Thursday, 18 October 2018

Food and wine tasting with a difference // Sake & Beyond

The other night I was invited to the launch of Sakenoteca by Sake & Beyond in London's Soho in the basement of top Italian Soho restaurant Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion (here). Sakenoteca (a blend of 'sake' and 'enoteca') is the first of many sake concept-bars and experiences being brought to the UK by Sake & Beyond. You may also see Sake & Beyond listed as Sake & Beyond Enoteca - 'enoteca' being an Italian word used to describe a local or regional wine shop in Italy where customers have the chance to try different wines. And that's exactly what we got up to the other night!

                                                            Photography my own (please credit me if used)

Photo credit: Fleur Challis photography

For those who haven't tried sake before, sake is a Japanese rice wine which goes through a different brewing process to wines you may be more familiar with, whereby rice is fermented and the starches from which are converted into sugar. Usually paired with Asian dishes, Sake & Beyond aims to re-define sake as you know it, and on this occasion instead paired it with Italian tapas style dishes. A concept that may bamboozle sake connoisseurs, but seeing as I'd never tried sake before, I didn't go in there with any preconceptions. This is just the beginning for founders Tokubee Masuda and Takeshi Sekiya who plan to use sake within a wide range of cuisines.

Photography my own (please credit me if used)

Food that night was in the form of Italian tapas which worked for me as I love small sharing places - it means you can try a bit of everything! I love classic Italian flavours which center on just three or four fresh ingredients - simple but effective! The night ended on Italian tiramisu with a difference which contained - you've guessed it! - sake.

Photography my own (please credit me if used)

The venue itself was homely and welcoming - it was not in any shape or form pretentious or overly formal. Although I wore a nice dress for the launch, I'd be more than comfortable dressing more casually on future visits. Sake & Beyond has a fully fledged events programme in the works, including cookery classes and direct experiences with a sake sommelier.

                                                                   Photo credit: Fleur Challis photography

But the big question: did Italian cuisine work with Japanese alcohol? To be honest, I thought the sake lent itself better to sour flavours like blood orange and grapefruit in the cocktails than with some of the savory dishes. Although saying that, I was at a slight disadvantage as lots of the food came around on trays and got snapped up by other people before it got to me (I had more sake than food if I'm entirely honest!). But it was a fun experience and one I recommend if you would like a wine tasting experience with a difference!

Address:
Vasco & Piero
15 Poland street,
W1F 8QE

Nearest station: Oxford Circus (just a 5 min walk away!)


Book a session of your own here

Friday, 12 October 2018

Gift guide // Finding the perfect gift for your favourite couple

Weddings are notoriously difficult to shop for. As are anniversaries for that matter. And what's the deal with engagement parties? (are you supposed to buy gifts for them too?!) When faced with having to purchase engagement gifts, wedding gifts, anniversary gifts and then of course Christmas and birthday gifts for your favourite couple(s), it can be tricky finding something truly unique (or gifts that the couple in question don't already have!). So today I'm bringing you a gift guide with a difference!. Step 1: Decide what sort of couple you are buying for. Once you've done that, everything starts falling into place.

THE FOODIES

A cheeseboard is a solid idea because who doesn't love cheese?! (apologies to the lactose intolerant!) Available in a vast array of materials, a wooden cheese board is the perfect choice for a fifth year wedding anniversary - the symbol for which is "wood"- but also makes a great gift for any other anniversary / year. Or how about as an engagement gift? (it's something that could even be used at the engagement party / wedding!) The fact that this cheeseboard can be personalised makes it feel extra special. It's suitably apt for couples who love gaming with the "ready player one", "ready player two" and Pacman engravings. I love how Pacman is transformed into cheese!


I initially thought that this was literally just a cheeseboard, but in actual fact, the top swivels open and reveals a concealed chamber complete with cheese knives which is really handy. So each time you clean the set and tidy it away, you can be rest assured that the knives are dust / pet hair free until next time (my cats shed A LOT)


We love a cheese board at Christmas, however cheese boards aren't just for Christmas and we enjoy them throughout the year (please tell me I'm not the only one?!) We had ours with sea salt crackers, smoked cheese (very similar to an Applewood) and Brie all from Aldi. And chutney wise, I highly recommend this chilli chutney (perfect with Brie and also great for adding excitement to burgers!) and this red pepper chutney (both from Tesco).


And as a second gift idea, how about a popcorn machine for "he popped the question and she said yes" ? Another great engagement gift idea and another thing that can be used at an engagement party or at the wedding itself (venue permission dependent!). You could have striped candy bags or jars as wedding favours where wedding guests fill them with popcorn. I've seen the "he popped the question and she said yes!" luggage tags used at weddings before. And the great thing? The machine can re-used in the comfort of your own home afterwards.

