Monday, 19 January 2015

A lazy afternoon in London

Some weekends I have a real plan as to what I'm going to do and those tend to be the weekends when I'm rushing from one thing to another and yet some weekends are at the other end of the spectrum and I find myself with nothing I need to do (apart from studying which is a constant source of guilt). Last weekend I found myself without any real plans and about halfway through a very long month (six weeks, damn that early December payday). So, I did probably the worst thing to do and headed out into London for an afternoon of window shopping.

Together with my boyfriend, we took the tube to Baker Street and from there strolled down Marylebone High Street. Of course any good shopping trip of mine has to include a trip to a bookstore and Marylebone High Street is home to the beyond gorgeous and utterly fantastic Daunt Books. If you live in London or spend any significant time here then you're bound to see a number of people toting around cotton bags from Daunt Books and with good reason. The Marylebone branch (there are five others) is gorgeous. 

The best thing about Daunt Books is their extensive travel section. Unlike other bookshops they pair their extensive range of travel guides, broken up by country, with fiction set in those countries or cities. It's perfect. Last year, before we went to Madrid I bought my boyfriend An Englishman in Madrid and before we go on holiday this year (we've already booked a trip to Portugal and hotels in Sintra and Lisbon) I'll be making a return trip to Daunt Books in order to stock up on novels set in Lisbon.

After ducking in and out of various shops (mostly interiors, I'm going through a phase of really yearning for a place of my own and being entirely unable to see an end to renting within the near future) we headed to check out the Wallace Collection. The Wallace Collection is a museum which houses art, furniture and armour. The works were collected by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard's widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897.

The whole collection is housed in Hertford House in Marylebone which is one of the properties that was owned by the family and it was a condition of the bequest that the collection stay together and no items are ever loaned out, even temporarily. The pieces are split across 25 jewel-coloured galleries which surround a central covered courtyard which now contains a restaurant. The largest of the galleries is the Great Gallery which was refurbished last year and contains a collection of Old Master paintings.

I know very little about art and wish I knew more to be able to understand it, but when I'm in galleries and museums I can't help but wonder about the pieces in them, I always wonder whether, if the artists were alive today, whether they would consider the pieces worthy of display or whether some of them were merely a way to pay the bills. I remember reading an article about Matthew Goode and his role in Leap Year (which was generally regarded as a terrible film) and he said something along the lines of the fact that one of his motivations for doing the film was that it was shot in Ireland and was relatively close to home which was great as his partner was due to have or had just had a baby. I wonder how many of the paintings would be regarded by the artists as only a way to pay the bills, rather than something that should particularly be held up as an example of their art. Not that motivation devalues something, but it can sometimes alter the integrity of a piece of work by compromising a vision of something by the need to meet a brief or someone else's expectations.

I really enjoyed our visit to the Wallace Collection. Although it is a substantial collection, it's nowhere near as intimidating in terms of scale as something like the National Gallery and so it feels more achievable to visit in the space of an afternoon. With somewhere like the National Gallery I feel like I visit the same few rooms each time before getting art fatigue. The Wallace Collection is much more manageable, although we did only end up leaving once they announced that the galleries would be closing and we had to get out.

We had an early dinner reservation at Truc Vert in Mayfair as we had a voucher to use courtesy of the lovely people at Zomato (by the way, you can view my profile and follow me on Zomato here) so we headed down there via a quick detour to Selfridges which has long been my happy place from the days when I first came down to London on a regular basis as a student to spend time with a guy I was naively infatuated with.

We were warmly welcomed into the restaurant and seated in a corner table. The restaurant itself isn't particularly remarkable and being on the same road as a string of other restaurants, including Roka, mean that it could easily be overlooked. The interior is cosy and the walls lined with wine racks. We ordered a bottle of Malbec while we perused the menu.

In addition to the a la carte menu, they also offer a prix fixe menu in an evening from 5pm. I decided to chose a starter and main from the prix fixe menu whereas my boyfriend went a la carte. He started with an onion soup. Being in a French restaurant, it really was the only option for him as he loves it and enjoyed his soup. I chose the twice baked goat's cheese soufflé which the menu described as being served with grilled aubergine salad and pesto dressing. As a result, I think I was expecting the aubergine to be part of the salad rather than a base for the soufflé . It was nice enough, the salad could have done with some dressing though, I was expecting a pesto dressing but that seemed to be just on the soufflé rather than the accompanying salad leaves.

As a main my boyfriend chose the pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter sauce. Apparently it was delicious, however, the portion size wasn't overly generous and considering that the £16.25 price tag seemed a little on the stingy side (especially considering that a Wagyu beef burger and chips, which I imagine was more substantial, cost only £1 more).

