Margot, London

Whilst I don’t really believe in luck in a general life sense (I think a lot of being lucky is working hard, good preparation and persistence along with a healthy dose of chance), I do tend to be quite lucky when it comes to winning things – competitions and the like. Which is good, because it makes up for my complete lack of skill or talent at anything. Back before Christmas I won a Twitter competition for dinner at, then newly opened, Margot, an Italian restaurant (ignore the French-sounding name), located in Covent Garden. It’s located in the building which previously housed Moti Mahal, which we visited the other year, so I was interested to find out how they had, in the words of Louis Walsh, ‘made it their own’.

It’s beautifully kitted out in decor which looks like it’s been lifted straight from a blogger’s Pinterest board – marble, deep blue/teal hues and rose gold accents. The detailing is beautiful from the minute you step through the door and their logo is a dachshund. A motif which finds itself onto a very clever grissini holder.

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Accompanied by matching wines from an extensive selection of wine by the glass, my boyfriend started our meal with Carpaccio di capesante, a carpaccio of scallops with lime, pickled artichokes, sweet red chili sauce and basil. Although pricey at £15 he loved it and he’s not normally one for artichoke. They were probably the second best scallop dish he had in 2016, with top honours going to those at 64 Degrees.

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I couldn’t resist the Burrata Pugliese with a heritage tomato salad and basil pesto. I wasn’t entirely sure about the quinelle of pesto which did slightly resemble a slug, although thankfully did not taste like one, but the dish was otherwise spot on.

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For his main, my boyfriend chose the Filetto di tonno, an almond-crusted seared fillet of tuna with Sicilian Caponata. Only lightly seared, this was perfect.

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I went for something richer for the misty damp weather we had been having that day and chose the Sella di cervo arrosto, roast saddle of venison, savoy cabbage, pumpkin sauce and glazed chestnuts. Beautifully presented and cooked, it was a very autumnal dish, just what I needed to warm me from the inside.

My boyfriend’s Cannolo Siciliano was less cannolo, more mille-feuille in composition but was delicious nonetheless.

Whereas I had the less delicate-looking but no less delicious Baba al rum with tangerine cream and orange sauce. Delicious, light and marmaladey, I could have eaten another straight away.

One thing that you notice with Margot is the service. They have a very high floor staff to customer ratio and this was something that was particularly noticeable on a weekend lunch time when there were only (on the day we went) a few groups of diners in. Of course it meant that service was very attentive, but it did mean that you never quite settled into that comfortable flow of dining and chatting that comes when left a bit more to your own devices. That said, it was quiet when we went and perhaps this is felt less during an evening service and would perhaps be more welcomed during a business meal. Don’t get me wrong, service was lovely, the staff were so helpful and nice, but I suppose I’m used to less, if that makes any sense.

Would I return? Of course, the food is lovely, the room is a dream and the staff are super attentive. If you’re looking for somewhere to impress someone, this is it.

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December 2016: This month I have mostly been…

Feeling: Ready for a new year

I’m not a big one for new year, new start but it’s a nice marker in the year (September is another, a hangover from school) when I can reassess where I am in life and what I want to change and do (see below).

Reading: Marching Powder by Rusty Young

I started this last month and haven’t made as much progress with it as I would have liked or hoped. I have got a book voucher to spend which is now burning a hole in my pocket, so I’m lining up my next reads. Any suggestions of books you’ve lived, gratefully received.

Watching: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

No, not Rogue One, but The Force Awakens. I went to see Episode 1, 2 and 3 as they came out in the cinema and they were terrible, so I was sceptical about The Force Awakens and wondered if all of the positive reviews were just from fans of the franchise. I ended up watching it on Christmas Eve (right before the sad news of Carrie Fisher’s death) and loved it. Ok so it’s not exactly groundbreaking in terms of plot and does have a lot of throwbacks to Episode 4 which should be enough to make any fan reminisce, but it also brings in new and interesting protagonists. Daisy Ridley does at times have touches of Keira Knightley (the odd nose wrinkle here or smile there) but I loved Rey as a strong female lead. If you missed it when it came out, it’s well worth a watch.

Planning: my 2017

So, without getting too ambitious about what I want to achieve this year and generally, these are my personal and work aims:

Personal

  • Stop spending unnecessarily – I have a spreadsheet which projects how long it’s going to take me to save enough money for a house deposit (plus stamp duty, plus fees) and based on the amount I currently put away each month, I should have enough by the end of 2019. However, the more I don’t spend on things that don’t enrich my life, the more I can save. Yes, I could probably do it faster but I’m not willing to give up on holidays and meals out in order to do it, for now a happy balance will do me if the end is in sight. It does mean coming to terms with staying in our one bedroom flat for three years, but having somewhere to call my own will be worth it.
  • Stop putting things off
  • Put things in the bin or their proper place, no more leaving things around on the most convenient flat surface – be tidy

Work

  • More patience, tolerance and giving of constructive feedback
  • More personal profile raising
  • More involvement in business development

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2016: the year in review

Another year has passed and this one feels like it’s lasted a lifetime. Some years fly by but this one hasn’t (a shame because in world terms, it’s been a terrible one). My aim is always to grow as a person and to improve and be better. I’m not sure why or how, but this year  do feel like I’ve grown up a bit and even if I can’t really put a finger on what it is, I feel like I’m finally shaking off that in me which has always felt like a teenager in an adult’s world. I’m starting to feel less like I’m playing at life and more like I have weight. It’s difficult to explain, but I hope it develops.