Or alternatively popcorn machines are also great for any MOVIE BUFFS couples you know who love their nights in.

The machine itself is a very smart thing indeed. They are doing KitchenAid mixers and kettles in this type of metallic red these days, so it could potentially be easily matched to your other kitchen accessories!

Retro popcorn machine (currently 13% off in the sale!)

Watch it go!!!


Mr Curiouser and Curiouser made the best butterscotch sauce for our popcorn. Has he (or myself for that matter) ever whipped up a butterscotch sauce? No. But he sprung into action mixing butter, golden syrup and dark sugar in a pan and oh my, it was glorious. The eagle eyed among you would have seen this pop up on my Instagram over the weekend. Popcorn was the perfect accompaniment to finishing up The Bodyguard and checking out the new Doctor Who (wasn't Jodie Whittaker brilliant?!)


THE NEW HOMEOWNERS

For couples you know that have just moved into their first place together. In this day and age it's bloody impossible to get onto the property ladder (that deposit though) so you have to celebrate and shout it from the roof tops when you and your friends manage it!


Floating champagne flutes - Champagne with a difference! I love the rose gold detail as seen here
Heart dish - a cute key/coin dish, but also perfect for woodland weddings! (as found here)
House sign - I for one would love to replace our tired looking front door number with something a little more modern like this!


Mugs - aren't these brilliant?? Find Me a Gift have some other pretty hilarious mugs here
Fridge magnets - to leave each other love notes and keep the spark alive (as found here)
Grow own herbs kit - also relevant for "FOODIES" and can be found here

SMUG MARRIED COUPLE

You know who I mean. No disrespect to them, but it's that couple you know who are oh so perfect and made for each other. You've never seen two people more in love, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.


Framed print of first dance - an especially lovely gift for newly weds (as found here)
Mrs & Mrs tea lights - how luxe do these look?! I love gold paired with dark colours!
Engraved infinity bracelet - "You and I forever" - the perfect anniversary gift (as found here)
Bath rack - for those romantic shared bath evenings. You can each hook a glass of prosecco on it, a pillar candle (use with caution!) and there's even space to prop a book or a tablet (as found here)

THE TRAVELLERS

For the couples you know who love a holiday. Or those just married and about to go on honeymoon.  As cute as "just married" passport holders are, the couple in question (or yourselves!) won't be newlyweds forever. For an option with longer longevity why not go for a personalised Mr & Mrs passport cover instead? Great for newlyweds, but also great for your (hopefully) many years together!


And how about this compass? It can personalised with a range of messages but my favourite is "so you can always find your way back home to me". What a lovely and romantic anniversary token!


If you like any of the items featured in this post, or want to get started on your Christmas shopping early (I've already started mine!) Find Me a Gift are currently offering an extra 12% off everything including sale until midnight on 15th October. All you need to do is enter EB12 at checkout

What are your favourite items?

* Some items from Find Me a Gift have been very kindly provided for review purposes, but as ever, all words and opinions are my own!

Friday, 21 September 2018

Staying at the Grand Hotel & Spa York // a hotel review

Recently my boss took me to one side at work and said "you do know you have 18 days of holiday left and we're well over half way through the year??!". It then dawned on me that I haven't had any time off in forever other than a random day off here and there. No wonder I was feeling knackered. So this month I decided that starting now, it's time to travel again and get my exploring hat on. If that's even a thing. 


York has been on my travel bucket-list for the longest time. As much as I love to go abroad, I also love a staycation. There is so much of my home turf that remains unexplored which I am quite embarrassed by. And York was one of those places.

Conveniently just shy of 2 hours on the fast train from London Kings Cross, I'd shortlisted a few York hotels and my partner and I mutually agreed on the Grand Hotel & Spa York, a 5* hotel located just a stone's throw away from the station and really close to the city centre. And isn't she a beauty?


OUR ROOM

As it was a special occasion we booked an executive room, which comparatively had a larger footprint and marble topped surfaces in the bathroom. It was a generously sized bedroom (you'd never get anything that big in London!), although admittedly probably bigger than we needed as we spent so much of our time exploring outside the room.


One minor disappointment I experienced with booking the room online here is that you are presented with two different images for the room type you have selected (one with a wooden headboard, the other with an black, upholstered statement headboard)... but you don't have any say in which room you get. Personally I would have preferred the room with the black upholstered headboard and darker walls as it's more my style and felt more modern than the wooden alternative which felt dated. However saying that, the wooden headboard and matching furniture were far nicer in the flesh and had a lovely warmth to it. I would love to stay in the other room another time, but seeing as you can't select it, I have no idea how I would go about doing that.