I had the chargrilled onglet steak served with hand cut chunky chips and béarnaise sauce. It was fine, although I thought that the chargrilling of the steak did overpower the meat slightly (I thought the same cut was done much better at Jones and Sons).

Normally for dessert one of us gets cheese and the other gets something sweet and we share the sweet dessert before tucking into the cheese. This time though, we both decided that we weren't that fussed about cheese and so went with two desserts (both from the a la carte menu as they were more tempting than the prix fixe choices). We chose to share the individual apple tarte tatin and the delice de chocolat. 

The tarte tatin was more like a little apple cake than the classic tarte tatin with pastry and caramelised apple. In addition, instead of being served with almond milk sorbet, it came with mango sorbet. In itself it was nice (although the apple and mango was a slightly odd combination) but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The delice de chocolat which was chocolate mousse on a praline base with chocolate ganache and chocolate jelly was the better of the two choices.

Overall, an alright meal, although I felt that the prix fixe menu (at £19.50 for two courses or £23.50 for three) represented much better value for money than the a la carte. Service was charming though and we were made to feel very welcome. So, although I'm not sure I'd make the trip across London to go back, it would certainly be an option if I happened to be in the area again. 

An afternoon of window shopping, eating and drinking was exactly what I needed after a first full week back at work. I need to make sure I have more weekends this year when I take the time I need to just relax a bit, last year I got a bit overenthusiastic and had weekends booked up months in advance, this year I need to maintain a nice balance and a few lazy weekends are definitely the way forward.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Amaru brings Nikkei cuisine to St Katherine Docks

Just under a year ago I wrote about a new restaurant that was opening up in St Katherine Docks - Bravas Tapas. At the time of their soft launch and my first visit, I was excited that there was to be a restaurant that wasn't part of another chain in St Katherine Docks and was pleased to discover that their food lived up to the wonderful setting. They even quoted my post and linked to it on their site under the press section, how nice is that? 

Not too long ago I was pleased to read on Twitter that the team behind Bravas Tapas (including Bal Thind, one of the co-owners who was an original investor in Hakkasan and Yauatcha) would be opening a second restaurant - Amaru. Rather than tapas, Amaru would be serving Nikkei cuisine, Japanese-Peruvian food. I was excited. As with Bravas Tapas, Amaru was planning on doing a soft launch with 50% off food for their first week. On Tuesday night, after work, I met my boyfriend and went to try it out.

Firstly, it's much smaller than Bravas Tapas and seats up to 15 with a few tables and bar seating in the window and come Summer there will be the option of al fresco dining with the view across the docks. Secondly, it also offers takeout, so overall it has a much more casual feel that Bravas Tapas, although the interior is kitted out in a similar manner with wood-clad walls and a rustic feel. We got there relatively early as we'd gone straight from work but it started to get busier as the night went on.

We sat down to consider the menu, which is broken down into several sections; Salads, Soups and Snacks, Ceviche and Signature Dishes, Sushi and Sashimi and Sweets and Treats. Encouraged by the soft launch and keen to try out the variety of food on offer from Victor Garvey, we ordered a selection of dishes.

The dish that appealed to me the most from the menu was the Peruvian Cured Beef with wasabi, sweet potato and onion escabeche. It didn't disappoint. I was pleased to discover that it was the Amaru version of the Salmon Rulada dish at Bravas Tapas, which was my favourite there. Cured beef wrapped around crispy strands of sweet potato, the hint of wasabi from the bed of sauce was perfect, enough to taste it but not too overpowering. Plus, it's beautifully presented and held together well (and probably better than the Bravas Tapas dish).

Our next choice was the Yellowtail Tiradito, closer to sashimi than ceviche, this dish served a powerful kick from the yuzu kosho sauce and 

We had also ordered the Yellowtail Sashimi which was perfectly nice, although with hindsight, we wouldn't have ordered both the Tiradito and the Sashimi. We'd stick with the Tiradito, which offered a much more interesting dish. We also ordered two kinds of sushi; spicy sesame tuna and the special for that day, lobster. Listed on the menu as maki, I was expecting a few small pieces of sushi which is definitely not what we got. The spicy sesame tuna was in uramaki form and the tuna was mouth meltingly good. I could have taken a bit more of a spicy hit though. The lobster futomaki was rich and thick and definitely my favourite out of the two choices we picked.

As our final main dish we ordered the toasted sesame crusted tuna which was served interspersed with avocado and topped with spicy sesame dressing and truffle. My boyfriend commented on how it did have a bit of a kick to it, maybe I didn't get a particularly spicy bite but I didn't find it too fiery (I didn't get much though with my boyfriend commandeering most of it, which was fair enough as the Peruvian Cured Beef was all for me).

