The place I can’t get out of my head…

~China China China China China~

~China China China China China~

I’m starting to wonder if China could well be the great love of my life.

I have loved China for as long as I can possibly remember. I’m pretty sure this has been the case ever since I watched that great other yellow topped dork Big Bird in China on his mission with Barclay to find the Phoenix when I was mega little (if you’ve not seen it, it’s pure 80’s brilliance and definitely a throwback in time) but regardless, China has somehow always been in my life.

Wonderful charismatic China

Wonderful charismatic China

China

China

I met this charismatic man in London's China Town - he had cycled all the way from China to London for the Olympics

I met this charismatic man in London’s China Town – he had cycled all the way from China to London for the Olympics

During the year that I lived in Changzhou way back in 2004 and had no idea that I had met my now husband along with many people I’m lucky to still count as great friends (Ni Hao Natalie, Caz, Andy, Bex and the crew!!). I’m not sure if it’s still the done thing to teach English in China for a year after finishing uni, but that was probably the most life-changing 12 months I’ve had – no offence to the education system or the incredible opportunities that my studies have afforded me, but one year in China changed me more than five years of trying to find myself at university.

Me on the Great Wall

Me on the Great Wall

China somehow keeps permeating into my daily life and I’m probably going to have to sign up to some form of Mandarin training once the nine-month old starts to sleep through the night and my ability to concentrate returns…

One of the many excellent vegetable markets in Changzhou

One of the many excellent vegetable markets in Changzhou

I'd do anything to go back there for meals like this!

I’d do anything to go back there for meals like this!

And I’m starting to wonder if we’re due a visit again soon, maybe once the kids are no longer too annoying to fly with. I can imagine I’d hardly recognise it now. Back then it took two hours to get to Shanghai from the town we lived in, apparently now it’s just 20 minutes on the high speed line.

China

China

China, I can’t get you, your incredible history, your phenomenal food, your mind boggling culture, hospitable people, yellow mountains and rivers, grand canals, beautiful temples, crazy trains, varieties of tea and well-constructed bike highways out of my head. Somehow, you’ve stuck to me and I like you.

I couldn't not include a picture of one of these ridiculously cute creatures...

I couldn’t not include a picture of one of these ridiculously cute creatures…

This post is part of Emma, Kelly and Rebecca’s travel link up with this month’s guest host Liz from Passport Packed. Fancy checking out what others can’t get out of their head? Then head over to one of their fabulous blogs. 

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Filed under Travel, Travel link-up

GLC strikes gold with afternoon tea at Kona

It is a truth, of which I am becoming increasingly aware, that there really is no point in indulging in afternoon tea unless it makes you feel a little bit special.

I’ve long bemoaned the increase in pretty decent eateries filling the lunch / dinner gap by shoving in a sub-standard tea, and it is these that, unfortunately, make the whole pursuit seem over-priced and therefore of questionable value.

If you look through the Lady Loves Cake archive, you’ll find reviews of many very good teas in the middling price bracket (£25-35) but it’s more difficult to find something in the high-end regions with the quality and elegance to rival the really big names.

I may have struck gold…kind of literally.

Kona restaurant and bar has a lot going for it from the start – located around the corner from the Queen’s house, just a short stroll from Victoria Tube, it is part of the elegantly grand St James’ Court Hotel all red brick and fluttering Indian flags (leaving no doubt as to where buckets of cash to make it so luxurious were found).

And Kona’s afternoon tea menu sparkles – especially so for me as I was there to try the 24-Karat Gold version – £110 worth of savouries, sweets and a half bottle of Luxor Gold Leaf Champagne.

You’ll have noticed I just said £110! Yes, that’s a lot, but most of that is the Champagne, which is an optional extra.

In basic terms, the exquisitely-presented sandwiches, scones and sweets come in at £40, making this absolutely top-notch value.

So, the details…I feel most of this can be done in pictures…be warned, gold really is a recurring theme…

Champagne and gold leaf jelly

Champagne and gold leaf jelly

Gold leaf opera cake

Gold leaf opera cake

Golden quail's egg and free-range egg mayonnaise

Golden quail’s egg and free-range egg mayonnaise

Minted cucumber pinwheel

Minted cucumber pinwheel

plain scone, strawberry preservce and Cornish clotted cream

plain scone, strawberry preservce and Cornish clotted cream

Smoked salmon, caviar and marscapone

Smoked salmon, caviar and marscapone

Strawberry tart with gold flakes

Strawberry tart with gold flakes

White chocolate mousse with gold leaves

White chocolate mousse with gold leaves

It would probably help to have a little bit of commentary, so here are my thoughts.

