July, 2014


27
Jul 14

Boqueria, Battersea

Market0

There’s a smart new tapas restaurant in the heart of Battersea. Boquería recently launched its second London restaurant, opened by none other than the Spanish Ambassador. Being a fan of their existing site on Acre Lane, halfway between Clapham and Brixton, I jumped at the opportunity to see what was going on at their new restaurant.

Occupying a prominent corner position, Boquería makes a smart first impression, with plenty of outside seating and a glimpse through the windows into the already packed out dining room at 7:30pm on a Friday. Greeted with a warm welcome, we were seated at the back of the tastefully decorated dining room – a position from which we could observe the dining room for the evening. There was a steady stream of diners throughout the evening – all of whom were served in a very friendly manner by the super-efficient, hard working waiters.

Starting off with some Cava, we took a look at the menu, whilst nibbling on some delicious jamón – not just any jamón, but acorn-fed pata negra jamón Ibérico, and some truly wonderful tomato bread. The quality of the ingredients used in just these two dishes filled me with excitement for what was to come. When you’re serving dishes as simple as these, the quality of ingredients is key – and is what transforms a dish from being good to exceptional.

Everything we tried from here on in was also very good. The chorizo was fantastic, the croquetas are to die for, and there is a wonderful selection of truly authentic, well-cooked Spanish dishes on offer. What was particularly nice about the experience was hearing other tables talking about how much they were also enjoying their meal.

The wine list at Boquería is really good, and of course, the really authentic choice of drink to pair with tapas is sherry. There are some excellent sherries on the menu, with the standout, for me being the Solara 1847 Oloroso. If you prefer white, I would recommend trying the cava – the Castillo Perelada rose cava is lovely, and red drinkers can’t go wrong with the Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2009.

This is authentic Spanish cooking at its very best. In fact, I’d go as far as saying the food on offer at Boquería is actually better than a lot of food you’ll find in Spain. And I say that having spent some time living there.

Although it’s newly opened, Boquería has found its feet very quickly, producing great food, and serving it confidently and efficiently, in a way that seems to be keeping the people of Battersea, and me, coming back for more.

A hearty dinner for two with a few glasses of wine is around £75, Thank you to Boquería for inviting me along.


3
Jul 14

Exploring Edinburgh

Edinburgh. Photo: VisitScotland

Edinburgh. Photo: VisitScotland

Edinburgh. The capital of Scotland. Named the ‘Athens of the North’ crediting its exquisite architecture and breathtaking surroundings, and famed for so many things. Fans of Harry Potter, Inspector Rebus, art, design, history, comedy, food and whisky will all find so much of interest in Edinburgh.

I recently spent the weekend discovering Edinburgh and had such a wonderful time. It is truly one of the great cities in the world and I urge anyone who hasn’t been to go.

What to do

Visitors to Edinburgh are spoilt with so many wonderful things to see and do. Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous landmarks, and is really interesting. The views from the Castle are spectacular and wide-reaching, and you’ll be able to visit the Scottish crown jewels inside, too.

Calton Hill is a remarkable landmark. It’s a steep, but short walk to get up there, and absolutely worth the climb. With equally impressive views and interesting landmarks, such as the Nelson Monument (which you can climb to admire the city from an even greater altitude) and the dramatic half-built Athenian acropolis providing some wonderful photo opportunities.

Just walking around the compact city centre provides so much to see and enjoy. Take a camera, as every corner provides a new photo opportunity. A walk down the Royal Mile to Holyroodhouse Palace is recommended, and if you’re feeling energetic, carry on up to Arthur’s Seat for more sensational views. Pause to take it all in in the beautiful Princes Street Gardens in the very heart of the city.

If you can, head out to Leith, just a few miles outside of Edinburgh city centre to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia which is on permanent exhibition here. It is fascinating to look around, with all decks open to visitors, from the Queen’s former bedroom, to the engine room. Be sure to stop and take afternoon tea on board – a champagne cream tea is not to be missed.

Where to eat

You are spoilt for choice for excellent food in Edinburgh. VisitScotland operates a scheme called ‘Taste our Best’, a scheme awarding a badge to all establishments meeting their criteria of excellence, and ensuring that at least 40% of the produce that makes it onto your plate has come from Scotland.

Highlights from our visit include the amazing Contini restaurant on George Street. This is a modern and elegant family-owned Italian restaurant serving superb quality authentic food using the finest ingredients. You can really taste the quality of the produce used across their delicious menu. The service is top-notch and the owners were in on our Friday night visit looking after guests, which I think underlines their commitment to excellence.

The Witchery is an Edinburgh classic, a most atmospheric restaurant sat up on the hill near to the Castle. It is a popular choice both for lunch and dinner. The menu is fairly traditional with a strong Scottish influence. Book ahead if you plan to visit as this place is popular and often busy with tourists.

Where to stay

The luxury hotel of choice in Edinburgh is The Balmoral. Owned by the Rocco Forte group, it was actually the hotel of choice for J.K. Rowling to finish writing Harry Potter. There is even a plaque in the corridor to mark the achievement.

For a more affordable option, the Ten Place Hotel is very clean and comfortable and just a few minutes walk from the very heart of the city.

Getting here

Edinburgh is very well connected by rail to the whole country. Once you arrive, Edinburgh Waverley railway station is situated right in the very heart of the city, making it very easy to get around.

Edinburgh airport is also now connected to the city centre by tram, making it easier and quicker then ever to travel into the city.

For more information on things to do and places to see, please visit the Visit Scotland website. Taste Our Best is VisitScotland’s food and drink Quality Assurance scheme, designed to encourage more food service businesses to use and promote Scottish produce to give consumers choice.  Taste Our Best makes it easier for visitors to find places where they can be sure of a truly Scottish quality eating experience.  The award is made to hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, visitor attractions, restaurants, cafes and takeaways that meet both the quality and Scottish produce criteria. My visit was organized by VisitScotland.


2
Jul 14

Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi

Photo: Ritz Carlton

Photo: Ritz Carlton

Visitors to the UAE will, most likely have a high expectation for their hotel. This is a country that prides itself on its luxurious surroundings and exceptional levels of service. We recently paid a visit to the Ritz Carlton in Abu Dhabi to experience it first hand.

The Ritz-Carlton certainly has the wow factor, not only when you visit for the first time, but in fact, every time you return to the hotel. It really is spectacular, with every bit of the glamour and luxury you expect from the name.

This is a really large hotel, newly built in a Venetian style on edge of the Arabian Gulf in several acres of beautifully manicured grounds. At the front of the hotel, a long, sweeping drive up to the hotel looks out across the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is quite simply one of the most awe-inspiring examples of modern architecture in the world. The rear of the building curves around the largest swimming pool in the UAE, and leads down to a sandy beach on the canal, where guests can enjoy the sunshine and relax in the warm, turquoise water.

The entrance to the hotel must be one of the grandest and most beautiful in the world, decked out in pale marble with spectacular flower displays, which makes quite an impression on arrival. Rooms absolutely live up to this standard, too. Acres of space, seriously elegant décor, fabulous views and complete privacy are assured.

If you are wanting to indulge in an even greater level of luxury, then an upgrade to the Club Level is highly recommended. The service is second to none in the exceptional club room, which enjoys the best views in the house up on the top floor. The staff up here really are the very best in the business and look after your every need, and, you are able to enjoy a huge range of excellent food and drinks throughout the day and night. What makes this extra special is the top-notch quality of the food and drink – it really is excellent – from breakfast, to ice cold drinks throughout the day, to the delicious Prosecco they serve in the early evening.

The food throughout the hotel is equally exceptional, too. Li Jiang oriental restaurant comes very highly recommended. There are so many delicious things to choose from on the menu, and everything we tried was fantastic. Food allergies are sensitively catered for, and the outstanding dish for us, was the must-try wasabi prawns which are unlike anything we’ve ever had before. Utterly fantastic and, incredibly, gluten free. Be sure to try one of their fantastic cocktails, too.

Mijana Lebanese restaurant was also an amazing experience for dinner. Sit outside if you can, as the views over the canal and fairy-lit palm trees are to die for. There is also live music every evening, which just makes the atmosphere even more magical. The food is brilliant, too. They even managed to make an incredibly delicious gluten free Fattoush for us!

There is plenty to see and do in Abu Dhabi, but this is a hotel you just don’t want to leave. Take your level of relaxation one step further, and visit the newly-opened ESPA spa on site. Set in a separate, deeply luxurious and private building, you are assured the most relaxing and professional treatments possible using gorgeous British ESPA products. Stay on a bit longer if you can, to enjoy the private relaxation facilities after your treatment.

A visit to the Ritz Carlton is truly, genuinely unforgettable and an opportunity to experience the very, very best in terms of luxury, hospitality, service, gastronomy and relaxation. Thank you to the Ritz Carlton for inviting me to visit.


1
Jul 14

A visit to East Lothian

North Berwick. Photo: VisitScotland

North Berwick. Photo: VisitScotland

East Lothian is one of the finest places to visit in Scotland. Officially the sunniest place in Scotland, and just half an hour outside of Edinburgh, you’ll find spectacular countryside, golden, sandy beaches with 40 miles of beautiful coastline to enjoy, and some seriously exceptional food. This is an absolutely glorious place to visit, and, if you happen to be in Edinburgh, then you really can’t miss out on a visit to East Lothian.

What to do here

Known as Scotland’s Golf Coast, this is a world-renowned area for all golf lovers to visit with a number of courses situated on the coast.

The beaches are stunning, with wide, golden sands, views across the Firth of Forth and interesting rockpools to enjoy. Gullane Bents beach is a delight to visit, as is North Berwick.

There are plenty of sites of historical interest and museums in the area. Dirleton Castle is highly recommended – a most interesting castle dating back to the 1100s. Much of the original castle remains and it is fascinating to explore. Children will love it, too. Be sure to allow time to walk around the gardens on a sunny day.

Where to eat

The food in East Lothian is very good indeed, partly due to the availability of superb ingredients grown an produced here, and also due to some really exciting things happening in food in the area. VisitScotland operates a scheme called ‘Taste our Best’, a scheme awarding a badge to all establishments meeting their criteria of excellence, and ensuring that at least 40% of the produce  that makes it onto your plate has come from Scotland.

Foodies visiting the area simply must pay a visit to Albert Roux’s restaurant at Greywalls Hotel. The legendary chef cooks up a feast of traditional French dishes with a modern twist. Exquisite cooking using sensational ingredients.

For a seriously delicious, lunch, morning coffee or afternoon tea, then Archerfield Walled Garden is not to be missed. In fact, it is a must if you’re in the area, as it has a fantastic shop selling a great selection of artisan food and gifts, too. There is a superb choice of food available on the menu which is served in generous portions. Good value and a very friendly atmosphere.

Where to stay

Lovers of luxury will instantly feel at home at the gorgeous Greywalls Hotel. Set on the Muirfield golf course, this is a gloriously comfortable Scottish country house type of hotel. Elegant surroundings and slick service mean you’ll be well looked after in a place that’s equally as delightful on a dreary wet evening, as a glorious summer’s day.

For a more budget-friendly option but lacking none of the glamour and comfort, Number 10 bed and breakfast in North Berwick has to be one of the very best in the country. Owner Mel opens up her picture perfect home to guests with a very warm welcome. Rooms are fabulously decorated, the beds are comfy and breakfast is really delicious, made by Cordon-Bleu trained Mel at a time of your goosing and served in her stylish dining room.

How to get here

Around 30 minutes drive from Edinburgh, East Lothian can be reached by car or by train. Edinburgh is well connected by rail to the rest of the country and you can change here for trains to North Berwick. Or, you can fly to Edinburgh and hire a car or catch a bus from there.

For more information on things to do and places to see, please visit the Visit Scotland website. Taste Our Best is VisitScotland’s food and drink Quality Assurance scheme, designed to encourage more food service businesses to use and promote Scottish produce to give consumers choice.  Taste Our Best makes it easier for visitors to find places where they can be sure of a truly Scottish quality eating experience.  The award is made to hotels, guest houses, B&Bs, visitor attractions, restaurants, cafes and takeaways that meet both the quality and Scottish produce criteria. My visit was organized by VisitScotland.

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