Of course we were going to order dessert, especially as they all sounded amazing. My boyfriend (who makes a sneaky appearance on the blog by virtue of the reflection in the spoon) ordered the Moist Dark Chocolate Ganache cake. The menu mentioned mandarine and wasabi and once we cracked into the dessert we found a thin layer of mandarine jelly lying on top of a mousse. Delicious. I couldn't taste the wasabi but I didn't miss it, this was dark and rich but still quite light because of the mousse.

For dessert I was torn between the Green Tea Tiramisu and the one I eventually chose. I hate coffee and so never get to have tiramisu and a matcha green tea one sounded intriguing. However, in the end, the White Miso and Apple Cheesecake won out. Served with sour apple and cardamom sorbet topped with sesame seeds, it was an unusual combination of flavours with the sourness of the sorbet and the sweetness of the sort of caramel topping.

We were also offered little taster shots of three of their juices. I can definitely recommend the cucumber and mint juice, although I'm not a huge fan of cucumber in its solid form, in juice form, it was delicious. We both agreed that it was our favourite out of the three (the other two were a beetroot-based juice and carrot, apple and ginger), and definitely the most surprising.

Amaru was our first new restaurant visit of the year and it was a great way to start. Not only was the food great and presentation beautiful but it was also light and healthy, exactly the kind of food that's needed after a rather indulgent December.

If you're after a romantic, candle lit restaurant in which to hunker down with a bottle of wine, then Bravas Tapas would have to be your restaurant of choice in St Katherine Docks, whereas Amaru is the sort of place you pop into at lunch or after work for a nice light but impressive lunch or dinner. It's the kind of place you could happily take both a client or a friend and such places tend to be rare indeed. Although it was only the second day that Amaru was open when we went. Word is clearly still getting out but it should as whilst Soho might be the more expected location for somewhere serving Nikkei cuisine, this little gem looks set to change up what is expected from St Katherine Docks in terms of food. 

Their soft launch, offering 50% off all food is on until 11th January. No reservations taken, just drop by and discover the latest addition to St Katherine Docks. Don't miss out!

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Home for the holidays and an afternoon in Nottingham

If you're totally over Christmas and now looking forward to the summer months and sunshine, then you might just have to indulge me over a few of the pictures in this post as they do relate to a little 'Twixtmas' trip I took into Nottingham. I promise though that they aren't the main focus because I have to admit that I am now pretty much festived out and am focused on making the most of a new year and being a bit more rested after two quiet-ish weeks.

My boyfriend and I both live in Nottinghamshire, about a twenty minute drive apart and so for Christmas we both go back to our respective families for the holiday period. Although it's nice for us to spend some quality time with our families, after about a week he starts to forget all of the things that irritate him about me and so we arranged to meet up, have a little trip into Nottingham and generally brave the bargain hunting hordes and the cold. After a wander around the shops where we found my boyfriend a scarf he didn't hate and me a pair of earrings that wouldn't make my ears react badly to them, we were hungry.

Before I moved to London I was never that much into food, I didn't have the disposable income to eat out often and Nottingham was not exactly a foodie's idea of heaven (I worked there for a few years before I moved to London so I think I'm allowed to say that). The problem with Nottingham was that there are a few great restaurants which tend to be on the posher, evening meal out side of things, or there are chains and cafes. Don't get me wrong, there were a few good independent places here and there but not a lot to get the excitement going. However, like I said, I wasn't that into food and so a meal at the Slug and Lettuce in the Cornerhouse would do me fine. Not so much anymore.

So, I got on the internet and started researching and looking into what was out there. I came across Annie's Burger Shack which had mixed reviews on Tripadvisor (people either loved it or were complaining generally about service). I liked the concept though, a whole menu of burgers which could be served with either a meat, vegetarian or vegan patty. So, we decided to try there first. I knew it was supposed to be popular (I read rumours of a month long waiting list but dismissed that as hyperbole) but it was 3pm and so thought it might be worth a try. We got there and were told there would be an hour long wait for a table. At 3pm! In Nottingham! For a burger! Uh, no. I have Bleecker Street Burger at home if I want an amazing burger. 

We decided to try plan B which was somewhere I found on Frusher on Food - A Nottingham Food Blog - a pizza residency by a company called Oscar and Rosie's in a bar called Das Kino on Fletcher Gate (you can read the Frusher on Food review here). So far this was sounding very street food, very London and very me. 

I was last in what is now Das Kino for a pub quiz years ago when it had a sleek, black more nightclub vibe to it, now it's been taken over and completely remodelled and has more of an East London vibe to it with faux beat up walls, rustic tables and stools and vintage looking light fittings. The bar is broken up into three areas; lots of booths and tables near the windows at the front, the main bar area and a back area dedicated to ping pong tables and another bar.

We settled ourselves down in the corner of the main bar area and perused the Oscar and Rosie's menu which contained a nice assortment of pizzas and sides, together with a small assortment of lunch dishes. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that they also offer pizza by the metre - perfect for group dining!

