the same.
With a selection of other bloggers and journalists, I'd been invited to the exclusive premiere of the Conrad Catwalk and English Country Garden afternoon teas in the sumptuous Emmeline Lounge of the hotel.

I got to try so many tasty treats whilst having my flute refilled over and over again with the finest Mumm champagne. Potentially too many times. But what're ya gonna do?

Feast your eyes on all this:
Can you guess which are from the fashion afternoon tea and which are the country garden?
I was absolutely wowed by the presentation of everything: it was all so detailed, intricate and stylish. JUST LOOK AT THAT TINY MACARON! That is a very zoomed-in picture, folks. They were TINY!

And it was so inventive - coronation chicken served inside a pastry case made to look like a flower-box, anyone?

But, more importantly, it was all utterly delicious. Those chocolate-macaron concoctions were perfection. Zoe the pastry chef is a genius.

As Frances from Bake Off learnt, no one wants to be style over substance. And these delicacies certainly weren't. I really dislike when food is presented beautifully but then doesn't taste as good as it looks.
Aside from eating delicious things and drinking champagne and tea, it was really lovely to meet some other bloggers and journalists.
Gang, let me introduce you to Hannah Canavan (a writer), Stephanie Peers of The Style Memo and Caroline Van Praagh from Peers Communications. All lovely ladies who it was a really pleasure to meet.

It was one of those occasions that made me so grateful to be living in London. A few weeks ago, had I got such an invitation, there's no way I could've justified spending money on coming all the way down to London for a couple of hours, as lovely as those two hours would've been.

But now I live here so can do, eat and drink everything! Hoorah!
After indulging in far too many scones, sandwiches and mini savoury and sweet treats, not to mention multiple glasses of champagne, I finished off with a light green tea from the prettiest tea pot, strainer and cup.

Well, with another champagne-fuelled event to go to after this one (what has life become?), I figured it'd only be wise to line my stomach with scones, don't you think? Sloshed is not chic. So carbs it is! And water. Lots of water. But I digress.

It had been a delightful afternoon - who wouldn't want to spend a couple of hours at a five-star hotel being plied with champagne and delicious things? - and I'm now super keen to go back and have the full sit-down experience. I bet it's amazing. I didn't even get to try everything so that really must be remedied.

I was so impressed with what I did see and try though, so thank you to Conrad London St James and Ophir PR for inviting me.

But what do you think? How does it all look compared to any afternoon teas you may have been to?


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Lunch at Hummus Bros, Soho, London

I can't remember how or when I first heard of Hummus Bros, but I'd been wanting to go for years. Literally years.

You guys, it's a place dedicated to houmous! Could anything be better!?

OK, maybe one dedicated to peanut butter but I'd say houmous is in second place.

As an aside, the spelling of houmous stresses me out. There seem to be multiple accepted varieties and as someone who likes language rules I dislike this. Although Hummus Bros spell the word thus, I shall continue to write 'houmous', despite autocorrect's protestations, as that is what I have always done and what seems to be on most shop tubs. Thoughts on this matter would be most welcome. 

The story of Hummus Bros' incarnation is a lovely one:
"Hummus Bros was born on a glorious hot day in May 2003, when, as two college friends, we were searching for something filling and healthy that would taste great, and still leave some change for drinks at the Union Bar. Passing on the usual options of pizza or sandwiches, we stumbled out of a small specialist delicatessen with three basic ingredients: pitta bread, hummus and olive oil. In no time at all, the bowls of hummus were wiped spotlessly clean. "I could eat a good meal like that everyday!" someone remarked. We looked at each other and smiled - a dream was born: to open a place dedicated to hummus."
And there are now five glorious branches across London.

Last Sunday I ventured into central LDN to meet my lovely friends, Rachel and Holly, at Hummus Bros' Soho spot.

It may not have been a traditional Sunday luncheon, but it was basically the stuff of which dreams are made. Well, my dreams anyway.

Naturally, I had stalked the menu online on more than one occasion (no shame to admit it) and so knew what I was having: a houmous bowl with falafel salad and warm pitta bread.

It was so delicious!

In my bowl was, unsurprisingly and pleasingly, a generous amount of the best houmous I've EVER had (for reals), as well as falafels, lettuce, salsa, tzatziki and I think a little tahini.

I can't even explain how good the houmous was. I don't think any other houmous will ever hit the spot now that I've known such houmous euphoria. Just go and try it and you'll see what I mean.

