Restaurant Review: Tomato-Free Pizza @ Pizza Pilgrims

I’ve slowly come to terms with my allergy, and I’m pretty much okay with it all now. Sure, there are evenings where I wish I could dial Dominoes, and I still crave a BBQ sauce (that’s this summer’s challenge!). I’ve gotten used to what I can and can’t eat and have my go-to alternatives. What I really, really hate is having to let restaurants know, having to dissect the menu before I eat out to find out if there’s actually anything suitable – because even the tiniest amount hidden in a sauce can affect me.

 photo 572f2043-ed51-49d6-83ab-f13920999b91_zpsopxtpfyw.jpgI got really excited when Pizza Express launched two white pizzas last season. Only to realise their bechamel sauce contains tomato powder. I think one of them is still suitable, but still. Then I saw a few instagram shots featuring Pizza Pilgrims, noticed a few white pizzas floating about, and promptly told W that we were off for a date-lunch…

 photo 0db576aa-ae9d-4e9d-b20d-bd91b25bf3a6_zpsex0yzs68.jpg photo 2ab553f3-a794-4011-8cf4-367d40046bbc_zpsmvqakaqd.jpgI ordered the Portobello Mushroom and Truffle Oil, and it was immense. Juicy, but still nutty with a good bite, mushrooms where fresh and full of flavour, and the truffle oil added something extra which elevated the pizza from a standard pizza to a delicious treat. The cheese was gooey, the base fluffy, light and well-flavoured. I’d have preferred a slightly thicker and more robust base as I like to be ladylike and shove a pizza wedge into my mouth with my hands, but that’s just me…As far as tomato-free pizzas go, I think Pizza Pilgrims have it down.

 photo 0c365d70-cf39-4235-b9e8-efc7bad6bd20_zpsxstursud.jpgW went for tomato-overload with the Nduja, which he seemed to enjoy. I was just a hugely happy girl that my pizza craving had been sorted – with several branches across London, I know I’ll definitely be hitting Pizza Pilgrims again for a tomato-free pizza hit! We paid for our own meal, and Pizza Pilgrims didn’t know I was planning to review…though the camera may have given it away…

Where’s the best pizza you’ve eaten? I suppose I’d better learn to say ‘allergic to tomatoes’ in Italian ready for my holiday!

Lifestyle: Taco Tuesdays (on a Saturday…)

A trip into London can only mean one thing for me and W – time to gorge ourselves at Wahaca. I’ve reviewed it a while back, but I managed to get some pretty good photos this time round. I’ve also found my favourite restaurant – I love the Charlotte Street branch as it’s so light and airy, and the staff seem like they genuinely love their job. The Covent Garden one just seems a bit dark now, and the last time I went the food was a bit heavy and the service rushed. Charlotte Street definitely offers a buzz, but friendly and relaxing service too. AND the best cocktails. Just be sure not to sit under the plants or you may get wet…

 photo c79efcaf-dfe7-4ea6-83be-031f9c95217f_zpswhfmsoqr.jpg photo f25f167a-1d3b-4ac7-bd67-833fc44f48b1_zpsptvnaqen.jpgI couldn’t resist my favourites, Frijoles with Tortilla Chips. I could live off Frijoles, they are amazing. Thick, creamy, full of flavour, tangy cheese, sharp crema. I’ll take a fork to the pot when the chips run out.

 photo b66458f9-d74a-4ce0-b8b9-9bbac06532da_zps3lioogaj.jpgAnother must-order is the Pork Pilbil tacos. I still can’t believe the spicy, juicy pork is tomato free. Topped with spicy pickled onions, and spread with some frijoles, these are heavy in a few (messy) bites.

 photo 9783de3d-592b-4d3a-9b70-592d580bf5ce_zpscymgyofa.jpg photo f9006f6c-79fe-4868-b2ae-6dc1414085da_zpsv6fkssqm.jpgI’ve also fallen quite hard for the new Chicken Pipian tacos. Made with a tomatillo sauce, these are completely different from anything on the menu. They are quite subtle, and I do feel like they need a good squeeze of lime juice, but they are so delicious. Soft chicken, a mild nutty sauce and some crunchy cabbage – they are refreshing in-between spicier dishes.

I stuck to just these tacos this time (W went for a burrito, leaving me to try and not order alllll the street food) as I wanted churros (picture above taken from Wahaca’s site). Word of advice, ask for caramel rather than chocolate sauce. It’s so much better.

I adore Mexican food, it’s just perfect for my need for spiciness, finger food and different textures. Have you been to Wahaca before?

Lifestyle: Mother Clucker Fried Chicken

I have a little secret: KFC is my guilty pleasure. I don’t have it often, and even when I do there’s not much of it (a Boneless Banquet for One at most, but generally a Lunchbox – crispy strips are the best!) but I do love it. I could quite happily go without fries, there’s something about the heavily seasoned, juicy, slightly-greasy-but-still-crunchy chicken that really does it for me. Homemade is great (see my recipe) but admittedly doesn’t have the naughty factor that I start craving every few months.

 photo IMG_0650_zpse1df98cd.jpgBUT, dare I say, I think I’ve found something better. After heading to the Art of the Brick (a pretty fabulous art exhibition made of LEGO – seriously go if you find yourself with time between now and January) myself and boyfriend were rather hungry, a little chilly, and getting damp from the lovely November weather. But hey! Street food 100 yards away from the exhibition can’t be turned down. Despite the half-mile walk past warm places to a cash machine and back again… After a debate between a filthy (in a good way) looking cheeseburger and some kind of Venezuelan goodies, we saw this little van. The converted US Army ambulance houses Mother Clucker Fried Chicken. Mac’n’Cheese drew us in, but we added some crispy strips to share. And we are glad we did!