Looking back on this year I have managed to fit a lot in and I hope to continue to do so in 2017.

January

2016 started as 2017 will, with a business trip to Japan (it’s become a bit of an annual thing now, not by design, more by sheer dumb luck). I had a day to myself and went out to Kamakura, where I watched the sun set over Mount Fuji.

I also finally paid off my student loan, eight and a half years after graduating. Being free of it has allowed me to put more into my savings and pension each month and the next goal is for me to be able to save enough for a deposit on a house (plus stamp duty and all the other costs). It might take me a few years, but I have a plan and I’ll get there eventually. My plan for 2017 is to try not to spend unnecessarily.

February

In February we paid a visit to Sophie the Stegosaurus at the Natural History Museum (I’m still devastated about Dippy by the way) and also to Lincoln to visit my boyfriend’s sister.

March

March brought a weekend getaway to Bristol with my boyfriend, a weekend in a forest cabin for my friend’s 30th birthday and a quick trip to a warm Bilbao which gave us the chance to shrug off our coats for a weekend and explore the art of the Guggenheim.

April

As always, springtime brought another night of camping out for RCA Secret, but, more excitingly, it brought my 30th birthday. It was quite a foodie one – my mum and I celebrated our birthdays (hers is two days before mine) with afternoon tea at The Savoy and my boyfriend took me to Le Gavroche for an amazing two Michelin star meal – we went for the tasting menu with matching wine and spent a few happy hours there.

May

At the start of May, as part of my birthday celebrations (and let’s be honest, just for a holiday), we took advantage of the Bank Holiday to jet over to Budapest. We fell in love with the city. It’s so surprisingly beautiful and even though we spent five nights there, we could have easily had another day or two to really make the most of everything Budapest has to offer.

June

Rather than focus on the giant clusterfuck that was the referendum result, instead I’d rather think back on June as being the month that we celebrated my nan and grandad’s 60th wedding anniversary.

July

My boyfriend and I celebrated our eighth anniversary, which coincided with a little trip to Brighton to watch Pulp Fiction on the beach, so we treated ourselves to a wonderful meal at 64 Degrees.

August

August Bank Holiday was spent glamping, something which we definitely hope to do more of (in fact, we’re booked in for a long weekend at The Saltbox for my birthday in April and we can’t wait to get back under the stars again). I also took a little Yorkshire road trip with my mum, where I finally got to visit Fountains Abbey, somewhere I’d wanted to see for ages.

August also brought with it a promotion at work, ok so it’s mostly just a title, but it’s still nice to have.

September

September was the month that my life was changed by Momoko (permanent hair straightening), since then I’ve put my straighteners away and gained at least another 20 minutes in bed every morning.

We also spent a fantastic week in Slovenia, with the highlight being a few nights in an amazing Airbnb property right on the water of Lake Bled. We swam, kayaked, clambered, biked and generally had a spiffingly good time in a Famous Five style, minus the crime solving.

October

October was busy with a weekend in York, a pasta making class, London Cocktail Week and Street Feast’s Oktoberfeast.

November

I spent a lot of November holed up inside as this was the year I signed up to do my masters. In order to upgrade my Postgraduate Diploma to an MA I need to write a 15,000 word dissertation by the end of September next year. The start of December was the deadline for submitting a 1,500 project plan and so, having done very little thinking about the detail of my dissertation before then, I needed to do a lot of research to pull something, that hopefully resembled a coherent plan, together.

December

We kicked off December with a trip to Basel to enjoy their Christmas markets, which was a nice little break as I spent most of the rest of the month stuck at my desk (it’s been busy at work lately, something I expect will continue through the first few months of 2017).

Yes, there have been some not so good things about 2016 (my boyfriend being made redundant for one, although he has now found another job), but all in all, it’s been a pretty damn good year, which is something I definitely don’t take for granted and something I am very grateful for.

What have the highlights of your year been? If you have done a rundown then leave me a link, I’m always interested to see what other people have been up to.

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Basel Christmas markets

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Out of all of the budget airlines, Ryanair really is not my preferred choice. I hate how they try and upsell the whole ‘experience’ – no I don’t want scratchcards to be pushed at me over a loudspeaker when I’m just trying to catch a quick nap. However, my opinion of them went up a bit this year with Michael O’Leary’s stance on Brexit. Unfortunately he, like so many of us, seemed to be in an echo chamber in the run-up to the referendum, as I ended up with an email on the morning of the 24th from Ryanair imploring me to celebrate staying in Europe (oh, the pain inflicted) by booking cheap flights. It was quickly followed up by another retracting the statement, but not the offers. So, hurt, sad, angry and betrayed, I did the only thing that could bolster my spirits at that point, I whipped out my credit card and booked us cheap flights for a pre-Christmas mini-break.

The week before the referendum I’d read an article (someone must have linked to on Twitter) on 13 cities you can’t pronounce (but you should definitely visit), one of which was Basel. So, after checking on the Christmas market dates I booked us flights to Basel for the first weekend of the Christmas markets, to coincide with my boyfriend’s birthday. We ended up with flights for two and a 20kg bag between us for just under £100. Given that it often costs us £85 to get back home to Nottingham on the train (with a two together railcard!), I thought it was a pretty good bargain. Ok, so I probably should have been showing solidarity with Europe, rather than heading to Switzerland, but the cheap flights worked for our dates.

 

Normally when we go on holiday it’s to somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a while and have looked into and researched, this time though I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It didn’t help that the week we were going to Basel (from the Thursday to Sunday), I ended up in Brussels at the start of the week for work, only returning on Wednesday night, so I didn’t even have the chance to do much last minute googling.

It’s super easy and quick to get into Basel from the airport by bus (although make sure you take the right exit from the airport, being on the border, one exit directs you to France and Germany, the other to Switzerland). We arrived in Basel on Thursday evening and so our first opportunity to get a sense of the city was on Friday morning when we went for a stroll to get our bearings. We stayed at the Radisson Blu which was only a short stroll from the Old Town.

I wondered whether Basel might be a bit industrial, but apart from the odd belching chimney in the distance, the city was beautiful. Situated on the banks of the Rhine, it is beautiful in winter, and I can  only imagine it’s even lovelier in summer. The river is clear and fast-flowing and apparently is used for bathing in summer.

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If you don’t fancy crossing the Rhine using one of the bridges, you can always use the passenger ferry, which works only using the power of the river’s current. It’s quite something to behold and I’m still not entirely sure how it manages to get lateral motion to head back and forth across the river.

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Of course, if you know anything about Basel, it’s probably that it’s famous for Art and Art Basel. So, of course, we couldn’t miss the Kunstmuseum and the new building which only opened this year but has already garnered plaudits. I also got to take advantage of my newly regained student status for a discount on the entrance fee. Whilst I can’t say I was hugely enamoured with the contents of the new building, the building itself was stunning and the main building was great.

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The main purpose for our visit though was not the art, but the Christmas markets. Last year we went to Brussels and we definitely want to make it an annual trip to a Christmas market, it’s a great way of getting in the festive mood. I’d forgotten how well Germanic countries do Christmas. It’s always in a beautifully classy way, very little is tacky in the way it can be here.

There are a few market areas dotted around Basel. The most central one (and the biggest) is in Barfüsserplatz and the surrounding streets. Kitted out with singing mooses (meese?) and a sparkly Christmas pyramid gluehwein stall, its stalls sell a variety of decorations, food and Swiss

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Mugs from Christmas markets are my favourite souvenirs (especially as Switzerland is really not cheap for anything), I will happily relinquish my deposit in exchange for a novelty mug, especially when it’s in the shape of a boot. There was an old woman who drank from a shoe…

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For the night of my boyfriend’s birthday I’d booked us into what purported to be a traditional Swiss restaurant – Walliser Kanne. Unfortunately the night before we set off for Basel my boyfriend started being violently ill and although I said we didn’t have to go to Basel, he insisted we did. Luckily it wasn’t a persistent illness and only seemed to come on a few hours after eating. So, we decided to throw caution to the wind and went for the fondue. Ok, maybe not the best thing to have when you’re unwell but he said he wanted it, so we went ahead, consequences damned. Everyone around us was ordering fondue so it’s clearly what people visit for, the smell of melted cheese is incredible from the moment you step foot in the door.

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My favourite market was in Münsterplatz where sparkly lights hung from the trees above the roofs of wooden huts.

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Across from the main huts there was a ‘fairytale wood’ for children, made up of huts where children could try out a variety of craft activities, including smithing, candle-making, wood turning and more. It was dotted with fire pits over which bread dough was cooked on sticks and encircled by a tiny train track. It was adorable.

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Although I hadn’t been sure what to expect of Basel before we went, it was surprisingly lovely and apart from the vomiting boyfriend, we had a lovely time. It’s beautiful at Christmas and somewhere I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone. Unfortunately Switzerland is not cheap (even for someone used to London prices), so it might have to be a rare treat for us. Still, we will return.

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