28 January 2016

Back in two weeks!

So I've been noticeably absent again, haven't I? My head's been in a solid work space for the last month and so the blog's been neglected again.

I'll be back soon. I have so much to share - from a few new places I've eaten at, drank at, stayed in, to how my job's changed and how my weekend work trip to Dubai went - but I'm jetting off for a couple of weeks in Cambodia on Saturday. I'll try and check in but for now, here's to being in these very bungalows this time next week.

See you on the other side.

4 January 2016

Hello 2016

Love them or loathe them, I've set myself some resolutions. I was pretty tough on myself at the end of last year and whilst it's an enormous cliche, I've taken the start of a new year to be a bit of a fresh start. No 'New Year, new me' - just a few goals to commit to now that things are a little bit settled.

So, first up: travel (even) more
An oldie but a goodie. Perhaps a little irresponsible a resolution (see below) but travelling and exploring new places is something that I am always itching to do. Having been fortunate enough to travel a bit when growing up and then throwing myself into adventures further afield as an adult, it's only right to continue this selfish tradition. With a killer 34 days holiday this year, I've already managed to get a few things in the calendar:
January: Dubai. It's a three day/two night work trip but there'll be some free time to soak up one of my new favourite cities.
February: Cambodia for two glorious weeks. Visiting some Australian pals I've managed to stay in touch with, partying on their beach and then doing the necessary tour of the country and the obligatory Angkor Wat pilgrimage.
April: Poland. As a Christmas present to my Dad, I'm taking him to Krakow to soak up some Eastern European culture and fulfil a much-discussed intention to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.
May: Mykonos. A week in Greece to catch the early sun.
And there's plenty of time to fill up the rest of the year. Skiing again? New York again? Who knows.

Two: save more
I told you this didn't quite tie in with the above resolution but at the grand old age of 26, apparently it's high time I started saving (for a deposit). Don't worry, I'm fully aware that I'll never afford a deposit on my own and whilst there is no man in sight to buddy up with, I guess I should start putting something aside for the 'one day'. If the travelling bug doesn't completely take over, of course. (Note how I haven't defined a goal amount here. Bad Becks).

Three: lose a stone
Gone are the days of my 18 year old metabolism but I'm damned if I'm not going to try and get that bod back.

Four: enjoy yourself more
Now this is something that's going to come organically. The aforementioned hard time came about as a result of monumental levels of stress at work coupled with busy freelance work and some personal life downers which meant that I was a big ball of negative energy at the end of the year. But my role at work has evolved into a brilliant strategic copywriting position (taking away all my account management duties), the freelance stuff is back on track after the Christmas break and I jumped in with both feet and dyed my hair almost white at the weekend. With things settling down and reshuffling, I should be able to enjoy myself more and blog more. Start as you mean to go on, right?

Five: meet someone
A bit of a tongue in cheek one here and hardly a resolution but on Christmas Eve, my aunt, mum and I made a pact to all bring partners next year to Scotland. Perhaps the most challenging of all my resolutions but a shake's a shake, right? And in the words of the ultimate singleton Bridget Jones, 'I will not fall for any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomanics, chauvists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, perverts.' Here's to 2016.

30 December 2015

So long, 2015

It's been a while, hasn't it? I attribute the radio silence to some of the craziest weeks at work which meant that spending downtime in front of the laptop afterwards wasn't particularly appealing. But a pretty quiet Christmas away from technology coupled with some important conversations has meant some much needed respite and it being finally time to say goodbye to 2015.

I'm actually pretty glad. A break up mid-year and a bad run with guys since has me raring for a whole new 2016, but of course, they're only a teeny tiny part of anyone's story and there are some fabulous memories to recount before I close this year's diary pages. So here's to a highlight reel (in no particular order)...

