#TravelexTourist: Sketch Afternoon Tea & Icebar, London

I had been back in London for about a week, and I had the post-holiday blues bad – particularly as I’d managed to get a month off over Christmas and New Year to travel around Cambodia and Japan. So when the Travelex team got in touch to see if I wanted to play tourist in London, I was over the moon – particularly as they’d given me some dosh to spend, too.

#TravelexTouristThis was no ordinary dosh – I got my US dollars loaded onto my fancy new Travelex cash passport – a multi-currency, pre-paid Mastercard that I could top up online, and use like a regular bank card. The best part about it is that I can order different currencies on it, so when I go back to Japan, or on a European adventure, I only have to take one card with me (and not have to worry about mine getting lost or stolen!)

Liberty, #TravelexTourist#TravelexTourist#TravelexTouristSo, Cash Passport in hand, we decided to start the day off doing the most touristy thing we could think of to do in London – afternoon tea.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristI’ve been desperate to go to Sketch for ages. Not only do they apparently do one of the best gluten-free afternoon teas in London, it’s also the gallery of David Shrigley – one of my favourite artists.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristI wouldn’t be surprised if this is the most instagrammed room in London – it was absolutely beautiful.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristThere was so much attention to detail – everything from the menus, to the crockery – even the uniforms for the waitstaff (which I would wear in a heartbeat).

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristAs for cost, it’s a little on the steep side, but for the location, and the wow factor of the venue alone – combined with the sheer amount of food, I do believe it’s worth it. Not something I’d do every day, but definitely worth popping in for a special occasion.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristYou get a lot of food – unlimited refills of tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones, the latter being the best part of the gluten free menu.

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristSketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristEven the bathrooms were outstanding (to the point where I was slightly concerned that they were toilets at all, instead of part of the artwork).

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristWe didn’t manage to finish our tea completely, but the lovely waitstaff packed the last of our cakes for us, which we got to enjoy later that weekend. I was given a pin with my Cash Passport card, and it worked seamlessly (which is always slightly nerve-wracking with a new card!)

Sketch Afternoon Tea, London, #TravelexTouristWe were so stuffed by the end of it that we were tempted to go home and have a nap. Somehow we managed to roll ourselves out of there and made our way to Covent Garden for a little window shopping, and enjoy some of the uncharacteristically good January weather.

#TravelexTouristPiccadilly Circus, London, #TravelexTouristCovent Garden, London, #TravelexTouristWe slowly walked off our food babies and made our way to Heddon Street for an appointment at the Icebar.

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristUnlike Sketch, Icebar is pretty much what it says on the tin – a bar made of ice. Cold, -5°C Swedish ice, to be precise.

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar, London, #TravelexTouristWe got kitted out in thermal capes and gloves, and were served cocktails served in glasses made entirely of ice – it was awesome.

Ice Bar, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristIce Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristThe walls, the chairs, the bar – everything was ice, and had been carved beautifully. My favourite part was the skull, which had a brain carved into it and everything!

Ice Bar Cocktails, London, #TravelexTouristnFor the price of a ticket, you get given a cocktail and can stay in the room for 45 minutes before you have to leave. Is it gimmicky? Yes, absolutely – but it is really fun, and you do feel surprisingly toasty in your thermal cape.

The entire day made me appreciate the fun and interesting things to do that London has to offer, and definitely helped to keep the January Blues at bay! I can’t thank Travelex enough for the opportunity to play tourist for the day – I had a brillliant time.

Where is your favourite place to have afternoon tea? Have you been  to the Icebar before? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

I was given a preloaded Travelex Cash Passport for the purposes of review – all opinions are my own, and I wouldn’t blog about it if I didn’t love the service!

sketch Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Christmas with John Lewis

We are two weeks into December and I am feeling the heat.

That might have something to do with the fact that I’m currently writing this up from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where it is currently 30 degrees! While I am having the most awesome time swimming, relaxing and going for massages, I’m not feeling particularly festive right this second.

John Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsHowever, this wasn’t the case two weeks ago when I headed down to The Proud Archivist, to celebrate with the reigning champions of all things Christmas, John Lewis!

John Lewis has always been a firm favourite in my family – our go-to for birthday gifts, anniversary presents, and the Oxford Street cafe is a frequent meeting point when we’re in town.

