Barcelona Day 1

I promised after asking for all of your Barcelona tips that I would share what we did on our Babymoon back in March.

We stayed for 4 nights at the RoomMate Emma for about £300 and I would definitely book again. The breakfast was amazing and the staff were lovely too. We were woken up one night by screaming European teens but that can happen anywhere and the reception sorted it straightaway. The room was clean and modern, the only thing lacking was an exterior window. We were offered a very cheap upgrade when we got there which we normally would have taken but figured we wouldn’t be in the room and it wasn’t worth it. In fact I wish we had, as we banked on staying out for evening drinks as we would do normally and felt obliged to because the room was a bit dark, but really given how tiring the sightseeing was, it would have been nice to have some downtime back at the hotel in a slightly nicer room. Don’t get me wrong though, it was still great, cheap or not.

So what did we do?


Our walking tour day 1 – Port Vell, Port Olympica, Barcelonetta, Parc Ciutadella and the beach. Click here to view an interactive version of the map.

Well, the answer is a lot of walking. Normally when we’re on a city break we do everything, but this time we didn’t want to go into museums, enjoying the sunshine instead, so we saw everything from the outside while walking. The first day was predicted to be the best weather, so we got the underground metro to Port Vell and wandered around looking at the boats and enjoying the weather.

We walked though Barceloneta which was cute in parts and quite run down in others so we kept going. It didn’t take us long to get to the beach so and we carried on all the way along until we reached Port Olympic, and then walked on to Parc Ciutadella. The fountains and space there was great. If we hadn’t been going to the beach later I would have parked myself on the grass there to read and enjoy the sun.

By then we were starving and headed onto El Born, where we ate a tapas lunch at one of the places on Placa des les Olles before heading back to the beach where we just lay on the sand for a couple of hours and read. Bliss!

Once we were ready for home, we headed in to the atmospheric gothic quarter and stopped in Placa Reial for a drink. I loved this square – there aren’t that many in Barcelona which are big enough to hold the sun into the evening, particularly in March but this one is so pretty and great for people watching.


I was so exhausted that night after walking so far that we ate at an Italian just down the road from our hotel and collapsed into bed early.

I’ll be back with Days 2 and 3 soon!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl about Town: Chocolate walking tour of London

Easter weekend is on the way. I am excited for three reasons:

1) Two free days off work! Oh how I need the sleep.

2) Family time! In my house, Easter is like Christmas we gather, we play games, we (even in adulthood) hunt out eggs and we dine en masse.

3) Gluttony! If you’ve been abstaining from treats and indulgences for Lent, Sunday is the day it all comes to an end (just to clarify, I have abstained from nothing this year, I’ve been a glutton throughout Lent. My bad).

In light of this list, Rebecca thought I should tell you about something that combined all three, in particular a chocolate walking tour of London, that I did with my family over a chilled weekend the end of last summer. I booked it through Great British Tours with a 50% voucher from one of those well known discount sites (either the pink or the green, I don’t recall) which made it very reasonable indeed. During the tour we visited some of my favourite chocolateries (where we had tastings and were entitled to a discount on most purchases), wandered through Soho at a leisurely pace soaking up the atmosphere and we found a couple of hidden gems that I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

The meeting point was the Algerian Coffee Store on Old Compton Street where our guide greeted us with a large cup of chocolate coated coffee beans and a gigantic grin – imagine if your job was to wander the streets of London eating free chocolate? I’d grin a lot too!

First stop was Hotel Chocolat where we bought chilli hot chocolate powder and tested out their new line of chocolate themed toiletries…

…then on to Paul A. Young where the team introduced us to unusual recipes such as limoncello and cucumber, pink guava and lychee, goats cheese, rosemary and lemon and Marmite truffles and where we also sampled their delicious Aztec hot chocolate…

… a quick pit stop at Freggo to refresh the palate with some Malbec and berries sorbet (new fave thing ever!)…

…a browse around the sweet counter (and a quick dash to the loo) at Fortnum and Mason…

… a brief history lesson about the birth of the truffle at Prestat and sampled some boozy treats…

…all ending up at Charbonnel et Walker where I stuffed my face with my favourite violet and rose crèmes (apparently also the Queen’s!).

All in all a fun filled day!