- The first time skiing. Five glorious days in the Alps learning how to snowplough, disembark chair lifts without falling over and teaching a tiny village the true meaning of apres-ski. We'll just gloss over my final day freak out which resulted in a long, 3.5km walk down a ski run.
- A whistle-stop two days in Philadelphia and New York with work. A stay at beautiful Hotel Americano, drinks at staggering Baccarat and a wild night after.
- Five gorgeous days on the Amalfi Coast for my birthday with my mum. We explored Positano and Amalfi, bathed in 38 degree volcanic pools and ate as much fresh fish as we could get our hands on. A fine way to see in 26.
- And then a spontaneous trip to Dubai to visit an old friend. It was five days of all-you-can-eat buffets and boozing, sundowners by the Burj Al Arab and cocktails in the world's tallest building.

Eating and drinking
As usual, I spent an inordinate amount of time eating and drinking. Being editor of a food website and someone that enjoys a cocktail or two, I managed to get out to a fair few places. Here's my favourite few to eat at:
- Duck & Waffle. A place that needs no introduction really; the spectacular 24 hour bar and restaurant 36 floors above the city. Whilst famed for the eponymous duck and waffle dish, my go-tos (when on the menu) are the roasted octopus, foie gras creme brulee and the carpaccio. Cocktails? Oh, all of them.
- Rex & Mariano. Part of the Goodman family, it's currently searching for a new home but we made good use of it when it was open in Soho. An achingly affordable fresh fish restaurant, this place answered all my prayers. Best were those prawns and the lobster ceviche.
- Hawksmoor. Everyone's favourite steak place for a reason. From the gorgeous decor (all dark wood panelling and art deco lighting) to the food itself (to die for steak tartare and truffled mac & cheese), Hawksmoor will forever top my lists.
- Polpo. Another predictable addition but it would be a crime to omit from my favourites. This Venetian bacaro serves up small Italian plates meaning I get to dip into lots of different dishes and noone can say anything about it. Dad and I sat in the sunny window with Aperol Spritzes and pizzetta and polpette; the perfect afternoon.
- Morden & Lea. Onto Modern British now and Piccadilly's Morden & Lea left Emma and I rolling ourselves home, stuffed to the brim after delicious rabbit ravioli and cod. We sat upstairs in the elegant dining room and caught up on years worth of gossip but the downstairs bistro is just as good for a quick eat.
- Senor Ceviche. The one that almost got away. We finally made it round to Soho's Senor Ceviche where I discovered their divine Mamacitas and cool, fresh ceviche that I could eat everyday if I was allowed. The pork belly bites are also far too good to keep to yourself too.

And to drink:
The great thing about a lot of my favourite restaurants these days is that they've got a killer bar as well as kitchen. But when you're looking for 'cocktails done good', make no mistakes about these:
- Dandelyan. The beautiful bar in the Mondrian hotel; all sexy curves and bright banquettes. The drinks are themed by 'botanicals' and change every season but my firm favourites have to be the concrete sazerac for that smooth, sweet and bitter spike of spirit and the Crimson Waxwork, served in a beeswax cup. Looking to impress? This is your place.
- Original Sin. Blink and you'll miss it. This basement bar is in my part of town and for that I love it. A short walk from my flat, a few steps and you'll find yourself at a very sexy bar with some seriously talented bar staff. We went off menu and they rustled up a chocolate rosemary negroni and a coffee tequila concoction that was right up my street.
- Loves Company. A tiny corner of a bar that never disappoints. This was an Ella & Matt find that I've since adopted because who can turn down cocktails and cheese toasties? The bar staff here are the friendliest chaps and always up for a challenge, particularly involving mescal.
- Nightjar. Nightjar is bittersweet for me - the week before my relationship ended, we went on a fantastic double date here where we consumed thirty two (count 'em) cocktails between four of us and declared it our new favourite place. A beautiful speakeasy bar with the most creative cocktails I have ever seen and tasted. Top of my list, let's just keep the good memories, huh?
Need more inspiration? Read all my reviews here.

