Friday, 19 August 2016

Summer Food Festival Event with The Oracle, Reading

In what was described as a summer food safari, myself and three other bloggers got to taste a separate course at three popular chains at the Oracle shopping centre in Reading, beginning at Ed's Easy Diner. Located near the Broad Street entrance of the Oracle, it's menu boasts a variety of burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes. It was actually the latter we would be trying out for our unconventional starter and settling on just one flavour was quite the challenge. Whilst mint chocolate, Nutella, Oreo and the limited edition summer flavour, Reece's had me uhm-ing and ah-ing, it was the Lotus Biscoff option that won my vote in the end.
Our drinks were served up super quickly and I bowled over by the portion size - one milkshake equates to just over 2 full glasses! What's more is it was the perfect thickness and the caramelised biscuit spread in milkshake form was a taste sensation.
The decor at Ed's is fun and retro and the working mini duke boxes on each table are a nice touch. All you do is pop 20p in the slot and choose from the catalogue of 50's tunes including Elvis and The Beach Boys. What's really cool is all the income from the dimeboxes goes to the company's chosen charity of the year, 2016's being "Action Against Hunger".
Be sure to download the Ed's Easy Diner app as you get a free burger, a treat for your birthday and their loyalty scheme means you get 10p for every £1 you spend in one of their branches. I know I'll be heading back to try out their desserts and with treats like Waffle Popcorn Cheesecake and Nutella Waffle S'mores, can you blame me?!
Ed's have a separate gluten-free menu and whilst there are vegetarian options, choices for vegans seem limited. Whilst we're on the subject, quite a few of my readers are vegetarian/vegan, I wanted to warn you that meat features heavily in the main so please feel free to skip to dessert - I don't want anyone to offend or upset anyone. I have a vegan food post coming soon so keep an eye out for that!
The milkshake was super filling so it was just as well we had the opportunity to work up an appetite on the stroll over to the Riverside for our second stop, Miller and Carter Steakhouse. On arrival, we were instantly fussed over by our very knowledgeable, tentative and passionate waiter. Waiting time for food was quite long here but once served, it was clear to see why it had been more timely: THERE WAS JUST SO MUCH FOOD.
First out were the salad wedges - great big chunks of lettuce with an assortment of toppings including parmesan, blue cheese and bacon. We were completely spoilt with every carb and sauce available on the menu. Sauces included peppercorn, beef dripping, bordelaise and mushroom and garlic and I'd never seen so many different types of potato on one table! As for potato, we had mashed, jacket, sweet potato fries, normal fries and new potatoes.
Presented last were the 3 sirloins and the visual showstopper was the absolutely huge 300z Lone Bone Tomahawk steak for us all to share. The sirloin was one of the best I've had, beautifully cooked, melt-in-the-mouth and juicy. The section of Tomahawk I tried was slightly more well done and therefore less moist than I would have liked, but delicious all the same.
Each came served with parsley butter, an onion loaf (like a homemade onion ring but baked and in a stacked rectangle shape, rather than a ring) and a balsamic glazed beef tomato. I prefer having my steak with garlic or parsley butter rather than a sauce so I like that this comes standard at Miller and Carter. The onion loaf was a fantastic onion ring alternative, super sweet and crispy, I kept going back for more!
Our waiter had specially selected Newton Johnson Full Stop Rock wine to compliment our dinner. I'm not usually a red wine drinker but it was a wonderful pairing with the steak.
We were treated like royalty at Miller and Carter and I would definitely recommend them as a go-to for a special occasion or romantic date. Lamb, pasta dishes, lobster, burgers and ribs are also on the menu if you aren't fussed about steak. Gnocci and various salads are available for vegetarians but again, there's slim pickings for vegans.
After a tasty but heavy main, it was great to head over to our final stop for an assortment of light desserts and refreshing cocktails. Las Iguanas is a Latin America themed restaurant I visit regularly but usually fill myself up with a starter and a main and have no room for desserts. I'm pretty familiar with their cocktail menu as they have Happy Hour, all day everyday.
We were served Caipirinha cocktails, a fitting choice as the Olympics are currently going on in Rio and this was all I drank whilst travelling out there. Made up of cachaça, fresh lime & sugar, its super fresh and not dissimilar to a mojito. As for sweets, we somehow had to find room for churros, the aztec fudge cake, creamy caramel cake and tembleque which thankfully wasn't too hard as they looked and tasted divine.
Starting from the left, the caramel cake had a bouncy soft vanilla flavoured sponge with caramel sauce and topped with blueberries. I am salivating dreaming back to what was for me, the highlight of this course, the aztec fudge cake. Gooey orange and spiced chocolate sponge, rich with fudgey sauce and served with icecream. It was just so tangy and almost boozy in flavour - yum!
As I'm not really a lover of panacotta-type desserts, the texture of the tembleque pudding wasn't my favourite but its sweet coconut flavour was lovely and it was topped with a fruity mango puree.
Churros are one of my favourite things, if they feature on a menu, I'll be having them. I love how Las Iguana present them in a cute paper bag and serve them with both caramel and chocolate, rather than making you choose one of the two. I just wish they were more liberal with the cinnamon!
I adore the vibrantly coloured interior and it's a great place to visit with friends, their outdoor seating area overlooking the river is my preferred spot. Vegan/vegetarian or gluten free? No problem they have separate menus for both.

