Posted in Food, Lifestyle, London, Travel, Uncategorized

A spa day at The Montcalm Hotel – Marble Arch

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As a London and Travel blogger, my friends and family know that I like nothing more than to get out and experience new things (when I’m not lying in bed reading a good book) so when it comes to buying me presents they usually opt for the physical type, a meal out, a trip away or an experience voucher… just don’t make it skydiving because I would never do it!

On mothers day I received a Virgin voucher for a trip to a spa with a champagne meal for two…oooh. It took me a while to get round to booking it but the process was quite easy and one thing I liked about it was that it gave you the option of swapping your experience for something different if that particular activity didn’t take your fancy, for instance if I received a skydive I would have swapped it for an afternoon tea perhaps! I knew my eldest daughter would also appreciate a spa day so she accompanied me to The Montcalm.

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The Montcalm is a short walk from Marble arch and has a five star rating. It seems quite small from the outside but as you enter you are met with a light, spacious lobby area that is filled with little seating nooks with mismatched furniture in neutral warm tones.

We were shown down to the spa in the basement which was divided into different spaces and were given a pair of slippers and a towel each. I didn’t particularly want to use the gym but wanted to try out everything that was on offer so we brought our gym clothes for a quick workout. There were a couple of people in there when we arrived but they were just finishing up their session and we soon had the place to ourselves. I tried out all the machines but left well away from the contraption that was full of weights, it was supposed to be a relaxing morning after all!

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After the workout we had a quick change into our swimming costumes to visit the spa room. It consisted of a sauna and steam room that had a shower in between. Next to that was the Jacuzzi that had the option of the bubble machine, this switched itself off every so often and you had to wait a while for it to be reactivated. The small pool was also similar to the Jacuzzi, the water was warm and although it had buttons to get the same jet stream effect as the Jacuzzi, these did not work. To be honest the pool was nice just to relax in but wasn’t big enough to actually make use of if you wanted to have a proper swim and as we found out a few minutes after entering the space can quickly feel crowded.

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While we were in the pool there were two guys in the Jacuzzi, it would have felt a bit awkward to get in there with them so we went to try out the sauna instead. As we both suffer from panic attacks and there was a big red panic button on the wall it kind of made us a bit apprehensive so we just tried it out with the doors open… I know you would think this defeats the purpose but it was still really hot in there!

As we left the sauna, the two guys had moved over to the pool so we went into the Jacuzzi but then another two ladies came in and it felt even more awkward, I mean there are lots of chairs around and a snug little area with magazines but nobody wants to go to the spa to sit around on chairs do they? After a while it was approaching our lunch time and we felt very hot and sweaty so we departed to cool off in the showers and get changed.

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The changing rooms were clean with lots of space to keep your stuff but only had two showers and two toilets so luckily we were the only ones in there, especially as the showers are not very private with see through glass doors!

Before our visit to the spa we tried to check out what food would be served with the virgin voucher but couldn’t find any information other than the fact that it was a one course meal. I mean I don’t know how much the voucher costs because I don’t like to check these things as it was a present but I thought a one course meal was a bit miserly and if they want to make it a special day they should at least add a dessert, even if they charge a few pounds extra.

The restaurant, which is just beyond the lobby, was a lovely big room with skylights to provide extra light. I liked that the artwork on the wall matched the furniture.

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We were a bit confused as to why they gave us a menu with all three courses on it if we were only to choose one meal and although I assume we could have purchased more had we wanted to, we were not offered their normal menu with the prices of anything on. There were only three main meals on offer unless we wanted to pay a supplement and if you are a vegetarian then you better be a fan of eggplant as that is all your getting! This did just remind me of Hard rock café all over again and I think that when Virgin make these deals with restaurants that they should be more upfront with what they are offering!

We both went for the Corn-fed chicken supreme with thyme and truffle although it didn’t mention any sides and we were left wondering if it would just be a bit of chicken on a plate. Luckily it was accompanied with a creamy mash, vegetables and half a roasted garlic and it was absolutely delicious, I ate everything including the garlic which surprisingly didn’t taste very garlicky. We also enjoyed a nice glass of prosecco (for some reason the small print states that you only get champagne if you attend the other hotel outside of London) which I had to finish for Jasmin as she didn’t particularly like the taste.

