Monday, 3 August 2020

The Wine List

Despite everything hideous going on with Coronavirus, and back when we were in the midst of the strict house-bound lockdown, one thing I really looked forward to were Friday nights in; cooking new recipes from legendary restaurants that had been shared on Instagram (Sugo pomodoro recipe, I’m looking at you…), turning the kitchen into a little bar and settling in for a night of garlicky pasta, a lot of wine and a Spotify playlist on really loud.

Throughout the lockdown we had some amazing ‘foodie’ experiences – Manchester Pasta Co and SixBy Nico were stand outs, and I was also approached by The Wine List to try their subscription service, which turned out to be another lovely way to pass a Friday evening at home.

For the past eighteen months or so I’ve kept a little ‘wine diary’ where if I like a bottle, I’ll peel off the label, stick it in the book and curate a little entry on what I could taste, what I liked about it, what I ate with it, who I was with, the occasion etc. It’s been really nice looking back at food and drink memories, and we have notably drank a lot more in lockdown (and coming out of the other side), so it was a bit like fate when I saw the message from The Wine List asking if I wanted to try it for a month.

The Wine List is very much a ‘night in’ event in itself. You get two premium bottles delivered from lesser known and often surprising vineyards (this red was from a small family run vineyard in Italy – it was abandoned until 2003 when owners Carlo and Laura restored it to its former glory).

My wine diary...

The Wine List has its roots firmly in discovery and calls itself a ‘discovery and education-focused wine subscription box’. It’s aimed at the ‘amateur enthusiast’ (love that phrase – definitely me… v enthusiastic, but not really a clue what I’m talking about!) who is looking to level up their knowledge.

It’s £39 and each month you’ll get;

  •          Two bottles priced around £15-20 each and they pride themselves on valuing lesser known regions, grapes and winemakers
  •          Interactive tasting cards to jot down your thoughts and to help guide you with wine aromas
  •          ‘Wine Roots’ – their wine course programme – one key concept explained over twelve months (our ‘lesson’ was wine vessels and how oak / stainless steel / clay barrels change the taste of wine – I love an oak aged rioja reserva so this was an interesting read!)
  •          Access to the Wine List community, including a really useful email newsletter with supermarket suggestions, a spotlight on particular vineyards and other recommendations.

So to be clear, it’s not a wine delivery subscription service where you get delivered 6 or 12 bottles at cost price, but it isn’t trying to be. Their brand is aimed at those curious about wine and offers a unique way to discover wines you probably wouldn’t choose yourself.


It’s great if, like me, you think you know a little bit about wine: you know what you like, but want to expand and learn more on taste dynamics, increase your knowledge on types of wine, and want something a little bit interactive to help you (how nice is the design and branding on the tasting notes cards – I love the alchemy style). 

For the night in question, we’d ordered from our favourite pizza place - Double Zero 00 (for about the third time in lockdown…) and it was a lovely balmy summer evening – the aforementioned Spotify playlist was on and we’d had a good chat (no phones) to try and replicate being out in a restaurant. Our holiday to Italy was cancelled in June and so through various means I’ve been trying to bring a slice of Italy to Chorlton (hence the Sugo, Manchester Pasta Co, Double Zero theme…) so it was perfect that this bottle was an Italian red!


Armed with our taste card, we set about swirling and sniffing before taking a sip and ticking items from the ‘aroma profile’. If you turn the card over you’re given a wine story, and this is where it gets really interesting, you learn all about the winemaker and also get The Wine Lists’ first impression and taste notes of that wine too – you could read this first if you wanted guidance, or do what we did and boldly go about ticking notes and then seeing if we’d identified similar flavours (it was close, but no cigar…). You’re also given food pairing suggestions, grape information and suggestions on how to look for a wine like this in the supermarket (v v helpful), amongst other things.

These interactive personal tasting note cards are a great way to encourage you to put your stamp on what you can taste and what you like, rather than feeling silly that you couldn’t taste the ‘dominant vanilla hue’ or something. It’s a great way to get yourself feeling more confident that you can identify fruits and flavours and styles and grapes.

We loved this novel way to explore new wines and as nights in at home are arguably now giving pubs and bars a run for their money, this is a lovely way to feel like you’re doing something a little bit different. It’s such a great idea, and I’ve safely stuck the taste cards into my wine diary to call on in the future.

Visit their website to find out more –

The Wine List sent me these bottles to review and as always, all views and opinions are my own.