And what else?
- I spent Christmas in Scotland again.
- I hosted a client dinner at SkyGarden.
- I went to not one but two rugby matches this year. The first was a friendly between Samoans and Barbarians as a warm up for the Rugby World Cup while the second was the Twickenham double header. We drank copious pints of Guinness, made plenty of friends and stymied the Mexican waves.
- I took up horseriding again after a six year gap. Having ridden almost everyday in my teens, it's slightly different after a hiatus. We're working on getting me back to 'riding school ready' which means reversing all the years spent riding polo and being all disciplined again.
- I saw Cats (Christmas present from my ex), Book of Mormon (anniversary present to my ex that instead went to my dad) and the annual Shakespeare pilgrimage to see As You Like It.
- And I continued the monochromatic wardrobe.

So 2015, you have been a good year after all. Forget the heartbreak, there's all of 2016 to play for.

14 December 2015

Best of Taste of London: whisky

So I totally didn't mean to drop the ball on this but life just got in the way. With a full time job as account manager and copywriter at a design agency, a bit on the side as editor at TryThisFor.com (which is getting a Christmas makeover, by the way) and a whole host of other things to deal with over the last few months, the 'diary' has been neglected somewhat. However, with a few upcoming changes on the very near horizon, 2016 should be back on track.

So, picking up where we left off with the vodkas and gins, it's time to talk about the best whisky I discovered at Taste. Just in time for those last minute Christmas present buying dashes.

It seems somehow fitting that my picks of the whisky all come from Scotland, seeing as I'm spending this year there again. The home of single malts, Scotch whisky must be barrel-aged for at least three years and made in single pots in the same distillery from malted barley. This, of course, is where the 'similarities' end as each distillery has its own secret processes and methods and no two taste alike.

First up on the recommendations is Bowmore, a whisky brimming with mythical history and fire in its belly. They've been distilling the same way since 1779 - floor-malted barley is smoked in peat-fired kilns and left to mature in oak casks in vaults beneath a sea loch on the Hebridean island of Islay. You'll probably find its 12 Year Old whisky most readily; a peaty number with honey and lemon running through it. I liked the 15 Year Old 'Darkest' which is smoky and chocolatey and perfect for whipping up into a hot chocolate (with cherry liqueur, cinnamon syrup, whole milk and hot chocolate). For the more romantic among you, you can even stay at their cottages and have a tour of their distillery. Or keep an eye out at auctions - a bottle of the 1850 Single Malt sold at auction in 2007 for £29,400.

Then comes Glengoyne. Distilled 20 miles north of Glasgow, Glengoyne was first known as Burntfoot and was born in the lowland hills, perfect cover for distilling during a time where producing whisky was illegal. Happily, these days it has a royal warrant and is described as the 'most beautiful distillery in Scotland'. Unlike many malt whiskies, it doesn't use peat smoke on the barley - instead using warm air to produce award-winning bottles that keep you coming back for more. I tried five - ranging from their 10 Year to their 18 Year, all aged in either sherry or bourbon casks (or a combination of the two) for distinctive smoky or sweet flavours. The 26 Year Old Cask divided opinions on the day but this sherry-aged whopping 58.2% of a dream was the clear winner of an international poll. With 'lemon peel, brambles, chocolate and eucalyptus' among the tasting notes, this is one serious game changer.

Next up is Tamdhu. The Tamdhu Distillery is almost 200 years old but in recent years, you'd have been more likely to find its whisky in blended whiskies such as Famous Grouse and J&B. When the distillery was sold in 2013, its new owners recommenced its single malt offering and you can find the 10 Year sherry-aged back on the shelf. A vanilla nose, with a toffee palate and fruit finish with a 'wisp of peat smoke' means it's a drinkable dram while the Batch Strength is richer and deeper and just a tad more mature at a cool 58.8%. Tamdhu's 'Can-Dhu' spirit and being a sucker for a 'start up' (I use that in the loosest of loose terms) mean I'm rooting for these guys too.