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Overall we had a really lovely morning, although it would be nice if the vouchers from Virgin experience were more transparent so you know exactly what to expect.

Have you ever visited a hotel spa or used a Virgin voucher, what was your experience like?

If you have visited anywhere in London then feel free to join in with my new linky #thelondonlink to add any of your blog posts, old or new!

 

 

Posted in The London Link, Uncategorized

The London Link #1

Welcome to the first London link up!

London is full of iconic landmarks as well as hidden gems but it is also constantly renewing itself with pop ups, popping up all over the place. I have lived here for 39 years and still have so much to explore so would love to find out where all the hotspots are or even places to avoid!

The London link is a fortnightly linky for bloggers that live, work or are just visiting this vibrant city, where you can share all your London related posts. You can add daytrips, attractions, restaurants, parks, events or any other posts about the big smoke.

There are not many rules so it is simple to join in…

  • Add up to two London related posts, old or new
  • Share the love
  • Insert the linky badge into your post or sidebar
  • Use the hashtag #thelondonlink on all social media or commenting

I will comment on and share all posts that have been linked up and I will also share my favourite on the following fortnights post. As the purpose of the link up is to see all the amazing places across the capital I hope you can visit other posts and comment too if you enjoy them.

I will be adding one of my old posts as it is nice to revisit some old favourites and next week I will add a new post.

Looking forward to seeing you!



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Posted in Food, Travel, Uncategorized

Hard Rock Café – Manchester

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Whenever I go away I like to prepare myself for the trip by looking up places to visit in the area and maybe even which restaurants to eat at but the Mr gets very excited and wants to plan everything. When he came across a Hard Rock Café Virgin experience voucher on offer for the branch in Manchester he had to buy it before our journey, I guess that was one less thing to worry about.

We arrived in Manchester City centre on a very sunny Saturday evening, after dropping our bags at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel, and it was heaving with people, mostly groups of hen parties, like literally loads of them, is this hen party central or what?

We noticed that as in many city centres there was lots of choices of where to eat and we were glad we had booked in advance so we didn’t have to decide where to go. Although the Hard Rock café is somewhere that I have been meaning to visit for ages and was close to booking it on our girls holiday to Tenerife but we ended up going to a steakhouse instead.

The Hard Rock Café started out as a themed restaurant in London in 1971 and has since expanded across 75 countries as hotels, casinos and the famous cafes. The Manchester branch is really large with a bar and shop at the bottom, a dining area up a few steps and then another dining area above that with a balcony looking over.

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The restaurant was busy when we arrived and we admired the décor with walls full of rock and roll memorabilia on our way up to our table. We were sat next to a large window which probably could have done with some sort of blind as the sun was directly in my face, although I tried not to let it bother me as I was just grateful that we had some nice weather.

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We thought we were quite lucky that the upstairs was a lot emptier than the rest of the restaurant and was looking forward to a nice peaceful meal, that was until one of the hen parties arrived for a cocktail making session and took over the bar at the end. To their credit they were not very rowdy, I’m sure they were saving that until after the cocktails and they gave the place a nice party atmosphere.

We explained to our waiter that we had pre booked with a virgin experience voucher and he said that there was a separate menu for this booking called the gold group menu but we had a browse through the normal one while he was getting it for us.

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The normal menu is really large with loads of pages and lots of options to choose from so when we received the little piece of card that we could choose our two course meal from, we were really disappointed.

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For a start there was no option of a starter. I personally am more of a dessert person so would happily miss the starter but the Mr isn’t a dessert fan, it would have been nice that if we had already paid for a two course meal that he would have the option of what two courses he wanted. The next thing is that there were only five options for a main course when there are over twenty in the normal menu that wouldn’t have varied much in price to these and if you were a vegetarian then you’re basically just stuck with the veggie burger. And not a chocolate cake fan? well that would be unfortunate because there was no other option than a chocolate brownie for dessert… OK I probably would have chosen it myself had I had the chance but that is not the point!