Thursday, 30 May 2019

Liverpool: A great afternoon at Baltic Market

I can't believe I'm a marathon runner. Like actually still a bit in denial about it all! What a day. I'm currently pulling together a post on the things I learnt from doing a marathon that I can't wait to share; I think I'm still processing it all to be honest! Whilst I try and whittle down the things I learnt running my first 26.2, here's a food post as naturally, the day involved a lot of food. And drink.

As most of you know, I was running in memory of my best friend Georgia's mum, so her family and some of my family were coming up to support for the weekend. They'd been looking for hotels in Liverpool and stuff to do either side of the marathon to make the most of the big trip from Bristol to Liverpool. Georgia stayed in Hotel Indigo and wow - what a relief it was to know that I could shower and freshen up after the run. I've never been more grateful for a shower!

Georgia had found Tusk in the Baltic Quarter, Googling restaurants for dinner whilst I was running (hard day for some of us). As there were ten of us (I had a great cheer squad!), we thought it sounded like a good place to go as a group.

Straight after I'd crossed the finish line, and for a good few hours after, food was (perhaps unsurprisingly) the last thing on my mind. I felt sick and completely out of it, so naturally... it was on to a pub for a few drinks. Probably not the healthiest of refuelling strategies!

I'd heard really good things about the Baltic Triangle, a former industrial area now home to lots of bars, art galleries and art centres, cafes, food halls, and bars with plenty of outdoor seating - which was great as the sun decided to come out!

We attempted to get a table in Baltic Market but it was rammed (a great sign); really buzzing with music, drinks flowing and bank holiday mode in full swing - it would've been perfect had I not just run a marathon and in need of some food, quite quickly!

We turned the corner and came across Tusk. Offering meat, veggie and vegan options, they had a table for us right away, we were sold!

Tusk describes itself as a 'food and drink sanctuary', with a log burner, big bar and plenty of tables, and an overarching industrial vibe. We arrived about 6.30 and so sat amongst others in for an early dinner and people chilling next to the log burner.

It's also Liverpool's first ever carbon neutral restaurant (they plant over 100 trees a month), which is pretty cool; very impressive. As a 'carbon free dining certified partner' they plant a fruit tree in the developing world to balance out the environmental impact of the meal and helps to end poverty.

If you know me, you know I'm now a vegetarian eco-warrior like the rest of them, so I was sold. Even more happier to be doing my bit for the planet whilst drinking aperol...

The menu on Sunday was centered on hot dogs and burgers, with a load of sides. I liked the fact that although they're heavily focused on their plant based menu, each vegan or veggie option came with a meat version too, so my meat eating fam and friends could choose what they wanted, too.

We shared a few portions of nachos between us to start and ordered a few bottles of malbec.

For my main, I had the veggie burger - an insane plant based burger that looked and tasted so much like meat. Hands down the most 'realistic' meatless burger I've tried. That, coupled with sweet potato fries (and pinching a few halloumi fries from across the table), was a great post-marathon refuel.

Despite being so full, a waiter really kindly brought me out surprise churros and chocolate dip to say well done for running the marathon... along with a huge shot of black sambuca!

It was a great way for me (and friends and fam) to celebrate such a big achievement, I loved it! If you're in Liverpool soon and in need of a restaurant / bar / area recommendation, I'd really recommend Baltic Triangle - the atmosphere was amazing (it reminded me of a cross between Hamburg and Belfast) - well worth going.

Some spending money was given to me by which I put towards this meal, but all views are my own!

Monday, 14 January 2019

A weekend in Amsterdam

On the second weekend in December, I took James away to Amsterdam as a surprise for his birthday. I'd been planning it meticulously for months and managed to get away with not revealing anything! On the Friday night the day before we flew, I gave him a wrapped Lonely Planet guide and let him know that we needed to be up really early (we were on the 5.55am flight).

always get really itchy feet in January and seem to draw up longer, more elaborate travel plans and aspirations than at any other time of the year, so if you're feeling like you need to book a cheeky weekend away then I can't recommend Amsterdam enough; we both left talking about when we could come back, and we're planning another trip soon, as it was so easy to get to: we don't live far from Manchester Airport, the flight is just over an hour and Amsterdam airport is a 20 min train ride into the centre.

We'd both been before but separately, about eight years ago (hello, inter-railing with the one and only Kate Stephens!), but I was eager to go back after hearing such good things from friends who had been recently. Struggling a little for annual leave, it was great to see decent weekend flight times - the flights we got meant we landed at 8am Saturday and didn't fly back till 9.30pm Sunday night, giving us two full days and one night, and no annual leave required!

