Is the Walkie Talkie better than the Shard?

View of Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden

View of Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden

Few buildings in London’s recent years have been more controversial than the Shard or the Walkie Talkie. Both are love or hate buildings but ones that some of us can’t help but be intrigued by regardless.

My answer in short to which one has the better experience? Well, if you don’t want all the bells and whistles and just want a coffee with a view then the Walkie Talkie is for you.

The Walkie Talkie

The Walkie Talkie

Though not a fan of the Walkie Talkie’s death-ray beaming structure, I found myself unable to resist booking their free tickets and was so glad I did. I liked the View from the Shard and only regretted not spending more time up there – I can’t resist a good view – but the Walkie Talkie has a character all of its own. I’ll be honest here, a lot of it comes down to the friendly staff but the view really does sell itself.

The view

The view

Looking down from the top of the garden

Looking down from the top of the garden

Yes - there is an actual garden in there and I thought it was quite nice.

Yes – there is an actual garden in there and I thought it was quite cool.

Mr Man and BLC enjoying an early lunch in front of the Shard

Mr Man, Mr Man Jr and BLC enjoying an early lunch in front of the Shard

The other thing I wasn’t expecting was a surprisingly good cafe. Sure, the coffee isn’t the indie flat white that you’ll find in plenty of City/Shoreditch establishments but it does the job, is nicely presented and doesn’t cost the earth. The pain au raisin I had with mine was delicious and Mr Man was really impressed with the early lunch he took in the form of a panini (he can be hard to impress so that is saying something). The huge selection of cakes, sandwiches and muffins are served by friendly Italian guys in stylish ski-gear – as random as the hot water bottles provided on some of the seats but we’ll go with it.

Flat whites and a pain au raisin - not mind blowing but definitely not bad~

Flat whites and a pain au raisin – not mind blowing but definitely not bad~

In short – I loved the Walkie Talkie and would highly recommend a visit up it. A poor man’s Shard it is not; it is a site worth a visit in its own. Plus, it has a cool garden and plenty of seating too. You’ll find yourself staying there for longer than you think.

Sky Garden can be found at 20 Fenchurch Street. Tickets are free and can only be booked ahead of time online. Nearest tube is Monument. We paid £13.50 for two flat whites, a panini and a pain au raisin. 

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Filed under Eating, Experiences, Food, Life in general, London, London cafes, Secret London

Favourite London services that don’t involve food…

Let's face it - we all need a good bit of preening every now and then...

Let’s face it – we all need a good bit of preening every now and then…

When you move to a new city there is always a period of trial and error with certain things – I’m talking hairdressers and beauticians mostly but it can also apply to finding consistently good coffee and a decent takeaway among a range of others. You eventually find the ones that work for your lifestyle and it then totally bites when you have to up-sticks and leave them again.

As I prepare to depart London in the not-so-distant future (it could be in six weeks it could be in six months, who on earth knows, certainly not us~) I thought I’d let you know about a few places that have never let me down in almost a decade of living here. All but one of these are in the East End, particularly in Shoreditch as that’s basically my neighbourhood.

So my very own form of Golden Globe awards for best services go to the following:

Best hairdressers: Taylor Taylor – they have never ever let me down. I have always walked out of there with swishy hair that I am proud to have on my head. Being a “celebrity favourite” you’d think they’d cost the earth but their prices are comparable with many central London hairdressers and it doesn’t seem to be dependent on the stylist as to how much you’ll like your hair when you’re done. On that point though, I must give huge ups to Anna M who cut my hair on Saturday as it still looks better than I can do it despite the muck that is the weather right now. In November one of their colourists “put the sunshine back” into my hair and I’m still getting the occasional (nice) comment about it.

I love that they serve tea in lovely pots but Taylor Taylor's cocktail menu also rocks my world.

I love that they serve tea in lovely pots but Taylor Taylor’s cocktail menu also rocks my world.

Best face people: Benefit Spitalfields – their eyebrow ladies match no others and I’ve tried many in the East End. I’ve done threading for £3 in Watney Market and Whitechapel a fair few times but over the years have always ended up back at Benefit’s Brow Bar to tint my transparent blonde eyelashes and make my brows give me some form of a face… Again, doesn’t seem to be dependent on who you get on the day. Thank you Benefit for making us pale faced ladies look half human when we wake up in the mornings!

Best sports massage that melts your knots: Julien Burnier Sports Massage – I was given a voucher for Christmas for one of his sports massages and it was the best Christmas present ever. Yes it hurt in the way a good massage does but wow, my shoulders have never felt so free and it has been two weeks since that great afternoon when he worked on them. Julien works from his East End home and happens to be a really nice guy along with being an excellent masseuse.