Upon entering the room, there was a video of the hotel playing on the TV and the jazzy music continued to pipe through into the bathroom. I'd never seen a TV like it. You could view your room bill on the screen so you could see an itemized bill in real time. This was especially handy for the day we checked out as the queue for the front desk was HUGE, and it meant we could glance over our bill in our room and then theoretically leave our key in a express checkout box in reception. I say theoretically because we couldn't find said box anywhere. However there were friendly staff on hand to assist so I can't complain.


THE BATHROOM

Admittedly the bathroom was a little bit of a surprise due to the same confusion with the multiple images on their website. Rather than grey veined marble tiles and deep blue walls as seen here, we had more of a beige colour palette with light brown marble tiles. Again, this looked far nicer in person and had really flattering low lighting in the bathroom (the sort that makes you look really tan) which was 1) a delight first thing in the morning when you've just woken up and you can't handle ALL THE LIGHT right away and 2) made things really cosy in the evenings for your waterfall shower (AMAZING by the way) and then wrapping up in a super fluffy robe afterwards.


Hotels that have complimentary robes and slippers always hold a special place in my heart. I loved the rope / cord edging to the bath robe and how incredibly soft the slippers were ("shall we get you some for back home?" M. asked, amused at how appreciative I was of them)


One of the first things I scope out when I check into a hotel is the toiletries. I love brands like Molton Brown as they always feel extra special, don't you think? The bright green bottle isn't actually a shampoo and is in fact MOUTHWASH. It was a weird one (almost herby?) But you did feel super clean afterwards though! The body wash and lotion were mandarin and clary sage which were my sort of thing (fairly unisex, not too feminine).


ROOM EXTRAS

The second thing I like to check is the mini bar and tea making facilities (I'm terribly British). Anything from the mini bar was an extra cost so we avoided. However it did state on the menu card that complimentary still and sparkling water was provided and priced at the grand total of £0. But frustratingly we didn't have any water in the room. "Let's wait until later" I said to M. "Perhaps it's part of turn down service?". Returning to our room after dinner, we had wonderfully inviting beds... but still no water. So I had to call down to reception and ask for some (which I didn't feel that I should have to do in a 5* hotel). "No problem at all! Still or sparkling? How many bottles?" the chirpy and friendly lady at reception asked me. I requested two bottles of still water but we only received one. We just about had enough for hot drinks and drinking water that evening,  so no harm done. With water now in our possession, we could boil the kettle and get some hot drinks going. M. had a classic - Yorkshire Gold - whereas I was incredibly excited to find Galaxy hot chocolate in the tea crate.


The iron and ironing board came in incredibly useful for making ourselves (well our clothes) a bit more presentable for dinner. And I'll bear in mind for future visits that shower caps, nail files and flannels are provided in the rooms (all very useful things).

THE VIEW

We had a pleasant view from our window of York's city wall. In fact one evening when we had a small pocket of time before dinner, we made our ascent and walked it. Some of the Grand Hotel & Spa York reviews on Trip Advisor moan about the views from the rooms but you have to bear in mind that this is a hotel in a city centre location near a train station! You are not exactly going to get rolling hills and greenery!


THE HOTEL ITSELF

All the communal areas of the hotel were a dream for interiors enthusiasts like myself. I'm talking luxury velvet seating, chesterfield sofas and the most beautifully scented halls. I found myself saying "I recognise that scent!" and throughout our stay, it became a game. I was so determined to remember. I couldn't decide if it was Molton Brown, White Company or Jo Malone I was smelling. But towards the end of our stay I'd whittled it down to a fig scent and decided it reminded me of Dyptique's figuier (whether it was or not is an entirely different matter).


RATES AND PACKAGES

The Grand Hotel & Spa York has some great package deals where you can incorporate meals like breakfast and / or dinner for a slightly discounted rate. The dinner rate only includes dinner in one of their restaurants (The Rise) and I was unsure how many courses / which menu this included. I did try querying this with customer services before my trip but didn't get a response from the hotel. So rather than risking this, I chose to book just the room. I didn't book bed and breakfast since at £25 per head I found breakfast to be fairly steep (plus I'd read some negative reviews on Trip Advisor here which dissuaded me). We ended up booking dinner separately at The Rise restaurant in case of any menu restrictions as we wanted freedom of choice. My review of The Rise restaurant can be found here. I would love to try their other restaurant Hudsons (a 3 AA Rosette fine dining experience with 5 and 9 course tasting menus) another time.