The falafels were also spot on. None of that disappointing dry falafel here, met amis.

You can actually swap the pitta for something a little lighter like carrot sticks or rice cakes, but after seeing some served to the table next to me, I couldn't resist.

And boy, was that a good pitta. It was so fluffy! In my opinion it is very hard to beat the combo of warm pitta bread with smooth houmous.

I saw some people slicing open their pitta and stuffing the contents of their bowl inside. I'm not sure if this is the recommended method but it wasn't the approach I took. What is the houmous bowl and pitta etiquette? Who knows.

Holly went for the houmous bowl topped with chicken and guacamole...

...whilst Rach chose the chicken wrap. Both assured me they were delicious, and we were all particularly wowed by the chicken. It was so flavoursome and juicy!

They do quinoa dishes too which I simply must go back to try, and you can also order takeaway and delivery which is most tempting indeed.

We sat on benches at simple tables, enjoying the nice chilled vibe.

I should point out that at lunchtime on weekends the prices are the same as those on weekday evenings, whereas weekday lunchtimes are cheaper. I think because they do table service at weekends? Not entirely sure but bear it in mind.

Still, Hummus Bros is v affordable which is always a plus. Affordable, healthy, good quality and delicious. What's not to love?

Find out more on the Hummus Bros website - I thoroughly recommend a visit! To the restaurant that is. Not the website. Although actually there's some pretty good houmous porn on there so maybe pay the site a visit too actually. Mmmm I want that houmous again.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Moving to London and starting my new job in journalism

For the past ten years or so, I've dreamed of my life as a young journalist in London.

It sounds cringe to say, but I may just have started living my dream.

Three weeks ago, I started working at Stella magazine at the Telegraph (for anyone who doesn't know, it's the women's magazine you get with the paper on Sundays). And I absolutely love it.

This past week alone, I wrote about afternoon tea, fashion week parties and Eddie Redmayne. AND I GOT PAID TO DO IT! What even is that? How did I get this set-up?! I can barely believe it.

On my second day, I was doing some research for an article. You know, just standard second-day-of-new-job type stuff. Then my line manager said, "So can you write it up?" And I just thought, "What? You want me to write actual words that will go in the actual magazine!?"

So that was awesome.

Leon breakfast al desko (I won some vouchers woo!)
I've learnt so much already and I love that my job is so varied - I get to do print, online and social media work. It's crazy busy though. Like, I have a lot of work and I suppose I'm still getting used to having to balance lots of different tasks at once but I'd rather be busy than have nothing to do. It does just mean the stress munchies come out to play but what can ya do?

Working at The Telegraph is really exciting too. I love being part of such a huge organisation, and it is huge. We actually have the second biggest newsroom in the UK, behind the BBC (I've been in that one too and I'd say there can't be much in it!)

What's also awesome is that there's a free gym at the office. I KNOW! Hello, money-saver.

The cafe at work got into the V Day spirit
That being said I have only used it twice since starting but oh my days, this London yopro life thing is BIZZAY! Like srsly, I don't know how you're supposed to do a full-time job and also have a social life, exercise, watch TV, do hobbies... Maybe socialising will be my hobby.

I seem to go out for drinks/dinner approx six nights a week which is all the fun despite being less than awesome for the health of my bank balance and me as a general person. But the way I see it, what's the point in being in London if you're not going to go out and embrace London?
I am so in love with this city.

All my friends and family know that I was desperate to get a job, move and start my life in London. (When I told my friends I'd got my job and would be moving, the general response was "FINALLY!"). So when I saw my brother and mum a couple of days ago they were so relieved to know that not only does my new life live up to my expectations, it probably exceeds them.

I'm having so much fun! I just love the lights, the excitement, the hustle and bustle, the different areas to explore, ALL the cafes, bars and restaurants, the fact that so many of my friends are here and the feeling of endless possibility.

Sure, I get annoyed at ALL THE PEOPLE as much as the next Londoner - like srsly would ya just move out of the bloody way?! I got places to be, people!

And yes, prices are ludicrous, particularly when it comes to public transport.

But for me, it's all worth it to be in London.
Here is where everything (OK, not everything but a hell of a lot of things) are happening. And now I can actually accept invitations to snazzy blogger events because they're all in London and - would ya look at that - I live here now!

OK, so I may not hundy P live here just yet. But as of next weekend I shall!