I will also mention here that Neals Yard Therapy Rooms in Covent Garden has a Graduate Timetable on Sundays where highly trained therapists charge just £35. Several of my friends have been there and I went for pregnancy massages a few times when I needed them – extremely good value.

I’m not a massively high maintenance person but I do like to pamper myself occasionally and these are services that I’ve been really impressed by.

Do you have any gems of places that you find yourself going back to over and over?

Just because I felt like including a photo of the awesome Barbara Windsor...

Randomly here because I felt like including a photo of the awesome Barbara Windsor…

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Filed under Beauty, Life in general, London, Secret London, Shoreditch, The East End

Happy New Year!

Did anyone else wake up today feeling like this?

Did anyone else wake up from the last week feeling like this?

Happy New Year everyone! I’m in a strange state right now – I’m mostly living off caffeine highs in between 2-3 hour runs of sleep so pardon me if this post doesn’t really make much sense!

Mr Man Jr was born 4 weeks ago and he is lovely and awesome. Things are so much easier second time around, as in I’m not panicking over every single little thing and know short-cuts for sanity (basically caffeine is your friend) and I’ve actually been able to find brief moments of time to plan the year ahead.

The majority of this year is being taken up by a trip, at some point, to New Zealand, via a few days in LA. Here are a few stops we’re planning for our road-trip down the North Island when we arrive (I’ve left out the South Island, that will happen next year):

Home (not such an easy concept any more as my entire family has moved since we were last there)

Home (not such an easy concept any more as my entire family has moved from North to South since we were last there)

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island – because it is beautiful and I love it there

Which will probably be replaced by the family friendly tour up Rangitoto Island, the volcano that I haven't visited in 25 years...

Which will probably be replaced by the family friendly trip up Rangitoto Island, the volcano that I haven’t visited in 25 years despite it always being in the view from my parents’ balcony…

  • Hot Water Beach – a place where you can dig your own hot pools
  • Zealong tea plantation – New Zealand’s first tea garden. I have their oolong tea and it is delicious. Apparently you can have afternoon tea there but with the kids in tow it’ll more likely just be a quick stop in their gift shop with a run around the gardens… yay~
  • Plenty of other pretty places, hopefully with good bakeries and beaches involved
Taupo - an overnight stop for a dose of more pretty, on our way to our final destination...

Taupo – an overnight stop for a dose of more pretty, on our way to our final destination…

Wellington, where the kids can finally hang our with Grandma and Grandpop and I can eat in their endless number of amazing restaurants and cafes.

Wellington, where the kids can finally hang our with Grandma and Grandpop; we can eat in their endless number of amazing restaurants and cafes, and I can once again have a cocktail with our International Woman of Mystery Friend N!

Onto LA:

LA

LA

We’ve been told Pasadena is a brilliantly toddler friendly place to stay in LA so we’re hoping to book the Langham there (probably the only time in our lives we’ll ever be able to afford somewhere like that, thanks to travelling with the Pound). Has anyone been there and do you have any foodie recommendations for us to check out in the process? I love America – can’t wait for enormous breakfasts, good Mexican food, shopping and a dose of California friendly.

So that’s me. I’m sure many of you have way more exotic plans than us who are now going for the family friendly options! May 2015 bring you all plenty of good health, friendship, wealth and happiness.

This post was part of January’s travel link up with Kelly, Emma and Rebecca. Please do join with your own post (or comments about your own hopes for 2015) and check out some brilliant bloggers from all over the world.

What adventures at home or afar do you have in mind for 2015? 

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Filed under Life in general, Travel

GLC takes afternoon tea at Paul – Le Restaurant

Afternoon tea at Paul

Afternoon tea at Paul

I like Paul.

From our very first encounter at a Loire Valley service station in 2009, to numerous meetings right next door to where I currently work, I’ve always enjoyed a decent coffee and an escargot aux raisins.

Paul is a reliable friend.

So I was both very happy and intrigued to be invited to sample an afternoon tea at the new London HQ of the French cafe chain, Le Restaurant de Paul, just off Covent Garden.

Arriving exactly 24 hours late for the reservation – something which was taken with very good grace by the manager – myself and my cousin Polly took our seats and spent the next hour or so discussing how an afternoon tea from a chain cafe could be quite so fantastic.