We ordered our food and with a 30 minute wait for it, we settled back with drinks to catch up on what we'd each been up to over Christmas and the progress, or lack of it, that I'd been making with my studying. Before we knew it, our food was making its way over to our table. 

Although initially tempted by the Tyrannosaurus Veg pizza (peppers, courgettes and red onion roasted with fresh thyme, flat mushrooms, artichoke hearts and ricotta cheese), my boyfriend ended up ordering the Grown Up's Special (marinated anchovy fillets, fresh tomatoes and black olives), perfect for his older man status. Although he did pick a few of the anchovies off as he found it a tad on the salty side, he proclaimed it delicious and in fact, even mentioned it again a few days later on the train back to London, which, for a man who can't generally remember what he ate for breakfast, is definitely a good recommendation for anything.

Whereas I had the Barcelona Sausage Party (which is ultimately a party of one as it's only chorizo but I am a huge chorizo fan so it was my first choice). The pizza was delicious, with a soft base and crust a generous amount of topping and a good amount of cheese and tomato sauce. I wish I could have devoured the whole thing, but I must admit that it did defeat me and I think I ended up leaving a slice I just couldn't manage, however much I wanted to eat it.

I think we were definitely over ambitious with the food, I'm not sure we'd properly grasped how big a 14" pizza was until they were placed down in front of us but the problem with me being a carnivore and him not eating meat is that it's either a big compromise with a veggie pizza to share, or we get two. So two it was always going to be really. I thought that the couple on the table across from us were totally judging us for our gluttony, until about 15 minutes later when two pizzas of the same size arrived for them and I felt much better - it's not just us!

However, it wasn't just the pizzas...

For some reason, we had also decided we needed two sides to accompany our pizzas - mac 'n' cheese and twice cooked potato wedges. Both were good, especially the potato wedges which were well seasoned and had a good paprika kick to them. We did our best with them but recognise we did overestimate our eating abilities!

Full to bursting, we took ourselves off for a stroll/waddle around the Christmas market in the Old Market Square at a very leisurely pace. The sky was darkening and all the fairy lights were doing an admirable job of making the place seem pretty damn festive. Maybe it was the fairy lights, maybe it was the post-Christmas glow or maybe it was my very full stomach. Whatever it was, it was a very good afternoon.

When I say we waddled around that afternoon, feeling rather rotund, I really do mean it...

Any other restaurant recommendations for when I'm next in Nottingham?

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

New Year's Eve and my plans for 2015

Getting dolled up and heading out to party on New Year's Eve fills me with a certain kind of dread - busy, expensive and ultimately, always a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, my friends from home feel the same way and so, for the second time, we all ended up at my friend Claire's house for New Year's Eve. A few years ago her parents added an extension to their house which now contains a wonderful kitchen/dining room and so with her parents out of town, we hosted our own little dinner party with each of us preparing a course. 

As it was  Claire's house, she did the mains with her boyfriend, my friend Ruth opted for dessert and so I took starters and canapés. My other friend Andy brought the all important wine (as Ruth put it, the food is just garnish really). However, despite leaving wine to him, we still all turned up with a bottle of prosecco each.

I was a little stuck for ideas about what to make this year as I did my failsafe dishes two years ago - pepperdew oatcake and smoked salmon whirls for canapés and carrot and coriander soup as a starter. So I turned to the internet and it did not let me down, Phil of Consistently Average reminded me of a blog post that Samantha did over on Thoroughly English with a recipe for Crispy Duck Canapés, so I decided to attempt those. Super easy to make (although hers do look much better than mine), they went down very well indeed. 

As a starter I did Pear and Roquefort tartlets. I probably should have served these on a bed of salad but I forgot salad and there was no way I was braving Sainsburys for a second time.

For our main, Claire had done a lamb tagine from the Hairy Dieters' cookbook and a sort of ratatouille accompanied by couscous and bread. The lamb tagine had sweet potato in and was so good. I normally shy away from lamb as it can be greasy but this was so lean and wonderful that I may need to get the recipe.

For dessert, Ruth had made Delia's Truffle Torte, as a rum fan I think it appealed to her and I can see why, she did an amazing job with it and we all tucked in with gusto.

As for the rest of the evening, we played games and chatted and laughed and it was all quite sensible until midnight. We watched the fireworks, half on TV, half hanging out of the back door to the garden to see the real ones that were being set off around us and then, of course, all joined together for a raucous (and slightly bouncy) rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

After midnight was another story, as we decamped to the living room, hooked the iPad up to the TV and became DJs for the night playing some horrendously cheesy music mixed in with some classics and even some happy hardcore - 'we are the children of the night' as we bounced around the lounge and took far too many silly photos and ridiculous selfies before falling into bed sometime around 4am. We all slept in until midday and woke with rather sore heads. All in all, a very good New Year's Eve. I love that even though it's now been ten years since we all left school and even though we all have very busy diaries we still find the time to see each other a few times every year.