For the past few weeks I've been super fortunate to be able to stay with my auntie, uncle and cousins (shout-out to the Cavs!) who have literally been a life-saver. I'm so so lucky to have been able to stay with these kind, generous, welcoming people whilst looking for my own place to live.

Finding a room in a flat in London with a limited budget isn't necessarily the easiest thing to do. But it was so important to me to find somewhere I'd feel comfortable. I wanted to live in a nice flat, in a nice area, with nice people, in a convenient location within my budget. So not asking for too much, eh?

But that's why I feel super lucky to have had the luxury of waiting until I found the perfect place.

And d'you know what? I think *touches wood* I may just have done that. Next weekend I'll be moving into a flat in Brixton and I'm so excited!
Anyone know Brixton? I'd love to hear your thoughts/recommendations/tips!

It seems to me like a super cool area with lots going on and a GREAT food scene so I am mad psyched. And I suppose as of then I'll feel like I've properly moved to London. Eeeeek!

I'm just loving it all so much and can't wait to bring you more London fun on the blog. YAY LDN!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Time To Log Off's 7 day digital detox challenge: how I got on

I did it!

Did what? you ask. Well, before reading any further, internet voyager, may I direct you to this here post, in which I explain what the challenge was all about.

Actually, this handy little infographic is a pretty good summary too. You're probs short on time. We're all busy. I get that.
I decided to note down how I was getting at the end of each day. And when I say 'note down' I of course mean type into my laptop. Well, except for the final day!

Day 1

Ummm... How honest should I be with you guys?

OK, I'll be totally honest.

I failed at the very first step of the challenge. Oops.

I thought I'd set the alarm clock but it turns out I hadn't done it right and the alarm never went off. Fearing something like this may happen (I know myself) and terrified by the prospect of sleeping in and being late for my second week of work, I'd set my phone alarm as a back-up which did then go off and wake me up. Yeah, completely not the point of the challenge. My bad.

But I know where I went wrong with the alarm clock now and so I shall try again tonight!

Day 2

Oh my days, the alarm clock is loud! I think I may have woken up the whole house (apols, guys). I must say I miss my FitBit alarm, which is what I usually use - I put my FitBit in a band that goes round my wrist, set the alarm time on the app on my phone, then it wakes me up with gentle vibrations in a most civilised manner.

Putting my devices outside my room was OK - I have to admit, there are occasions when I'm tossing and turning in bed, struggling to get to sleep, so I get up and write something on my laptop, look something up (breakfast options at Leon more often than not) or ping out an email. But when your laptop is outside the room, you don't.

That said, despite not being woken up by a phone alarm, my phone is still the first thing I check. What're ya gonna do?

Day 3

Today's challenge: eat all your meals in a different room from all digital devices. This was alright actually. If I'm eating with other people, I try really hard not to get my phone out. I did without thinking have breakfast at my desk at work though and was obviously staring at my computer screen. Oops.

Written on day 6: I'll be honest I totally forgot about this at various points later in the week. I'ma bit rubbish at this, aren't I?

Day 4

Remove email from my phone!? Wahhhh! I did it. But it's kind of annoying. And it just meant I'm looking at emails on my iPad and laptop more. But I guess maybe it is good to at least not be checking them whilst I'm out and about.

Day 5

Challenge: leave your phone at home when you go out for the evening. OK so I did go out for the evening, but the problem with this was that I went straight from work and so did have my phone on me already. I also forgot that I'd need to look up how to get home from the party in advance so, whaddaya know, I totally failed. I'm too reliant on CityMapper and Google Maps!

I did try not to get my phone out though. But personally I'd be too scared to go out totally without my phone - what if I had an emergency or got into some trouble? It's not really practical, in my opinion. Maybe just for a walk, sure, especially if you're with someone else. That I'd do. But going out for a night in London without my phone, and going home alone? No thank you.

Day 6

Ugh. Today I had to remove social media apps from my phone. I'm so sad.

I didn't even think to post an Insta last night telling everyone that I wouldn't be able to post for two whole days! WHAT WILL MY FOLLOWERS THINK!? At least I can still go on Facebook and Twitter from my other devices. And tbh my Facebook app on my phone has been dead for months so I never use that any more anyway. (Yay for iPhone 4s!)