SUMMARY

I hate to say it, but to me the Grand Hotel & Spa York didn't feel like a 5* star hotel. I have stayed at (cheaper!) hotels with lower star ratings which have felt more special. M. hit the nail on the head when he called it "personally impersonal". There wasn't an initial warm welcome at check in. Instead we were directed to another room to continue check in and discovered that our booking had come through incorrectly despite booking directly with them on their website. I queried about booking a table for dinner and we were led to a desk - with no one there. By that time there was a queue of people waiting to make dinner reservations which passing staff noticed, and worse still, didn't step in to assist. I had to physically go into the restaurant and flag someone down to get a table booked which I felt I shouldn't have to do with a 5* hotel.

Past this point, the staff in the restaurant that evening were much better with the whole customer service / warm welcome malarkey and helped saved my perception of the hotel. I would stay again based on the restaurant, the beautiful food, and how we were treated there.


If you like swoon worthy interiors, a good comfy bed (which for the record, was one of the best I've ever slept in!), complimentary bath robes and slippers, and exceptional food, this is the hotel for you.

However if you are experience / customer service driven, by all means go, but be ready to manage your expectations (personally, I'm still not 100% convinced that customer service was 5*...)

Sunday, 16 September 2018

15 of my favourite homeware pieces raising money for a good cause

Charity is something that is very close to my heart that I like to support where I can. So when I received a press release about a new line of chairs from Sue Ryder to raise money for those who require hospice or neurological care I wanted to get involved (and as a FYI this post is not sponsored or compensated in any shape or form).

Let's be honest. When you think of charity shop chairs you think dated, second hand chairs, right? WRONG. In this case all chairs in the collection are brand new. And dated they are not. Offering a range of pinks (which they are aptly calling millennial pink), greys and velvets for a touch of luxury, they are very much current. I am quite the interiors enthusiast and I have seen similar chairs around, but not at prices as low as these. And I promise you, they look every bit as high end. Don't believe me? Check out for yourself below!

JEWEL TONES

When it comes to jewel tones, don't be shy and really go for it. Contrast against a dark wall and choose all manner of magentas, teals and yellows with metallic accents and accessories.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 

GET THE LOOK


Jewel tones like these are great for rental properties, student digs or anywhere else where there are decoration restrictions in place. If you are faced with white or magnolia walls that you hate and begrudgingly aren't allowed to change, why not bring colour into your home by way of furniture and accessories? Gradually layer in different colours to really pop against those plain walls. The above rug makes a real statement and velvet pieces like the above chairs add a luxe element.

PRETTY IN PINK

Being someone who once hated all things pink, I can't quite believe I'm saying this... (I've had an epiphany!) but pink chairs are wonderfully versatile. They work well with white walls, soft greys, soft blues (like the duck egg featured below), and also dark walls for real impact. For a luxe take on the trend, pair with mirrored furniture, bold print rugs and gold accents.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 / 3 

GET THE LOOK

I don't know about you, but I love this pink stool with black legs (they also do this version with wooden legs if you prefer a softer look). Or how about this pink velvet chair? It reminds me of the seating in Sketch! Pair pink velvet with mirrored furniture for a high end look. I am seriously in love with this mirrored console table and this black and white rug!


SOFT GREYS

I love a grey. Whether incorporated into shabby chic, hygge or French style decor, there is something very soothing about it. Particularly when paired with touches of white - be it white walls, fluffy sheepskin rugs or knitted throws. Grey lends itself well to natural accessories like jute rugs, exposed brick walls, baskets, and wooden accents.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 

GET THE LOOK

These dining chairs are dupes for the ones on the My Furniture website with the silver ring pull handle, don't you think? Although admittedly I do also love these bar stools! The trays, crates and baskets below all fit seamlessly well with the French shabby chic aesthetic I love so much.


The Sue Ryder website also has a good selection of other chairs in other colours and styles which you can find here. Or if you're good on the chair front, they also stock garden furniture, soft furnishings and other homeware which can be found here.

As well as offering express delivery and safe and secure payments, Sue Ryder’s dedicated online shop offers free delivery over £50, a 30-day money back guarantee and a dedicated Customer Services Team. If you have any questions about the site, delivery or a particular product, do feel free to reach out to sales@suerydercare.org and be a pal and say I sent you.

As much as I love treating myself to new pieces for my home, there's something extra special about knowing that a purchase you make is also raising money for a good cause, don't you think?

Which of the above three categories is your sort of style?