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I went for the cheese pasta with the grilled chicken breast served with garlic bread. The food was filling and tasty although it had a bit of a kick to it even though it didn’t mention any chilli in the description.

The Mr went for the legendary burger but without the bacon as he doesn’t eat pork. He was left disappointed with the portion size, although the burger was big the chips served with it were not and there was no sort of salad as you would normally see as a dressing on the side, he was also disappointed with the taste as he said there just wasn’t much of a taste to it at all.

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The dessert probably made up for the main meal as it is described as a lil brownie and the portion size was more than I could finish. It was served with both cream and ice cream which I found weird as it would normally be one or the other.

The only good thing about the Virgin experience voucher was that when we were finished we were free to just get up and leave without worrying what the bill had come to and waiting around to get the waiters attention before we could pay.

It is understandable that if you use a certain deal then you are given a separate menu to coincide with what you have paid (The virgin voucher costs £42 for a two course meal for two with a bottomless soft drink) and there was the option to purchase extra food or drink from the main menu if we wanted but I think it should be made clear what you are expected to receive before you buy the voucher as they don’t mention this gold menu anywhere when you make the purchase.

Although The Hard Rock Café is a restaurant I am glad I have visited because it is quite iconic, it is probably not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit again as we were not that impressed with our experience.

Have you ever visited the Hard Rock Café? What did you think?

 

Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Currently reading

We are now halfway through the year and I am a bit behind with my reading target. So far I have read 17 books and need to get to 45! I am free at the moment as I have finished university and am not getting much response from my job applications (I do have an interview on 10th July so fingers crossed) so as the weather is so nice I have been in the garden reading and hope to get a few more days where I can relax and enjoy the summer.

I have a mix of books in my pile and on my kindle this month, some light-hearted, a couple of thrillers and a self help book.

The queen and I – This is a bit of a satire where the queen and the rest of her fam are banished from their royal residence and sent to live on a housing estate in the Midlands when the republicans come into power. I am a fan of the Royals and love the idea of them living amongst us normal people so looking forward to seeing how they cope without the luxuries they are used to.

The lost swimmer – Rebecca is accused of a crime and suspects her husband Steven of having an affair so in an attempt to put their lives back together they go travelling. When Steven goes missing after taking a swim off the Amalfi coast, fresh allegations are made against Rebecca but will she be able to uncover the deceit that has followed her? I find thrillers the easiest to read because I am always so eager to see what happens, I like the sound of this one!

The House of Elliot – Two very different sisters fight to assert themselves in the fashion industry by setting up their own fashion house to rival those in Paris. This story follows the strengths and anguishes that accompany the rise of the House of Elliot. Not my usual type of book but I got it when I bought a set of summer reads and it has been on my shelf for a few years so thought it was time I got round to reading it.

The chocolate lovers diet – The chocolate lovers club is a group of women all going through problems in the love lives and who better to turn to than each other? I imagine this will be a typical summer romance novel which you have to read a couple of over the summer holidays, only problem is I suspect I will want to eat chocolate every time I pick it up!

On my Kindle I have The Note which has been on there a while. An unforgettable romance based on the authors true story of how a little note can change everything…sounds intriguing! I am already half way through Into the darkest corner and have found it really gripping, I actually look forward to having a spare 10 minutes so I can get a few pages in. It jumps between Catherine’s chilling past and how she is coping with it in the present. Think Small is a simple and accessible plan for success based on seven scientifically tested steps. I will let you know if it works when I reach those big goals after reading it.

From my last reading pile I recommend In a cottage in a wood, it is quite creepy but I feel that the main character is relatable and you feel endeared to her. The storyline is interesting and you feel like you want to really analyse all the characters to see what they’re hiding. The Secret child was also a good read. Although a true story of a 1950s Dublin child, it reads like a novel and occasionally jumps between the past and present as the author takes a trip back to his childhood home.

What will you be reading over the summer?

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Hilton Garden Inn Hotel – Manchester

The Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Manchester is part of the Emirates Cricket stadium in Old Trafford and overlooks the grounds. I am not a cricket fan at all and in fact I have been a Manchester United football fan for most of my life but when looking for a hotel to stay at on our recent trip to Manchester I felt quite drawn to the Hilton Garden Inn.

