Girl about Town: Drink, Dine, Do

This afternoon, Victoria is back and my goodness, she has had a busy month! Sit back and get ready to be very jealous whilst frantically checking your diary to see if you can get in on some Girl about Town action!

This month was full of exciting high points, and I say high in the literal sense of the word – climbing the O2, eating dinner 40 floors above street level at Duck and Waffle, gazing out over Knightsbridge from the Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant at Harvey Nichols and Trafalgar Square from the roof of Vista Bar, watching Lady Gaga from up in the gods at Twickenham Stadium, the emotional high of seeing Team GB and Paralympics GB parade the streets of London to celebrate our Olympic and Paralympic successes.

I’m going to tell you about three of those things this month, because Florence Finds is here to help and wants you to enjoy your time in our great capital!

Drink: Quirky Cocktail masterclass at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant

Myself and a friend booked a cocktail masterclass at Harvey Nichols as a present for one of our besties and, selfishly, it turned out to be one of the best birthday outings we’ve ever planned for someone else. It was an early start for a Sunday – a meeting time of 9.30am, but it was worth it. We were met on the street outside Harvey Nichols by Stani, our masterclass tutor, and chief mixologist for the day (I promised him a shout out!). Seeing as the store itself doesn’t open until later on a Sunday we were ushered through the staff entrance and then up to the empty Fifth Floor Bar and Restaurant. While we waited for the other members of the class to arrive we felt very behind-the-scenes or at-school-on-a-Saturday, and so we did what any self-respecting Florence Finder would do…. and posed like nerds all over the empty chaise longes and sofas. Until, that is, we were caught out by the waiter who came by to take our hot drinks order. Over coffee and miniature pastries Stani gave us an introduction to himself, the bar, the order of the day and a few advance apologies for any risqué jokes he might tell. The three of us were giggling like school girls within minutes. The rest of the participants (young couples on special dates) maintained a dignified (but slightly boring) silence until much later in the proceedings – I’m assuming that had something to do with the cocktail testing!

After the introduction we moved over to the bar area (diamante studs, white leather and pink neon lights – sounds hideous, looks amazing), met Chris, another mixologist, were issued with name plates, note paper, recipe lists and pens and the session got underway. To start with Stani talked us through some cocktail making essentials, namely picking high-quality spirits, working with the best tools, selecting superior fruit juices and mixers and understanding the right methods for preparing the drink. A few demonstrations of equipment usage, a sniff of this, that and the other from some colourful bottles, a quick taste test or four and then we were in to our first of the Quirky Cocktails on the list: the Pink Chelsea. I won’t spill the story as to how and why this got its name, but it’s very probably my new favourite cocktail.

Before we had a chance to finish it the second cocktail demonstration was well underway. The Rocker Margarita was an intriguing take on the classic margarita flavours with the addition of rocket leaves. Sounds weird, tastes YUM!

The third item on our cocktail menu was another interesting one, entitled the Limousine. If the Pink Chelsea was a refreshing appetizer, and the rocker margarita was a sweet but savoury salad-y drink, this was definitely pudding! A creamy cocktail with a palate-cleansing shot of bubbly on the side was a great way to end.

After the three demonstrations we then had the opportunity to get behind the bar one or two at a time and make like Tom Cruise. After a quick safety briefing (i.e. don’t shake like a nutter and knock over our VERY expensive bottles of the hard stuff!) and a few hilarious stories about some minor behind-the-bar disasters, Stani and Chris asked us individually about our favourite drinks, what kind of things we had in our cupboards and what kinds of flavours we liked and then we went on to make a variety of different cocktails. Some of us went for classics, some made bespoke drinks and some of us were inspired by the bar’s own cocktail menu.

A short de-brief and a quick re-group where we swapped recipes and sampled each others’ masterpieces and we were ushered through to the restaurant for a quick, light lunch. It was a two course set menu which started with a seriously tasty tomato soup, and was followed by a creamy chicken and sweetcorn risotto. Which was perfect for sobering us up slightly! Stani presented us with our personalised certificates once we were finished at which point the course came to a close.