I hate not being able to use Snapchat though. I went to a really snazzy afternoon tea today and it was just crying out to be Insta'd and added to my Snapchat story (I'm one of those people, #sorrynotsorry). At least I can #latergram it, but how will my Snapchat friends know how awesome and glamorous my life is!?

I've also been preparing for Galentine's Day tomorrow (aka a celebration of galpals feat. pink fizz, beetroot risotto, ice cream, strawberries, heart-shaped cookies and romcoms) with Nazi-style organisation. Like, even more organised than normal me. I've had to note down ON PAPER the landline number for my Galentine, her address, my various transport options, timings and directions to find her house. I mean, I'm a planner but this is just ridiculous.

Just goes to show how much we rely on our phones!

I am looking forward to colouring and reading tomorrow. They're two things I love doing but actually very rarely do because there always seems to be something more pressing to do on the ole laptop.

Day 7

Today was the biggie: no digital devices at all. Gulp. I'd been kind of dreading it and had been unable to get to sleep the night before.

Valentine's Day or not, I usually spend Sunday mornings reading the news on my iPad and catching up on blogs. Not today, my friends.

Good things, however: no matter how tragic, single and alone I may have felt (I didn't really), I couldn't have resorted to dating apps.

So what did I do all day? I read my book, I read magazines, I did some colouring, I hoovered, I epilated, I did laundry, I watched a smidge of TV (that's allowed, right? It was only two episodes of Friends!). And yes, if you hadn't already guessed, I am indeed single.
I was just super glad that I'd planned to go to Rachel's for Galentine's Day fun mid-afternoon or else I think I may actually have gone a bit mad at home sans digital devices.

So here's the thing: it was nice to read my book for an hour or so and just allow myself to get engrossed. I liked colouring and focusing on solely that.

However, I usually like colouring with some chilled toons playing in the background. How do I play music? From Spotify or iTunes, of course. Ergo, I had no music. That was annoying.

And if I'm perfectly honest, although I managed, I just found not having my digital devices somewhat annoying.
I wanted to tweet things, blog, Insta my beetroot risotto (I latergrammed it but still), gush over my friends' cute V Day posts on FB and make a Galentine's Day Snapchat story.

I didn't love feeling out of touch.

Sure, it was just a day, but I set my alarm - my fitbit alarm, sorry! - extra early for the following morning so I'd have time to catch up on all my social meeds from the detox day.

Lying in bed awake past midnight, I was mad tempted to get up and go on my phone/laptop/ipad because it was technically the next day. But I didn't. I waited till morning.

So shall we conclude this baby up with some final thoughts?

Although I didn't love every aspect of the challenge, I'm really glad I did it and am grateful to Time To Log Off for inviting me to take part. Stuff has been learned.

I was obviously never going to love being without my digital devices, despite the fact that I've seen some of the other bloggers partaking in the challenge tweeting about how happy and free they feel. But I have learned how nice it is to focus on just one thing like reading or colouring.

It's also hit home just how much I rely on the internet. I do think useful apps like City Mapper are there to make life easier, but I know I need to try and cut down my screen time (she says, blogging at nearly midnight on a Monday).

I think perhaps the answer is to make little positive changes, and that is exactly what I shall endeavour to achieve.

What are your thoughts on this? Are you addicted to your digital devices? Tempted to try a detox?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Brunch at Dishoom, London

There’s something about Sunday mornings in the city that just cry out for brunch.

It’s become more of a Thing in recent years, hasn’t it?

Young trendy people in cities love brunch. We love it. (Note how I have unapologetically and perhaps inaccurately included myself in the field of “young and trendy” there).

In the countryside, people don't do brunch. Well, they don't where I live. Sorry, lived. (Tee hee I live in London now!) You have to drive everywhere and no one can be bothered to leave their Agas in their big country kitchens.

London, however, is a haven for brunch-lovers. And I spent my first Sunday in the big city as I mean to go on: with a long, leisurely brunch.

Well, I shall brunch as much as my salary allows anyway.

Late Sunday morning, I made my way into central London to Dishoom's Carnaby branch, right by Oxford and Regent Streets, for a celebratory birthday brunch for Rachel (not myself in the third person. This Rachel from the pancake feast a couple of posts ago.) Happy birthday, Rach!
Have you heard of Dishoom? It's très popular and I've been dying to go for ages, not solely because I'd heard they do bottomless porridge, which is genuinely as exciting a prospect for me as bottomless prosecco brunches, and I'm desperate to try one of those too.