So, now that the hangover has subsided (thank god) and since I've already looked back at my plans for 2014 and how well (or badly) I've managed to stick to them, now it's time to look forward to 2015 and make some plans to make next year an amazing year (as much as it's in my control to do so anyway).

I have a tendency to look at other people, see how amazingly they seem to be doing at everything and want to basically overhaul everything in my life, rather than appreciating the things that I do have or am. So this year I want to try and just concentrate on being a better me.

I plan on:

1. Passing my Postgraduate Diploma with at least a merit

This is the big plan for the year. I need to pass with a merit if I want to even consider doing the second year which would get me a Masters. It doesn't help that the girl who sits next to me and did the course last year passed with a Distinction, so the pressure is on to do well. I just need to hope for a few quiet-ish months at work so that I actually have time to do some real studying as I still have some catching up to do, three essays to write and more modules and revision to come.

2. Travelling more

Yep, this was a plan for last year too, it's pretty much a plan for life though. Although I know that my annual leave may be more limited than usual as I know I'll end up using some for revision, I'd love to see more of England and add at least three new English cities to the list of places I've been. I'd also love to take the opportunity to get abroad for a few short breaks. I'm currently trying to arrange a long weekend in Paris in February, then maybe another long weekend in Zurich later in the year and somewhere else - Lisbon perhaps?

3. Having a tidier and less cluttered life

I envy those people who seem to have a place for everything and everything in its place. If I'm home for even a couple of hours, I seem to find that a trail of devastation has been left in my wake. So, this year, I will put my clothes away as soon as they have dried, I will put things away once I've used them and I will have a proper clear out of my cupboards and the junk that I seem to accumulated over just the past two years I've been living here. I just want a simpler, more beautiful life. But, one thing at a time, no major overhauls, just small gradual changes. Really I just want a life that could have come straight from Pinterest - is that too much to ask?

4. Drinking more water

We're told over and over again the many reasons why we should drink plenty of water and I know that I don't drink enough. So, from now I will keep a 1 litre bottle of water on my desk and make sure I finish it during the day.

5. Putting in place a proper skin regime

I was an incredibly lucky teenager in respect of my skin (not so much otherwise) and never suffered with bad or greasy skin. The odd spot now and again but nothing too traumatic and I've been lucky that it's continued that way. However, I am starting to recognise that I am creeping up to 30 and it's about time I actually started looking after my skin. At the moment my regime consists of little more than going to bed with my make-up still on and then just moisturising the remnants off the following morning. Very bad. I have absolutely no idea where to start to be honest and have looked on Caroline Hiron's site and I'm possibly now more intimidated than ever. Any ideas? Or should I just head to a Clinique counter and ask them?

Slightly less ambitious than last year in terms of plans but I'm trying to take it steady and hopefully create healthy life habits rather than specific tickable-off goals. What are you all hoping to achieve this year?

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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Plans for 2014: How did I do?

New Year and I've made my plans for seeing it in (dinner at my friend's house where we each cook a course and generally get drunk and have a little boogie in the lounge after we've watched the fireworks on TV) and so I also need to think about my plans for 2015. 

Before I get to that though, what about last year's plans (initially made here and subsequently updated here)?

Well, here's how I did, I was planning on:

1. Registering for the Royal Parks Half Marathon public ballot

I made this plan following my first 10k last September. However, given family history of congenital heart defects, I made an appointment to have a screening with Cardiac Risk in the Young and although they didn't detect any abnormalities they advised a full health check to find out whether there was a risk that I could have inherited any defect before attempting anything like a half marathon (although regular exercise is healthy they thought stepping up to a half would be more of a risk for me). I'm ashamed to say that I still haven't followed up on this as my NHS doctor is a bit useless and going private is not cheap for a full athletic cardiac check. I'm even more ashamed to say that I haven't run at all in 2014!

2. Getting myself a permanent job

Back in June 2013 and following the end of my training I was offered a job with my employer on a twelve month fixed term basis as they weren't sure if there was enough work in the long term to sustain my role. In January I was starting to look at other jobs that were out there, I loved my job but knew that I needed to keep my options open. After an interview elsewhere, I mentioned it to one of my senior colleagues and the next day my head of department offered me a permanent job. Amazing. I have a team now and they are mine and I am theirs (in a Game of Thrones style).

3. Continuing to blog

Yep. I'm still here and still doing my best to balance blogging with everything else.