I’ve enjoyed and endured various afternoon teas of late, so it was extremely refreshing to experience something so straight-down-the-line decent.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a high-end high tea offering like you’d find at The Ritz or Claridges – but then it doesn’t pretend to be.

What it is is a bustling central London cafe, every table taken, waiters in natty braces buzzing busily around, serving that brand of moreish bread and pastries on which Paul has built its reputation.

If you’ve read any of my afternoon tea reviews lately, I’ve been hard at work bemoaning the ‘normalness’ of what I’ve been experiencing, but that wasn’t a concern here.

This was an Authentic French Afternoon Tea: a very Gallic we-can-take-your-tea-and-do-it-better-than-you kind of affair.

The spread

The spread

Now I don’t wish to alarm you too much, but this French makeover meant no scones. None. At all. In their place sat a pair of briochettes – looking all smug and shiny and European, and tasting irritatingly delicious.

Briochettes

Briochettes

Below them sat a plate of sandwiches (chicken, salmon, cheese) which looked just as good as the official press shots and easily lived up to their fancy marketing descriptions.

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

But I feel I should give special mention to the top plate – which as a savoury-lover I never usually give my full attention.

The carrot cake was a solid offering but the Fraisier really put the icing on the Genoese sponge, crème mousseline, marzipan and strawberries. What the hell do they put in this thing? How can all that stuff make something so light? Any less weight and I would have had to Sellotape it to the plate!

The top plate

The immensely good top plate

Am I going a little over the top? Well, perhaps. But here’s the hook…all this decent food is just £9.95 per person. And add a glass of sparkling wine and it’s £11.95. Push the boat out and go for Champagne and it’s just £13.95.

I’ve been to lots of afternoon teas now – fancy ones, basic ones, amazing ones, disappointing ones…this one just ticked all my boxes – an unpretentious, innovative take on a British afternoon tea, served by friendly people in a West End cafe chain.

Loved it!

Ed was a guest of Paul, however, all opinions are clearly his own. Le Restaurant de Paul can be found at 29 Beford Street, London WC2E 9ED. Nearest tubes are Covent Garden, Embankment and Leicester Square. 

 

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Cheap Eats, Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, London cafes, Tea, The West End, Uncategorized

Brunch at the Wolseley

The magnificent Wolseley

The magnificent Wolseley

I’m starting to wind down my London list – brunch at the Wolseley is one of three that I had left to go. I have afternoon tea at Claridges ready as a draft post for you (saving the best for last!) and am determined that I’ll make it for afternoon tea at the Modern Pantry at some point as my sister said it was one of the best food experiences she’s ever had, and she’s fussy at the best of times. Also, if brunch at Providores by chance happens then it’ll appear on here. Anything else really is just a charming discovery that wasn’t on my hit list.

I wanted the Wolseley to be special. So instead of the girls throwing a baby shower, I asked if we could go there for brunch instead and not discuss anything child related. Mr Man took BLC away for the weekend so I managed to turn up there early (hoorah!), hair brushed (double hoorah!) and bouncy having done an hour long treatment on it the day before (a free hour? That’s something that never happens anymore~), my nails freshly painted and me not in a flustered state of affairs. I can’t imagine these occurrences all happening at once ever again, unless the grandparents willingly take the kids for the weekend once we’re settled into our new life (Hi Mum! Hi Dad! I know you read this!).

Tea and decor brilliance

Tea and decor brilliance

The Wolseley was everything I imagined it would be. It is grand, the service fantastic (to the point where a waiter ran after the waddling pregnant woman begging her not to go down the stairs to use the ladies, but ushered one through a secret door on ground level), atmosphere buzzy and diverse, the cutlery strong and silver, the food impeccable.

Need I say more?

The eggy girls loved their poached delights, two of the crew went for spectacular looking French toast, and I indulged not only with my usual pancakes and bacon, but with a starter of caramelised grapefruit, quite frankly one of the best single pieces of fruit I have ever had in my life.

The Grand Crème Coffee with toasted baguette

The Grand Crème Coffee with toasted baguette

Good proper pancakes

Good proper pancakes

R's amazing French toast

R’s amazing French toast

DIVINE GRAPEFRUIT (I also want one of those spoons)

DIVINE GRAPEFRUIT (I also want one of those spoons)

Teapot

Teapot

The girls' fresh peppermint tea (someone had to be virtuous!)

The girls’ fresh peppermint tea (someone had to be virtuous!)

My teapot was kept full, looseleaf and green, and zero drips. Even the tea strainer was perfection (none of this dripping from cup to back to table as it came with its own stand that caught any extra drops of tea~).