The sandwiches were right up there with the finest I’ve ever had at an afternoon tea and showed a visual flair that is normally overlooked in savouries. The scones came plain, with sultanas, and with chocolate chip. The sweets were generous (perhaps overly so).The crockery and cutlery (both with golden detail) were very fine. The gold leaf Champagne was distinctly moreish. The choice of teas was plenteous – we plumped for the English Breakfast and the unusually refreshing Earl Grey Blue Flower house blend. The service was attentive and good-humoured.

It’s difficult to find fault with Kona, but one thing was striking – just how quiet it was.

Only one other table was being used for the sitting and the place felt a little rattly.

If it helps, just a little, to get more bums on seats, let me say this. With a food offering for £40, if you’re looking for a special occasion afternoon tea, Kona represents exceptional quality at mightily good value.

Would I go for the half-bottle of gold leaf Champagne for an additional £70? Well, probably not. But there is a full menu of fizz available.

My choice would probably be the gold leaf tea (£40) with a full bottle of Nyetimber sparkling English wine (£49), bringing a very high end afternoon tea for two to £130.

It it’s also worth nothing a Royal Afternoon Tea is priced at £27.50 or £45 with a half bottle of Laurent Perrier NV.

Most importantly of all, it will certainly make you feel a little bit special.

Many thanks to Zomato for arranging the tea.

www.stjamescourthotel.co.uk/afternoontea

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London

Great brunch and beautiful views at The Bach in Island Bay

Pancakes at the Bach

Pancakes at the Bach

My aunt comes to Wellington every-so-often to get a change of scenery and enjoy the cafes. One of the places she took me to years ago on one of our days out was The Bach in Island Bay. It’s an old favourite of hers and she still insists on going every time she comes here. She’s introduced most of my family to it now and none of us can argue – it’s a truly great little spot of good coffee, excellent (and well portioned) food along with a fantastic view out to the Cook Straight.

Mr Man and I have been there several times since we’ve been back and BLC knows she’s going to get a fluffy when we pull up to it. If we lived in Island Bay (on the list of possibilities I’d like to eventually buy in) then we would be down there all the time.

Lovely coffee that really hits the spot when the eight month old STILL doesn't sleep through the night...

Lovely coffee that really hits the spot when the eight month old STILL doesn’t sleep through the night…

It is a proper kid-friendly café in that they have a kids menu with crayons, but the adult food is brilliant and there’s a really nice buzz to the place.

Chowder

Chowder

We went today for brunch and I had this fantastic stack of pancakes with bacon, banana and a generous serving of maple syrup. Mr Man had an awesome chowder filled with goodness on a clear but cold August day. BLC and her bro were loving some kiddie’s eggs and bacon and when it came to order a second flat white, Mr Man opted instead for a lush chocolate milkshake (which he originally bought as he thought it might help revive my blogging mojo if I instagrammed it, his words~).

The Bach's milkshake (everyone in there seemed to be drinking them!)

The Bach’s milkshake (everyone in there seemed to be drinking them!) and don’t fret judgy people, Mr Man Jr had his own stuff to drink, as much as he did want this…

I took Mr Man there back in May when we were in need of a coffee before clambering over nearby Red Rocks to visit the seal colony. Even their muffins (fruit salad that day!) and caramel slices were lush and we enjoyed the strong long black coffees served.

Red Rocks

Red Rocks

A wonderful café in a beautiful setting with friendly staff who totally encourage you to bring the munchkins on the way to play with the starfish, hermit crabs and octopus at the nearby Island Bay Aquarium. I can’t wait to eat outside on their balcony come summer.

Photo taken in the middle of winter on a phone but I promise, the view out to the Cook Straight (or is it the Southern Ocean??) from the Bach is wonderful.

Photo taken in the middle of winter on a phone but I promise, the view out to the Cook Straight (or is it the Southern Ocean??) from the Bach is wonderful.

The Bach can be found 410 The Esplanade, Island Bay, Wellington

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Filed under Baby friendly, Brunch, Coffee, Eating, Moving continents, Wellington

Making life in a new town easier – Wellington’s apps – well, one very good coffee app~

At least there's pretty coastline here...

At least there’s pretty coastline here…

New Zealand is notorious for its lack of consistency when it comes to the internet. As a blogger, and someone who spends large chunks of their life online, patchy internet has driven me insane since I moved back to Wellington. Just to upload this post will probably take me several tries because our broadband at home sucks big time and mobile reception – totally dead in our tiny suburb. Yet I get very reliable 4G on my phone at work… the place I least need to use it.