4. Reading more

I started the year well and managed to read books for both my work book club and books of my own choosing. However, the book I'd most anticipated reading this year, The Goldfinch, proved to be a huge stumbling block for me. I loved The Secret Histories by Donna Tartt and so really wanted to fall into The Goldfinch in the same way but it left me cold. I didn't really ever feel anything for any of the characters and it needed some real editing, particularly the Las Vegas section which dragged on for far too long. It took me months to inch my way through and although I kept hoping that the next chapter would bring with it something I could get my teeth into, it never did. After that I devoured a number of books within just a few weeks while I was on holiday and over summer. However, October brought with it the start of my Postgraduate Diploma course and so reading once again fell away. Come May and the end of my course and I'll be back on reading with a vengeance, which will definitely be a good thing as I'm getting books starting to pile up on my shelves as although I'm not reading them, I'm still buying them.

5. Travelling more

Admittedly once I had some job security (see point 2), booking holidays became a whole lot easier as I wasn't having to save for impending unemployment, although I do have a nice little pot of savings in case there's ever a period of time when I'm out of work or need to fall back on them.

So this year included trips to Cordoba, Madrid, Stratford-upon-Avon, Margate, Bruges, Tokyo and Cambridge. Links to all of my travel related blog posts from this year can be found on my new travel page.

6. Improving my German

I had hoped to go back through my Open University books but busy weeks at work put paid to that (work gets in the way of all the things) and so I sort of abandoned this plan until the past month when I have once again installed Duolingo onto my phone and have steadily been working through one lesson a day. I can't say I'm ever too tired or busy for a few minutes every day doing just one lesson. I hope to keep it up as I know it's helping my vocabulary especially.

7. Starting to play the lottery again

I went through a phase last year when I realised that a house in London was out of reach (stupid house prices) and that the only realistic (!) way for me to be able to own my own property in London was for me to win the lottery. But you've got to be in it to win it, right? So I got in it. After winning absolutely nothing all year I have just cancelled my direct debit and pinned my hopes on savings, and maybe winning on the premium bonds of course.

8. Losing weight

I started well with a half stone weight loss in January as I hit the month hard with a combination of really healthy eating and dry January, but as with all January good intentions, they soon faltered and my good intentions fell by the wayside. Oops. Maybe this year I'll take a less dramatic approach and actually stick to it.

In March I added the following two plans for the year:

9. Cooking one new dish every month

I think this lasted about one month. I'm not sure why but I think the problem was that the only chance I ever get to cook is on a weekend as weeknight dinners are mainly quick to cook tried and tested meals as both my boyfriend and I work full time and don't have time to faff about in an evening and yet my weekends were so busy with things to do this year that I never really sat down to firstly, plan what to buy and then to actually make it.

10. Visiting somewhere new every month

With the vast array of places in London alone, I think I can comfortably say that I managed to visit either a new restaurant, exhibition or place each month last year. Even when I was ridiculously busy at work, I did well with this one. Although it was maybe one of the easiest plans for the year. It's a nice positive one to end on though!

My list of plans for 2015 will be coming up in a separate blog post. How was your 2014? Did you manage to achieve what you wanted to this year?

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Monday, 29 December 2014

New ways to navigate blog posts on Not Quite Enough

The start of a new year brings with it change. I've never been one to have a complete overhaul in January because really, who wants to change everything all at once? However, I'm a big believer in making a few little tweaks here and there which hopefully add up to something more.

So, over the Christmas break I finally found the time to do something that I've been meaning to do for ages and have set up pages which should, I hope, make my blog easier to navigate in terms of finding past posts. Currently I have set up a page for my blog posts about London-related things and also one for my travel related blog posts.

You can find the links to the pages in my blog sidebar, right below my About Me page.

The London page lists all of my blog posts about things to do and see in London, together with events  and various food markets. I haven't included blog posts about pop-ups which are no longer 'popped-up' as I hope it will be a useful permanent reference point for those looking to get out and do something in London (which was my main motivation for starting this blog in the first place). Each one comes with a little photo as well so you get a sneak peek at the blog content.

The London page is currently organised in the order I did things, although in the future I might contemplate adding sections if it becomes particularly unwieldy. The Travel page, however, is broken down by continent and then by country alphabetically with each of the posts I've written about each place linked to, again with a photo preview.

I contemplated adding a similar page for restaurants but decided against it on the basis that in addition to being able to search Not Quite Enough via the search box or browsing my archive, there is also the restaurant label on the blog itself. In addition, I am also present on Square Meal, Urbanspoon and, most recently, Zomato. Oh and if you use Zomato, do go and befriend me over there or provide me with the link to your profile.

I hope these help. Is there anything else you'd like to see on Not Quite Enough? Or any feedback? Please let me know below.

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Sunday, 28 December 2014

2014: the year in review

As the leftovers have now been well and truly eaten and the boxes of chocolate have just about been polished off (or they have in my house anyway), Christmas is over and it's time for some reflection on the past twelve months and what they have brought with them.