Dishoom is always booked up waaaay in advance, I've seen queues snaking down the street to get in, and they have four big branches in London. Told ya it was a popular place.

Luckily for me, Rach had made a booking a while ago which meant we could stroll right in and sit ourselves down amongst Dishoom's stylish clientèle.

In my opinion, Dishoom is pretty unique.
It describes itself as an original Bombay cafe and the menu is fantastic - think Indian dishes with a twist. But we'll get to the food.

Carnaby is the newest Dishoom branch, and the restaurant is huge.
The atmosphere was lovely and relaxed - Sunday vibes were definitely occurring - and the soundtrack was super mixed but fun. I loved the interior too. There were so many tiny details that contributed to the authentic feel of the restaurant and I felt a bit like I was in an episode of Indian Summers (anyone watch that? No? OK, moving on...)

The breakfast menu was amazing - there were so many delicious-sounding dishes that were so different to anywhere else I've eaten.
Being a lassi lover (oh my days, I got so addicted to mango lassis in Malaysia!), I couldn't help but kick things off with the breakfast lassi.
With banana and oats blended up with the classic mango and yogurt, as well as a hint of spice I couldn't quite figure out, it was a delicious and different take on the standard. Mine was gone in no time.

And not long after we'd ordered, the main affair arrived. (We were in a dimly-lit area of the restaurant so my snaps aren't the greatest, I do apologise.)
Oh my days, so much good food! There was spicy scrambled eggs with pau buns, masala beans, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fruit and yogurt, and Dishoom's famous naan rolls. The above pic was the bacon and egg naan roll, which was essentially gorgeous naan bread wrapped around bacon, egg, cream cheese and a little spicy sauce. Looks epic, no? I really want to go back and try the sausage naan roll myself.

However there was only one thing I was going to have: the house porridge.
Best. Porridge Ever.

The texture was so creamy - I think there was definitely mashed banana in there - and the flavour was absolutely on point. The sweetness from the medjool dates (mmmm my faves) went perfectly with the warmth of a little spice. Nutmeg, perhaps? I'm not sure. But it was so tasty.

And because Dishoom's porridge is bottomless, I of course had a second helping, although I did share it around because those portions are generous! It was really kind of the staff to bring me a second portion actually as it was past noon by this point, and breakfast technically isn't meant to be served. Our waitress was a total babe.

Ahhh I wanna eat this porridge again! Next time I'm going to go as soon as they open so I can spend hours and hours eating bowl after bowl of porridge. Who's up for joining me?

I also loved all the crockery on which our food was served.

Alongside my porridge I had the scrummiest house chai. It was just perfectly balanced between spiced and sweet, and even better than the legit ones I had on my travels too. I'm mad keen to go back and try the chocolate chai and Baileys chai too. Mmmm.

By this point, I was so full. So very very full.

But at the same time, I was eyeing up the lunch dishes that had started being served around us. I made a mental note to come back for lunch.

And if I hadn't been so full I would've been super tempted by the pudding menu as that looked awesome. Mango kulfi come at me.

It turned out there was no need for me to order pudding though, as out from the kitchen came a group of waiters singing happy birthday to Rach with a pudding complete with birthday candle!
We all sang happy birthday, Rach blew out her candle and we all grabbed spoons to sample the chocolatey goodness. (Everyone knows the pudding stomach is separate, duhh.)
It was the gooiest, richest, most delicious melty chocolate pudding served with chilli ice cream. The chocolate was wonderful, but I'll be honest the ice cream didn't do it for me - I'd have preferred good old vanilla. However I did also see cinnamon ice cream on the menu and that I'd love to try.

I'm so happy I got to go to Dishoom. It was the perfect place for a leisurely Sunday birthday brunch and I can't recommend it more.

Oh, and I forgot to say it's also extremely reasonably-priced, especially for London. I'm so keen to go back!

Feeling very in need of a digestive stroll afterwards, we went a wandering down and around Carnaby Street.
A peruse of Liberty's was a must, natch, but I was also thrilled to stumble upon what is without a doubt the coolest shop I've been to in a long time: We Built This City. The idea behind the shop is London souvenirs that are interesting, different, good quality and things that you'd actually want to buy. Really it's just the loveliest gift shop. I wanted everything! Deffos pay it a visit if you're in the area.

What a way to spend a Sunday. I'm really rather enjoying this London thing.
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