#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

New York Eats

It’s been a fair few weeks since I was back home, but I still find myself thinking about the food over there! I know a few friends are over there at the moment, and I’m getting food envy just THINKING about it!

So I thought I’d compile a list of the places I absolutely have to go to whenever I’m back home. Most of these are based in Queens, as that’s where my family are now based – but there are a couple of Manhattan based places on here too.

Taqueria Coatzingo, Queens, New YorkTaqueria Coatzingo, Jackson Heights

While I was in New York, I wanted Mexican food. My family in California are adamant that they don’t do Mexican food well in New York, but they haven’t tried anything in London – it simply doesn’t compare. Taqueria Coatzingo is authentic, delicious, and cheap. If you want fine dining, then this isn’t it – during our meal we had people coming up to us asking for spare change, or trying to sell us DVDs – but it somehow just adds to the friendly, local community atmosphere and vibe. Try the lengua al vapor tacos – beef tongue served with guacamole, onions, coriander and lemon. Trust me on this one.

Taqueria Coatzingo, Queens, New YorkTaqueria Coatzingo, Queens, New York
Taquería Coatzingo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Uni Sushi, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkTakesushi, Sunnyside

My mother has a flair for the dramatic. “The Manhattan sushi scene is dead”, is one of the first food-related conversations we had when I was back – and as a lady that knows her sushi, I was surprised to hear this from her.

Sushi, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkSushi, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkBut then she took me to Takesushi, and it all made a lot more sense. Takesushi is really convenient to get to from the 7 train, and offers beautiful, authentic and high quality sushi at an affordable price. When we went, the place was rammed with other Japanese patrons (a good sign, in a sushi bar), and the quality was really top-notch. It’s definitely a hidden gem – I’d recommend it to anyone for an authentic sushi experience in New York.

Monk Fish Liver Ankimo, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkMonk Fish Liver Ankimo, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkOne dish that I’ve found difficult to get in the UK has been ankimo, or monkfish liver – at Takesushi, they served it on a bed of grated radish with a light ponzu sauce. Monkfish liver has the consistency of pate, but a really subtle flavour – its not overly fishy at all. Everyone should try it at least once!

Monk Fish Liver Ankimo, Takesushi, Queens, New YorkSushi, Takesushi, Queens, New York
Takesushi Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
JG Melon, Steak Tartare, New YorkJ.G. Melon, Upper East Side

Steak Tartare is one of my favourite dishes in the entire world. J.G. Melon has two locations – one in Greenwich Village, and one on the Upper East Side – and they do a great one. It is absolutely huge – we split one portion, and still had to leave some, so make sure you go hungry – or find someone to share it with you!

We had an order of french fries and a light vinaigrette salad. The decor is very old school, but slightly quirky – there are pictures of melons EVERYWHERE. It’s pretty cute.

JG Melon, Steak Tartare, New York800JG Melon, Steak Tartare, New York
J.G. Melon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Joes Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Bayside, Queens, New YorkJoe’s Shanghai, Flushing

My quest for delicious xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, in London still continues. Soup dumplings are my favourite Chinese dish by far – there’s something about the warm broth inside the juicy, succulent pork or crab dumplings that’s so satisfying and moreish.

Joes Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Bayside, Queens, New YorkIn New York, Joe’s Shanghai are the undisputed kings of soup dumplings. My favourite location is the one in Flushing – same delicious product, with rarely any need to queue.

Joes Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Bayside, Queens, New YorkJoes Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Bayside, Queens, New YorkWhen I was back I tried having them twice, but the uptown Manhattan branch had such awful service (we waited 45 minutes, and when we asked were they were the utterly useless waiter had forgotten about our order). I’d definitely go to the one in Chinatown or this one, but not even shoddy service will keep me away from these soup dumplings – I am thoroughly addicted.

Joe's Shanghai Resturant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
New York SkylineWhat are some of your favourite New York eateries? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Jack Daniels Tour – Lynchburg, Tennessee

I just want to start the post off by saying that I am not a whiskey fan. I just don’t get it, really – the overpowering smell and taste really doesn’t do it for me. Having said that, I absolutely love knowing how things are made – so for someone that hates whiskey, I was probably more excited about this tour than I thought I would be.

Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Lynchburg, Tennessee was a two-hour drive away from Nashville. It’s very much Smalltown, USA – it’s absolutely tiny, and the entire town revolves around the Jack Daniels distillery.

Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee
Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

It’s located in a really beautiful part of the countryside, so we had a little wander of the grounds and the local shops before we set off on the tour.

Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Our group was number 7, rather fitting really, as the No.7 is their signature whiskey (although no one knows why it’s that number in particular!)

Jack Daniels Fire Brigade, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

The tour was really enjoyable – it was great seeing how the barrels were made, and I liked seeing the process, and other touches like how they have their own fire brigade. How adorable is that truck?

We went on the tasting tour, which meant we could sample a few of their whiskies for an extra $10. It’s well worth doing, because who would want to do a whiskey tour without getting to drink some after?

Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Out of the three we tried, I like the Gentleman Jack, and the latest release – The Tennessee Fire. I was really excited to have brought back a bottle of the latter for my boyfriend as it wasn’t coming out in the UK for another couple of months!

After the tour, we went back into Lynchburg proper to have a wander and get some food.

Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeBarrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeBarrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

I had some of the most delicious pulled pork nachos I have EVER had in my life. Although I did have to ask for more jalapenos about three times – not because the service wasn’t excellent (man, I miss that Southern service) – but because I like A LOT of jalapenos.

Pulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseePulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseePulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseePulled Pork Nachos, Barrelhouse BBQ, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

In the town, we did a little souvenir shopping – make sure you go to the official Jack Daniels store as their prices are a lot more reasonable than the smaller stores there (a mistake I made!)

They also had a Jack Daniels ice cream – a twist on the classic rum and raisin – which I got stuck into. It was really delicious, and perfect for the warm weather!

Jack Daniels Ice Cream, Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, TennesseeJack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

It was a really lovely way to end my fleeting visit to Tennessee, and a great experience that I would thoroughly recommend!

Jack Daniels Tour, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Have you ever been to the Jack Daniels distillery? Be sure to comment below, or let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Graceland

We got up at the crack of dawn on our second day in Tennessee – we had places to be.

While we’re on the subject of early mornings – one travel tip for Tennessee – bring your aeropress, beans, coffee grinder or cafetiere. I couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee in the whole state, and we tried a lot of places while we were there. We were getting pretty desperate, and we are all massive coffee junkies.

Coffee troubles aside, we were all in pretty good spirits during the three hour drive from Nashville – we were headed for Memphis.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
I say Memphis loosely, as we were really headed for Graceland, home of the King of Rock n Roll – Elvis Presley.

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
I’d always wanted to go to Graceland – my family are massive Elvis fans, and when I’m at a karaoke bar, it’s Elvis all the way.

I really liked the way the tours were run – each person was given an iPad with preloaded audio content (narrated, bizarrely, by John Stamos), meaning you could take it at your own pace.

Graceland, Memphis, TennesseeDining Room, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
The property itself was so much fun to explore. It’s totally garish and gaudy, but great – it’s always fun to have a nosy in someone else’s home, and the touches that would’ve been cutting edge in their day were hilarious. Three TVs next to each other, on at the same time? Sure.

Graceland, Memphis, TennesseeGraceland, Memphis, Tennessee
I also had a look at the inside of his private jet, his collection of cars, and his iconic headstone.

Living Room, Graceland, Memphis, TennesseeLiving Room, Graceland, Memphis, TennesseeElvis' Grave, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
We started getting a little peckish, so once we’d had our fill of Elvis for the day, we went in search of a bite.

Pollards, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Luckily, we didn’t have to venture too far afield – just further down Elvis Presley Boulevard to Pollard’s Bar-B-Que.

Pollards, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
I couldn’t get enough of that Southern Hospitality  down there – everyone was so friendly, so welcoming, and so accomodating. Pollard’s was no different, thanks to the attentions of the fabulous Denise! Absolutely starving at this point, I ordered half a portion of ribs, with a side of beans and fried pickles.