The Wolseley is grand and wonderful. A true London experience. I won’t go back as A, I don’t have much time left, but B, some occasions are meant to be savoured and remembered purely for what they were.

Up there with the best brunches in London? Absolutely.

The Wolseley can be found at 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB. Nearest tube is Green Park. We paid £20 each – I have paid more for brunch in much less impressive places. 

 

 

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Filed under Brunch, Brunch in London, Eating, London, Tea, The West End

Celebrating Christmas as an expat – I’ve had a few of these…

Oh Christmas...

Oh Christmas…

Hello monthly travel link-up! I didn’t think I’d make it this month due to several factors but as I was/probably still am by the time you read this (BLC was 10 days late) waiting around for BLC Jr to turn up and had a six hour window for our boiler man to turn up last week, I somehow found a bit of inspiration. This is probably because it was freezing cold and I was housebound, leading to my usual feelings about Christmas. Hello to the future from last week!

I’m going to be honest here. Christmas has never been my favourite time of year. I’m not a cold weather person (understatement). I’m always broke by the time it comes around. I stress out way too much about getting people gifts then getting it wrong every single time, and I have a habit I can’t shake of needing to leave the house for at least a few hours every day – something that’s not overly polite to do on Christmas. However, that’s not to put a dampener on things here – I have had some spectacular Christmas days over the years in all sorts of random places, a lot of it thanks to my parents’ wanderlust, and I am about to give you the run-down of my most memorable…

Christmas in the cold...

Christmas in the cold…

When I was 10, Dad got lucky enough on the job front to get us based in Washington DC for 3.5 years. A freckly young Kiwi kid who was used to running around sunburned and barefoot on Christmas day found herself freezing to bits when we landed in DC a few weeks before that special holiday. We didn’t get snow that first year, but we sure did two years later when the olds treated us to Christmas at West Virginia’s Snowshoe ski resort. I don’t remember masses about this but I do recall how happy I was to be up at 7am forgetting about presents and wanting to get on those blue slopes to race Dad down the hills (I had no fear of anything other than jellyfish until I went to uni). My parents had to drag me off the slopes to have Christmas dinner but I didn’t care. Due to a massive fall the night before, there was SNOW everywhere. I was on my skis ALL DAY and we were in a hotel perched on top of the mountain so it meant Mum wasn’t grumpy about having to prepare anything… There were likely pancakes for breakfast too but all I remember is just feet upon feet of the white powder and never wanting to leave. My parents may recall it differently as it’s a bit of a blur to me these days but it set my standards for Christmas very high.

The following year we spent Christmas in New Orleans strolling around the French Quarter, eating gumbo and going on a crocodile safari. There was another year when we spent the holiday season in up-state New York and Ontario so we could experience Niagra Falls in a frozen state (one word, INCREDIBLE). My parents liked to shake things up a bit on the holidays front.

Not America, but I did once spend Christmas in China and got some noodles as a pre-dinner snack...

Not America, but I did once spend Christmas in China and got some noodles as a pre-dinner snack…

For the record here – Americans ROCK at doing Christmas. Everything about it there is amazing from the lights, to the shops to the enthusiasm from everyone about it, even the Army base where we went Christmas shopping outshone itself at Christmas time. We had to do the round of expat parties and in my 10 year old mind, everything was so grand, they had amazing Christmas trees and there were always other military/diplomat brats to play with.

Washington DC looks absolutely magical at Christmas. I hope to take the family there one year to experience it in all its glory.

Fiji

Fiji

My other most memorable Christmas was spent in Fiji in 2007. Mum has always been a bit highly-strung at this time of year and this was the most chilled out I have ever seen her. My parents were living in the Solomon Islands, I was living in Wellington and my sister in Dunedin. Rather than half of us go to a destination we weren’t overly keen on (I loved the Solomons, sister not such a fan~), someone came up with the genius idea of spending the holidays at Musket Cove resort in Fiji and just forgetting about any traditional family Christmas. It was the best Christmas I have had as an adult.

Dad and I would spend our days diving, admiring the world under the sea, trying to avoid getting bitten by nesting triggerfish (though I did end up with a back injury after coming out of an area of rough water aptly named Shark Supermarket). My sister would nap most afternoons and you could find Mum with a cold jug of Pimms and a book on the balcony overlooking the lagoon at almost any hour of the day. We did hardly anything that didn’t involve relaxing and after 10 days there headed back to our various destinations completely and utterly unwound.