As an expat in the UK, buying presents for various occasions in New Zealand online drove me crazy. Surely one could just push a button and buy vouchers for ferry rides, zoo tickets, the fabulous Bendon shop and everywhere else? But no, even to order a book required paying a fortune in shipping fees on Amazon.

Wellington has very pretty sunsets but not the greatest ways to upload them to Instagram

Wellington has very pretty sunsets but not the quickest ways to upload them to Instagram

Then Google forced New Zealand websites to become mobile friendly – so at least the websites that were available I could access on my phone. Until I moved here and found myself in the Valley of Internet Doom.

All of the above said… New Zealand as some pretty creative people and the ones who have digital skills have really made some cool websites, and apps.

My favourite New Zealand shop, Madame Fancy Pants, has a brilliant website. It is so pretty. I don’t really buy presents from anywhere else now.

And there’s the apps.

Wellington is subject to a lot of shakes in the ground, those things commonly known as earthquakes. They happen so often that sometimes I think they were in my head, but there’s actually this app that alerts you even when there was the most minor shake. Perfect for anxious nutters like me who often confuse their colleague’s furious typing for the biggest earthquake of the century (“should I get under my desk or was that someone with an urgent email to reply to?”)… Geonet rocks.

Earthquakes earthquakes earthquakes...

Earthquakes earthquakes earthquakes…

And there’s the usual travel ones which have your bus time table on and all that but they’re just so-so (actually, they’re total rubbish), so I’m not going to harp on about them.

The ANZ bank app is pretty good for a boring old bank (means I can transfer my sister money when she buys my cake) but no one wants to hear about a banking app!

But there’s one app that has won my heart and my god do I wish I’d invented it or at least bought shares in the company… It’s YQ.

Let's pretend I'm ordering a burger rather than a flat white here...

Let’s pretend I’m ordering a burger rather than a flat white here…

With YQ, you can order your coffee on your way to work and have it ready for when you arrive at the cafe ready to be picked up, all paid for and no waiting in line freaking out that you’re going to miss that 8:30am meeting (Kiwis like to start early) because you needed that morning flat white. You can also time it so that it’s ready in a certain amount of minutes (none of these cold coffees please!). As someone with two children still depriving her of sleep (mostly the 8 month old) I LOVE THIS APP.  It means no waiting for my caffeine longer than I need to after the crazy morning rush and I can order it from my desk in the mid afternoon crash (in New Zealand it is totally acceptable to dash out for 10 minutes and get an afternoon coffee). How amazing is that? I can only wish them more success so that they end up with enough Wellington cafes signed up so that all bases all over the city are covered in times of desperation. You can even order burgers and cakes through it!

All the places I can order coffee from any pay for it before I get there... Important.

All the places I can order coffee from any pay for it before I get there… Important.

Hopefully New Zealand continues to get good internet producers/makers/cool stuff do-ers. There’s a few leading the way, but in the meantime I continue to make the most of useless internet and get off this laptop to go outside to enjoy this gorgeous city.

Who needs the internet when you have views like this anyway?

Who needs the internet when you have views like this anyway?

Do you have any life-saving (fixing first world problems) apps that you can’t do without? 

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Filed under Coffee, Life in general, Moving continents, Wellington

Coffee tasting at Flight Coffee Hangar

Flight Coffee Hangar

Flight Coffee Hangar

What’s your favourite coffee in Wellington? The question that one eventually gets asked when you’ve lived here for a while. People tend to fall in the camps of Havana, L’affare, Mojo and Flight but there are loads more independent coffee suppliers, many with their own cafe too.

I’ll admit it, Flight and Mojo are my favourites. Mojo because the man at my local petrol station makes the most magnificent flat whites with their beans, Flight because I have yet to have a flat white by their beans that has disappointed.

Me about to go crazy on coffee...

Me about to go crazy on coffee…

I liked Flight Coffee Hangar so much when we first arrived in Wellington that I went back three times in the space of a week – mostly because it was close to where Mr Man and I had some appointments, but also because it is awesome. The service by a young and ultra friendly group of hipsters, a fantastic menu (Mr Man chose well with his eggs one day but I thoroughly enjoyed their baked goods) but most of all, good strong but smooth coffee that really hits the spot.

Mr Man's eggs

Mr Man’s eggs

Baked goods (their brownies are as good as they say)

Baked goods (their brownies are as good as they say)

We somehow got convinced one morning that we should try their tasting menu. We could do this two ways – one bean in three different ways (think cold brew, espresso and flat white) or three beans done the same way. So we went for the latter and had a blast trying to detect the flavours stated on the corresponding cards.

