This past January, just before lockdown restrictions ended in the UK and after almost 3 years of staying put in London, I finally boarded a plane and travelled.
Travel prep, testing and documentation was a mine field, just about enough to put you off from going anywhere. But with all the paperwork done and negative Covid test results confirmed I was Portugal bound taking with me my all new ‘Rena Go’ bag.
Well, I did design it to be a bag on the go, so only right to test drive it properly.
The airport was deserted, only 15 of us boarded the flight (I had to count), hard to describe just how alien it felt.
The flight was a direct flight to Porto, I was warned it rains a lot in Porto and it did exactly that. But I loved it, what a beautiful town, such friendly people and the bakeries… oh my, take me back.
The old port , bridges ,blue and white tile clad buildings and steep cobbled streets make it a fascinating town to visit and discover.
A 3 hour train journey which ended being a 5 hour journey from Porto to Lisbon was not great, if I am honest. The steep walk from the station up the hill to Alfama was picturesque. I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly surprised me , so very quaint for a capital city, living in London you expect capital cities to be big and crowded.
One advantage of travelling during Covid was just how empty and quiet everything was. I understand Alfama is a bustling tourist district, not so when I visited. I appreciated the sunshine, views, colours and silence.
Lisbon is an absolute gem, beautiful, vibrant, interesting, tasty.. and if I’m talking tasty , a meal at Pharmacia is a whole different experience. Especially if you can sit outside on a sunny day. Don’t miss it!
There are plenty of short excursions to be had from Lisbon ( another reason I will be going back).
I managed to visit Cascais, a short train ride from Lisbon along the coast to this old fishing village. Inside the walls of the old city is the Cidadela Art District with it’s galleries and museums. It was too cold to swim in January but the white sandy beaches were beautiful all the same and the old port with it’s outdoor dining hub was buzzing.
Did the Rena Go pass the test drive?? the intention was to create a ‘down sized’ bag for the times… we live out of our phones after all so travelling with a big bag is unnecessary. We do need compartments for our phone, passport, masks, sanitiser, book… The Rena has just enough space for all these necessities plus a sewn- in key fob and card holder. With it’s wide, adjustable and detachable webbed cotton strap, I think we did good.
Hi, I’m Alice. I’m here on Nadia’s blog because Nadia gave me my first taste of jewellery-making back in July, through one of her online classes on Obby, and it’s now a minor obsession. But I have to own up to another obsession – food. Eating out never felt quite safe to me, even in those brief glory days between lockdowns, so I’ve sated my hunger through one of the only good things to have come out of the pandemic: restaurant DIY meal kits.
I’ve tasted my way through a few duds, so hopefully I can save you the same fate. Below are my personal top five (so far!) in no particular order.
Townsend, a modern British restaurant in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, had only been open for five weeks when the first lockdown hit. I think it’s really admirable how speedily they realised they needed to change things up to stay afloat.
A three-course meal from Town-send (cute name) for two people, including a bottle of wine, is only £40 – unbelievably reasonable in my experience (I’ve found London restaurant meal kits costing £40 for a main course!). There’s usually three choices per course. I’m on my third kit, and have had some amazing dishes. In Spring, I had a whole poussin in a saffron broth which was the closest thing I’ve had this year to eating in a fancy restaurant, and I got to eat it in my PJs at lunchtime, while watching Antiques Roadtrip. The cheesecake is the stuff of dreams, and the wine is that rare thing: a house wine that everyone likes.
Instructions are simple and easy to follow – most things just get heated in a pan on the hob. Portion sizes have been just right for me for a three-course meal, but the hungrier reader might want to kick off with some bread (or just add on a cheese course for a very reasonable £4.50 each).
They also sell produce and their own sauces and condiments online. The green sauce, elderflower cordial and olive oil are particularly good, and again, amazingly reasonable.
Three-course kit for two people with a bottle of wine, £40 + £5 delivery in London, £10 nationwide (both free on orders over £80)
Dishpatch sells kits from a range of well-known restaurants, representing everything from Thai to West African. Menus change each month.
We went for the November set menu, ‘The Italian Supper’, from Angela Hartnett’s Café Murano. I really like Café Murano in The Real World – great pasta, bread and antipasti, intimate setting, good value. The kit followed the trend, even though the intimate setting was my parents’ living room. The meal included focaccia with coppa ham, pumpkin ravioli, lamb stew, and panna cotta. Everything had that lovely rich, complex taste of slow-cooked Italian food – squishy, caramelised pumpkin, lamb you could cut with a spoon, focaccia oozing with olive oil. It was so good it was hard to talk or think about anything else while we ate.