Obviously we took ourselves back to the bar to sample a few more delights from the cocktail list and then by about 3.00pm we were ready to leave for some serious sofa surfing. At about 10pm that night my hangover kicked in. Ouchie!

Click here for more details and to book. I recommend that you do, it’s a great day out, especially for a group. Don’t be scared of taking the boys along as well. They seemed to love it even more than us ladies!

Dine: Duck and Waffle at The Heron Tower

Duck and Waffle is situated on level 40 of the Heron Tower on Bishopsgate, above the London Branch of Sushi Samba. I visited the latter for work reasons and insisted that Mr G take me back for a special dinner at some point. The problem? He doesn’t eat fish. Hmm. Sushi becomes slightly less fun if you can’t eat it. I researched the venue a little bit more and then discovered Duck and Waffle’s menu was much more appealing for a non-fish eater, and so we set the date for our 3rd wedding anniversary, last week.

On arrival we had to ring a door bell at the big glass entrance at floor level at which point a burly, surly doorman came out and asked questions as if we were under CIA interrogation before even allowing us past the rope, let alone through the door. We gritted our teeth and stuck with it as I knew that the meet-and-greet and serving staff in the actual venue are much more polite, welcoming and humble, and the views and setting were worth it. After little bit of queuing (despite having made reservations and confirmed them, twice), being asked to “stand over there” (apparently a VIP queue or something) and being jostled slightly by other perturbed street-queuers, we were in and waiting for the lift. From this point onwards our experience got much better. In hindsight I understand that in the building with such controlled and limited access there needs to be a strict entry system, but I do feel that there are nicer ways to go about implementing and enforcing it.

The high-speed, glass, exterior lift is not for the faint hearted but you get some great views of the City on the way up so do try to open your eyes, even for just a few seconds. On arrival at level forty we were met by the welcome staff, seated in the “open” bar and talked through the “concept”. Rather than a traditional bar area (i.e. a counter, mixologists standing behind it, servers taking orders or you standing at the bar to order a drink) the bar is more of a central work station around which the bar tenders stand to mix up your concoctions to order. There is a short but sweet cocktail menu available, but the idea is that you are able to interact with the bar tenders so they can make your drink to your specifications. Essentially you are involved in and close to the process. Well, this is how I see it anyway. I asked for a “Cosmopolitan (obviously) with an update”. It came back with a, and I quote “smooth peach undertone and a dry, apple aftertaste”. Basically, it was gooooood.

On being seated at a table (less than 20 cm from one of the floor to ceiling windows – again not for the faint hearted) we were talked through the concept of the menu. Everything is intended to be shared and eaten all together, a bit like tapas. So we got stuck in and ordered our little hearts out! We started with mini battered sausages with mustard and pea and mint arancini, followed by duck rillette with sourdough bread, beer chutney and pistachios and the foie gras “all day breakfast”. Next up were the lamb cutlets accompanied by smoked aubergine and the dish from which the restaurant obviously takes its name, the Duck and Waffle (crispy leg confit, fried duck egg, mustard maple syrup on a big fluffy waffle).

With all that on the table our attention was diverted away the views out over the east London and back towards the sun setting over the west end and toward the task at hand – consuming all that rich food. Thankfully, although there was a lot on the table, the actual portions aren’t massive which means that you can order more than you would normally, so you can try as many dishes as possible, but you don’t feel like you’ve over indulged – well not too much! We finished off with a shared dessert – gooey, appley, mapley, ice creamy, yumminess in a pan, (– a possible rival to the tipsy pudding at Dinner) and a glass of home-grown Sussex bubbly.