Sunset on Christmas Day 2007

Sunset on Christmas Day 2007

This year, I’m unlikely to be in the best state to go anywhere having just had a baby, so the four of us are spending Christmas in our East End abode. It is going to be lovely and chilled out, with our little unit getting to spend some proper time as a family before the kids get old enough to turn Christmas into being about the presents. Who knows, maybe it will become my best Christmas yet – there’s still time to turn this old blonde Grinch around!

Wouldn't it be nice if London looked like this in a few weeks?

Wouldn’t it be nice if London looked like this in a few weeks?

Now New Year’s Eve… that’s something I can relate to and somehow manage to pull-off awesomely, generally because I’ve learned not to over-think it. I have managed to spend it in many an amazing place from the tipsy/happy and kilted streets of Edinburgh to a dive shop in Borneo, narrowly avoiding concussion on a Canadian ski field, London’s Natural History Museum’s ice-skating rink and a fabulous slap-up of an Indian meal at Dishoom in Shoreditch. In my view, it is a celebration well-worth getting into.

I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s stories! Happy holidays to you all.

Where I spent New Year's Eve 2006 - Mabul Island, Sipidan, Borneo...

Where I spent New Year’s Eve 2006 – Mabul Island, Sipidan, Borneo…

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve in the East End

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The Rosebery Rooms and a slight obsession with Paddington Bear of late…

Paddington the movie comes out this Friday. Are you planning to see it? I am gagging to go. In preparation for the movie which is bound to have me bawling my eyes out at the thought of leaving London next year, I have dragged BLC on the Paddington Trail and have watched the trailer many times. I’ve had Stephen Fry’s narration of the audio books on my phone for ages (seriously worth a listen to) and am basically just in love with this little creature. Needless to say, one wasn’t going to turn down an invitation to review the Mandarin Oriental’s Paddington Bear themed Christmas afternoon tea. Thankfully my sister in law was more than happy to join me last week.

BLC meets Paddington

BLC meets Paddington

Below is a short version of what I’ve written for the High Tea Society.

“…Set in a stylish and contemporary backdrop, we were in for a wonderful afternoon with fantastic service, no detail spared.

The afternoon tea began with a selection of sandwiches, including goats cheese with pumpkin and onion confit (our favourite), smoked salmon, and a very moreish turkey and cranberry, all served on freshly made bread.

These were followed by Christmas cake, cranberry and plain scones. We were impressed by the scones which came with strawberry jam, rose petal jelly and lemon curd. The Christmas cake was remarkably light.

Cake stand - what you can't see is that it is hanging on a tree - great detail.

Cake stand – what you can’t see is that it is hanging on a tree – great detail.

And to the final event, always the course to win us over, our favourite pastries, among a fine selection were the Find my Teddy crunchy brownies with banana compote and Jivara milk chocolate chantilly and Paddington’s marmalade sandwiches – a rolled sponge with orange marmalade and ginger candy. However, the shining star among the sweet treats was the Paddington pot made with saffron honey brule, pear and quince compote which had a (pleasantly) surprising tang to it, giving the dessert a wow factor.

Delicious cakes

Delicious cakes

The tea comes from the Mandarin Oriental’s selection curated by the East India Company, one of London’s finest tea suppliers. We chose a variety of teas throughout the setting, both being pleasantly surprised when we asked them to serve us their favourite teas – one a gyorku Japanese tea, the other a tropical white tea which smelled absolutely heavenly.

In summary, this is a gorgeous afternoon tea, set in beautiful surroundings looking out to Brompton Road below. The service was excellent; the food flawless and for what is dubbed as a Christmas afternoon tea, it only has a slight hint of Christmas to it, making the occasion memorable but not in your face. We would highly recommend the Rosebery – the Mandarin Oriental Group has very much kept this London afternoon tea in line with their exceptionally high standards around the world.”

Paddington and his delightful tea (plus AMAZING China)

Paddington and his delightful tea (plus AMAZING China)

Needless to say, we adored this and I am so glad we went. I really don’t wish to offend anyone here, but Christmas tends to grate on me, so it was good to attend a Christmas afternoon tea that wasn’t overly Christmassy. The Rosebery is such a beautiful setting and the service was really fantastic. One to recommend to kids of all ages, and also the afternoon tea connoisseurs of the world.

We were guests of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. The Paddington Afternoon Tea costs £48 per adult, £28 per child.

The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park can be found at 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA, United Kingdom. Nearest tube station is Knightsbridge. 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Eating, Experiences, Food, London, The West End