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 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 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 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!

Posted in Food, London, Uncategorized

The charm of Leadenhall market and Pizza Express

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Situated in the picturesque Leadenhall market in the city of London is the newly renovated Pizza Express. Myself and a group of other bloggers were invited along to check out the makeover of the branch and were treated to our own pizza making experience while there. You may have seen my previous attempt at making pizza at the Gloucester road branch and was pretty good and remembering the techniques I was taught the first time round.

We started the evening with some nibbles while getting to know each other before preparing ourselves with hats and aprons for the pizza preparation.

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Stela is the manager of the branch and talked us through a bit of the history of Leadenhall market which has been owned and managed by the City of London Corporation since 1411. Originally it was one of the best places in London to buy meat, game, poultry and fish and because it has kept the spectacular historical look it has attracted the likes of Hollywood and been featured in film and TV including as Diagon Valley in Harry Potter.

To fit in with the character and history of the grade ii listed site, the Pizza Express in Leadenhall recently underwent a stylish refurbishment and Stela took us on a little tour while our pizzas were being cooked.

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The basement area is finished in rich and elegant colours and exposed brickwork, new dark wood timber flooring and artwork that celebrates the history of the area. There is a bar, a section for the pizza making parties and enough room to rent out space for private parties or meetings.

On the street level are the smaller marble tables that are synonymous of Pizza express but they are accompanied by warm, gold pendant lighting and an original spiral staircase. This leads up to a private dining space which is unfortunately not open as yet due to safety issues of carrying food up the ornate staircase.

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Stela with really friendly and informative, you could tell that she has a passion for the restaurant and was eager to please all the customers.

After our tour it was time to tuck into our handmade pizzas. I chose the toppings chicken, mushroom, red onion, yellow pepper and spinach so it was nice and colourful! We finished the meal with either a Baileys, limoncello or Latte, I opted for the latte which was a lovely finish to the meal and warmed me up ready for my cold journey home.

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If you fancy checking out the charm of Leadenhall then go during the week as the city is empty over the weekend with most places closed. The Pizza Express has over 180 capacity so would be perfect to fit in a large group and is open 11:30 – 22:00 Mon – Fri.

*Written in collaboration with Pizza Express, all thought are my own!
Posted in Food, Lifestyle, London, Uncategorized

Wagamama and beauty treatments

Last month myself and Jasmin had a long overdue visit to a beauty clinic to use some vouchers that she had bought for my birthday in May. We decided to make an afternoon of it and eat some Japanese food for lunch after our treatments.

Nestled away on a little back street around the corner from St Pauls cathedral is Primas Beauty clinic. The entrance of the clinic takes you straight into the reception/seating area which is very inviting with a relaxed atmosphere. We had booked in advance for a facial and pedicure and were told that we would each have a treatment and then swap over for the opposite treatment which made sense but then meant we wouldn’t have the experience together which was a shame.

I started with the pedicure, unfortunately it was a dry treatment so I didn’t get to soak my tired feet but the beautician was really lovely and very conscientious. The treatment was supposed to be for 30 minutes but she took nearly an hour, maybe I just needed a lot of work done!

I was really looking forward to the facial but it wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for! It started off very relaxing, I had my face cleansed and then the lady put a face mask on which was fine, she then covered my eyes and explained that she would leave it for 15 minutes to dry, she covered me with a blanket and went off. That’s when I started to feel really uncomfortable. I was laying flat on my back which I’m not used to as I always lay on my side and because my eyes were covered I started feeling paranoid that someone was watching me, all of a sudden my heart started racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and realised I was having some sort of panic attack. I sat up and took the pads off my eyes and took a few minutes to calm myself. I’m glad the lady had left the room otherwise I would have looked a bit weird and probably felt worse. When she returned and took the mask off I felt fine but a bit stupid, I mean probably one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve had and I start having a panic attack over it? Even though it was a horrible experience it in no way reflected the service at the beauty clinic and I wasn’t going to let it ruin my birthday treat so we continued our plans for lunch.

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Just a short walk past the cathedral and we came across a Wagamama restaurant. I have eaten takeaway from Wagamama before but this was the first time I had eaten inside. It was mostly made up of long tables but we had a booth. I love how minimalistic and spacious their restaurants our compared to others that try to fill every available space with tables.

My go to dish whenever I eat Japanese is Chicken Katsu curry, I love it! But I thought I would be a bit adventurous and choose something I had never tried before so I went for the Yaki Udon.

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The dish is made with udon noodles cooked in curry oil with chicken, prawns, chikuwa, egg, beansprouts, leeks, mushrooms and peppers. garnished with fried shallots, pickled ginger and sesame seeds. Now it looked really tasty and had some great flavours which I enjoyed but the actual noodles freaked me out a bit. I felt like I was eating worms because they were so thick but this also made them really filling which meant I didn’t have to eat too much before I was full. It wasn’t entirely bad but I did spend the whole time wondering why I didn’t order Katsu curry!

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I also thought I would have a change of drink and chose a peach iced tea instead of the usual coke and this was a great decision, I would actually go back to Wagamama just for this drink as it was so nice.

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Jasmin chose the Pad Thai which was similar flavours to my dish but a lot lighter to eat and she polished it all off! We decided not to order dessert but I have since heard that they have really nice sweet treats on offer including Banana Katsu so I think another trip is in order.

So the day wasn’t entirely flawless but it was still lovely to spend some quality time with my big girl and visit some new places. We ended our day with a walk across the millennium footbridge and down the Southbank before heading home.

Posted in Food, London, Uncategorized

Frankie & Benny’s – The Strand

Frankie and Benny’s is described as a New York Italian restaurant and bar and has over 250 branches. The food is a mix between popular American dishes and traditional Italian ones with burgers, pasta and pizza just a few of the options on offer.

We decided to pop into Frankie & Benny’s restaurant along the Strand before our trip to the theatre to watch Kinky boots. We didn’t have any booking and were told we could use the Tastecard for 2 for 1 dishes on a certain menu.

The restaurant had a 1950’s American Italian theme with dark wood and warm mood lighting. The walls were adorned with traditional family photos that fit the theme and we were given a seat in a comfy booth by the friendly waiter.

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To get us in the mood for an all singing and all dancing evening we started our meal with a couple of cocktails ( I was very tempted to try one of those freakshakes) which went down nicely! Although they were so nice that a fly decided to nosedive straight into Jasmin’s purple rain, luckily the barman was happy to replace it for a fresh one!

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We skipped starters as we didn’t want to be late and thankfully the waiter was really quick to come and take our order. I chose the BBQ chicken cheese wrap with fries while Jasmin went for the pasta dish – chicken and prawn alfredo.

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The wrap was really packed with filling which made a change from usual wraps which are very doughy from the wrap itself. The pasta was full of plump prawns and chunky chicken which made both dishes really filling. Even though the dishes were 2 for 1 we decided to share a dessert because we were so full from the main course.

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With a mix of rich brownie and chocolate brownie ice cream this was a perfect dessert for sharing and was a nice treat to the end of the meal.

Finishing just in time for the start of the show we left feeling fully satisfied. Would definitely like to try some other branches of the Frankie & Benny’s chain, particularly for one of those freakshakes!