Great British Tours do some other interesting walking tours including a cupcake and macaroon tour which I have my eye on for my next free weekend…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Barcelona Babymoon

Next week, Pete and I are off to Barcelona for a bit of a getaway. It’s not really a babymoon but I’m grateful we’re getting some time to ourselves as work plus incessant house worries and a serious lack of holidays was really starting to get to us. We didn’t think we could afford to book something for just us, (as well as the wedding we are going to in Italy in May) but I was determined that we should make the most of the last few months before we are a three. I scouted around for cheap deals and booked some EasyJet flights for £100 each and found a cool looking cheap hotel – Room Mate Emma. We’re both exhausted and just want to chill out, eat nice food, enjoy some sun (fingers crossed!) and walk around taking in the sights, and each other.

So before we go I need your recommendations readers, on things to do and see. All we have in mind so far is The Gaudi Park, (I have been before and seen La Sagrada Familia and the Picasso museum,) but I’d love to hear your restaurant recommendations, cool areas we should experience and relaxing things to do and see. Oh and I’d like to go down to the waterfront too.

Let me have it readers!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS, I’ll review the hotel and where I go afterwards, of course!

Dream Destination: Tuscany


Tuscan Landscape

In May Pete and I are attending a wedding in Tuscany and it’s time to get planning the rest of the trip. We’re travelling on a Saturday and returning 9 days later, the last 3 nights of which will be with the wedding party about 45 minutes south west of Florence. So that leaves us 6 nights to explore by ourselves. It’s our main holiday since South Africa last year, due to the move and renovations, so I want it to be relaxing, but I have also always wanted to go to to Tuscany so I’d like to make the most of the area.

And that’s where you guys come in!


Borgo Santo Pietro, via Mr & Mrs Smith

I need to know your recommendations – we have nothing booked yet, other than flights in and out of Pisa. I have been to Florence before (but Pete hasn’t,) so I wouldn’t be adverse to a day there but don’t think we need much more. I’m also not that bothered about hanging around in Pisa.


Image via Mr & Mrs Smith

So, I need to know… have you been? Where did you stay? Which of the many beautiful towns are the most worth visiting? Where is the very best Pizza? (I’m prepared to try several establishments to make sure it’s a fair independent review.) ;)

Please let me know and help me plan the trip – I promise I’ll report back!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy: Plan a Trip

Todays #JanuaryJoy prompt is definitely one of my favourites and sure to become a Florence Finds tradition. For last years ‘Plan a trip’ I talked about safari and what became my epic trip to South Africa. I’m so glad I took some time over planning it and your advice. Today after hearing a few people talk about it (and having a long term ambition to visit myself,) I’m sharing Becky’s trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, in the hope that it inspires you to explore. Please do sure your travel plans for this year in the comments!

Oslo


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SLEEP
We enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Guldsmeden

EAT
We ate a fantastic Easter lunch at the Ekeberg restaurant. Ask for a table by the window or if you’re visiting in the Summer, the terrace would be my choice.


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SEE
A lot of our exploring was on foot. Walking to the top of the opera house roof was fun – A fantastic example of architecture and landscape rolled into one.
We took a boat trip to The Viking Ship museum and The Norsk Folk museum.
We also got the underground to the Holmenkollen ski jump and museum. The view from the top of the ski jump across the fjords is breathtaking and certainly made us want to return to do a fjords trip one summer.

Stockholm


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SLEEP
The Rival hotel is a converted cinema owned by Benny from Abba. It was great and the cocktail bar was buzzing every night as was the adjacent cafe every morning which does a good breakfast. The location was amazing for getting around too.


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EAT
As I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and feeling pretty ropey, dining out in fancy restaurants wasn’t a priority but we had a good meal at Riche restaurant and the bar had a great atmosphere too.

Under Kastanjen cafe was a nice stop for a coffee whilst walking the streets exploring Gamla Stan

SEE
The Vasa Museum
Skansen open air museum – A combination of a Zoo and folk museum. Probably best seen in late Spring and Summer.
Hallywyl Museum.
We also wandered around Gamla Stan – The Old Town and got around predominantly on the underground or walking.