 photo 8872e244-8ec3-4586-bd14-edb2ef17a5d7_zps97de56be.jpgThe Mac was damn good to be honest. Creamy, but weirdly light (though I still left a good amount – it was huge!). Not exactly crispy on top, but there was a contrast between soft pasta, gooey sauce, and more cheese. Decent seasoning, and a great kick from the chillies scattered in the sauce (which were still fresh and juicy too). I need to experiment with adding fresh chilli to a mac’n’cheese, it adds a great freshness. I’m sure you can expect a recipe soon!

 photo IMG_0651_zpsc9c9c5bf.jpgThe chicken, the main event, was just as good. A really decent kick from what tasted like far more than 11 herbs and spices, I reckon KFC would taste bland after these. In fact, there was a huge need for a nearby drink, these combined with the Mac’n’Cheese provided a pretty hefty kick to the back of the throat. Not a hint of sogginess, some parts were even too crunchy – though these served well as a mac-scoop (I’m a classy lady!). The meat was insanely juicy, ridiculously tender. I never wanted it to end. Apart from when I got full, and even then I debated saving it to eat cold a few hours later (I didn’t, I wanted to go to Liberty’s and decided they wouldn’t appreciate fried chicken being carried in).

For the amount of food, the price wasn’t tooooo bad. Street food isn’t cheap anymore, it’s too trendy for that. Spare change isn’t going to cut it, this lunch of a mac each, a portion of crispy chicken and a drink cost a potentially eye-watering £17. But it was damn good, filling, warming, and I’d happily pay it again. KFC, however, now feels overpriced. Currently found at The Truman Brewery, I highly recommend you sniff this van out!

Now I’ve spilled my secret, what’s your guilty pleasure when it comes to food? Any street food vans you recommend?

Lifestyle: Day Out in London

I’m now living less than a half an hour train journey from London. This is great for weekends when I’m not quite sure what to do, although I’m not too sure my bank balance agrees…

 photo 5d186392-1e2d-44fb-b6a2-e3bb22401da7_zps95523877.jpgI knew I had to see the poppies over at the Tower of London (I would have loved to buy one, unfortunately all sold out), so a few weeks ago saw me and my boyfriend heading into the city for a belated anniversary celebration. We saw the poppies, ate Wahaca, did some shopping, browsed Borough Market and cooked/ate steak…all followed by a moonlit walk along the river. A lovely relaxed day, and I took along my camera to practise using it.

 photo 2014-10-11130555_zps9bda5b6c.jpg photo 2014-10-11130549_zpsc849f641.jpg photo 2014-10-11130110_zpsc868ef0e.jpg photo 2014-10-11130056_zpsc8e4e118.jpg photo 2014-10-11130604_zps762c456a.jpgThe poppies were an amazing sight. I can certainly see why people flocked to see them; not only is it a beautiful sight, but it’s sobering to think that every single one of those many flowers represents a life lost. A wonderful tribute to these people, brilliantly thought up, and absolutely stunning.

 photo 2014-10-11160243_zps52409faf.jpg photo de4d6aa9-cc9c-4f60-969f-835a0998ac32_zps1a9f6c8d.jpg photo cba40020-601a-418f-81a5-39ecce17bfe3_zps0d519448.jpg photo 8396b853-d69d-4bad-ab4e-6f2d00ed2a97_zpsf447db23.jpg photo cb6707b8-4c26-4067-974c-3701d0fc6089_zps57e91e14.jpg photo 9503e468-b958-4156-800a-7d70491997bf_zpsa81b1024.jpg photo 2014-10-11155240_zps2ec268a1.jpgWonder how long these would take to kill me?! photo b263b0ed-4ac2-4037-962a-4f5b64ce031e_zps53da36d5.jpg photo 9832aaa7-8f08-4458-a291-8667736625c4_zps03f73642.jpgSpending time in Borough Market is one of our favourite things. There’s always something different to see, always yummy food to try (this time we stuck to a nutty brownie, and a smoothie). One of my favourite place is Spice Mountain. I have a huge, huge, huge list of spices I want to add to my store cupboard (they are so expensive!) and this place makes the list grow every time I have a browse. Kaffir lime leaf powder is the latest addition! I also love, love, love the fresh produce stalls. The place with all the mushrooms is amazing – I just wish they still did the pots of mushrooms where you grew your own!

London is such a lovely city – I hate that my most frequent experience is the tubes on Friday rush-hour when I have a connection to make. So days out like this make me fall back in love with the place. I’ll just have to visit more often!

Out of interest, what’s your favourite thing about London?

Restaurant Review: Steak & Co, Covent Garden

I love London. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a countryside girl at heart, but London gives me a real buzz, and more than anything it excites the foodie in me. I try to be relatively adventurous when eating out – recently I’ve had fabulous meals in a vegetarian pay-by-weight buffet place (I loved it, my boyfriend wasn’t convinced), a charming little Swiss place in Soho, and of course my go-to is the utterly delicious Wahaca. But this time we decided to follow up a recommendation and go pay to cook our own dinner…

 photo 2014-10-11185939_zps266fe77c.jpgWe had decided what we were eating before arriving; steak cooked on a hot stone. The only decision to make was the cut, the butter, the salt, the sauce and the sides. In the end we both went for a (massive) 8oz Rib-Eye. I had garlic butter, mustard salt and pepper sauce, he had chilli butter, chilli sauce and pepper sauce.

 photo ebcb545d-e1dd-42b3-ad6b-b835aa9cd6a8_zps23360018.jpgThe idea is your steak comes underdone – so as I like mine rare it comes to the table blue. You then cook slices to your liking on the hot stone provided, using your flavoured butter, sprinkling with the salt, and dipping into the sauce. A bit theatrical, but the steak is good quality and well-flavoured, and it’s not ridiculously expensive. Our bill came to around £40, which really isn’t bad for central London steak. Mustard salt is delicious, the mushroom sauce I ordered originally should be avoided (the pepper one is lovely!). I’d possibly suggest not getting rib-eye if you like your meat rare – its a cut better suited to being more cooked so the fat renders down.

 photo ff7cc94a-1b61-4889-aa8a-f3fb71fdaf74_zpse56743d0.jpg photo 7f9f8dbf-a96c-401b-891c-a332cffaff06_zps247ae66d.jpgSides were garlic mushrooms for me, sweet potato fries for him. The mushrooms were spectacular, garlicky and cooked to perfection. Only issue was there were so many I couldn’t possibly finish them all. I stole a few sweet potato fries, and surprisingly enjoyed them. Still a little over sweet for my tastebuds though.

 photo 2014-10-11160243_zps52409faf.jpgWe weren’t impressed with the desserts menu at all, instead opting for a wander to Ben & Jerrys at Leictester Square. We had eaten a massive brownie from Borough Market before dinner though!