It was inevitable that 2014 was never going to live up to the events of 2012 and 2013 (for a look back over my 2013, see here). Although my 2013 post was a highlights reel, 2014 has had both peaks and troughs, but that's life and there's no point pretending that it's all kittens and peonies all the time.


January, as with all Januarys, was quite a quiet month as I tried to both not spend much, it's always a stupidly long month right after Christmas, and to detox a bit. I almost made it through January doing dry January, until my fixed term contract at work was made permanent and then, of course, there had to be cocktails to celebrate.

In keeping with my frugal January, I took advantage of being a Tower Hamlets resident and visited the Tower of London for only £1.10. Touristy as hell, but it was a cheap afternoon out.


The middle of February, typically a time for getting all romantic and loved up for Valentine's Day,  was instead spent in York for the weekend on my friend's hen do. I didn't see much of York itself apart from the bars and clubs but it was a fun weekend and a good prelude to the wedding itself.


Another RCA Secret sale took place in March and once again I took careful note of the cards I was interested in and prepared to camp out for the night on the cold pavement. Unfortunately I didn't win the raffle this year and so spent the night in the tent, cheered only by a documentary on the iPad, a Dominoes pizza and gin and tonic from a can, oh and of course the warmth of my boyfriend (and I don't mean emotional warmth - it was cold and wet that night). I came away pleased with my four cards though and it was worth it in the end.

I was also lucky enough to snag a place on one of the Open City architectural tours and so got to tour the Gherkin with Spencer de Grey of Foster+Partners. It's a building I've been dying to get in as I love the work of Foster+Partners and the Gherkin is iconic so it was fascinating to learn more about it. Plus, the views from the top are pretty stunning.


April kicked off with my friend's wedding in Nottingham. As she was a former work colleague it was a bit like a work reunion as I knew so many people there. I had a fantastic time at the wedding and ended the night with blackened feet from the floor as I had kicked off my shoes to spend the evening dancing. The night ended with a takeaway pizza in town before bed. I had so much fun and it was lovely to catch up with everyone.

Back in London I used the Christmas present from my nan and grandad - tickets for the View from the Shard. Although slightly overcast on the day we went, the views were spectacular and although it's not cheap, it's well worth doing. Even for locals, it's a new view on the city.

I also spent a weekend in London with my mum for our birthdays (they're only two days apart). We visited St Paul's Cathedral, ate Bleecker Street Burgers, visited the Aquatics Centre to see the FINA World Diving Series event in London and, of course, had a Colin the Caterpillar birthday cake.


I had a few days off work in May and so took the opportunity to visit the newly reopened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Although I'd had a glimpse at the Park during its redevelopment as part of the National Lottery Anniversary Run the previous year, it was nice to see it all finally finished and open as a public space. I hope it continues to be used by the community and by London more widely for events and activities as it holds so many happy memories of the Olympic Games for me.

In May my firm moved to new, much nicer, offices which means not only do I get a fantastic river view but it's also only a few minutes away from St Dunstan in the East, one of my favourite spots in the City.


My boyfriend and I had a week long holiday in Spain booked in June where we spent three nights in Cordoba before moving on to Madrid for two nights. I fell in love with Cordoba and the stunning Mezquita at the heart of the town. It helped, of course, that we stayed at the beautiful Balcon de Cordoba hotel and that we happened upon a restaurant where we had the best food we've ever eaten - Regadera.


July was a month of highs and lows. I started the month by celebrating my six year anniversary with my boyfriend, although we've now settled into a steady sort of relationship routine, it's nice to mark the little milestones each year, especially when I get a Konditor and Cook Curly Whirly cake to celebrate.

Unfortunately July also brought news that my mum had been admitted to hospital with a bad kidney infection, many tests and examinations later and a diagnosis of bladder cancer was made. Obviously it shook our little family but we've all pulled together and we're still taking things one step at a time. 

At the end of July, and in the knowledge that at that point my mum was in a very stable condition, we had a pre-booked weekend away in Stratford-upon-Avon as a bit of an anniversary minibreak. We had tickets for Henry IV Part II and generally spent the weekend enjoying the gorgeous weather and messing around in boats.


At the start of August my nan and grandad, who had been doing most of the day to day running around for my mum while she was in hospital, were due to go on holiday. Although they were planning on cancelling as they didn't really want to go and leave her, we managed to convince them to go on the basis that I would take two weeks of annual leave and go back home and do the daily hospital visits etc as she was still in hospital at the time. It's ridiculous but despite me being 28 and perfectly capable of many things, they still worry about how I'll cope. It took a bit of planning and a very quick renewal of my driving licence, which I had let expire as I wasn't driving at all in London but it was all sorted and work was fine with me taking the time off. 

The day I got back home and the day before my nan and grandad were due to go away, my mum was finally discharged from hospital and so my days changed from what I had expected they would be. However, proving it never rains but it pours, the day after my mum got out I noticed a damp spot on our hall carpet. It was just outside the kitchen and although I couldn't remember that I had dropped or spilled anything, I made a mental note to keep an eye on it. By the afternoon a second damp patch had joined it, by early evening the carpet was squelching. Brilliant. I'm not an expert but the only conclusion I could come to was that there was a leak under the house somewhere. Our house is now 20 years old and other than minor things, has had nothing go wrong with it in all that time, so it certainly picks its timing. The only thing I could do was to laugh, mainly to stop from crying, as I envisaged the whole cement floor having to be taken up to stop the leak.

I really had no clue who to call - a builder? A plumber? Pipes are one thing but what about when they are actually under cement?! I'd managed to get hold of a card for someone who referred us on to an underground pipes company (who knew that was a thing?!) and they were wonderful, they came out  to have a look and despite initially saying they wouldn't have availability for a week and a half, they managed to get someone out the next afternoon. Rather than having any major upheaval to fix whatever had broken, they managed to reroute the pipe from the kitchen round under the side of the house and were done in only a few hours. They were my angels.

Once I returned to London, I found time to visit the poppies at the Tower of London. Although I would regularly walk past them as the display grew, seeing them early on a Sunday morning when the area was quiet and I was practically alone was so moving.

We also had a weekend away in Margate booked in August. Although it's somewhere I'd never considered before, when a deal came up on Secret Escapes, I thought a typical English seaside weekend might do us good, plus I knew that the area was being touted as particularly up and coming following the building of the Turner Contemporary there. We had a nice little weekend away. The weather was nice and so we spent time exploring, wandering along the beach, checking out exhibitions and generally doing seaside things like playing in the arcades and eating fish and chips looking out to sea. Plus we got to see a stunning sunset on the Saturday night.


The start of September brought with it a long weekend in Bruges and the chance to have a bit of a break in a beautiful city. Unlike some of our city breaks we didn't knock ourselves out trying to see and do lots, it was just a very leisurely break with lots of eating, drinking and strolling around.

Open House London weekend took place in September and once again I spent the weekend clutching my guidebook, standing in queues and poking my nose around various amazing buildings in London. It gets more popular every single year and I can definitely see why with all of the architectural gems on offer. The Lloyd's of London building (below) is one of my favourites.

Open House weekend also coincided with a lunch that I'd booked at the Masterchef month long pop-up where we were cooked for by three previous winners of Masterchef. It was a good meal and location with fantastic views across London from Southwark.


In October I started a Postgraduate Diploma which is being sponsored by my employer and is really relevant to the area I work in. It's hard work trying to fit it in around full time work (especially those weeks when I barely leave work before midnight) and everything else but I know it's going to be so useful to me in my career and so it's really an investment in my future. I'm lucky to have the opportunity to better myself. I just need to keep pushing through with it until the final exam in May.

As an almost immediate break from studying, I spent a week in mid-October visiting various bars in London as part of London Cocktail Week. Old favourites were revisited and new favourites discovered. Why not have a look and maybe discover somewhere you might not have tried before?


November was a month of working. I managed to chalk up about six weeks' worth of hours in only four weeks. However, although I was maybe more tired than I have ever been (that's not even an exaggeration, I just kept pushing through what I thought were my limits), the major trade-off was a work trip to Japan. Given that I have wanted to visit Japan since I was about 12, I was ridiculously excited and I was even more excited when I learnt that we would be flying out there business class. It is seriously not even like flying, I barely noticed that we'd been on a plane for 12 hours and normally that would be hell for me as I hate sitting in those tiny cramped economy seats with horrendous smelling food being brought round on tiny little trays. My first impressions of Tokyo were made throughout the week there and although our days were spent in meetings and our nights in a hotel room in front of our laptops, I managed to get glimpses of the city in the evening. I did manage to get one whole day off in Tokyo at the end of the trip just for me and it was amazing. I wore myself out trying to see as much as possible in just one day and walked my feet off but it was worth all the hours spent working.


December marked a slight winding down in terms of the intensity of work I was doing which was a welcome release. In part as celebration of my boyfriend's birthday and in part as just a bit of a pre-Christmas break, we spent a relaxing weekend away in Cambridge having a wander around and eating and drinking lots in order to stay warm.

I spent a wonderful Christmas holed up at home with my family, playing games, eating lots of cheese and just relaxing a bit which was nice after a busy few months. Although now Christmas is over I find myself having to study to catch up with modules I should have done when I was too busy at work to get any studying done. There's no rest for the wicked.

I hope you all had a wonderful year. Here's to making sure 2015 is better.

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