And then returning to Islay, we find Smokehead. This is a more modern affair with jazzy packaging that flies in the face of its back shelf comrades. It's peaty, smokey and with a depth that takes you all the way under, brings you back to the surfaces then plunges you again on the finish. There's a sweetness and spice to it thanks to honey and pepper whilst a little bit of added seaweed brings saltiness to the table. It's a vibrant whisky that's proving popular and I think that's down to its drinkability - there are some seriously big flavours vying for attention but they never overwhelm you. A nice wee dram.

So, a short but sweet round up of Scottish single malts, just in time for the sipping season.

25 November 2015

Best of Taste of London: vodkas and gins

Last week, Taste of London returned for its winter weekend at Tobacco Dock. It's a showcase of the city's best restaurants alongside some of the country's best producers, from small distilleries to prime butchers. It's a riot of sights, smells and tastes and hugely difficult to not get distracted by everything on offer. I ended up going to the Thursday and Friday evening sessions (it's also open on Saturday and Sunday) and had the opportunity to sample some pretty impressive wares.

I came away pretty inspired by everything I tried and everyone I talked to and thought I'd do a few posts of some of our favourites. And with Christmas just around the corner, you may just find a few ideas for presents...

First up are the vodkas and gins. Four British spirits with some serious punch.

Black Cow 
We first caught sight of Black Cow when they were mysteriously crumbling cheese around their little cups of samples. Never ones to shy away from unusual combinations, we just had to check them out. Black Cow make the world's only vodka made from milk from grass grazed cows in the West Dorset coast. This means it's unbelievably smooth and creamy without any of the harshness that comes from vodka distilled with water passed through minerals. Whey is fermented into a beer then transformed by yeast into alcohol before being distilled, triple filtered and finished. And the curds? Used to make their tasty, crumbly cheddar that are ideal stocking fillers. The vodka is fab in cocktails because there's none of that back-of-the-throat-bite (check out some perfect recipes here) and you can find where to buy the perfect pair here.

55 Above
Despite having a name quite similar to another vodka (ahem), 55 Above is a completely different kettle of potatoes. Established in 2014, they make the vodka by hand from British potatoes and distil them in the smallest commercial copper pot stills in the world, producing a few hundred bottles at a time. They were showcasing their range of vodkas - three flavoured and two pure - and invited us to try a couple. C and R were drawn to the pineapple and the toffee respectively while I tried the coconut which was light rather than too sweet and I imagine an interesting alternative in a pina colada. But what intrigued me (surprise surprise) was the 56% vodka, diluted with less water for a stronger, more intense flavour. As well as the large bottles, they also sell smaller mix & match kits of three so you can try and find your favourite.

Half Hitch Gin
Forget what you think you know about gin, the guys at Half Hitch are rewriting the rule book. Bringing history back to life on the former Camden site of London's traditional distilleries, they take a different approach with their flavours. Think less juniper, more bergamot. And black tea, English wood, pepper and hay. Resulting in a slightly smokey, slightly spicy gin that is a world away from some of the headblowers on the market both in taste and dusky appearance. Each year they reblend their tea to add depth to their distilling and beautiful with Fevertree tonic. They've put together a few suggested cocktails here which are begging to be tried out and invite you to post photos of your concoctions over at #TheGWithTea. If you're looking for a gin with a difference, these guys should be top of your list.

City of London Gins
You'd be forgiven these guys have been around for a while. From their coat of arms to their traditional glass bottles modelled on St Paul's, you wouldn't suspect that they've only been distilling since 2012. There are five gins to choose from (helpfully numbered and named), each with different combinations and balances of botanicals. Their No.2 Christopher Wren gin has been designed by Tom Nichol, the former distiller at Tanqueray, and boasts juniper, coriander and angelica root for a slightly sweeter, complex taste. But the City of London Distillery know that finding the perfect gin can be like finding a needle in a haystack so for your fussiest family members and friends, they offer you the chance to design, distil, bottle and label your own gin. And prop yourself up at the onsite bar for a sample or two.

Next up: the best whiskies.
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