John Lewis Christmas: NutcrackerWhen it comes to Christmas, John Lewis seem to kill it, every year. The fact that the release of their Christmas ads every year is now (basically) a sacred tradition really tells you something about how they have nailed Christmas.

I was so stoked to get the invite to their Christmas event, particularly as I knew I’d be missing all the usual Christmassy treats this year, due to the heat. Mulled wine in 30 degree heat? I’d rather a sangria, thank you very much.

John Lewis Christmas: Wrapping, Decorations, NutcrackerJohn Lewis Christmas: Mulled WineLuckily, the John Lewis team had me covered on the mulled wine front – in shot form!

I had high expectations for the event, and they were definitely met – the team had decorated the room amazingly (check out the giant nutcracker!). I was definitely feeling extremely festive, with all the edible Christmas treats, holiday tunes and all the free-flowing prosecco!

The evening was filled with crafting. The other bloggers made some seriously amazing things, and I was extremely envious of their skills! I can’t say I’m particularly skilled in that area, but I gave it a good go – and I was really happy with my Christmas wreath, which is proudly hung on the door to my flat.

John Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsJohn Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsJohn Lewis Christmas: Christmas WreathsWe then had a little gift wrapping masterclass. There, I discovered glue dots –  where have they been all my life? That’s where I’ve been going wrong all along, messing about with tape all these years (always too long, too short, or  stuck to something else). You know those annoying people who always give beautifully wrapped gifts? Yeah. THEY USE GLUE DOTS. Do it – it’s the future!

John Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: Gift WrappingSome of the others made some really beautiful place settings, and it was just such a nice evening – lovely canapes, great company, and such a festive Christmas vibe!

John Lewis Christmas: CraftsJohn Lewis Christmas: CraftsJohn Lewis Christmas: Crafts and Gift WrappingJohn Lewis Christmas: WshThe whole event really got me excited about crafting, too – I even made my own hand-sewn Christmas decorations with one of their Christmas sewing kits, and it looks amazing! It’s really got me excited, and I’ve now added their sewing machine to my Christmas wishlist. Fingers crossed!

John Lewis Christmas: NutcrackerAs a social media manager, I couldn’t possibly write this post without mentioning the utter legend that has the @JohnLewis handle on Twitter. He’s made a seriously unfortunate coincidence and is really great about it – and he even redirects tweets to the official Twitter handle, too. Legend!

Many thanks to the John Lewis team for having me – I had such a great time, and it’s got me SO excited for Christmas!

Did you like the John Lewis ad this year? Have you done any Christmas crafting? Let me know by commenting below, or let me knowon TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Sake & Spice

I’m always up for mashups. Food, music, whatever, but it has to be done well.

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
So I was extremely intrigued when the team at Moti Mahal invited me down for their Sake & Spice event.

Moti Mahal was founded more than forty years ago in Delhi. Their London branch is located right near Covent Garden, and they specialise in Indian dishes that emphasize traditional techniques – mostly street-style tandoori dishes.

I’m always up for Indian food, but when I found out that every course would be paired with a different sake, I knew this was an event I couldn’t miss.

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
Despite being Japanese, I know barely anything about sake – luckily, the clever folks at Moti Mahal had a couple of tips and facts to share.

Sake is brewed like a beer, with four ingredients – rice, koji, yeast and water. There is usually no vintage – sake is designed to be drunk within 1 or 2 years of bottling, and should be drunk like a wine. My favourite fact about sake is how it tends to enhance the flavour of food, unlike other forms of alcohol – and we really put that theory to the test at Moti Mahal!

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event

Our first course was the Chukander Ka salad – a roasted beetroot and peanut salad that was served with stuffed peppers, minted potatoes and green peas.

This was served with my favourite sake of the evening – a Kimura Fukukomachi Junmai Daiginjo, a premium sake that had a slightly fruity taste to it.

Our next course was the Barra Peshwari – my favourite dish of the evening. These delicious lamb chops were served with caraway seed, Kashmiri chillies, mooli raita and avocado chutney, and were paired with a Kimura Fukukomachi Daiginjo sake. This sake was also a premium sake, and had a lovely light and subtly fruity flavour – not overly harsh, as I find some sake varieties can be.