Have you ever been to a restaurant where you cooked your own food? What do you think about the concept?

In Pictures: Christmas Holiday

I have a lot of pictures to show from my Christmas holiday and as most of today is being spent on a train back to university (I can’t wait to see everyone again, although I’m already missing the people at home!) I thought I’d just do a simple photo-heavy post and show you them all, with a few explanations. Let me know if you want more lifestyle posts like this…here goes!

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2013-12-21 17.45.43Coming back to my mum’s amazingly decorated tree!

2013-12-21 17.49.50Snuggles with this cutie…

2014-01-03 09.43.46…and this one! I enjoyed spending lots of time with my boyfriend. During term time we’re anywhere between 150 and 200 miles apart, and although we try and see each other every fortnight it’s been great to see him every single day for a long period of time. We tried to do a lot of ‘dates’ this holiday to offset me having to study, and it’s been great!

2014-01-09 13.47.01One of our dates included a wander round Borough Market, where we lunched on this yummy paella.

2013-12-31 10.41.18I received some lovely expensive make-up…

2013-12-28 09.22.09…and got myself some fab bargains!

2013-12-23 15.21.05Did a little bit of baking.

2013-12-31 10.39.10-1And made sure I pampered myself!

2014-01-02 13.49.20Made the most of the Christmas leftovers.

2013-12-31 13.31.54Devoured some bread baked by my boyfriend (and resolved to make my own!)

2014-01-04 19.42.19Made some amazingly good Massaman Curry.

2014-01-11 16.19.00Watched a lovely sunset…

2014-01-11 16.20.53…whilst drinking a yummy hot chocolate!

2014-01-13 19.34.51I was treated to my favourite meal, fish pie! Thank you to both my boyfriend and his mum for their joint effort in this meal, it was wonderful!

BeHwDX8IYAAjbmpAnd this was topped off by lemon-y pancakes with the papers the next morning.

2014-01-15 20.48.02One of our date nights was a lovely Italian meal (paid for via a voucher we received for Christmas) which we finished off with a trip to the local cinema purely for the Ben & Jerry’s counter! I went for Peanut Butter Cup, with is my absolute favourite, and Smores. The perfect combination in my eyes!

And finally, perhaps best of all…

1157450_10151785402043516_1823432763_nYep, I managed to secure my Year in Industry placement which forms part of my degree! I feel really proud of myself for gaining one so quickly, it was my first non-retail/leisure interview, and I didn’t have to start panic-applying to every single placement I could find! I have a few posts set to publish on the University of Kent’s Employability blog about my application journey, but as soon as they are up I’ll be reblogging on here to give some tips. Back to the subject- I’m looking forward to working within the Pricing team of one of the UK’s biggest insurance companies from July, it’ll definitely be a change from university, and it’s an amazing opportunity. So excited!

 

How was your Christmas holiday period?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#2)

I wasn’t the greatest at updating last week’s post, but I’m hoping to improve over time! I’m struggling for cash a little this week so trying to use up what I have, and  hopefully come up with some inventive recipes involving lentils at some point…

Thursday – Stir Fry

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I try and make a stir-fry a regular occurrence in my meal planning. I find them cheap (and a great way to use up vegetables), healthy, quick, and satisfying – something about noodles just screams junk food! I’ll often just use veg, but I cooked a roast chicken a while back, and when stripping the meat off the bones filled three freezer bags. I just defrosted some of this shredded meat and tossed in it.

Just look how colourful this was before I drenched it in sweet chilli and soy sauces!

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Friday – Sausages & Mash

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I love sausages and mash! I throw my sausages (completely uncooked) in the slow cooker with some gravy, and it makes a really easy dinner. Throw some carrots in too, and you’ve got soft and stewed carrots (the best way to have carrots in my opinion!), serve with peppery mash and a load of green veg, and you have a very healthy and easy dinner.

I didn’t have carrots with mine, as I forgot to throw them in with the sausages (and I hate carrots unless raw, stir-fried or slow cooked), but I did eat two types of cabbage and some broccoli.

Saturday – Wahaca

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I met my boyfriend and a friend in London, where we did some sight-seeing (far too early for so many Christmas displays Harrods!), caught a showing of Matilda (highly recomended), missed my last direct train back to Canterbury and ate yummy food. I will do a post soon on the newest offerings from Wahaca, as there are some fabulous things!

Sunday – Toad in the Hole

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It was fellow blogger Libby’s turn to cook our house meal this weekend, and she went for for Toad in the Hole. Check out my version!

MondayI will be going for a pasta dish, probably a tomato-free bolognese (recipe coming soon…)

Tuesday – Some form of lentil curry, ideas welcome! (I have red lentils and mung beans, curry paste, various spices and stock, if that helps?!)

Does anyone have any really cheap and healthy budget recipes?

Restaurant Review: Mexican Night Out at Wahaca

This is going to be a very odd kind of restaurant review. Mainly because it will not focus on one visit to the restaurant in question, but several, and so will skip over all but the most outstanding points about the service received. It really is a foodie post, but a foodie post is well deserved by London restaurant chain Wahaca!