A massive thank you to The Oracle, Ed's Diner, Miller & Carter and Las Iguana for a wonderfully filling evening!

*Written in collaboration with the Oracle, Reading. All content and views are my own.
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Sunday, 14 August 2016

Things to Do in Barcelona

As all of our previous getaways together have been city breaks, this year, Juan and I were keen to try and get the best of both worlds, the relaxing and beach aspect but also the culture and landmark side of things. Eventually, we decided on Barcelona. Despite being excited for our holiday, I didn't anticipate the city being anything special but found that as soon as we got off the bus and began the walk to our hotel, I was regretting only booking to stay for a week. Here are my top picks of our stay:

Barceloneta Beach
When in Barcelona, visiting the beach is a must. Barceloneta is tourist heavy but lovely nonetheless with it's yellow sands and water that's warm enough to swim in. 2 sunbeds and an umbrella will set you back 30 euros for the day. If you're on a budget, I'd suggest going just for the umbrella as the sun was so hot I needed the shade! There's a plethora of bars in a close proximity (more on that in an upcoming food dedicated to food and drink in the city!) and the walkway has smooth paving is great for wheelchairs, running, skating, cycling and so on.
Did you know? : On the subject of wheelchairs, Barcelona is one of the best cities in Europe when it comes to wheelchair access

Port Vell Marina
I love wandering round marinas and Barcelona's Port Vell has some fantastic scenery and another long pathway running adjacent. It's a great place for viewing the picturesque, pastel coloured sunsets and there's a handful of restaurants, the majority specialising in seafood, with a grand view of all the boats.

Hop-On-Hop-Off-Tourist Bus
If you read my post on our city break to Rome, you might recall we chose to explore the Italian city via a tourist bus and found it to be really informative so were drawn to do the same whilst in Barcelona. I quickly learnt just how big Barca is - there are 3 different coloured routes - red, blue and green and it took us a whole day to explore the red one alone. Unfortunately we'd only bought one day bus passes, with hindsight I would have definitely opted for the 2 day bus pass. Instead, we explored the blue route by foot.
Top tip: Try to plan your bus tour day for a cloudy day, it gets very very hot on the top!

Placa de Espana
Situated in the Sants-Montjuic, this plaza is a transport hub of the city. Here you will find former bullring-turned-shopping centre, Arenas de Barcelona. However the main attraction is the stunning Palau Naciona building, which houses the Art Museum of Catalonia. Whilst we didn't go into the musuem, we wandered round the site which makes for spectacular panoramic views of the city.
Top tip: visit Placa de Espana at night for the free Magic Fountain light and water show!

Park Guell & Gaudi Casa Museum
If you know anything about Barcelona then you'll know exactly who architect Antoni Gaudi is and if you don't, you'll definitely get to know him, as he and his work feature pretty heavily! Park Guell was originally intended to become a housing site but only 2 houses were ever built. One, which Gaudi himself moved into and is now the Gaudi Casa museum. We visited the museum where furniture designed by the architect are on show and the museum is laid out to give visitors an idea of what it would have looked like when Gaudi lived there.
After the failed housing venture, the area ultimately became a public garden. There is a section known as the Monumental Zone which features intricate mosaics and pretty buildings - all designed by Gaudi. If this area is of interest to you, I recommend booking in advance. We got to Park Guell at 5pm and there was no availability until 7:30pm and as the park is at the top of a steep hill we ended up not going back!
Access to the park is free, entrance to the Casa Museum is 5 euros and 7 euros for the Monumental Zone.

Miss Van Mural
Miss Van is a French-born street artist, now living in Barcelona. Women feature heavily in her artwork and this one for the Fem Rimes Fem Graff festival is no different. We visited before midday so the roads were quite quiet which was a great opportunity to enjoy a calm moment to just take it all in. I seem to be really good at stumbling across some of my favourite artists whilst travelling and on holiday by accident. I got to see a David Lachappelle exhibition in Rome, I found the Miss Van mural in Sao Paolo whilst in Brazil and I noticed on her Instagram that she has a piece in Barcelona just before we set off there ourselves. Find "409, Calle Lepanto" on your map to go see this beautiful mural for yourself.
Top tip: it's a 15 minute uphill walk from Sagrada Familia so tie it into your visit there.