Considering how much we ordered and the unusual setting I was surprised at the bill. I thought it would have been much more. To clarify, it’s not a cheap and cheerful dining option, but all factors considered I felt that it was more than reasonable. So, seeing as they now have 24 hour dining in place, and it’s not too outlandishly priced – this perhaps isn’t just a restaurant for special occasions as I once thought, but also somewhere to hole up in the cold winter months when you miss your last train and you need some food and alcohol to see you through until morning. Or maybe that’s just me…

Overall, if you can get past the rude door staff and the uncivilised queuing system, it’s worth it for some great views, some unusual food and some great cocktails on the highest roof terrace in Europe.

Click here for the website and to book, and here for their Facebook page which contains some cool photos. My only warning: beware of the Sushi Samba bar area clientele on traditional city drinking nights (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) – city suits and wannabe TOWIE cast made it rather unpleasant on my first visit. Thankfully these types tended to steer clear of the dining areas and stuck to the bars, and are non-existent on weekends!

Do: Up at the O2

A few weeks ago I thought it would be clever to book tickets for Up at the O2. It didn’t occur to me that being scared of heights it might be a bad idea. Or that I’m physical activity-averse and it might require some hefty physical input. Nope. I ploughed straight in, roped in a friend and booked us up for the 8pm slot. People asked us why. We said “why not?”. It wasn’t until the day before when we got a reminder email that we also asked ourselves “uh, why are we doing this?”

It turned out we needn’t have worried! We turned up at Base Camp at the required 15 minutes before departure and were issued with clipboards, pens, “if you fall off you can’t sue us” forms to sign and the obligatory information about filming and photography so as to flog it to you at the end. Our guide came in introduced himself, talked us through the forms and the whereabouts of the loos, cracked a few jokes about being scared of heights and falling off and then hit play on their safety instruction video which was a tongue-in-cheek take on a video diary from an arctic explorer at Everest Base Camp. This made me feel much, much better. If they weren’t taking it too seriously then I shouldn’t be too worried about the heights and safety.

After the safety video we were furnished with jumpsuits (with inbuilt camera and phone pockets), harnesses, carabiners and a locker for our belongings. Everyone swiftly put it all on… and then swiftly took it all back off again when the instructor told us to start again and showed everyone individually how to don the harness properly. Ah, so they WERE paying attention to safety after all!

We then lined up and had a quick demonstration about how to lock on and off of the safety wire with our harness, how to move the clip correctly and then we were off!

The start is incredibly steep and requires a bit of effort and maneuvering to get up it, but then it levels off slightly and is actually quite fun. Even for me! We took it slowly as there was a big group and we had to travel at the same pace so there was a lot of time to take in the view and the surroundings.

The walkway itself is bouncy and deliberately so, to replicate how the material of the O2 canopy might feel. Clever! We got told off for bouncing on it. Not clever! On reaching the “summit” or the viewing platform, we were disconnected from the safety wire and free to wander. At this point I noticed that everyone else was in a couple or on a date. Who’d have thought the top of the O2 was a place for romance? I suppose the lovely views over part of the city and across the river to Canary Wharf in all its luminescent glory (including the nightly light show on the Pan Peninsula buildings) is a great setting for a romantic stroll! We could also see the Orbit structure over in the Olympic park glowing red and firey in the distance. I’d like to head back during daylight or at sunset to catch a different perspective of the city.

After a little while at the top, and a few photos (I forgot my camera so my iPhone pics are all I have unfortunately, please excuse the quality,) and we were locked back on to the wire and ready to begin our steep descent. On reaching the end our lockers had magically arrived to greet us, so we disrobed, handed back our equipment, visited the gift shop to check out our videos (I looked ridiculous, and so didn’t purchase), said our goodbyes to our guide Gary (another promised shout out) and we were on our way home to bed!

From start to finish I think the whole experience took less than two hours, was really well organised and was very reasonably priced. For more information and to book please click here. If you’re looking for something fun, different or apparently romantic, to do this autumn I would definitely recommend it.

To finish, I thought I’d pass on a little bit of the O2 facts that I learned during my climb. As the structure was originally created for the millennium it appears to be a tribute to time itself: there are twelve posts that hold the canopy aloft to replicate the twelve numbers on a clock, the circumference is exactly 365 meters to represent the days of the year and the highest point of the dome is 52 meters to represent the weeks of the year. Cool huh? And we all thought it was just a big tent!