So, here's what we did in those 36 hours... there's a shed load more that the city has to offer (I had so many recommendations from friends on places and things to try that we just couldn't fit in), but this list was a great starter for ten and an amazing way to spend the weekend, we both said we felt like we'd been there a good three days with everything we crammed in!

Brunch at G's Really Nice Place, De Pijp

We got straight on a train at the airport into the centre and then a quick tram to the De Pijp neighbourhood for much needed breakfast. Usually, I'm a firm believer in walking everywhere on a city break, but due to our flight being delayed a little bit, we were running late for our brunch booking (note: everywhere i'd looked at for brunch needed booking - some were booked weeks out so I'd definitely call a couple of weeks ahead).

This place really set the tone for us for the weekend and was exactly what we needed, would highly recommend! The menu was lushh and they specialise in bloody Mary's, so we ordered a couple of those too. I went for huevos pedro (those black beans!) with a side of halloumi, and James got the Benny New York.

G's have also got a place in the Jordaan neighbourhood & a brunch boat which sounds cool - definitely one for the summer.

Other amazing looking brunch recommendations included: Bakers & Roasters, Avocado Show, Little Collins, Coffee & Coconuts, Scandinavian Embassy, Omelegg & Cut Throat Barber.

Feeling fueled (and a little hazy after three hours sleep and a strong bloody Mary), we ambled along de Pijp and made our way to Dam square. Amsterdam is so easy to get around on foot as it's quite compact, but they've also got a great tram network if walking isn't your thing. We spent hours over the weekend just ambling round the canals and neighbourhoods, taking it all in, and would highly recommend just pottering about, finding cosy cafes (pubs) or canal-side bars to chill out in.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel (more on that one later), and got to Dam square for a free walking tour. I'm a hugeee fan of free walking tours - they're an amazing way to see a new place and learn so much about a city or town in a short amount of time, plus, you get your bearings a lot quicker than if you were meandering about on your own so by the time we'd finished we felt quite au fait with the central canal rings and areas we'd walked around.

We'd booked on to the tour with Sandemans as that had got great reviews but unfortunately due to us going slightly over on timings at brunch, we missed that slot, but got in with another company half an hour later. I can't remember their name (annoyingly) but they had red branding too, similar to Sandemans. Our guide was great so we tipped and then left to do some more exploring.

The streets around Prinsengracht and Jordaan are really nice to wander around, so many cool boutique shops and cafes. We ambled around taking it all in (cafe p 96 looked cool - in the summer they have a houseboat bar too) before settling on drinks and a quick bite to eat at canal fronted t'smalle in Jordaan, a 'jenever' (gin distillery) that dates back to 1796 - it's a really cosy 'bruin cafe' with brown stained walls from all the smoke from over the years. We enjoyed a few red wines and beers sat at the bar before making our way back to the hotel.

Side streets off Prinsengracht looking lush!

Ink Hotel, Amsterdam

So, accommodation in Amsterdam is expensive, there's no getting away from that. I'd booked flights way before I'd booked accommodation and thought I'd just get somewhere on air bnb. However that didn't work out and before I knew it I'd been won over by the Ink hotel with its amazing looking rooms and food photos on Instagram. The reviews were really positive too. Definitely one for a special treat, I wouldn't doubt to recommend this place to anyone. Our room was beautiful, the atrium outside / inside style foyer and the kitchen were all designed in a cool, effortlessly glam way and the staff had gone to so much effort as they knew it was James' birthday!

It's called the Ink hotel as the building was the former newspaper headquarters for the Dutch paper Tijd, hence the 'stories' written on the walls (we had a useful map on our walls). The attention to detail in the room was second to none, right down to the short story on the bedside table, to the murals on the walls in the lobby.

Dinner at Le Bistrot des Alpes, Utrechtsedwarsstraat (nope, I don't know how to pronounce the name of the street, either).

I'd seen this place on Instagram and it looked so cool! Cute, cosy and there's a gondola inside! It had rained as we walked to the restaurant so the warmth and cosyness were perfect for us. They also had lots of seating spilling out on to the quiet side street so think it would be lush on a balmy summer evening too.

We ordered a bottle of red and some escargot to start. They were garlicky and very rich, but what else do you order in a French restaurant?! Before that, we were brought a couple of palette cleansers from the chef which were lovely - not sure what we had but I remember something mushroomy!

For mains, we shared a fondue with porcini mushrooms and oh my god. What a feast. An entire le creuset was brought to our table filled to the brim with melted, bubbling, mature cheese, a basket of French bread and two side salads. We were set.

I'd booked about a week in advance and they could only offer me 6.30pm so would definitely recommend booking ahead, this place is clearly in high demand!

After, we went to a great speak easy called Door 74, not far from Bistrot Des Alpes (you have to txt them to make a reservation on the day you're looking to go). Would def recommend a drink in here. We passed a few more places and ended up in In't Aepjen in the north (one of Amsterdam's oldest pubs, it used to accept monkeys as payment from sailors hence the name!). We had some really strong beer and then decided it would be good to go to the 'Red light secrets' museum in Red Light District. It was 'educational', but having just recently watched Doing Money on BBC iPlayer (about sex trafficking) I probably wasn't in the best head space for this place... it details the history of prostitution and was quite brutal at times. If you're looking for something different to that then I'd go to the sexmuseum Amsterdam - history of porn through the ages, giant cocks... was much more light hearted and fun, it was hilarious (and a little weird, at times).

We tried to get into Tales and Spirits for a night cap but we hadn't booked and there weren't any tables - so would recommend booking this place as it looked great!
Other bars we'd heard great things about: Calle Ocho, Glou Glou, Bar Feijoa, Suzy Wong.

Not getting a table in Tales and Spirits was probably a good thing as my god, we were both hanging on Sunday morning. I had one of those hangovers where I wanted every food group and a selection of hot and cold drinks all at once immediately, so we stumbled downstairs at the Ink Hotel and demolished the breakfast.

After a lazy morning we walked down through the nine canal rings, through Leidseplein (lots of bars) and on to Vondelpark and the South, to check out the museums and consume some culture to alleviate our hangovers.

We'd seen posters for an exhibition at Moco museum on Saturday and decided to book tickets online for Sunday (you get discount and queue jump if you book online). The exhibition was great, and a good place to spend an hour or so, as it was on-and off raining...

After, we sought some solace in a bar with an open fire that was attached to the ice rink and Christmas markets before making lunch plans...

Could not recommend this place enough, it's a huge food and drinks hall in what once used to be old tram sheds, which have been converted into a massive international food hall, with a really intimate vibe. It was heaving when we arrived, filled with groups of friends and couples - of all ages. The place was buzzing and was just what we were looking for - somewhere we could perch and have a few drinks before deciding what we'd eat. After wandering around looking for a free seat for about 10 minutes we found two seats at the main bar, an ideal spot for people watching and for chatting to bar staff. With a beer and house red ordered, we took it in turns to walk round and see what took our fancy.

It was a tough decision but in the end I opted for a huge falafel pitta with hummus and all the trimmings from a place called Pita, and James got pizza. We stayed for a while, wandered around the markets outside and then walked back through the nine rings all the way near to Centraal Station to the sexmuseum I mentioned above.

Cafe de vergulde gaper
After the museum and exploring more on foot, we walked back to a cafe that had caught our eye earlier in the day, that looked like a really nice place for coffee and lunch. It was now dark, and the windows were lit up with fairy lights (essentially calling me in), and the place looked magical. Again, this place is right on the canal so in summer with the windows open, it would be lush. For us though, we were nestled in and managed to get a small table next to a band playing live jazz, which was the perfect way to end the trip. We were only supposed to stay for one drink (largely due to how anal I am about getting to the airport early), but the atmosphere was so chilled we stayed for another one, both not wanting to leave.

We were home for 10.30pm having left in the early hours of the morning before, but feeling like we'd been away for days - a weekend well spent indeed!

Other reccos / things we wanted to do but didn't have time for:

  • Canal boat tour. We wanted to do this at night and planned to possibly to it on Sunday eve but time ran away with us, definitely one for next time!
  • Rijkmuseum/Van Gogh museum. We didn't have enough time to visit Moco and Rijkmuseum - the Moco exhibition was more our thing, but it would've been good to spend a couple of hours at the other two.
  • Hire bikes - would've liked to have rented bikes around Vondelpark
  • A'Dam tower - a huge swing off a building in the North.. umm.. sounds terrifying but also cool
  • Previously when I'd been to Amsterdam I'd visited Anne Frank's huis, I'd definitely recommend this if you haven't been before. 

As you can probably tell, I'm itching to get back and explore more of Amsterdam, hoping to go back in the summer at some point, I've got my eye on Skyscanner... So if you have any must-do recommendations, let me know!

Also, I couldn't have crafted this itinerary without the help of Alice, Ellie, Alex & Grace, Georgia who sent me soo many restaurant, bar and things to do recommendations.

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