Sagrada Familia
On to the most famous sight in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia! Gaudi's greatest and still unfinished work, an extraordinary Roman Catholic church. Building commenced in 1832 and it is expected that work won't be finished until 2026. The building is an absolute spectacle with bright, rainbow coloured stained glass and references to the natural world (see if you can find the tortoise in one of the pillars of the exterior!). The "under construction" aspect and the knowledge that admission fees finance the building work truly adds to the charm.
Again, it is recommended you book in advance for this attraction. We went past it on our bus tour but booked tickets online for the next day. Basic entrance is 20 euros and there's audio, guided tours and even access to the towers are available for an additional fee. We went for general admission but I wish we'd opted for the audio tour. Whichever type of visit you go for, Sagrada Familia and the story behind it is fascinating. If you only want to do one tourist attraction, make sure this is it!
Top tip: Remember to walk round the whole exterior of the basilica to see Sagrada Familia from both sides.

Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló is the final Gaudi masterpiece I visited. Also known as House of Bones due to it's unusual appearance, particularly that of the curved stonework around the windows and the ribcage-shaped loft room. On entry to this renovated house, you are given a small tablet like device with headphones. There is an excerpt of the tour to listen to in each room and the tablet has an augmented reality feature where you hold it up and it shows you what the house might have looked like when the Batlló family resided there.
The house is peppered with tell-tale Gaudi characteristics: bright colours, animal references and an avoidance of any straight lines. My favourite aspects of Casa Batlló are the huge windows on the ground floor where the stained glass looks like it's made from completely different colours depending on which side you look at it from, the tiling of the atrium which looks like a massive bathroom, and the multicoloured facade of the house which is said to look like water lillies on a lake and also change colour depending on the light.
The roof is open to the public and provides a great view point over the city. On the roof itself is a strange arch shape which is said to represent the back of a dragon and is covered in Gaudi's signature mosaic tiling. I thought Casa Batlló was visually fantastic, interesting and worth the 25 euro pricetag. Do book in advance though!

Sephora
Ok, so this one isn't unique to Barcelona nor a culturally enriching experience but an obvious must-visit for any make up lovers. There are multiple branches of Sephora in the city but I paid a visit to the one on Calle Pelayo, just off Las Ramblas. Here you can fill your boots with all the Too Faced and Kat Von D beauts your heart desires. This part of my trip was also special as I met up with Rhian, a friend I made through blogging who I pen-palled with too!

As you can probably tell, I absolutely loved Barcelona. Ideally I would have loved a few extra days (I'd recommend 10-14 days) and had we had the time we would have also rode on the cable cars/furnicula, rented bikes, visited Barcelona Cathedral, checked out La Pedrera and Bunkers del Carmel.

Have you visited Barcelona? Is there any must-see attractions I've missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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Sunday, 26 June 2016

An Afternoon at Pergola on the Roof

This month, I was invited to check out London's latest pop-up hotspot, Pergola on the Roof with my favourite blogging babes Sophie and Tara. Before work gets underway to convert the space into a hotel, independent cafes and restaurants, alongside modern apartments, the former HQ of the BBC Television Centre is temporarily home to a rooftop food court. Set to be a favourite hangout over the summer, the pergola is open until the 29th August - catch it while you can!
Finding the venue was easy enough as it's mere minutes from Westfield shopping centre in London's White City. On arrival, you can take the lift up to the roof but we chose to take the stairs, and despite being out of breath after climbing some 12 levels, I had no regrets as the walls the whole way up are adorned with hand-painted, intricate patterns featuring tropical birds and flowers - gorgeous!
"Pergola" is a Latin term meaning "projecting roof" and in this instance refers to the large wooden structure which is beautifully covered in lush greenery. Underneath the centre of the canopy is the main bar, which is surrounded by long picnic style benches with the capacity to seat 400. Be sure to check out their drinks menu which features an array of refreshing cocktails.
If, like me, you're more interested in food, you have 4 well-loved eateries to choose from. With Rabbit specialising in sustainable British food, Le Coq's rotisserie, Patty and Bun for the burger lovers and Salt Yard for your tapas/charcuterie fix, there is something for most palates. However, it is worth noting there's a limited choice for vegetarians and vegans may struggle.
While Tara and I opted for Patty & Bun, Sophie was more adventurous and went for a couple of small plates from Rabbit. The food court is self service but our orders were taken quickly and the waiting time for food was minimal, making it a simple stress-free process.
On the perimeter of the food and seating areas are big beds which can be booked out (as can benches in the food area) for no cost and table service is available. These seat 12 people and located out in the open so not available should any rain make an appearance.

Even though the weather was dull on the day of our visit, the courtyard looked vibrant - I can only imagine how stunning it looks on a sunny day and the atmosphere once it is lit up at night. Whether you're looking to impress a first date, celebrate for a birthday or hen/stag do, a break from the busy shopping centre, or even just after a quick bite to eat, Pergola on the Roof is well worth a visit.

Head over to their website and sign up to their visitor book to get a voucher for a free drink now!

*Written in collaboration with the Television Centre/Pergola on the roof. All content and views are my own.

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