 

I can’t quite remember how we discovered Wahaca, but two summers ago me and the boyfriend first visited their Covent Garden restaurant, and were immediately blown away. The service is friendly and quick, the food absolutely delicious, and the prices more than reasonable (which can’t be said for most places around Covent Garden!). I can’t say its the perfect place for a date, as eating some of their tacos can get a little messy, but its the perfect informal night out for friends, families, established couples, or if you want to see whether your new girlfriend actually can stand to look less than perfect in front of you. On that last point – I once read a book where a man took his future wife to Nando’s for a first date as he wanted to see if she was afraid to get messy. I like that idea!

Anyway, we’ve had an almost 100% satification rate when it comes to eating out at Wahaca. In fact, the one meal that wasn’t brilliant (and to be honest, it was the worst kind of meal if you understand me!) was dealt with amazingly by staff, and I have utmost confidence in the company. I would recommend them unreservedly!

 

What I’m going to do is run through some of the items I’ve eaten, and what I loved. There’s pictures of a few things, but not of everything (I’m too greedy to wait!). I will point out that some pictures will have half-eaten dishes in the background. This is because Wahaca bring things out as they are ready. A strategy I like, in that food is fresh, but if you want to control the timing and pace, I suggest you order a few dishes at a time. We did this at our last visit (to the Charlotte Street restaurant, which is great on a summers night, and offered the best service ever!) and it worked well. Throughout this post I will also give a quick guide to eating at Wahaca when avoiding tomatoes, although please bear in mind you should always double check with your waiter, as recipes do change.

First of all, you can’t book a table at Wahaca, so at the busiest restaurants you can be waiting quite a while to sit down. We’ve never waiting for longer than 15 minutes, although I have read reviews of people that have, so do bear that in mind! While you wait you can generally perch in the bar area and enjoy a delicious cocktail. For those of you not drinking I highly, highly recommend the Virgin Mojito – so good!

When you sit down, you’ll be asked if you want any nibbles while you read the menu. We always go for Frijoles and tortilla chips. Wahaca’s Frijoles are basically refried black beans, and are probably one of my favourite things in the world. I crave them virtually constantly, although luckily have managed to recreate a close-ish version, a recipe that I will share soon. Wahaca’s tortilla chips are also very good, freshly fried and crisp, and perfectly seasoned. But the Frijoles are definitely the star, I’m getting hungry just thinking about them! Mmm…frijoles.

2013-06-25 18.23.53They aren’t exactly the prettiest of foods, but they are so good! They are dark, creamy, and rich, but feel quite good for you (which I highly doubt they are, really!), topped with crema (which is a not-so-sour kind of soured cream) and then some crumbled salty cheese. I’ve heard on the interwebs that they used to come topped with cubes of chorizo, but I’ve never seen this on the menu.

Also pictured above is my favourite drink at Wahaca – a virgin Mojito. I try not to drink when I’m in London, as often I’m an hour plus away from home/bed so its really not a good idea (as otherwise I’d be having a proper Mojito!), but this is lovely and refreshing, with lots of apple, mint and lime. Also good is the traditional Horchata, a rice milk drink flavoured with cinnamon.

 

Now, what should you order? We’ve mainly ordered street food in the past. I’ve had one dish of the main menu, and that is the one that caused the bad experience, so we’ll skip over that as the thought still makes my stomach turn slightly. Don’t let that put you off though, as it was a delicious dish and I hope I’ll be able to try it again at some point!

So, street food. It comes in a couple of categories – tacos, tostadas, tacquitos and quesadillas. There is also the Wahaca selection, which is a preset deal of various dishes. I would suggest this for beginners (who don’t have a tomato allergy!). Then there are ‘Street Food Specials’ which change with the seasons.

First, I’m going to discuss the Street Food Specials, and will also mention Wahaca’s Southbank Experiment. It’s impossible for me to give you an up-to-date review of the specials, but they are occasionally repeated so I’ll give you a brief low-down on what I’ve had in the past. A couple of years ago they did fried squid rings with a chipotle dressing, which were amazing crisp, and for a non-seafood restaurant pretty spectacular. No idea if the dressing was tomato-free as back then I was still risking small amounts of tomato. There were some delightful pulled pork tacos with a tomatillo salsa, which were absolutely stunning – just the right amount of texture, and a huge spicy kick. I loved these! Also a variation on pork tacos, the Pastor’s tacos (pictured below) served this spring were well received. Chunks of pork, various other things, although with a pineapple salsa was definitely refreshing, although I found that anything more than tiny dices of pineapple was a bit too fruity for my taste. On the non-tomato-free front there was a kind of spaghetti/noodle dish that didn’t receive huge praise from my boyfriend – I think it was quite spicy, served quite hot, but didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the food.

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Onto the Southbank Experiment now! This is a teeny tiny pop-up style restaurant in shipping containers, in a great location, with a great atmosphere. It includes most of the regular menu, but also some experimental dishes which may end up in more restaurants if they get enough likes – this is where the pulled pork tomatillo tacos were born. Out of the many dishes I’ve eaten at the Southbank experiment, one stood out hugely. It was a sharing platter, included taco ‘shells,’ some green rice, some frijoles, and then a hot casserole pot full of spicy, warming, perfectly flavoured pulled stewed steak. This was absolutely delicious, the best thing I have EVER eaten, and something I would love to see on the menu. Wahaca take note!

Now, tacos. At Wahaca tacos don’t come in those horrible hard shells that are impossible to eat. They come in thin, mini tortilla wrap style things, which you can bite through and not lose (all of) your filling. Yum yum! The selection is – pork pibil, chicken tinga, a steak one (with or without cheese), a cactus and courgette concoction (which I cannot wait to convince my other half to try) and a plantain one. Out of these, my stand out favourite is the pork. It might run down your arm, but it sure is good! Drooling a little just thinking about it… The chicken tinga is very tomato-ey, so obviously I avoid it. The steak isn’t my favourite, mainly due to the texture, and I positively disliked the plantain – mainly because I had it in a sweet taco at the Southbank once and loved it served with salted caramel, chocolate and peanuts!

