Posted in Food, London, Uncategorized

Relaunch of the B-Rex @ Byron

 

Last week I was invited by the lovely people at Byron to join them for the relaunch night of the B-Rex (and V-Rex for vegetarians or C-Rex if you prefer chicken over beef) at their Kensington High Street branch. I’m sure the restaurant is full of high spirits most of the time but it seemed an extra special affair on this particular occasion with their own in house DJ mixing some tunes, a photographer to document the shenanigans and a graffiti artist creating his own version of the B-Rex.

The restaurant itself is next to Holland park and a short walk from High street Kensington tube station, it is also not too far from the Design Museum if you were planning a day out in the area. With the Art Deco design and colourful décor we were soon comfortable in our seats and ready to get our hands on the much anticipated B-Rex.

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The big burger in question is made up of a beef patty with 100% British, grass-fed beef topped with cheese, onions, pickles and American cheese, the mayo and BBQ sauce gave it a little sweetness. I’m not usually a fan of anything hot but the jalapenos added a nice little kick while the bacon and onion ring added some crunch to the texture.

As burgers go it was probably one of the best I’ve had… and no of course nobody actually caught me smiling at it before taking my first bite!

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Okay, maybe they did.

I knew I would be full with the burger so chose a salad to accompany it but still couldn’t resist the idea of a Freakshake for dessert, especially with all the goodies that were laid out to accompany it.

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We left with our bellies full and a lovely gift to takeaway that included a bottle of Byron’s famous sauce so we can create our own specialities at home! We had a great evening and the team at Kensington were very welcoming and kind.

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With half term approaching I think I may treat my youngest to a Byron burger at our local branch in Clapham as he hasn’t forgiven me for not inviting him to the launch night (He is a bit of a foodie and would love the B-Rex) Also if you know me, you will know that whenever I look for somewhere to eat I will check whether it is on the Tastecard app first and delightedly Byron is so that’s a bonus!

If you want to find out where you can pick up your own B-Rex then visit the Byron Website.

*We were given a free meal for the purpose of this review, all opinions my own!

** I do usually take all my own photos but as there was a photographer to hand I just sat back and enjoyed my meal for a change! Photographs kindly supplied by Byron.

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 Caf√© – 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 caf√© 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, Lifestyle, London, Uncategorized

Icebar and restaurant Mayfair

As another location on the 10 places I wanted to visit in London this year, I decided to book a ticket for two to the Icebar in Mayfair for my partners Valentine’s gift (obviously I knew he would be bringing me along with him)

I had heard of the Icebar before but the idea of sitting in a bar in the cold didn’t appeal to me, I’m more of a sitting in the sun with a cocktail type of girl! However I do like to look out for different and quirky places to visit that I can experience as a one off and as I saw a deal on Groupon that included drinks and a meal I went ahead and ordered it.

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The icebar is split into three sections. As you enter and give your details (it is advised to book in advance) you are asked to wait in the normal ‘warm’ bar for the next icebar session to start. You can only stay in the icebar for a maximum of 40 mins so everyone that has booked will enter at the same time.

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On entering you are given a, not so flattering but very warm, cape to wear and you take your ticket to the bar to redeem for your cocktail. A normal ticket will give you one free drink which is served in a glass made of ice, remember to put your gloves on otherwise it will just slip out of your hand! You are advised to keep that glass if you want to purchase more drinks in this bar as they charge an extra £4 for another one. I was worried about using an ice glass but I actually really liked it, the part you drink from melts with the warmth of your mouth as you drink and it just feels like you have an alcoholic ice lolly.

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The icebar currently has a theme of ‘wild in the city’ with sculptures of animals enjoying themselves on vacation in London, the theme changes annually and is due to be revamped soon. There is a bit of a nightclub feel with loud music and the lighting occasionally diming. It didn’t feel as cold as I was expecting with it being -5 but it may be because there is quite a lot of people in the small space. As you leave the ice bar the warmth hits you like it does as you step off the aeroplane on a summer holiday.

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I was worried that when I booked a meal in the restaurant that I would be sitting huddled in a corner eating in the cold but the restaurant is a stark difference to the bar, in fact it is the complete opposite with the dark wood furnishings and warmth radiating from the two large screens showing a burning fireplace on the wall.

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The voucher that I purchased included a cocktail in the ice bar and a Bellini with the meal. I don’t usually order starters but as the deal included a starter, main and dessert I opted for the Grilled king crab in spicy butter, this included courgette crab roll topped with salmon cavier and the OH ordered coal roasted cauliflower with quails egg.

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The menu includes a choice of six starters, seven main courses and three desserts, there are also a range of side orders that can be added with an extra charge. The starter was really light with a nice mix of flavours and I hadn’t tried salmon caviar before, they reminded me of the tapioca balls in bubble tea but with a fishy flavour.

Another thing I hadn’t tasted before was monkfish which the OH ordered for his main. I gave it a try and was surprised by the meatiness of the fish, I really liked it and would definitely order it myself in the future. I opted for the cheeseburger, I was sold by the caramel jus flavour and there was a slight sweetness to it, I was more taken by the way it was presented on its own little tray with a couple of sauces in pots and a jar of sliced gherkin (although I forgot to eat those)

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With only a few choices for dessert we went for the chocolate brownie and the tiramisu ice cream sandwich. The brownie was delicious (what brownie isn’t?) although it was quite a small portion, just as well as the OH wasn’t too keen on his ice cream sandwich so I had to eat some of that too! We were expecting a normal wafer for the sandwich but it was more of a coconut macaroon which looked like a rice cake and was filled with coffee flavoured ice cream.

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Overall we had a really nice experience at the ice bar and restaurant. I figure if you pay for everything separately it could probably get quite expensive so I would definitely recommend looking out for an offer on Groupon but bear in mind they charge extra for any additional items you order (hello crumble cocktail) and service charge for the entire bill.

Have you ever had cocktails at -5 degrees?

Posted in Food, Travel, Uncategorized

Donatello’s – Brighton

A couple of weeks ago my cousin got married in Brighton, it was a very small affair with just a few friends and family members. The weather was really miserable and it poured down throughout so she was unable to have photos on the beach like she was hoping or anywhere outside for that matter! It didn’t however dampen the mood of the occasion and the bride and groom had a joyous day regardless.

After the formalities at the registry office we had a table booked at the Italian restaurant Donatello’s situated in the heart of the picturesque Brighton lanes. I had arrived in Brighton earlier than expected with an empty stomach so actually stuffed my face not long before reaching the restaurant, I was therefore unfortunately too full to try out their delicious looking dishes.

The restaurant itself is really big and caters for weddings and corporate events. As well as the main restaurant it also has a side room where we were seated, an upstairs area, a conservatory and a roof terrace which I imagine would be amazing in the summer.

Our room was bright and airy, decorated with plants and mirrors and had low music playing in the background. Although we were in the window it felt very cosy and private.

The menu had lots of dishes on offer including a wide range of pizzas, pasta and steaks and there is a separate gluten free set menu too. The meals are very reasonably priced with 2 courses for £10 and 3 courses for £12.50.

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My mum is really not a fan of Italian food and never chooses pasta as an option but she went for the lasagne and surprisingly had no complaints, she actually said it was delicious and I must say it did look nice, I’m tempted to go back to Brighton just so I can try it!

Although I had no room for the main meal I did order a dessert (there’s always room for that!) and went for my favourite tiramisu which was served with cream and chocolate sauce.

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Everyone was happy with their food and we had around four members of staff waiting on us that were all attentive and pleasant. I would definitely pay Donatello’s another visit when in Brighton, preferably in the summer on the roof terrace.