The hotel has 150 modern rooms and many overlook the cricket ground so you can watch the game from the comfort of your own private balcony. We didn’t book a pitch side room as seeing the cricket wasn’t really a priority but we were given complimentary tickets so that we could go into the stadium and watch the cricket at any time during our stay which I thought was a nice touch.

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The hotel reception is quite small but has this lovely seating area. We were checked in quickly and took the lift up to our room. I was pretty sure I booked a double room and not a twin so was surprised to see two beds when I entered the room, we did call down to reception to see if we could change but unfortunately they were fully booked up.

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The room was neutrally decorated with Manchester landmark prints adorning the walls. It was clean and comfortable but a bit of a tight squeeze, much as what you would expect from a Hotel chain. The bedside table had a little alarm clock which I thought was a handy addition if you need to get up at a certain time but I woke up in the middle of the night and was nearly blinded by how bright the clock face was. The bathroom was decorated in large grey tiles and looked very swanky, it didn’t have a bath but a rather large walk in shower.

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As we had the complimentary tickets we thought we would check out the grounds and see if a match was on before we left. It was a really hot day and although there was a match playing, they were in the middle of a break so we just did some people watching while sitting in the sun before retreating to the bar to cool off.

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The restaurant/lounge area is next to the reception and offer breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as just a relaxing area next to the bar for drinks. We didn’t use the restaurant as we already had plans to eat out in the city centre at The Hard Rock café and at the Kashmir 1887, which is a lovely Indian restaurant local to the hotel.

The hotel is a great location for getting around Manchester as it is right next to the Old Trafford tram stop. It is a short walk to the football ground and about a twenty minute walk to Salford Quays which is home to a lovely waterfront and many other attractions. including the Imperial War Museum North and Media city.

We had a very pleasant stay at The Hilton Garden inn and would love to try out their other branches, maybe Singapore, Dubai or Hawaii next time?!

Posted in London, Photography, Uncategorized

Free Range 2018 – The Old Truman Brewery

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me share lots of info about Free Range. If you don’t follow me and have never heard of it then let me explain…

It has nothing to do with chickens or eggs!

Free Range is an annual show held at The Old Truman Brewery on Brick lane in East London to celebrate the graduate work of creatives across the country. A culmination of fashion, illustration, graphic design, photography, fine art, interior design and architecture are all exhibited in the season of art.

I am happy to share my thoughts and opinions on all the places I visit but I am a bit biased about Free Range as the work of myself and my fellow class mates is currently on show.

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Shows are split up across the month as follows:

  • Design Week 15 – 18 June
  • Photography Week One 22 – 25 June
  • Photography Week Two 29 June – 02 July
  • Art Week 06 – 09 July
  • Interior Design & Architecture Week 13 – 16 July

If you want to catch my work along with 13 other universities it is showing until Monday 25th. For my final work, I created two images that I took in Amsterdam, one at Keukenhof gardens and the other at Royal Holland flower auction I also added a book entitled A Floral Perspective. These were used for grading at our university gallery but right before the Free Range show I decided to print out a set of photos from the book, at the last minute the curation team thought it would be better to just use these in the exhibition.

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Work from a few other students at London South Bank

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As you can see not all the work is just photographs on the wall, there are installations, video, projections and wall hangings. Throughout all the university shows there were lots of innovative ways of shooting and displaying work. I didn’t actually get to see all the shows but I will be going back before it closes so may get to see some more.

Work from students at other universities

A few of the shows I saw included Middlesex university, Blackpool and the Flyde College, Birmingham City University, University of Westminster and Canterbury Christ University.

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The Truman Brewery is spacious, bright and airy so even when it was really busy on the opening evening, it didn’t feel too overcrowded. It is a large space spread over 3 floors so you may not get to see everything during one visit but there is a free programme you can pick up to see all the exhibitors at a glance and choose who you want to visit.

All the work on show is years in the making. If you do manage to see the show and admire a particular piece then be sure to let the artist know, follow them on social media or share it with your friends, it is not easy trying to make it in the creative industry and every bit of encouragement is welcome!

 

 

 

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized

Imperial War Museum North

While in Manchester we noticed that the Imperial War Museum was not too far from our hotel so decided to take a trip down by the river and pay it a visit while also getting a chance to explore the quays.

The imperial war museum north is the newest of five branches and was open in 2002. It has very impressive, modern architecture but doesn’t have the stunning entrance of it’s London Counterpart.

As you enter the museum there is a large seating area, shop and café where you can get a bite to eat or just relax after walking around.

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The main exhibition space is upstairs and although everything is in one large space, it is split into mini exhibitions and goes through a timeline of conflicts in Britain and the commonwealth.

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As well as life sized vehicles on the floor and hanging from the ceiling, the space is filled with memorabilia from the time, including posters, letters, clothes and weapons. There are also hands on activities designed specifically for kids. I really liked the idea of the trench stenches, although I wasn’t quite daring enough to have a sniff myself!

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Although there are little videos you can watch in different rooms, every hour there is an audio-visual cinematic display that takes over the whole space. It is a real immersive experience and you can either sit and watch it on the benches around the middle of the space or continue walking around while taking it in.

I find these performances really interesting as they are like watching documentaries and include recounts and stories of people that were around during that time in history. Each show is different so you don’t have to worry that you are listening to the same thing if you are still around when the next film starts.

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I really liked the Imperial War Museum North, although it is nowhere near as big as the London Imperial War Museum, I actually like that I was able to take it all in within a couple of hours rather than choosing certain sections to visit. There was also a really good exhibition in an adjacent room about the conflict in Syria but I think this is now finished and will be replaced in July with a different show.

The Imperial War Museum North is free to visit and it is situated in a lovely space around Salford Quays, about a 15 minute walk from Old Trafford football stadium.

Posted in Food, London, Travel, Uncategorized

The Royal Oak – Orpington

The Royal Oak is a typical country pub set on the outskirts of London in Orpington, still accessible with the Oyster card but definitely a feeling of being away from the big smoke.

The pub is described as ‘oozing rural charm and rustic character’ and I have to agree. We visited on a weekday evening and the restaurant was really busy with a relaxed cosy atmosphere. The mix of wooden and leather furniture and range of wall hangings all add to the traditional character and give it a very homely feeling. Although the restaurant is really large, the space is divided into different sections so it feels like you are in a smaller, more intimate setting.

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On arrival we were shown to a small table for two in the window which was nice, although it only overlooked the entrance to the carpark so not much of a view. The staff were really friendly and chatty and we didn’t have to wait very long for our order to be taken.

The menu has a wide range of dishes. Starters include duo of pate, chargrilled lamb koftas and the soup of the day. The mains range from pizzas, steaks and burgers to seafood risotto and seared sea bass. There are lots of desserts including classics like Eton mess and sticky toffee pudding. Many of the dishes are also included in the set price menu where you can choose two dishes for £14.95 or three dishes for £18.95.

For starters we thought we would go back to the 70’s with the prawn cocktail, although it sounded a bit more upmarket as it was called a prawn and lobster cocktail served with a lobster mayonnaise and rustic bread!

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For the mains, I went for Hunters chicken which is a large chargrilled chicken breast topped with smoked cheddar and streaky bacon, served with triple cooked chips and barbeque sauce. This dish also has a tasty accompaniment of Portobello mushrooms in a smoky tomato sauce which I didn’t think the dish actually needed as it had salad but was an added bonus.

The Mr went for the big 8oz steak which is expertly aged for a firm texture and rich flavour. Served with triple cooked chips, homemade onion rings and a thyme-roasted tomato, you can also choose whichever sauce you would like and he went for the peppercorn. I don’t think the picture actually does the steak justice, it was huge and the man was very impressed, he is even still gushing about it now and he is usually quite critical when it comes to food! If you do order a dish with chips you are asked if you would like them thick or thin cut which is a nice touch as many people do have a preference.

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After the meal we were both pretty full but there is an option on the dessert menu to get a smaller size dessert with a hot drink so I thought I would go for this. I chose the chocolate brownie and ice cream which was really delicious, unfortunately it was still too much for me to finish but I gave it a good try.