Excuse the bad photos, I was too busy wanting to get stuck in, but here are some pork pibil tacos

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Toastados are something that I’ve never been particularly keen to try, however I sneaked a non-boyfriend (sorry W!) visit to Wahaca in with my dad recently and we tried the seafood ceviche version. This was lovely and light, with a great kick, and seemed perfect for summer – I will definitely order again!

Onto taquitos. These are tortillas filled with a filled, deep fried, and topped with a crema dressing and some salad. I ask for these without salsas to avoid tomatoes, but unfortunately they are better with.  I love, love, love this dish! The tortilla is lovely and crunchy, the salad still makes it feel healthy. Both versions are delicious – one is a potato one, and the other is a seasoned chicken – not as spicy as a lot of things, but a great dish for starting out with Mexican.

Finally, quesadillas. I must confess I’m not the biggest fan of these, as I find them too rich. However the broad bean and potato version is quite light, gooey with cheese and reminds me a little of a pizza – I do enjoy it, but not at the expense of some of the other amazing things Wahaca serves up!

That’s my street food selection – if I was choosing I’d say pork pibil, both tacquitos, and a seafood ceviche, followed by a quesadilla if there’s room. You can order a pre-set selection, but obviously with my allergies that’s out!

Now, what you must absolutely, no arguments, do is order pudding. Churros to be specific.

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These are Mexican doughnuts, dusted with cinnamon, and dipped into either a dark chocolate sauce, or a rich salted caramel (my preference). Definitely save room for these, as they finish a meal off perfectly. And if you have even more room, the tequila hot chocolate is pretty good too!

So if you are near one and feeling a bit peckish, I thoroughly recommend Wahaca. The food is spicy and sharing-friendly, making it great for a gathering. And the prices are equally as good – the only time I’ve ever spent more than £35 on a meal for two (which in central London, eating so much your boyfriend moans about how full he is, isn’t bad at all!) is when I had a £50 voucher to burn, and ended up supplementing my meal with goodies bought from the shop in Charlotte street.

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Mmm, Wahaca food at home…and that’s a blog post coming soon!

Has anyone eaten at Wahaca? What would you recommend?

Square Meal

What’s In My Handbag (or What Fits In My Massive Satchel)

This post is a little different from my usual posts. When I saw Money Supermarket were running a competition, I decided I would kill two birds with one stone – enter it, and show you all what I can fit in my satchel – something valuable as you’ll be able to see that it is indeed big enough and deep enough for an everyday school/college/university bag!

I’m still drafting the second instalment of reviews of my satchel from The Leather Satchel Co, but I feel it is getting possibly a little mean of me to not show any pictures anymore. So I thought I’d do a “what’s in my handbag” post. This is not a typical handbag contents for me (although I will briefly describe that at the end) but rather one for a mini-break. The mini-break described here in fact.

So, here’s the outside of my bag. So pretty. Ignore any heads which reflect in the patent leather, I’m having a relaxed greasy-hair-no-makeup day after waking up with a migraine.

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Also ignore my dog poking his head up above the bag. I was going to crop him out, but he’s just too cute! Here he is again…

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And so to the insides!

In the front pocket is my Filofax. I probably didn’t need this over the weekend (if I’m honest it needs pruning, and it is really heavy, and as a result my bag was far heavier than it needed to be – and walking around London for hours with a heavy bag is not overly fun!). Maybe if I got the London tube and street map inserts, which I really want but can’t justify, I’d be able to forgive the extra weight more! But anyway, the front pocket of this satchel is the perfect size for a stuffed personal Filofax. Which is excellent as my Filofax really is my must-have in any bag (see here), it contains everything (contact details, important dates, deadlines, etc) and I’d truly be lost without it. The satchel clearly isn’t too full with the amount of stuff in it either, plenty of room for more!

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Then there is the rest of the inside. The important/interesting content is pictured here:

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There are two cute paper bags, from shopping done over the break. The yellow one is from the bakery (you know, the one where I sent boy to fetch croissants, and pain au chocolat, and the one that bakes awesome bread). The brown one is from Wahaca; we had a fabulous meal there, and had to buy ingredients from the shop to make up the value of a voucher. The bakery bag obviously wasn’t needed after lunch, and the Wahaca bag didn’t seem strong enough to hold the ingredients, so these were transferred to another bag.

Then we have specific items relating to the mini-break. Train and theatre tickets in the envelopes. The theatre programme. An A-Z of London (not photographed here as I had to give it back to my boyfriends parents on returning). A whole packet of plasters (if just out for the day I usually rely on the 2 or 3 kept in my Filofax).

And then the everyday items.

  • Purse. This is a lovely dusky pink one from Accessorize. I actually made a mistake and ordered the incorrect one, as they did have one the exact same shade as my Filofax (yes, I do like thinks matching!) but these coordinate well, and it closes securely. I know I said previously that my Filofax is generally my purse – but when I have a lot of coins (as in London – I love Camden Market where a large amount of people/places don’t take card payments) I like to use a purse as well.
  • Kindle. I love my Kindle! I read a lot (come to think of it, I read and write a lot more than a mathematical science student really should, surely I should spent my time playing with my calculator…) and since I started university I missed having a big bookcase of reading material to hand. A Christmas present of a Kindle was the perfect answer to this, and I know I couldn’t be without it now. It’s also lovely to know I have a lot of extra weight available when I go on holiday – I usually take 12-14 books on a fortnight’s holiday, and last year we became the group unpacking at the check-in desks of Zurich airport… My Kindle is currently housed in a lovely Radley case, which I fell in love with the moment I saw it. It is lovely and secure, a nice neutral colour, but still different, and of excellent quality.
  • Umbrella. I’m a sucker for a nicely designed umbrella, and this vintage-style one from Primark is my current favourite. For the price, it has held up remarkably well, and is currently one of the only ones I have ever owned to last an entire winter (the other we found in a bar in Turkey, used it during a horrendous downpour, and which has lasted a ridiculous four years and is still going strong).
  • Sunglasses. I’m ashamed to say I rarely wear sunglasses, as I feel they don’t suit my face. However I found these in this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan (they are a match to my boyfriend’s everyday glasses). For some reason, taking these didn’t jinx our chance of sun over the last few days!
  • Keys. Note the cute picture of me and my boyfriend. He made me this keyring for a Valentine’s present, and there’s a disgustingly romantic note on the other side. I love carrying it though, cheers me up if I need it! He’s a budding design-y person, so if you’re interested in having someone design something similar, or indeed anything at all, contact me via the Facebook page and I’ll see if he can help.
  • Card Holder. I generally keep this within my Filofax. It’s actually made by Filofax, and completely matches my Malden. I treated myself to it after receiving an instalment/ of my scholarship at university (for academic excellence no less), as I found it difficult to negotiate ticket barriers and a Filofax whilst travelling through London during Friday rush-hour. The joys of a long distance relationship. I definitely recommend something like this if you travel regularly, or alternatively as a nice looking holder for business cards.