Fried Pickles, Pollards, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
If you haven’t tried fried pickles, you’re seriously missing out (I have a recipe here!) These were great – not too greasy, not at all soggy, and the batter was light.

Ribs, Beans and Fried Pickles, Pollards BBQ, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
The ribs and beans were great too – the meat melted off of the bone, and the beans were seasoned in a flavoured stock. Again, if you’re looking for fine dining, this isn’t it, but if you’re looking for a good, cheap eat, then this is right up your street.

Have you ever been to Graceland? Be sure to comment below, and be sure to let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Pollard's Bar-B-Que Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nashville, Tennessee

I had been back in New York for about 24 hours before I was on another plane – this time, to the American South.

Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
Despite having lived in the States for ten years, I’ve never actually managed to venture to that part of the country before, and I’m so glad I did!

Nashville, and Tennessee in general, is known for its vibrant music country music scene.

Nashville, Tennessee | IslandbellTootsies, Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
That, of course, and BBQ (but more on that later).

The Broadway really comes to life at night, full of bars with live country music – it’s a really fun vibe.

Nashville, Tennessee | IslandbellCowboy Boots, Nashville, Tennessee | IslandbellNashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
We stayed in the downtown Nashville area, in a Residence Inn. Not only did I have an awesome view from my hotel room, but the room itself was about as big as my flat in London – it was absolutely huge! Nashville is a great city to walk around in – it was around a 30-minute walk from the Broadway, and I couldn’t recommend my hotel enough.

Peg Leg Porker, Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
Not least because the lovely staff (who were amazing. I absolutely LOVE Southern hospitality) pointed us in the direction of our first BBQ feast in Nashville – Peg Leg Porker.

Peg Leg Porker,Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
Peg Leg Porker specialise in dry ribs and pulled pork – they do it really well, and represent what’s truly great about unpretentious, standard Southern fare. The food is deliciously dirty and messy, and the venue is decidedly no-frills, but it is absolutely excellent (and really hit the spot after a delayed flight)!

Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich, Peg Leg Porker,Nashville, Tennessee | IslandbellPulled Pork BBQ Sandwich,Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
The pulled pork sandwich with two types of beans looked absolutely incredible – the meat looked succulent, and juicy, and the smokiness made this dish smell absolutely heavenly.

Peg Leg Porker, BBQ Pork Ribs,Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell I had half of the rack of ribs with fries and coleslaw. The meat really fell of the bone, and the sauce was delicious, and didn’t overpower the flavour of the meat. The coleslaw was dressed perfectly – not too much mayonnaise, and the vegetables were crisp and fresh.

While they haven’t beaten the best ribs in the world quite yet, I would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone visiting the area.

Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell The best part about walking around Nashville, instead of driving, is that you’re more likely to pop in and discover places you might have missed, like the Yazoo Brewing Company!

Yazoo Brewery, Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell They are a local microbrewery based in the Gulch neighbourhood, and is a really nice place to just sit back and relax. They also brew Gerst beer, reviving a local brand that was the stuff of legends before Prohibition. I love that!

Yazoo Brewery, Nashville, Tennessee | Islandbell
In total, I was only in Nashville for just under two days, and there were so many things I wish I could’ve seen – the Grand Ole Opry, RCA Studio B, the Hermitage… but I can always see those next time.

I’m really glad I managed to go for a drink inside the Union Station Hotel, which used to be the main railroad terminal from 1900 – 1941.

Union Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee I absolutely love the old-timey names for the trains – the ‘Pan-American’, ‘Dixie Flyer’, and the ‘South Wind’. I wish they had such awesome names for the trains in the UK!

Union Hotel, Nashville, TennesseeUnion Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee
I had an absolutely fantastic time in Nashville, and for the rest of my stay in Tennessee – stay tuned for what I did next!

Have you ever been to Nashville? Be sure to comment below, and be sure to let me know on TwitterFacebook or Instagram!

Peg Leg Porker Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato