Tuesday, 27 August 2013

London's Hidden Gems #2 - Freud's Cocktail Bar, Soho

Okay, I'm cheating. I know I said all my hidden gems would be brand new, and I've actually mentioned Freud's before in my '25 things I'd do in London' post. But I can't help it - I went there this weekend, it is - in my humble opinion - one of the coolest bars in London...and it is, literally, a hidden gem!

If you didn't know it was there, you would walk right past the corregated iron staircase that spirals down into this subterranean cocktail bar...that is, unless you go on a Friday or Saturday night, when an excited mass of hipsters and indie kids in checked shirts and bankers in suit jackets spill out into the night, clutching glasses of brightly coloured drinks. I, personally, prefer Freud's in the week when it's a bit more chilled out - if you do go at the weekend, try and get there a bit earlier. The queue at the bar can get five people deep, it's a small place, and cocktails take a long time to make - you'll be waiting a while!

If you do wander down, you'll find a pared back underground basement. People sit at rickety little iron tables or, when it's busy, perch along the bare brick walls. The whole thing has a laid back, slightly gritty, contemporary-cool vibe. Last night they were playing drum & bass, loudly but not so loudly you can't hear each other speak (my pet peeve!)

The cocktails are all displayed haphazardly on a huge blackboard behind the bar. Unlike most cocktail places in London, they're all really affordable. There's nothing hugely posh up there, just good, classic mixes. I ordered a special - a Pina Mahiki - whereas my boyfriend went for a more classic Homeboy.

Oddly, they did look exactly the same, but I promise you they tasted completely different (and we both thought our own was the best!)

It's the kind of place where you don't have to dress up, but you can if you want. You can pop in for just one drink before dinner, as I did last night, or stay all night. And Alex James of Blur used to live upstairs and call it his local. What more could you want in a bar?!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Cornwall Pt 3: Rick Stein and Cherry Trees Coffee House

After our long day of surfing and splashing - see here - I wanted something good to eat! Being close to Padstow, my boyfriend and I decided we just had to try out a Rick Stein restaurant. He's not a big seafood fan, so after a bit of careful research we picked Rick Stein's Cafe. It's the more relaxed of his restaurants, tucked down a little side street. We pulled into the harbour and as ever I was impressed by how beautiful it is.

When you enter the cafe it's a bit like walking into someone's front room - gorgeous, cosy sofas with big cushions and pretty wooden tables. The place was completely full so we were glad we'd booked - I would recommend you do the same, if you want to go! We got a little corner table, complete with candle and flowers, and ordered drinks and bread.

Although Ian might not be a fish eater, I am, so I had salt and pepper king prawns to start. Succulent and absolutely perfectly flavored, with a complimentary side salad that actually had some substance to it - not just a tired bit of lettuce shoved there for no reason, as is so often the case. Ian had tomato soup, which looked like tomato soup so I saw no need to photograph it - but he did describe it as 'the best soup he'd ever eaten!'

I picked a special for my main, deep fried sea bass - with a side of chips to stop it being too healthy, obviously! It came with it's head and tail on...

And I couldn't help being a bit of a child!

Ignoring that though, the fish was lovely and tender and so filling that actually I couldn't finish my chips.

We split a dessert of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. It came absolutely drowning in the best toffee sauce I've ever had. The cake itself was okay, but that sauce was just heavenly - I could've eaten a bucket of it! We headed home, happy and full,  but not quite having had our fill of all Padstow had to offer.

The next day, we headed back to see it in the light of an unfortunately very rainy day! It still looked beautiful...

As did I, in my stylish bad weather attire!

Padstow is the perfect place for a wander, whatever the weather. In the sunshine you can eat ice creams whilst sitting on the harbour, watching the gulls fly and the boats come and go, before catching a ferry over to Rock, just to come back again. In the rain you can eat hot pasties that warm your insides, go in and out of shops full of all sorts of pretty trinkets (I challenge you not to buy something), and come home with pockets full of fudge. 

After we'd made several trips back to the car with new-flat purchases, Ian and I were somehow hungry again. With no idea where to go, I looked up 'Padstow restaurants' on TripAdvisor. The number one rated one was a cafe which we happened to be standing right opposite - the Cherry Trees Coffee House.

A cafe? The best restaurant in Padstow? We were dubious, but as it was right there and did look pretty cute, we trotted over - and I am so glad I did. It is the perfect combination of American 1950s diner and English traditional tea house. We ordered milkshakes...and look what turned up. 

The milkshakes of our dreams! Someone looks pretty happy with his...

I had a pulled pork sandwich and can honestly say it was one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten - second only to Ian's panini!

I would 100% recommend a visit if you're in the area - we'll definitely be returning. 

The rain kept coming down, so we went over to Newquay Zoo for a wander. They have some really unusual animals there, and you can get alarmingly close!

We watched, and fed penguins...

And finally wandered back, cold, with wet feet, but happy.

The next day the sun shone again and we headed back to the beach.