Copenhagen


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SLEEP
We stayed in the Marriott as my husband had points from work so got a free night. Sure you can find something with a bit more character – We did walk past the ‘floatel‘ a few times and thought it looked interesting… as long as you don’t suffer with motion sickness!

EAT
We decided not to go to Noma due to the bump but if you fancy it, I expect you’ll need to book your table now for June.

We enjoyed a really good fish lunch at Kastellet, Nordre Toldbod 12-20… a warehouse style informal dining restaurant & foody supermarket next to the water. Expect it’s lovely on a sunny day

SEE
Again, we explored the city on foot unless we got a boat. A visit to Christiania was eye opening.
Nyehaven shouldn’t be missed and a good point to start a boat tour from. I found the most dreamy shop… Illums Bolighus, Amagertorv 1-11
See The Little Mermaid – the clue’s in her title….she’s little!
Rosenborg Castle
Tivoli gardens…. All in all a pretty naff amusement park. The lights make it look pretty at night!
Louisiana Museum of modern art is a pleasant train ride north of the city and on a clear day you can see over to Sweden from the galleries gardens.

So readers… have you ever been on a Scandanavian trip? It’s Stockholm that has always tempted me – all the islands are supposed to be beautiful in the summer.

Where are you headed in 2014?

Love,
Rebecca (& Becky)
xo

Recommended: Lion + Pheasant, Shrewsbury

Last weekend we took a trip away to Mid-Wales for the other half’s birthday, staying at the Drawing Room in the Elan Valley (on Rebecca’s recommendation) over the Friday and Saturday evening’s. As it’s somewhat of a tradition for us to head out for Sunday lunch somewhere new at least twice a month we wanted to add this into our weekend somehow. We have tried almost every decent gastro-pub across Lancashire and Cheshire in our quest for the best Sunday Lunch, so after reading with interest in Red magazine about the Lion and Pheasant in Shrewsbury we added in a short stop on our way home to the Ribble Valley.

And boy are we glad we did!

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The Lion + Pheasant, a pub with 22 rooms and a Mr & Mrs Smith property, is a stunning conversion from coaching inn to stylish townhouse with a scandi-chic meets colonial New England interior. The Farrow and Ball-esque grey painted walls sit perfectly alongside pale oak and flagstone flooring with mismatched wooden furniture and industrial tolix chairs and stools creating a stylish yet laidback space. From the entrance on Wyle Cop we were greeted by a light and bright open-plan bar and reception area, where there is a wide variety of seating on offer from long dining tables to sofa’s and comfortable little nooks for two. Every aspect of the interior feels well thought-out with many clever designer touches that I loved, like the mason jar lighting over the bar area and the simple Christmas decor of holly branches in clear glass vases.  The hotel was actually remodelled by Rachael Chidlow of Paul Keogh Architects who is related to the owner and it is quite evident there has been a professional design-hand at work here.

We chose to dine in the buzzy bar area instead of the more formal split-level restaurant space upstairs, inviting as it was dressed with crisp white linens and gleaming glassware. We had a lovely long table to ourselves tucked away in a corner by the bar offering some privacy but still feeling part of the action. There’s also an inglenook, open-log fireplace in the bar area, perfect for enjoying a mulled wine (or three!) on long, lazy winter-days.

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Images by: Steve de Jetley Marks via Mr & Mrs Smith

The cocktail list was incredibly enticing, with seasonal variations of the classics on offer, I plumped for a Pear and Port fizz whilst the other half stuck with his standard Peroni. Despite arriving over an hour early for our reservation the staff could not have been more helpful and accommodating, seating us straight away.

Head chef Matthew Strefford has been awarded two AA rosettes for his outstanding and innovative dishes. We plumped for the traditional Sunday lunch menu and I wished we’d not spent the last two days stuffing our faces so I could try the full 3-courses on offer. The Mr opted for a root vegetable soup with creme fraiche, served with a basket of different breads which I helped him to mop up, the soup was perfectly spiced with the delicate creme fraiche and chives adding an unexpected yet delightful twist. We also both chose the Rib of Beef next with all the trimmings which included perfectly fluffy roast potatoes, caramelised whole carrots and parsnips with a delicious meaty gravy and of course crisp yorkshire puddings. The meat was served pink, which our waitress checked was okay for us, and it literally melted in the mouth. One of the best Sunday roasts I’ve tasted in a while – also on offer was belly of pork and turkey (given the proximity to Christmas). The wine list was extensive with both standard, purse-friendly options through to the more extravagant. A glass or two of cassis-rich Cabernet Sauvignon was the perfect partner to our lunch.