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
Next up was a Murgabi, served with Teetar and a side of stir-fried okra. Murgabi is a pheasant dish that has been stir fried with Malabar spices – this was so exquisite, especially with the sweet and spicy pickled partridge. The partridge Teetar was like nothing I’d never tried before, but the flavours were really wonderful. This was served with a Akita Shurui Seizoh Takashimizu Honjozo – this sake seemed more familiar to me than the others: I must admit, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I did the first two.

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
The next dish was the Lahori Macchi Pulao – baby red mullet cooked with basmati rice, curry leaf and pounded spice and served with raita. This was paired with the Gozenshu 9 ‘Mountain Stream’ Junmai Nama Bodaimoto.

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventMoti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
The dessert was a pineapple carpaccio served with plum and port wine sorbet – definitely underwhelming, although the umeshu (plum wine) it was paired with was absolutely divine. I might need to get a bottle of Ume No Yado Aragoshi Umeshu when I’m back in Japan next month!

Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice EventUmeshu, Moti Mahal: Sake and Spice Event
Overall, the experience was absolutely incredible. Barry, the Beverage Manager, is so knowledgable about the topic – it was great to get some tips (as well as try some of the gin he makes himself!) It was unlike any other pairing I’ve tried in the past, and the combination of Indian flavours with Japanese sake was an unusual one – but one I’d definitely try again.

Even if you can’t try one of their Sake & Spice events, Moti Mahal is worth popping into for the food, which is really delicious. I’d definitely recommend the lamb chops – it’s definitely worth popping into (and avoid the chains in Covent Garden)!

Have you ever tried a fusion alcohol pairing? How did it go? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Moti Mahal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

What I’ve Learned About Food Photography

I’m the first person to admit that I am not an expert in food photography, but I’d like to think that over the past year I’ve learned a few tips and tricks which have made my food photos a lot better than they used to be.

LiterEATure Series: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Rose and Pistachio Turkish Delight
When the fantastic team at Joe Blogs, along with Currys invited me along to a photography workshop at the Nikon School I was really excited. I own a Nikon DS3300, and wanted to learn a couple of tips from the experts!

Pulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee As all their events are, the evening was a great way to catch up with friends, discover a few tricks and, of course, take hundreds of photos of food.

Jack Daniels Ice Cream, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeCurry's Food Photography
I won’t go in depth about how to use a DSLR, or about aperture/ISO, but I do want to share five things I’ve learned about food photography so far – and one that I learned from the workshop! So without further ado….

Curry's Food PhotographyCurry's Food Photography: Erin from Islandbell
1) Keep it natural

In my experience, nothing beats natural lighting – or at least, nothing affordable. If you can, take your food photos during the day.

Curry's Food Photography: Figs
2) Invest in the best

For the best photos, you need the right tools. There’s very little point in spending time setting up, and dishing up something beautifully if you are going to take it on your camera phone. While there are some amazing phone cameras out there, for amazing and high quality photos you just have to invest in a good camera, and some lenses. When I’m not using my Nikon, I usually carry around my Sony RX1oo II in my handbag, and I swear by it – it’s amazing in low lighting and takes beautiful shots. The quality of the shots has dramatically changed. At the Nikon workshop I was struggling to get the look I wanted until I borrowed one of their 60mm macro lenses – and I fell in love. I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist – fingers crossed for Christmas!

Curry's Food Photography: Fruit CakeCurry's Food Photography: Fruit CakeCurry's Food Photography: Kiwi
3) Know when to close the deal – and when to back away

For certain dishes, you should go in for the closeup. I’ve generally found anything with cheese on it (like nachos) you should go in close. This rule doesn’t apply to things like meat, or fish – anything with bone in it, really. Something about seeing those things in detail are quite unappealing, generally.

Curry's Food Photography: Fruit Cake
4) Post-production

I used to whack my photos up, completely untouched by editing software. Talk about amateur hour. A few seconds spent adjusting colours, brightness, exposure and contrast makes a world of difference – taking a photo from a 5 to a solid 10.

5) Take as many shots as you can

Almost every single time I take photos, I always end up using the ones I take as an afterthought. I find I take a few, think I’ve nailed it, but the difference from taking a look on your camera screen to your laptop is huge! Take another version of a photo than you think is necessary – it might just be the best. Of course, people might slowly stop inviting you to dinner as a result, but who needs people like that in their lives anyway. I’ve definitely done you a favour.

My favourite tip from the Nikon workshop was about adjusting the white balance on the camera. HOW did I not know about this before? By manually adjusting the white balance on your camera when you’re in a dark place, the camera will then readjust all the colours around it based on your latest reading.