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When we arrived at The Royal oak on a sunny day it was bustling with people, particularly outside, but by the time we were leaving it was fairly quiet with most of the customers in the bar area. We thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would definitely return if we happen to be passing.

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It seems like the perfect place to while away a summers afternoon, indulging in a Sunday roast or even just grabbing a cold one to sit in the beer garden. We did ask if there were any cocktails available but they are more of a cask ale, craft beer and G+T supplier. They have a large offering of all sorts of Gin and Tonic in different flavours and even have an event at the end of the month ‘Come GIN with me’ where you can see what new gins have joined the menu. Other special days include a Fizz Friday and a Pie Wednesday.

If The Royal Oak looks like your type of hangout then check the website for menus, openings and to book a table.

*we were invited to The Royal Oak to try out the menu, all thoughts and opinions are my own

 

Posted in Photography, Travel, Uncategorized

Exploring the quays – Manchester

Last month I took a trip to Manchester to attend the BlogOnX blogging conference and after being a Man United fan for the best part of 30 years the trip was long overdue. I didn’t manage to catch a game while there but I was right next door in the plush Hotel Football having a blast with lots of other lovely bloggers.

During the trip we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel down the road from the stadium and decided to make a weekend of it as it was a bank holiday. With our train booked for Monday evening we decided to explore the local area before making our way back to the station.

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After passing the iconic Old Trafford and the canal that runs down the side of it we made our way towards the Salford Quays as we noticed that the Imperial War Museum North was situated next to the river.

When we reached the quays it reminded me a bit of the docklands in London with it’s swanky riverside apartments and lots of glass buildings. The Salford Quays are home to Media city UK, the Lowry shopping mall and a number of other attractions and restaurants.

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We thought it was rather quiet for such a glorious day by the river but after crossing the bridge we realised everyone was on the other side enjoying the sunshine and their lunch on the lush green and taking a dip in a part of the river that had been sectioned off for swimmers.

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If I hadn’t been staying nearby I probably wouldn’t have thought to visit this part of the city and would have looked for attractions in the centre of town, but I’m glad I did as it was a lovely relaxing weekend without all the hustle and bustle of the crowds.

 

Posted in Food, London, Uncategorized

The Jam Tree restaurant – Clapham

Whenever I’m meeting friends for lunch or a night out we always seem to end up somewhere around Clapham Common. Not just because it is familiar to us (we all used to work together on the High St) but because it is filled with so many bars and eateries to choose from.

My first port of call when looking for a restaurant is my Tastecard, I mean half priced lunch always tastes better than full price doesn’t it? I noticed the Jam Tree on the list and had never tried it before so booked a table.

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The Jam Tree is situated off the high street in Clapham old town. We booked for the afternoon on a weekday and I was surprised on turning up that we were actually the only people there. There were three of us and my friends gorgeous baby and we had such a lovely catch up without feeling that we had to rush in case someone else wanted the table, and nobody to judge me taking photos of my food!

The restaurant itself is really large and although it was empty, I imagine at weekends and in the evenings it is bustling with people as most places in Clapham are. As well as dining tables there is also comfy seating areas and even sofas with shelves full of board games so I’m sure some people spend a few hours chilling out with their mates in the evening in a relaxed atmosphere. Apparently there is also an enchanted garden out the back but it was pouring with rain when we visited so didn’t get a chance to look out there.

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The menu consists of 5 starters and 12 main courses that range from sausage and mash to meat and two veg. We went for the crispy chicken burger, the double bacon cheese burger and mamas fried chicken. We were very tempted by the cocktails but stuck with the soft drinks as it was a bit early and we didn’t want to be a bad influence on the baby!

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The chicken burger was flavoured with a roast garlic and herb mayonnaise and red onion marmalade giving it a nice sweet taste and I was quite pleased with the portion size of the fries (although I don’t think my waistline agrees) I am usually a bit of a glutton and try out the desserts but I was quite satisfied after my lunch and gave the sweet treats a miss.

After service charge was added, the bill came in at under £40 with the Tastecard discount which we thought was very reasonable for a lovely afternoon. I’m quite intrigued to experience lunch in their enchanted garden and have yet to give their cocktails and dessert a try so may well be back at some point over summer!