The dessert choices were mouthwatering to say the least with treacle tart, orange cake and many other delights on offer. Our waitress insisted we could still order after resting for a while, despite the fact the kitchen stopped service at 3.00pm and it was now some way past that – another little tick in the goodbooks and so refreshing against other establishments and their ridiculous ‘rules that cannot be bent’. Alas it was not to be I’m afraid, I just could not fit it in….a reason to go back if ever there was one! The other half however had room for more and chose a cheeseboard which came with 6 delicious cheeses, a variety of artisan crackers, celery, walnuts and a slab of quince, all served up on a wooden cheeseboard and cleverly delivered to our table with two plates so we could share. And I can confirm every bit as delicious as the other two courses, I managed to squeeze in a few mouthfuls, much to the Mr’s disgust (hates sharing food!).

As a pub with rooms these guys have hit the nail on the head, combining superbly warm hospitality with delicious, flavoursome food and stylish yet unpretentious surroundings.

Also try….
Whilst there we had a little walk around Shrewsbury itself, meandering the olde worlde streets filled with independent boutiques and historic buildings. Unfortunately for us most of the shops were shut but I quite quickly determined this was a place I could easily spend hours having a good old browse. Some of the shops that caught my eye included:

  • Urban Folk - Hidden down an alleyway off Wyle Cop is this really quirky and creative shop with design-led gifts and accessories
  • Rustic and White - a beautiful French Vintage shop, selling home accessories @RusticandWhite
  • Vintage Shrewsbury - A shop that celebrates good ‘old-fashioned’ design
  • Appleyards Fine Foods - Located on Wyle Cop – luckily for us this one WAS open and it’s fair to say I was like a kid in a candy shop. A totally traditional deli packed to the rafters with gourmet fine foods. We stocked up on stinky cheeses for Christmas.

It’s fair to say we fell a little in love with our short visit to Shrewsbury and the Lion and Pheasant and will definitely be adding it to our hitlist of places to visit again to stay for a weekend in the future.

So readers have you been here? or do you have other recommendations of similar places to try across the UK?

Michelle xx

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Girl about town: (Working until) Midnight in Paris – Part 1


A few months ago I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend some time working in my firm’s Paris office. Erm, sorry, let me pinch myself whilst I just digest that.

You’re going to put me in a rooftop apartment in central Paris, send me to work in the most beautiful surroundings (on Place Vendome, next door to the Ritz,) and you’re going to pay me whilst I do it? Amazing! Where’s the catch?

Oh… I will be doing two jobs and working 13 hour days, every day, for the entire six weeks? Ahhh, there we go!

Needless to say, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time “about town” and I’m not going to lie I spent a lot of my spare time sleeping off my exhaustion. However, when I did get out, I wandered, ate, drank, observed, shopped, snapped and absorbed everything Paris had to offer with the hugest smile on my face and a skip in my step. After six weeks literally living la reve en Paris, I returned to rainy London (and my husband) last weekend and thought I’d share some of my favourite Parisian delights:

Brunch
I didn’t realise brunch was a “thing” in France. I went out there three days after landing back from the US, where brunch is the biggest “thing” and I was surprised to discover that they do it just as well. A colleague recommended the Marais area, specifically Rue de Bretagne, for brunch and made a few restaurant suggestions.

I picked the Grizzli Café, mainly because of the name, but also because of the description of a four course feast for a very reasonable price… “reasonable price” not being a phrase you hear often in Paris. It turned out to be a great decision – we started with fresh coffee and juice with a bread selection and pastries, followed by Eggs Benedict, a choice of salmon skewers or steak tartare and finished off with fromage blanc and fruit coulis. We got there just in time to get a seat, but it’s recommended that you book on Sundays as it gets busy! [For more details/pictures check out this post.]

Treats
I was undecided whether to tell you about the Laduree Salon du The or Angelina under this heading. I weighed it up and decided that it’d have to be both. The hot chocolate served at Angelina is infamous for a reason – it’s amazing. Thick, creamy and with just the right balance of bitter and sweet – it was totally worth queuing.