Info cards

Info cards

Flat whites

Flat whites

For only $11 we thought this was really good. Our server explained the beans really well and we spent about an hour getting technical/theoretical about coffee. It was ages ago so please don’t ask me to say what flavours were in what coffees but I guess you could compare coffee to tea in the way that the location the beans are grown in and how they’re roasted then brewed all add to how different each coffee you have will taste.

And best of all, given that we were able to share the three flat whites between us, we left buzzed but not bonkers.

Flight Coffee Hangar can be found at 119 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington 

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Filed under Coffee, Wellington

Tatsushi

The lovely Tatsushi

The lovely Tatsushi

One of the food experiences I was most excited for when coming back to Wellington was good quality Japanese food that doesn’t break the bank. While I managed to find very good Sushi in London, it usually had a hefty price tag attached and I generally had to trek to the other end of town. In Wellington you’re able to get really good Asian food for a really good price. I’m so glad to be back in the land where excellent Malaysian food can be found around the corner from equally as good dim sum, dumpling houses, Vietnamese but most of all Japanese. I have some form of their food at least twice a week… #lunchtimenotsoguiltypleasure

The Japanese made their mark on my memory in Auckland some time during the late eighties when my parents used to have Japanese exchange students come to stay for a few weeks at a time. My sister and I adored these students, R so enchanted by the culture that she studied her derriere off at high school and university to make sure she could get a chance to go and live in their wonderful country not long after she graduated. She ended up living in a little town on the coast that faces Russia for a good two years as a result.

Tempura prawns and vegetables - succulent could be the word for them!

Tempura prawns and vegetables – succulent could be the word for them!

Few things beat a hot bowl of noodles on a cold and windy Wellington day

Few things beat a hot bowl of noodles on a cold and windy Wellington day

Thankfully with R being so much in the know about what is good that is also Japanese in Wellington, and with a colleague who is very knowledgeable about amazing hidden Japanese lunch spots, I’ve certainly not been starved of fantastic sushi, sashimi, tempura prawns or teriyaki.

One of the best I’ve been taken to so far is Tatsushi. For only $14.50 (£7.00) you can get the most incredible bowl of udon noodles in a tasty broth with moreish tempura to match. In London I would never have found anything of that quality for the price. The teriyaki chicken salad my lunch buddy had was so tasty I could have easily ordered another one to take home to Mr Man that evening. But the highlight? Weirdly, mackerel sashimi. So fresh and with a flavour so delicate yet strong at the same time that it totally knocking salmon off its top spot as the king of raw fish…

Salad

Salad

Sashimi

Sashimi

With green tea that beat anywhere I’ve had in a while and a drinks list I would like to go back and check out after work one day (including some bottles supplied by tiny family suppliers in Japan), Tatsushi is here to stay in my list of places to go back to over and over. Turns out my fussy sister who’s obsessed with Japan approves too so two “insider” recommendations can’t be bad can it?

Tatsushi can be found at 99 Victoria Street, Te Aro, Wellington 

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Filed under Food, Wellington

Maranui Cafe

Flat whites in the seaside themed Maranui Cafe

Flat whites in the seaside themed Maranui Cafe

For some reason we keep ending up at Lyall Bay. It is not a glamorous bay, nor is at all pretty, but there’s something kind of charismatic about it. Lyall Bay is a great place to spot surfers while seeing the planes fly in at the same time and is also in between several amazing coastal drives so it’s no place to be written off. It also spots a couple of fantastic cafes – one I touched on already – the Spruce Goose, the other an old favourite of many locals, the Maranui Cafe.

Lyall Bay's Surf Lifesaving Club

Lyall Bay’s Surf Lifesaving Club

The top floor of a surf life saving club, Maranui cafe boasts great views, fun atmosphere, friendly service and really good food.

There’s not a huge amount to say other than that!

Really good flat whites – we had two each.

Mr Man's eggs

Mr Man’s eggs

Avocado on toast

Avocado on toast

Mr Man enjoyed his poached eggs.

I was in heaven with a dose of flavourful avocado & tomato on toast. New Zealand does such good avocado…

They had an a eye-watering selection of baked goods, including halloumi savoury muffins and some generous slices of what looked like carrot cake with generous dollops of icing on top. The rest of the menu had your usual brunch favourites of French toast, granola and yoghurt etc; most of it probably of great quality if going by our brunches (and good coffee~).

I’ve been there many times over the years during my visits to Wellington and love it. It’s a cool crowd, has consistently coffee and a view out to the charismatic Lyall Bay.

Fun decor

Fun decor

Maranui Cafe can be found on Lyall Bay Parade at the end that’s not by the airport… 

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Filed under Brunch, Coffee, Food, Wellington