The operation is slick – there’s a fancy website with amazing photography, the delivery process is polished, and you get a fancy brochure with the kit. Though it was a touch more complicated to cook than Town-send meals, because you need to juggle more pans, the result was worth it. Portion sizes are very generous indeed.
I also just like saying ‘Dishpatch’, because it makes me sound like Sean Connery (one of the sad losses of this year).
Meal kits for 2 people from £40, delivery £5.50 (or free with two or more boxes)
A confit duck burger from the Frenchie stall in the Southbank Centre streetfood market is one of my favourite treats. They’re so luxurious that my ex used to say that a burger took three months off your life – and it was six months if you also had the triple-cooked duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise. There is literally no way this meal wouldn’t be worth those six months. It’s like selling your soul in deeply pleasurable increments.
The Frenchie is selling a kit which makes four burgers. You toast a brioche bun and slather it in caramelised red onion chutney and truffle mayo, heat up some shredded confit duck in a pan, pop some raclette cheese on top to melt, drizzle with truffle honey, then scoop the lot onto the bun, scattering duck scratchings and rocket salad over the top. And then, if you are me, you inhale it all.
This is unashamedly dirty food, and it makes me very happy.
If you like truffle, add a bottle of truffle mayonnaise. I want to carry it with me everywhere, like some people do with hot sauce.
As far as I’ve found, Côte is the only chain restaurant that’s started doing meal kits – although they’re so simple to prepare, I’d actually call them very fancy ready meals. Very, very fancy. Kick off with pork rillettes and warm sourdough baguette, whip up Beef Bourguignon and potato puree in 20 minutes, and finish with crème caramel. How’s that for a Tuesday night?
There are great value set menus (currently £25.90 for two people, or £35.90 with a bottle of wine), and the food tastes very similar to a meal at a Côte restaurant. I particularly like the potato dauphinoise, and those rillettes, which do very nicely for a big lunch on their own. Portion sizes are pretty impressive. And I wonder why my waistline is growing.
Almost everything that needs heating seems to be oven-cooked, all at the same temperature, so it’s seriously easy to do, and the (recyclable) plastic sleeves mean there’s very little washing up.
You can also order individual dishes, charcuterie and cheese, meat, bread and pastries, drinks, and some pantry items. The bread’s particularly good.
Three-course kit for 2 from £25.90, delivery £4.95 (free on orders over £80)
Smokestak is a fancy barbeque restaurant, and the online shop sells the restaurant’s meats, pre-cooked and smoked and ready for you to heat. They also offer burger kits, sticky toffee pudding and pre-made cocktails
I opted for one of the feasting boxes. The contents have changed since I last ordered, but currently they each contain beef brisket and pulled pork shoulder, as well as very yummy condiments, like barbecue sauce and pickled cucumbers and chillies.
The meat was gorgeous – meltingly soft, gently smoky, very rich. The pickled chillies were a particular favourite, and since they came in their pickling liquor, they lasted ages. I used some of the pork to top a Spanish bean stew I made, some of the beef in burgers using my own buns – all very flexible.
You simply heat the meat in the oven, wrapped in butchers’ paper which is provided in the kit. It’s as simple as it gets, and someone else has done all that delicious slow cooking and smoking for you.
Burger kits to make four burgers from £27.50, feasting box for three to four £35, delivery £5.95 (free on orders over £75)
UK Staycations are not ones for guaranteed good weather… anything but. With that in mind they are still time away, they have their own charm and during Covid times at least you are guaranteed to get out of the house and explore.
Flights: JAL from Heathrow, around £600 return London-Tokyo/Haneda airport (Arriving at Haneda Airport is very useful as it’s only a 15 min train ride into Tokyo, it takes a lot longer from Narita. There is also a little shopping village inside the airport – useful for last minute gift buying and your final noodle fix)
Self catering apartment which was fully equipped with a little kitchen and washing machine. Would especially recommend if you’re staying for a few nights as it’s a lot cheaper than most hotels and you have your own kitchen. Most hotel rooms are also very small so apartments can be more comfortable.
“Ojizo San” is what these little statues are called , you see them a lot round shrines, they are there to protect people.
Fushimi inari – Shinto shrine with thousands of “tor-ii” gates lining pathways up a mountain. We didn’t make it all the way!