Although the sweet treats served here are as famed as the hot chocolate (in particular the Mont Blanc speciality,) I think the confections on offer at Laduree just edge it.

Of course there are the quintessential macarons (pistachio and orange blossom on this occasion), but in addition my mum and I tried the pistachio éclair and the rose raspberry Saint-Honoré which was almost too beautiful to eat. It consisted of a puff pastry base, topped with dinky cream puff pastry balls filled with light rose petal custard cream and raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant and raspberries. Of course there’s only one thing to drink with such pretty, delicate, pastel coloured confections – pink fizz.

Dinner
As I mentioned in a previous post, I like a restaurant with a difference, so when Mr G came out to visit me, I tasked him with finding a restaurant to fit the same brief. He did well and found La Gare not far from Trocadero.

As the name suggests, it’s an old train station that has been transformed in to a restaurant. You enter at ground level in to a funky bar (that serves a decent margarita whilst you wait for your table) and then head down a very grand staircase in to an enormous dining hall. At first glance I was worried that the size would make it feel over-crowded and like a canteen, but a clever layout and good interior design means that when you’re seated it feels much smaller and intimate. We went for a three course set menu and wines and fizz by the glass, all of which was delicious, and in a city notorious for its awful service, we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was!

Cocktails
At the other end of the size spectrum to La Gare is Jefrey’s. At about midnight one Saturday, my friend and I went in search of the Paris branch of the Experimental Cocktail Club (also very good and worth a visit). We were wandering down the road and saw the door to a teeny-tiny bar standing open. It was so small and well hidden we almost missed it, but after a double take and a quick confirmation that it was in fact a drinking establishment and not someone’s house, we took up residence at the bar and started working our way through the cocktail list.

Good cocktails are hard to find in Paris, but we were lucky enough to stumble across some of the best. Like I mentioned it was tiny, with only three stools at the bar, two small coffee tables and armchairs on the ground floor and a smattering of wing back chairs and banquette seating on a small mezzanine. If you turn up too late you just won’t get in, and the cocktails were so good it’s worth turning up early to bagsey your seat. The cocktail menu is inventive and the bar is stocked with weird and wonderful liquors from around the world, homemade infusions and syrups and fresh ingredients such as mint, fruit and spices. It evoked mental images of ye olde apothecary shoppe, and the painstaking care and attention with which the drinks are made only added to the feeling that the mixologists really are creating amazing potions! Add to the mix a great playlist full of new tunes and old classics (sadly not played on the vintage gramophone by the door) and an interesting menu full of tick boxes for DIY martinis and I think I found my favourite bar, ever.

I went back repeatedly.

I want to go back right now.

Come back next week for the Dancing, entertainment, shopping and sightseeing…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Introducing Esme: Family Lifestyle

Good morning readers! Today I have another lovely lady joining the Florence Finds team. Esme is a smart cookie, great writer, and Mum to 7 month old Freddie. As I know so many of you are mothers, I want to include more family life here on Florence Finds. Esme is going to be our family lifestyle contributor, talking about all things family. This month, think Girl about Town, with a BabyBjorn :)


Hello lovely Florence Finds readers! I’m absolutely thrilled to be here writing for one of my favourite blogs, especially as I will be writing about one of my favourite topics: family. So, let’s get started, shall we?

Long before we welcomed our little boy Freddie into the world, my husband and I were big fans of the National Trust. We’ve been members since we were about 19 and were lucky enough to be given a joint lifetime membership as a wedding present, so we’ve been to our fair share of properties and gardens. But since we’ve become parents our love for this British institution has grown even more – National Trust places are ideal for family day trips.

Here are my top picks for family (and especially baby) friendly days out with the National Trust.


Aberaeron

Baddesley Clinton
A 15th century house with large gardens and, most importantly, a great restaurant that offers a selection of homemade hot and cold food options (along with tea and cake, of course). We visited Baddesley Clinton not long after Freddie had started on solid food and they didn’t even bat an eyelid when he threw his mashed swede around the highchair, one member of staff was happy to show me how to use the microwave available for baby and children’s food you’ve brought yourself and there was even a bottle warmer. Baby changing facilities are in the disabled loo, which is the usual, and everything was pushchair and wheelchair accessible.