And that’s what generally goes in my bag, especially for a mini-break.

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This bag is realllyyyy my university/student/I’m-really-organised bag. It will also, I hope, last long enough to be my bag I use for work when I eventually graduate, although it should at least get me to my industrial placement which will begin next summer. Because of this, it’s usual contents will be rather different to what I’ve described above. The following photos are a little bit improvised, as most of my university stuff is packed away in boxes in the garage.

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You can see from the above photo that my bag will be a lot fuller than with the contents discussed above! The next photo shows just how full it is – it’s NOT crammed, and I could still fit more it, and the straps definitely aren’t straining. But its comfortably full and, as its such a heavy bag, I’d struggle to carry it if it was filled anymore!

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There will always be my Filofax in the front pocket, or at least somewhere in my bag. There will be an A4 folder (this bag also fits an arch lever, amazingly, although not much else would go in with it!) and spare A4 paper (Ryman’s narrow ruled refill, specifically!). There would be my pencil case, and at least one calculator. Most likely a mini-makeup bag for those essential touch ups – Benefit is my go-to brand for this, as I love their pencils. Next year, there will be a lunch box and water bottle, which fit in quite nicely. A lovely classy umbrella. The only thing I’m slightly worried about is where my keys will go. There’s no pocket (other than the front one) in the bag, and I know perfectly well my keys will just fall to the bottom. I’m currently thinking of some kind of zip back which would clip onto the rings where the strap goes, but I’ve not found quite the right thing just yet. If anyone sees anything, please let me know!

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So that’s a little preview of my bag, the type of things that fit into it, and what will hopefully be generally in it next year. A bigger, better, “proper” review of my satchel, or at least part two of it, will be coming soon! But here’s just another photo of it – I couldn’t resist!

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It’s now important for me to briefly analyse the cost of what’s generally in my handbag. Just thinking about my Filofax and Kindle, we’re on just shy of £150 (eek!). Then there’s whatever is inside (luckily I don’t tend to carry cash unless I know I’m somewhere I’ll need it), any tickets (if on a mini-break), ID, make-up (as my ‘touch-ups’ are generally Benefit items, this amounts to a lot), and various random goodies. A typical non-university say would easily see me carrying around probably £250 worth of stuff. Then my bag alone would ‘retail’ at approximately £185. This is assuming my phone isn’t in my bag, as it’s usually in my hand or pocket. To be honest, despite it being classed as a ‘good’ Smartphone, it doesn’t work and I don’t value it – to the point where I don’t bother to pay to insure it. But for arguments sake, if we included it, my bag contents would go upwards of £750. If I was in university, the cost would probably be closer to £150 – I don’t tend to take my Kindle, and again my phone would be in hand. Having considered that, it’s still a surprising amount that I carry around each day, and I think I’d definitely be more wary to pick-pocketers now (having been the victim of an attempted one before, I am a lot more confident with my satchel as it’s so secure). I will point out this though – it may be worth the least amount of anything in my bag, but if anyone tried to steal my lunch, I would be entirely unimpressed. So take the phone, leave the sandwiches!

Strawberries, Sunshine, Sightseeing and a Show: Romantic Mini-Break in London on a Budget

Many, many months ago I had to deal with one of the worst aspects of being in a relationship; what to buy them for Christmas/Birthday. This is made all the worse by my other half very inconsiderately having his birthday at the beginning of January. So two presents in just a few short weeks. This stretches both my pocket and my brain, as I do generally want to treat him to something special. For the first year, I went generic male present with a watch and wallet. The year after was his eighteenth, so I found 18 little meaningful (I hope!) things. This year I cheated and moved away from the tangible goods (see, I did learn something in Economics lectures!) and went with an experience. I booked tickets to see the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory musical (which, by the way, is fabulous and if you get a chance you should definitely go!), and a hotel in Covent Garden. I say hotel, I mean a travellodge. Well, student budget and all… Anyway, this trip was taken over the last few days, so I thought I’d blog about the experience, blog about interesting things to do in London, and hopefully offer a few tips on how to survive a few days in London without spending too much money.

 

First of all, transport. We (or I) booked our train tickets from our home town wayyyy in advance. Well, about 8 or so weeks ago. Doing this meant we got a excellent deal, but it did mean we were limited to exactly timed trains. But it saved us a lot of money, and I think it worked out to be around £3.95 each way, per person. A generic one-month return is generally around £25, so we saved a considerable amount of money. I recommend any young person gets a 16-25 rail card. Mine has more than paid for itself (I only have to do two journeys to the boy’s university to make up what I my parents paid for it). Then look around for the cheapest deals, and try to book as far in advance as possible. A trip to the boy’s, with railcard, costs a scary £56+ booking the same week of travel. Booking in advance I have managed to reduce this to under £40. However, train prices for next year seem to have skyrocketed, and currently I am less than impressed at the prices, even for trips in September. I also recommend you follow 10 Ways to Have More Money As A Student Without Working, as they often have deals whereby you can gain vouchers to use on Red Spotted Hanky, a train-booking site. I prefer this site, as they don’t charge booking fees (ahem, trainline) and it is free to have tickets delivered to your address.