Until next time (geddit?)…

Vx

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

Girl about Town: The Sanctuary Spa

Yay! Victoria is back! We’ve got a suitably glamourous spa review for you this month and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve been or would like to go. That swing isn’t going to entertain itself you know…

In light of Rebecca’s round up of Thermae Spa in Bath, we thought a little review of another famous spa might be interesting, and seeing as the entry restrictions are very gender specific there were none of the, erm, inappropriate spatial awareness issues you guys mentioned, although when I visited Thermae Spa, I could have sworn that I didn’t see a single male. Strange!

In my Christmas stocking last year I found a voucher for a spa day at The Sanctuary, which promptly got packed away in the present-opening melee with all my other Christmas vouchers to be “saved for later”. An indulgent, relaxing treat after all the stress of Christmas, a run of 30th birthday parties, a busy season at work and buying and selling property that I swiftly forgot I had. It was only on packing up our flat half way through March and whinging to anyone that would listen that I needed a chill out did I remember that I had the voucher! I gave the hotline a call and the lady on the other end was possibly one of the most friendly and helpful spa receptionists I’ve ever spoken to. She asked where I was travelling from so she could work out an approximate arrival time so she could structure my day appropriately, without having to make me get up too early or have to rush through my time there. How very considerate!

To that end, I arrived at The Sanctuary Covent Garden Spa at 11am in time for a small introduction at the official-looking check in desk (“Hi and welcome to The Sanctuary, is it your first time here? Can I get you some juice”), a locker tutorial (pretty hi-tech), a few moments to strip (but I chose to keep my bikini on) and snuggle up in my fluffy robe and then little bit of wandering to familiarise myself with the various floors before my first treatment appointment – A full body aromatherapy massage.

I had a little consultation with the therapist who asked various questions about pressure preference, any issues or body concerns (“yes, I’m concerned my body doesn’t look like Rose Huntington-Whiteley’s – can you help?”) and what I was hoping to get out of the massage so we could pick the right oils and focus – loosening of the muscles, de-stress time, re-invigoration or just a snooze? I picked the “de-stress” oils as my body was feeling incredibly tight, and a strong pressure to really ease the knots out of my shoulders. 55 minutes later I was feeling considerably more supple and heavily chastised for scrunching at my desk, not exercising my back muscles enough.

A drink of water and I was back wandering the corridors and floors again and I found myself at the exercise pool. Feeling a bit too “floopy”, to quote Phoebe Buffay, for anything as strenuous as swimming I grabbed a towel and stretched out in the sauna for a bit of heat therapy.

After that I took another wander and settled myself in the Koi Carp Lounge which was full of big scoochie chairs (that’s totally a word), day beds and ginormous wicker arm chairs. I squidged myself in to a chair, ordered a platter of picky bits (feta, olives, hummus, pate, bean dip and pitta) a cocktail that I think was called a Cosmopolitini (pink prosecco with a scoop of cranberry and vodka sorbet), grabbed my book (one of the Song of Ice and Fire series) and snuggled in for an hour of chill time with some yummy food and drink! The area is divided up in to various sections and the clientele was equally split between large groups of assorted ages on hen dos, smaller groups of two or three women on special days out and those on their own, like me, there for a true chill out. Obviously in such a large space with so many females the noise levels could have become a bit rowdy, especially with the introduction of alcohol, but the staff do a good job of maintaining a chilled out vibe, whilst still allowing the larger groups to let their hair down and have fun with their friends. Well, that was how it worked out for me, you guys may have had different experiences? It certainly felt more relaxing and indulgent than the public areas of Thermae Spa, which in my opinion, had the potential to feel a bit public swimming pool at times.

After all that exertion I was ready for my session in the Sleep Retreat which involved, shock horror, more chill time! A curved bed vibrates in waves and sound-proofed headphones played calming, imaginative narrative (“you’re standing in a beautiful garden, in front of a trickling fountain”) intended to send you off in to a restful sleep. It worked for most people in the room, as the soft snores can attest, but unfortunately when someone tells me to “clear my mind of all my thoughts” I start thinking about “what should I be clearing?” which leads me to making lists on my mental whiteboard, rather than wiping it clean. And I giggle. Which is why I quit yoga! It was nice and relaxing though, even if I didn’t sleep. A quick note, remember to get comfortable before the experience begins, not halfway through like me. I forgot that I was wearing my slightly damp bikini bottoms under my robe and it wasn’t very comfy so just as everyone was dropping off to sleep with headphones on and eyes firmly closed, there was me trying to wriggle out of my cossie, under the blanket and my robe without making a scene. I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall, or the security camera monitor, for that little fiasco!

After that, I grabbed a pot of Earl Grey, some magazines (in fancy Sanctuary plastic covers), a blanket and did some advanced-level chillaxing back in the Koi Carp Lounge.

By then I was feeling well and truly rested, so I thought I should do something, erm, productive with my day and almost booked a facial, but I decided I needed a new pair of Converse for my holiday more than I needed a facial scrub, and also all the facial products are available in the dressing rooms, so instead I did a bit of swimming, loitered in the jacuzzi and sweated out all the week’s toxins (which included lots of cachaca after a Rio Carnival reunion) in the steam room before a leisurely shower (with more Sanctuary products), a little bit of pampering with all the skincare products* and I was back at the front desk collecting my free gift and checking out for the day. A quick stop in the ground floor shop for some samples and then a wander back to the Tube, via a sweetshop and a newsagent for magazines and I was set for an evening of sofa surfing.

All in all I had a really lovely day and truly appreciated the chance to enjoy some alone time and to just sit and veg in a cosy robe with a book, some snacks and a drink or two. However, my personal feeling is that the prices are rather high and so if I go back, it will only be if I’m lucky enough to receive another experience as a gift. Otherwise I’ll just stick to massages, facials and nail treatments at my local salon, pootle back home and sit on my couch in my Champneys robe (pilfered from my mum a few years back) with a cuppa (or a glass of, depending on the time!) and there must be an app for Koi carp swimming around in a soothing manner on your iPhone…

And, before you ask, I didn’t use The Swing, I had the urge, but I would have felt like a bit of a berk just swinging on it on my own.

Have you been? What did you think? Are you planning a trip there?

Victoria
x

*I used the samples and the products in my free gift box for about a week afterwards but I had to give up on them as they made my skin freak out. After a few years of skin freak outs, I knew enough to stop asap so I’m glad I didn’t try the facial after all. However, I’ve spoken to a few people who really liked them, and I know Rebecca has reviewed the Miracle Oil on Florence Finds in the past, so don’t let my crazy skin put you off!

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

Recommended: Bath Thermae Spa

The weekend before last, I headed to Bath for a girls weekend with my mum and sister in tow, (Pete was at the Grand Prix in Silverstone.) We have been meaning to plan a weekend away for some time now but combining three busy ladies’ schedules had proven to be something of a nightmare and finally when the weekend in question arrived the weather was, well, biblical.

No ark forthcoming, fortunately I had already planned that we should visit the Bath Thermae Spa and after a bit of shopping and sight seeing we headed there towards 4pm. I had first come across the Thermae Spa years ago when I saw on TV that it was being built – a high tech answer to the ancient thermal springs that it uses as its water supply. I seem to remember it going massively over budget and being plagued with set backs but was always captivated by the idea of the naturally heated water and the relaxing surroundings, so I was pretty excited to be visiting. It seemed like a great idea to just float around and put the world to rights.

When you arrive at the spa, the payment area also serves as a quick orientation – we were told about the three main areas and how to move about them, along with the rather high tech changing areas and lockers. You are given a wrist band that then locks your locker for you and programs the band to be able to open it later and I was a bit nervous that I would ever find the right one, but it was actually quite painless. Along with our payment for use of the Spa (we chose the 2 hours package) we hired a towel for an extra £3 as we didn’t want to hike it around the shops prior to our visit, but you can take your own. The Thermae Spa was very busy (completely different to how it looks int here pictures,) and I’m not sure if this was a combination of it being Saturday or the fact that it was raining, but we still managed fine.


The Minerva Bath

After negotiating the lockers we headed in the main and my favourite bath, the Minerva Bath. Also the largest, it has large modern pillars supporting the roof and is surrounded by a combination of sandstone and glass, feeling quite modern and airy. There is the main area, with showers at the sides, then a bubbling jacuzzi-like area and my absolute favourite, the ‘lazy river’ where you are propelled around the jacuzzi effortlessly with nothing to do but relax in the warm water.


The Cross Bath

We spent probably 45 minutes there going around the ‘lazy river’ countless times and just revelling in the relaxation. Eventually we climbed the three flights of stairs to the open air roof spa, looking out over the rooftops of Bath. It’s a real pity we didn’t have better weather, as it was pretty memorable experience, even without sun and fortunately the weather spared us any rain for the 5 minutes or so we spent up there. Even though it was cold and a bit gusty, the bath was super warm and my sister and mum (not known for their hardiness outdoors) still really enjoyed it.


The open air rooftop bath

Lastly, we headed down a floor to the steam rooms – 4 glass pods full of steam, lit by coloured lights and each with their own aromatherapy blend. We thought two of them were floral, with a definite eucalyptus pod and another one we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. The steam was super hot and we could only sit in each for a few minutes, moving through the huge central rainfall shower in-between to cool off, but rather than being overpowering as they could have been, the scents were a welcome addition adding another dimension to the experience.


The Steam rooms

All in all after changing (we didn’t shower as we went straight back to our hotel, although there are shower facilities and hairdryers with mirrors if you need to be somewhere afterwards,) we were there for about 2 hours and left feeling extremely relaxed and recharged. It was the perfect place to go for a reasonably priced spa experience and I thought a great option for a hen do or girls weekend. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an ‘exclusive’ spa experience, but that is reflected in the price and if you’re in a group, I don’t think it really matters. The only thing I didn’t like was the amount of couples in there – I’d love to go with Pete and think it would be a great place to go as a couple for some R&R, but there was frankly far too much, ahem, ‘couple time’ going on – my mum even commented that it felt like being in the midst of a Sandals holiday at times!

Have you been to the Thermae Spa?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

The need-to-know.

  • We paid £26.00 for 2 hours in the Spa, although we actually received 2.5hours – I suppose to allow for changing etc.
  • You can’t book in advance unless there are 8+ of you.
  • There are actual space treatments available and they can be booked in advance.
  • There is also the Cross Bath – a private, much smaller bath that can be booked for events and smaller groups up to 12 people.
  • For lots of useful info and up to date prices/opening times please see www.thermaebathspa.com

Style and the City: Paris

It’s turning into quite the travel Thursday but do not fear this is actually a (shhhh!) Fashion post. Read on for the full explanation!

This afternoon I’m hoping you can all help me to help a friend of Florence Finds out, Michelle from Pocketful of Dreams. Michelle is heading off to Paris very soon and recently asked the readers of her blog for tips on where to go, or what to see and do. Like all of us, she’s looking for those little known hideaways, cute shops, pretty patisseries and knock-out cool bars to sample a cocktail.


Moodboard by Pocketful of Dreams; Image credits: paris2london.tumblr.com, chictopia.com, thecherryblossomgirl.com

Of course, that’s exactly what we’re about here at Florence Finds so I said I’d help her out by posting her shout out and Michelle is going to return the favour by covering her fabulous travails on her return. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

In the meantime, I was inspired to help Michelle with her packing and (after you have left your comments!) please head on over to Pocketful of Dreams and have a look at the Parisian city break solutions I dreamed up for her…

Au revoir!

Rebecca
xo

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