Like this photo below – the first, being very blue, to the second shot. All I did was adjust the white balance – and it’s made such a difference!

Curry's Food Photography: PeppersCurry's Food Photography: Peppers
My photos of these berries went from looking odd, and distinctly yellow, to this. Amazing!

Curry's Food PhotographyCurry's Food Photography: Berries
A massive thank you to the Joe Blogs team for having me – it was such an informative evening! I was invited to attend the event, but all opinions are my own.

What are some of your favourite food photography tips? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Bournemouth #Bloggerlodge

Despite having lived in London for three years now, I still don’t feel as though I’ve seen as much of the rest of the UK as I would like.

#Bloggerlodge, BournemouthCarousel, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

So the invitation from Travelodge to stay at the seafront hotel in Bournemouth was a welcome one – and a month ago, my boyfriend and I jumped into the car and made our way to the seaside.

#Bloggerlodge, BournemouthCarousel, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

By the time we got there it was pretty late – around 10pm, and there wasn’t much parking to be found at the hotel itself, so I’d recommend trying to get there early if possible. The staff were incredibly accommodating, however, and we were able to find parking just a street away, which was fantastic.

Gardens, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth#Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

The original plan had been to go out for a few drinks, and do a little exploring, but we were absolutely knackered so made our way up to the room. It was clearly one of the nicest ones in the place (third floor, room 306, I believe), and after a night in one of the most comfiest beds I’ve ever slept in, we woke up to an amazing view of the sea.

#Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth#Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth#Bloggerlodge, BournemouthHot Doughnut, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

Over a full English breakfast we got out our phones to plan our day. My boyfriend had come prepared, of course, with his swimming trunks, for a dip in the sea but luckily didn’t make good on his promise to swim while we were there!

Russell-Cotes Museum #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

After a walk across the seafront, the city centre and through the gardens (and a game of Dance Dance Revolution in the arcades, which I lost so IT NEVER HAPPENED) we went to the Russell-Cotes museum.

#Bloggerlodge, BournemouthRussell-Cotes Museum #Bloggerlodge, BournemouthRussell-Cotes Museum #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

The Russell-Cotes house and museum looks like its straight out of an episode of Poirot. There are some incredible views from inside of the sea, and I really liked how the museum had a pianist playing live. It was a really nice way to spend a few hours – especially as the Russell-Coteses have a massive collection of Japanese art.

Flowers, Frieda's Tearoom, #Bloggerlodge, BournemouthFrieda's Tearoom, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

After a couple of hours we began to feel peckish, and so we made our way to Frieda’s Tearoom, which was a very sweet little place. I had a lovely butternut squash soup, followed by some macarons and a pot of tea.

Frieda's Tearoom, #Bloggerlodge, BournemouthMacarons and Tea, Frieda's Tearoom, #Bloggerlodge, Bournemouth

There were a few things we wanted to do, like going up the Bournemouth Balloon, or do the amazing zipline from the end of the pier to the beach, but the weather was really terrible, which meant a lot of things had shut.

So we want back into our warm and cosy room for a little while, and got ready for dinner at The Crab, which was walking distance from where we were staying.

Prosecco, The Crab at Bournemouth, #Bloggerlodge

All the food at The Crab was delicious, but the starters were really fantastic. My boyfriend had the soft shell crab tempura (always a winner) and I had scallops topped with Gruyere. It was sublime.

Soft Shell Crab Tempura, The Crab at Bournemouth, #BloggerlodgeLemon Scallops with Gruyere Cheese, The Crab at Bournemouth, #Bloggerlodge

I had the signature crab for my main, followed by a mousse and meringue dessert, both of which were also amazing.

Whole Crab, The Crab at Bournemouth, #BloggerlodgeStrawberry Mousse, The Crab at Bournemouth, #Bloggerlodge

We spent our next day driving to the New Forest, exploring the beautiful village of Beaulieu for a few hours. As we were in ancient woodlands, we put our new found foraging skills to the test, and recognised and picked a lot of amethyst deceivers, which went into another risotto later on that week.

We stopped off for fish and chips, and I had a stem ginger ice cream before we got back in the car and headed back to London. All in all it was such a lovely weekend – many thanks to Travelodge for such a comfortable and enjoyable stay!

Have you ever been to Bournemouth? What attractions are your favourite? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!