For the tube, it IS pricey. The standard travelcard for zones 1-2 (which is generally all you will need, unless you want to visit Stratford shopping centre) is £7-something, which is quite frankly ridiculous. But, if you first state that you have a railcard, you can then get a card covering all 6 zones, for £5-something. Definitely the cheapest and most flexible option, although the ticket machines don’t exactly make it easy for you to find it!

 

For where to stay, I’m not sure you could beat the Travellodge in London. The prices in the area are just extortionate, with the only other affordable options being hostels where we’d be sharing a room. Not exactly romantic if you know what I mean…
I booked the Covent Garden travellodge for around £47 for one night, with an additional £1.50 cancellation insurance. This turned out to be far better inside than out (the exterior of the place looks, to be honest, pretty horrible and grim!), which a very welcoming reception area (although the self check-in machines did annoy me slightly – I do like to talk to a real person occasionally!). The room itself was spotless, the bathroom not so. It was clean, apart from the bath which needed a good wash before I used it! The room was also lovely in its decoration, and smelt very fresh. And we got this view, what more could we want…?

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It was a surprisingly quiet night for a stay in the middle of London, with an exceptionally comfortable bed. Even with my recent bout of insomnia, I managed a good bit of sleep. Recommended, particularly if you want somewhere close to Covent!

 

Now, for food; a romantic dinner for two. Please, please, please; whatever you do, don’t just turn up at a restaurant as you will pay a fortune. Look around, find deals, book in advance. I spent a long time looking for a nice pre-theatre menu. There are some lovely ones out there, but unfortunately with an allergy to tomatoes I was so limited in choice I decided against them. Instead I found an offer at Cafe des Amis, a lovely restaurant just off Covent Garden. I was first introduced to the place by my dad late last year, and really enjoyed the food. And this offer was far too good to pass up; two course, a glass of proseco, for two, for a grand total of £28. It had to be paid for in advance, via Paypal. And as I have £5 credit on my account (a joining incentive if I remember correctly) this made it even better value for money. I duly paid for and booked a table, and then slobbered over my laptop as I stared at the online menu. I’m notoriously known between friends and family for taking a long time to decide what to order, so I started in advance. It definitely made the decision easier on the night!

For my starter, I went for a crab risotto, topped with scallops, and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.

risotto

This photo isn’t mine (for credits see the end of this post – I must say it is far better than any I could have taken!) but it definitely shows the delicacy of the dish. Mine was topped with rather less green stuff, although I still picked it off – I don’t like restaurants who insist on garnishing like this, as I find it rarely compliments the dish. The risotto was wonderful – rich, creamy, sweet and fishy, with a fabulous bite where the rice had been perfectly cooked. The sauce disappeared beneath the other aspects of the dish, but it wasn’t missed. The scallops, however, were definitely the star of the show. Cooked to absolute perfection, they melted in the mouth and were no-where near the chewiness that tends to put me off ordering them. A fabulous dish, one that I truly loved.

My boyfriend opted for a ravioli, of spinach and ricotta, with a sun-dried tomato dressing. The dressing was very sauce-like, but apparently it tasted great. For obvious reasons I didn’t try the dish, and nor have I managed to source a photo. I also failed at finding a photo of his main; roast rump of lamb, with buttered green beans, pomme mousseline, and lamb jus. I have eaten this dish in the past, and I can confirm is is utterly superb and well worth a try.

For my main, I went for the venison medallions on a grain mustard mash, with a shallot and port jus. The menu advertised buttered salsify; I’m not sure if I received carrots instead, but whatever the vegetables were, they weren’t cooked enough and were far too crunchy. Again, this photo is not mine, but its very accurate to what I received. The meat was perfectly cooked, I definitely prefer how French restaurants cook meat (never overdone, if anything under what you ordered – so if you don’t like blood order well done). I love my meat almost running around the field, so it was perfect for me! The venison was also perfectly flavoured; this was the first time I had eaten it, and I will definitely order again. The mustard mash was a little too strong for my liking, although it worked extremely well with the sweet and sticky jus. Another more-than-satisfactory dish.

Venision

We declined pudding, and then had a bit of embarrassment when asking for the bill – we knew we had nothing left to pay, just the service charge, and this confused the waitress slightly. If you do this, I recommend ordering bread at the beginning, or an extra drink, so that you have more than the service charge to pay!

Service was excellent, if a little too fast. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic, until the adverts came on the playlist softly playing in the background – this spoilt the mood immensely, although it was quickly restored once the music recommenced. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, but would I pay full price? Probably not. My two courses, both the most expensive choices, were £11.50 and £24.50 – so we made a huge saving. Previous meals there have been using a Taste Card, which meant 50% off the food bill. In my opinion, prices are too high normally, but with the commonly-occurring deals, its a place well worth a visit as it is truly lovely food.

 

Obviously, I have only discussed one meal so far – and there are obviously many more that need to be eaten if staying in London more than a few hours. So,  eating in London on a budget. A restaurant (sort of chain, there’s only a handful of restaurants, all in/around London) that I LOVE and that is affordable is Wahaca, and this will feature in a blog post of its own over the coming weeks. If you’re staying overnight, particularly around Covent Garden, I heavily discourage you from choosing to add a breakfast to your hotel stay. In the travellodge we were offered this option for £7.95 per person. I decided to send the boy out in the morning to one of the many local bakeries (we went for the Balthazar Boulangerie, attached to the restaurant) for pain aux chocolat and croissants. These were superb, far better than any I have eaten before.