We did a little more surfing before having one last pasty and chips, sat on a bench overlooking Newquay, and then it was back into the car to start the long journey home. I really do miss Cornwall already. It's a place I feel really deeply connected to and I know we'll be back soon.

This is the last of the Cornwall posts, so if you're getting a bit bored, I'll be back to normal tomorrow!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cornwall Pt 2: Surfing Paradise

In the words of The Vaccines - 'Put a wetsuit on, come on, come on...' 

Something about being out in the waves - whether you're a pro surfer, falling off a body board or just splashing around in the shallows - makes me feel young. On the second day of our Cornwall adventure, my boyfriend and I woke up and found the weather was absolutely beautiful. A perfect beach day. 

I opted for the 'light' breakfast at our amazing B&B. Just forty five tonnes of egg and tomatoes on toast and fried bread!

After that, we needed some exercise to work it all off. Not exactly being professionals, we stopped to hire wetsuits and boards, and hit the waves!

Ian lived in California for a year, so despite promising me he'd be rusty, after two minutes he was up on his board looking exactly like the movies! That's him up on the far right there, showing off!

I spent a lot more time falling off my board than staying on it, and even had a bit of a rest on the sand to let my ego recover... but I soon realised that it's all part of the fun! When I did try harder and managed to catch some waves, it made me feel so free and alive.

Afterwards we paddled in the sunshine, just happy to be there, relaxed and enjoying each others' company. 

Tanned and happy, we returned home for more drinks on the balcony, then drove over to Padstow for dinner...but more on that tomorrow!

So in my opinion, if you ever get a chance to surf, go for it. It's one of those things that will make you look so stupid to start with, but who really cares? Who cares if you think you look stupid in a wetsuit, or fat in a bikini? What does it matter if you fall off right in front of an entire class of pro surfers, really? Just throw  yourself into it, literally, and enjoy it - to finish as I started, with the same Vaccines song, 'If at some point we all succumb, for goodness sake, let us be young!'


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Cornwall Pt 1: Pasties and Rainforests

Cornwall is my secret escape. Everyone has a place in the world that they always come back to; a place that makes them feel young again, a place that makes them feel truly alive. Cornwall will always be that place for me. It was my dad's childhood holiday destination and when we were little he took us to the beaches he loved - long summer days happily spent on sprawling beaches digging holes and sand boats, sucking ice cream from the ends of the cones, eating fudge on sunny harbours. When I got older I went with my friends and danced in Newquay night clubs, fell off surf boards and burnt my nose trying to get the perfect tan. It is one place I always go back to. 

So, after the slightly disastrous end to our Turkey adventure, my boyfriend and I packed up the car, booked a perfect little B&B and headed off down the winding roads. Our first stop was the Eden Project - I'd been twice before, but there's always something new to see. If you have never been, the Eden Project is a garden attraction run by a social and environmental charity, two huge biodomes showcasing plants from all over the world. 

It's pretty impressive at a first glance.

Winding down the paths towards it, you come across all sorts of impressive touches...some of them a little scary...

Now, I was two things: hungry, and in Cornwall. So where do you think we headed first? 

Well, obviously. Defying my Mum and Dad, who would always insist on walking round before eating, we headed straight there. There's really nothing like a real Cornish pasty - piping hot, in a paper bag. We split a cheese & onion and a steak one. 


I really love how the whole place is so bright and colourful.

I instantly felt in the holiday mood as we headed into the Mediterranean dome. While the domes do obviously have a number of plants for any botanical fans, they also have lots of other little touches to make it interesting for everyone. 

Now this is my kind of plant... 

But you can keep that away from me!

We then headed into the tropical rainforest biodome, which is breathtakingly beautiful. It's terrifying to think that the real life version of this stunning area is being destroyed so rapidly. 

Having a leaf...

Something that was new to the biodome was the ability to walk up floating stairs to a high viewing platform suspended at the very top...

Now, for someone with a slight fear of heights, this was just a little scary - but the views were completely worth it. 

When we got to the bottom, we were rewarded with the sight of a (sadly virgin) cocktail bar!

And as the money goes to a good cause, we decided it would be rude not to... 

The Eden Project really is an amazing, thought provoking place. It made me consider how lucky we are to live in such a developed world, and how we really do need to take care of it. Even if you can't make it down to Cornwall, you should have a look at all the great work the Eden Project do here.

We headed back, tired and happy, to our beautiful B&B. We were lucky to get a garden room - basically our own little villa, with a patio outside leading onto the garden. We got dressed for dinner and headed into Newquay. 

Newquay is full of places to eat but I knew where I wanted to go... 

Senor Dicks! The best Mexican in England, in my humble opinion, with huge, messy, unbelievably tasty portions of burritos, fajitas and nachos.

We ate till we could eat no more and then wandered along the coast to the pub for a quiet night out. Isn't it beautiful? 

Once again I've written too much, so you'll have to wait till tomorrow for surfing, Padstow and Rick Stein. Cornwall, I love you!
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