We stopped off here halfway round a circular walk that started at Packwood House and takes around 2.5 hours in total. The route is beautiful, taking you along the Stratford-Upon-Avon canal passing plenty of canal-side pubs if you fancy Sunday lunch rather than tea and cake. Unfortunately it’s definitely not buggy-friendly, but there are plenty of things look at to keep slightly older children entertained.


Anglesey-Abbey

Knightshayes
We only discovered Knightshayes this year, but it’s so lovely we’ve been there twice already and it is certain to become our default place to stretch our legs when driving to the South West (it’s 7 miles off the M5, not far from Exeter). It’s got a beautiful kitchen garden (perfect for inquisitive little ones), acres of grass for letting off steam and a perfectly manicured garden with funny topiary.

The cafe has a larger-than-average selection of cakes and I can confirm the staff are definitely not anti-breastfeeding.


Snowshill-Manor

Brockhampton Estate
This is one we’re looking forward to exploring further next time we go to visit my mum as we literally drive past it on our way to Mid Wales, but have only managed to stop for a quick lunch and to give a grumpy baby a break from the car. This is one of the things we love about the National Trust: when you’re travelling and need to stop for anything other than petrol, you can’t beat them – the food is often homemade on the premises, you’re guaranteed to find something more interesting to look at than a service station car park and the toilets are always clean and have somewhere to change the baby.

Lanhydrock
We tend to spend most of our time outside or in the cafe when we visit somewhere National Trust owned, but one of the properties you have to take time to look around is Lanhydrock in Cornwall. I probably wouldn’t recommend taking your 4 month old baby if you really want to appreciate the 100 plus rooms (like we did), but if you do then rest assured that although you can’t take your pushchair around with you, there is somewhere to lock it up securely and they will lend you either a sling or a ‘hippy chick’ (a belt that clips around your hips/waist with a hard ledge that you can rest the baby on to give your arms and back a rest) and staff will coo over them in every room even if they are crying and/or grabbing at everything.


Lanhydrock

Also, the cream tea in the cafe comes with a proper pot of tea, a large pot of clotted cream and two scones (as is only proper in Cornwall, but is unfortunately not always the case).

I can’t wait to take Freddie to some of our other favourite National Trust places such as Anglesey Abbey, which is just outside of Cambridge and has one of the best selections of trees in the country, and Llanerchaeron, the 18th century Welsh estate with a home farm that will definitely be combined with a honey ice-cream and a stroll by the sea in nearby beautiful Aberaeron – my four year old niece’s favourite day trip. Oh, and Snowshill Manor  with its quirky model villages, but maybe that’s one for when Freddie is a bit older.

I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to your local National Trust property, garden or coastline or to revisit somewhere you used to visit as a child.

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

** The National Trust have currently got a special offer on membership where if you pay by annual Direct Debit, you get 3 months free! A family membership with two adults (under 5s are free) is £75.72, an absolute bargain if you ask me **

Girl About Town: London Bars with a Difference…

I like a quirky bar. I like something odd or different. I like drinks and dining to be a bit of an “experience”. I used to be all about a fancy restaurant with white linen and a silver cloche, a grand dining room or a room with a view, but recently I’ve been going in for furniture glued to the ceiling, themed dining and broth served in a halved Diet Coke can. This year for our anniversary I set Mr G the task of finding somewhere “awesome” for dinner. I asked for Sketch (I took him there for patisserie back in April, because we were too broke for dinner, but I quite fancied an actual meal there). Apparently Mr G did not feel that our fourth wedding anniversary constituted a good enough reason to batter our overdrafts and make ourselves homeless. Hmph.

Hours of Googling “coolest/funkiest/oddest/quirkiest cocktails in London”, looking for something on a level with Sketch in terms of the fun factor but not on a level with Sketch in terms of the cost factor, made me realise we’d already visited quite a few cool places, so I thought I’d tell you about some of my favourites here.

Inamo
I booked Inamo via a deal website a while back and managed to get a good chunk off the bill. The tables themselves are the menus, becoming giant “touch screen” displays through which you can scroll for food items and drinks and then select your choices. You can order items and, without ever speaking to a human, they turn up at your table. Run out of cocktails? Order more! Fancy some more rice with that? Double tap and it’s on its way. “What’s that you’ve got there? Can I try it? No? I’ll order some of my own then…”

Once you’ve stopped ordering food and drinks (and it can get dangerous, ordering at the swipe of a finger – a bit like drunken iTunes purchases at midnight because you “really feel like dancing to that great Pitbull song” – you know what I mean… don’t you? Anyone?) then the real fun starts. The games! You can challenge other people to games like battleships, scroll through various electronic “table cloths” or use the table as an interactive area map to see where you should go next. Hours of fun!

Callooh Callay
I’m obsessed with Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. It’s all the theming, oddness and quirkiness that makes the story so appealing to me. It’s only natural then, that a bar named for one of Lewis Carroll’s poems is full off oddness and quirkiness.
The seats are claw footed baths filled with cushions, the menu is themed like an american year book, some of the cocktails are borderline weird (mine tasted like a chilled thai green curry… odd, an acquired taste, but actually delicious!) and there are hidden bars access through a mirrored wardrobe. What’s not to love?

Flesh and Buns
I’m not going to lie, my friend and I booked this place, not for the funky group dining set up, the cloud-soft hirata buns filled with super-tasty teriyaki salmon or the fruity cocktail list, but for the dessert menu. We kept our savoury order to a minimum (squid, broccolli, teriyaki salmon buns. Yum) so we could focus on pudding.

In particular the s’mores! A fire bowl was delivered to us and we squealed with delight as we toasted our mashmallows on skewers over the flaming coals, squished them between biscuits with matcha paste, and then proceeded to get marshmallow all over our hands and faces. Not cool, but lots of fun! We also saved some room for hot, fresh, black-sugar custard doughnuts. We did a lot of finger licking.

Casa Negra
Sister restaurant to La Bodega Negra, Casa Negra sticks in my mind not because of the delicious mexican food, but because of their thoughtful cocktail menu. If like me you often can’t decide which concoction to order, their Margarita Flight is perfect. Undecided on which flavour of frozen margarita to try, they brought me a miniature one of each on a tasting board! Now that’s my kind of drinks menu!

Soho Diner
I’ve mentioned the Electric Diner on this blog before as a great place to take the boys and it’s sister restaurant Soho Diner is much the same. But when I saw that they had cocktails on tap it’s since become one of my fave girly haunts, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drag along the boys as well. Cocktails on tap? That’s right – think of the increased bottle-to-glass speed as they cut out the measuring, mixing, muddling, shaking and stirring and decant perfectly concocted classics straight to your cup.

The build-your-own burgers aren’t bad either. I often while away an hour or two day dreaming about what we now refer to as the Burger of Doom (christened by Mahj)… double cheeseburger with sliced avocado, fried egg and maple-smoked bacon. Mmmmmm… *Homer-style dribble*

Circus
I spotted this on an episode of The Apprentice and, after talking about it excitedly for weeks, my friends surprised me with a booking for a special birthday dinner. We dined on tasty Asian dishes and slurped yummy cocktails whilst being entertained by a variety of burlesque cabaret acts through the night. Most of the acts take place on or above a large catwalk running down the middle of the restaurant which also doubles as a group dining table and my group was lucky enough to be seated at this table! At the end of the night they clear away the plates and glasses and they encourage you to get up on the table and dance. It’s not often the restaurant staff assist you in getting up on to the table, rather than escorting you down from it…

So, bearing in mind my current love of weird and wonderful places, can anyone suggest anywhere I should try? Has anyone tried Dans le Noir or Dinner in the Sky?

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl About Town Gets Out of Town: Barcelona

This year the Mr and I have spent all of our annual leave on attending 10, yes, ten, weddings (two of which were/are aboard) and all the corresponding stag and hen weekends. As such we didn’t have much leave left for a “proper” holiday. Or, more importantly, any money with which to purchase one! This left us in a bit of a quandary as taking time out to go exploring around the world is kind of our thing. Also, with such busy lives (as we all have) often, a holiday is the only time you get to truly spend QT with each other… and catch up on your sleep debt! So what to do, what to do?

Well Mr G thought we could cope until 2014. I vehemently disagreed and set about finding a cheap and cheerful (but still up to Florence Findette standards!) mini-break that:

  1. Started and ended with convenient flights at civilised times from one of our closer airports (Stansted, City or Southend),
  2. Was close enough that we didn’t waste too long on the plane,
  3. Had enough to “do” to keep us out of mischief but also not so much that we felt guilty if we wanted to chill out and ignore all the culture and sights
  4. Would be achievable within Mr G’s set of rest days between shifts.

Tricky.

After a long process of elimination we finally settled on Barcelona when I found super-convenient flights with EasyJet from Southend, at the civilised time of 9.30am on a Monday morning.

I’d been before, and enjoyed it but I wasn’t as excited about it as everyone else seemed to be, so I’ve spent the last seven years wondering what I missed and wanting to return! Also, Mr G hadn’t had the pleasure so it was decided. Barcelona it was.

The Hotel

I found the Melia Sky hotel on Mr and Mrs Smith, did a quick search and found it at a lower rate on Expedia with the flights in a package so it actually came out as a bit of a bargain. Shop around people, shop around!

The hotel is cool, modern, clean, funky in style, full of nice quirky touches and, although I normally try to get out of the hotel when I’m away and discover new places, I found it actually quite a nice place to hang out.

NB: Be careful not to book the Melia Hotel! The Melia Sky is the one you want – it’s the one with the outdoor swimming pool. We made this mistake and had to hastily re-book. Be warned!

Highlights included the light and airy rooms with floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea, the swimming pool area on the 7th floor roof terrace, which had just enough of a “cool kids pool-party” vibe about it to keep it young and fun (but not so much that I couldn’t just chill out like a grown up and read my book*), the bespoke scent that was piped in to all the public areas (similar to Jo Malone wild fig and cassis I think) and a lobby/lounge/bar area with apothecary jars full of flumps, complete with flump tongs! You can take the girl out of Essex but…

It’s slightly out of the way from the busier parts of the city, in a residential area but it’s only a short walk from the Metro station so within ten minutes you can be in Port Olimpic or on Las Ramblas. My only criticism would be the price of breakfast (if not included in your package), but we took ourselves out wandering most mornings in search of food and so managed to save ourselves over €40 a day by eating in little cafes nearby.

Where to eat, drink and people watch…

On our first night we followed what felt like a thousand tour groups to Las Ramblas to look for something to eat. We thought it would be a bad idea, but we went with it anyway. After negotiating hordes and hordes of tourists fighting for jugs of cheap sangria, we eventually found somewhere to eat, just off the main strip in Placa Reial called Ocana we ordered waaaay too much tapas and some yummy pink mojitos (served in jam jars) and sat back to people-watch on the square. All of a sudden it dawned on me that was the exact place we’d spent our first night the last time I visited the city. I must have been drawn to it!

Thereafter we stayed out of the main city and ate at various places in Port Olimpic. Much like a book and it’s cover, you shouldn’t judge a bar or restaurant by its décor, but most of the time I’m drawn to the prettiest ones in the street. Along this strip you are spoilt for choice with gorgeous eateries and drinking establishments ranging from the super-modern full of white sofas, mirrored surfaces and candles to rustic al fresco parlours on wooden decking where you eat in amongst tubs of herbs and spices.

This strip is bustling with beautiful people, in beautiful bars, drinking beautiful cocktails along the beach-front promenade. I’d recommend Gallito and Bestial for food, and Opium for cocktails and lounging early on and then posing and dancing later in to the night. I also heard great things about Shoko and the rooftop bar of the W Hotel.

What we did…

Chilled! With a capital *chuh*.

We made a lame attempt at sightseeing by jumping on one of those open-topped tourist buses, briefly stopping by the Sagrada Familia and in Parc Guell, but we got sidetracked by the beach front bars full of squishy couches, extensive cocktail menus and the prospect of lazy sun-drenched people watching and gave up our tickets.

So that brings me to my next point: Who has some recommendations? Bars, restaurants, sights, getting away from the tourist traps… leave a comment and share your Catalonian secrets!

Victoria x

*ironically not a grown up book, but some awfully addictive YA fiction. Best we steer well clear of this topic eh Mahj and Becca? ;-)

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.