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He also came back with a fabulous full-sized baguette (the total of this came to, I believe although he didn’t divulge, just under £10 – a bargain for the quality) which would make up the bones of our lunch. We had originally planned to visit a food market to buy additional bits for a picnic. But it was a Tuesday, and we were struggling to find one within an acceptable distance, especially with our outdated A-Z street map. So instead we popped into an M&S and had a browse at their new/improved picnic range. I have to say, there is a huge amount of stuff I’d love to try in the range, but we went for the basics – a chorizo selection, and a punnet of strawberries, for the grand total of around £4.50. We went and sat in Green Park, in the rare English sunshine (I even managed to take my cardigan off…) and ate baguette torn with our hands, and chorizo, then fed each other strawberries, each grimacing at the icky display of public affection we were taking part in. It was a wonderfully romantic picnic, and incredibly cheap (far cheaper than two eating out at McDonalds!) for the amount of food we got. So, if in London on a budget, buy a picnic!

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Now, for “things to do”. We could have gone really cheap, and visited (like the child inside me wanted) the free-entry science museum. There’s a whole host of free museums to take advantage of, but for us the weather was too nice to stay indoors.

After coaxing me up from the grass where I was soaking up the sun, my boyfriend decided he wanted ice-cream. After reading the Londoner’s review of an interesting ice-cream parlour place in Camden Market, I knew it was the perfect place for us to visit. Chin Chin Labs offers yummy ice-cream to satisfy me, weird machines and chemicals to (hopefully) keep my wonderful nerd of a boyfriend entertained (I lie, we’re both a little bit like that…)! The decor is nice and minimalist, with fabulous chairs (I love metal ones, my fashion sense of skirts disagrees as they were a little chilly!). The menu is also minimalist – a choice of four ice-cream flavours, with about 3 sauces, and then maybe 8 toppings. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love; they GRILL white chocolate. Mind is still boggling at that! We quickly decided to go for the specials (vanilla and chocolate flavours and permanently offered, with two specials per week) – I had “Strawberry and Hay” and chose a topping of the aforementioned grilled white chocolate, and W (the boy) went for “Griddled Peach” topped with a pistachio and cardamon crumb. The peach is dairy free, which was amazing as upon tasting it was so creamy, so I’m planning to take my dairy-free mum to London just to introduce her at some point. I couldn’t decide which I liked loved more. The staff pour the right amount of mixture for one serving into a KitchenAid mixer (my boy was already excited – I think it’s a lifetime ambition for us to own one in our future house, though we currently argue over what colour) and whilst it is mixing add liquid nitrogen. There is a lot of gas which is released at this point – not to worry as you don’t consume any. Or if you do then its a negligible amount. But its worth it for the ice-cream! Its then scooped into a bowl, and the topping of your choice added. At £3.95 for each, its not cheap. But this seemed to hit my pocket less hard than the £3.50 ice cream cost in the theatre the night before. It was definitely worth it, for the portion size, the smoothness of the ice-cream (the nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick, it prevents ice-crystals forming and makes the smoothest mixture imaginable), and the unique flavours. Whoever discovered the strawberry and hay combination needs a pat on the back, for it was simply gorgeous, and I hope I will get to try it again! The grilled white chocolate was a complete revelation, and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash (they don’t take card payments) to purchase a bag of it. Or a truckload. So good, and I will be back!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of Chin Chin Labs, although I have emailed them to ask if they can supply any, as I’d love to show you the experience a little more fully. I did however manage to get this picture:

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That is clearly the face of a boy who has tried something that has change his life (I like to think he looked like that when he first met me!). As we were eating our ice-cream, in the hot sun, on freezing chairs, we noticed a board outside the neighboring shop. It was advertising Chocolate Bacon. I think if I’d have refused to go in I’d have been leaving London on my own! The shop was called Mighty Fine, and they make chocolate and fudge on-site, where you can view the production process. There was a lot of fudge to sample and chocolate to try, but we only had eyes for one thing, the chocolate bacon. At £1.50 per rasher, I’m glad it wasn’t me paying, but it was a delightful mix of salty and sweet, and worth it! Be warned, more than one rasher and you will be ill, as it is rich, but it is also delicous. We washed it down with one of their homemade ‘slush puppies’ which reminded us of our youth, but a lot better – this was a lemonade ice base, topped with a choice of either raspberry or passionfruit coulis. We went for raspberry, and it was immensely pretty (I insisted on carrying it) and very refreshing. A must on a hot day, and on a par with the rest of the drinks prices in Camden Market.

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As for completely free-activities, I so recommend walking along the Thames. I love it, especially along the Southbank. It’s fabulously touristy, without having to dodge them (as in Oxford Street), you get fabulous views of the city, discover hidden gems (there’s many nice restaurants, and they’re noticeably cheaper on the north side of the river), and on a hot day like yesterday there’s a cool breeze which was very much welcomed. There’s the street performers in Covent which are well worth watching, although the acts are getting old (the same man has repeated the same performance over the entire length of mine and the boy’s relationship), and general window shopping to do. Camden is great for a wander round, but not with a suitcase. I also aim to head over to Portobello Market for a browse, and visit Primrose Hill for the view at some point.

 

For the more extravagant, you may want to see a show or musical. I highly recommend Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but it obviously depends on taste – we’re a couple that are just two kids at heart, and we loved it. The scenes and props were utterly magical, the acting and singing superb. Another excellent product is War Horse, we have seen it twice (it really is that good) and I would also recommend the Bodyguard. A word of warning, don’t take a tall boyfriend into the balcony unless you have booked aisle seats. He will have to sit squished and folded up for several hours. One advantage of having short legs I guess!

 

So that’s it, my guide to doing London a little more cheaply. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d happy hear them – I’m always open to new cheap ideas for days/nights out!  For now I’ll leave you with one of the views across the Thames (taken a few months ago, hence the winter coat modelled by the photo-bomber…)

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Feature image courtesy of Love of London.

Cafe des Amis images from Food Spotting, and Holly Hearts Food.