Travelling around Japan – with JR Pass: this is a train pass only available to people who are not resident in Japan. You can use it as often as you like and go anywhere as long as it’s on a JR train and you reserve a seat. (It doesn’t include the fastest Shinkansen called Nozomi fyi. The second fastest is fast enough though!) It costs from around £180/week. Definitely recommend getting this if you’re going to multiple places.
Flight: London to Gibraltar, approx. 3 hours. I had an unsettling early morning flight having been sat next to an extremely drunk and rather intimidating group, out on their stag do. Adieu Monarch, can’t say I will miss you.
Ate breakfast at: Bar Vicente, owned by 3 generations of the same family, next door to the local market so the perfect spot for people watching. Had a traditional breakfast of Pan con tomate with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice for only 4 Euros. Could sit there every day.
Ate Tapas at: Bar Apolo, recently renovated, delicious freshly cooked food and great value. Be sure to try the local cuttlefish Choco
Visited: Cadiz, ferry crossing to Cadiz from El Puerto takes 25 minutes and costs 2.65 Euros one way. The central market sells fish like you have never seen, but go early as they close early. Have to confess I struggled with the sharks
Street food– plenty of choice surrounding the market, I settled for La Taperia de Lula, don’t miss it! They certainly know how to cook the most delicious regional dishes including Arroz Negro– rice with squid ink.
Swam at: Las Redes, the best and longest stretch of beach, perfect for swimming and walking but very full at the weekends.
Excursion: Sanlucar de Barrameda. All that you would expect from a traditional, white Spanish Village: sun washed central square, bars, cafe’s and ice cream parlours. Some lovely historic sites here as well.
Drink: sherry out of the cask at Bodegas Obregon and why not have a small tapas whilst your at it
Buy: Tejas ( Tile biscuits) flat , handmade almond biscuits to die for from Cien Palacios- it’s all they do and they come in beautiful tins. A fan from the market if you really want a piece of Spain to take back home.
Take advantage of our 50% discount offer 22-10 to 29-10-17 bu ising code:
hoxtoncream17 at the checkout. (Free UK p&p, whilst stock lasts)
Stayed at: Park Lane Hotel, NY Room for 3 starts at US$260 per night. Great location on Central Park and a minute away from 5th Avenue subway but can’t recommend: bad service, over crowded, short staffed, dated ( but clean), expensive for the standard and room price did not include breakfast, never a good thing with a toddler!
High Line Park, such a fantastic public park built on the historic freight rail line above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. A different view of the Big Apple
Chelsea Market– great for mum & toddler, plenty to eat and some great pop-up shops for much needed retail therapy. It was a cold day so we chose to have Jewish Chicken Soup at Friedmans
9/11 memorial– Very impressive, the size and the concept works so well.
Rockefeller Centre- Such an exciting place to be, inside and out. Beautiful Art Deco interiors, places to eat and great shops, plenty of street performers outside. We chose to see if Bill’s burgers were really as good as they say… and they were
City Kitchen/Times Square- Hello to the American fast food court , just as you imagine it, with plenty of great choice but it’s not cheap!
Jo’s Highlights were: The Ferry to The Statue of Liberty, Central park, but best of all The Sea Glass Carousel
I loved my Finsbury backpack , trust me although I work for an accessory company I am a very fussy customer. It was just so comfortable, so great to have my hands free at all time , it’s lightweight and it looks great.
My trusty travel companions were The Brewer holdall which contained all I needed clothes wise for the weekend ( it was just an escape after all) and my Hoxton bag which was perfect for keeping my wallet and phone whilst strolling, people watching and eating of course.
I travelled from Heathrow to Sofia with British Airways /club class £670 return /duration 3 hours ( correct at time of writing)
Stayed at: Hotel Marinela , prices start at £100 per night for a King room with city views. Comes complete with loud peacocks in the morning ( not kidding) and loud music at night so..if you are looking for a quiet hideaway this hotel is not for you. But if you want to see some life, this hotel is quite an adventure and the rooms are nice and spacious.
Stroll down pedestrian Boulevard Vitosha for a spot of people watching and a good coffee. If you are lucky you can catch a glimpse of snow on Mt Vitosha, which hangs over at the far end of the Boulevard and looks like something out of a film set.
Then head on round the corner to Tsar Shishman Street and Angel Kanchev Street-here you will find a complete melting pot of the very old and somewhat run down with the very trendy and excitingly new- designer boutiques, artisan cafes, artisan eateries, speciality shops and downright traditional ones too.