Sunday, 10 December 2017

Spicy Sweet Potato & Coconut Chickpea curry

Yes, before you say anything - the wooden table background is back. Natural light inside the house is tough in dark December, so I took the pan outside on a snowy Sunday morning and stood in the freezing cold to try and get a shot that made this curry look a little bit appealing.

Anyway, enough about the behind the scenes exclusives... this curry is delicious; spicy and warming and full of flavour.

The recipe below will make between 4 - 6 portions depending on if you're adding rice or sides...

You'll need:

  • 1 red onion
  • Around 6cm of ginger, grated
  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • A generous dollop of tomato puree
  • Half a bag of spinach (around 100/150g)
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 3 tablespoons hot curry powder (usually a blend of coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, garlic powder, fennel etc) (or mild, if spice isn't your thing)
Wash your sweet potato and chop into small chunks (I leave the skin on but it's up to you). Steam or boil for 15-20 minutes until they're soft and pretty much cooked through. 

Dice your onion and heat up in a large frying pan. I just added a bit of water to stop it sticking, but use oil if you wish. Add the grated ginger and turmeric, and add some more water, until a paste like consistency has formed with the turmeric and onions. 

Then, add your sweet potato. Don't worry if the potato starts to crumble a little bit. Add the chopped tomato and coconut milk, and keep stirring. After around five minutes add the rinsed chickpeas and tomato puree (I find it helps thicken sauce up). Keep it cooking for around ten minutes and then add the spinach, folding it in to the curry as you go. 

Finally, add a sprinkle of salt and leave to stand for about ten minutes.

Serve, and add sides as you see fit... 


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Why do I bullet journal and should you start?

Google 'how to bullet journal' and a whole host of hits come back at you, telling you why you should do it, the best ways to do and what you can get out of it.

But what actually is it?!

In its crudest form it's essentially a glorified to-do list (but anything that involves an excuse for buying new stationary is absolutely a-ok with me). You basically 'quick log' all your thoughts, stresses, to-do's, pressures, appointments etc etc etc in no particular order, allowing your mind to 'empty' and get a sense of everything going on around you.

Anyway, I've been bullet-journaling once a week for a few months now and found it's helped me in a lot of ways. It helps me keep organised and I can prioritise things I need to do that week, as well as feeling less stressed about things that are going on in my head.

If you love a good old list, I think you'll be able to get on board with this. Here are 3 reasons I bullet journal.

1) There's no right or wrong way of doing it

Given that I initially Googled how to do it, and given that it's a bit of a personal admin 'buzz word' at the moment, you'd be forgiven to think that there's one set way of doing it. There's not. Do it however you want. Find a way that works for you.

For me, I do a weekly journal over three pages.

Page one is a literal mind-spewing list of everything and anything that's in my head at that time - from needing to do a dark wash, to certain career development goals, blog posts I want to write, things I need / want to do at work, people I need to call, things that are bothering / upsetting me, articles I've bookmarked, recipes I want to try, workout goals, things that are making me happy, weekend dates, things I need to buy - the list is endless.

Page two and three are then a double spread. My week is listed out by day at the top, with tasks and events listed out by day underneath the corresponding day. An attainable, achievable weekly 'to-do' list sits bottom left of the page. Then, my finances and people to call / meet up with are in the middle, and on the right hand side, I have a list for goals for the week, and then a list for specific meals or workouts I want to try and incorporate.

Naturally, some things carry over to future weeks, but that's fine - I like to be able to see everything on one page.

This might not be your preferred way of doing it, but it works for me.

2) It helps clear my mind 

I feel so at ease and 'cleansed' when I've noted everything down, got it off my chest (so to speak), and worked out how I'm going to solve / achieve / fit stuff in for the week ahead. I'd even go so far as to say it's like a conscious mindful meditation, mulling over every little thing in my head. We are bombarded with so much information now, it can be hard to find focus, and I find this brings me clarity.

3) I can see all my priorities and assess where I'm going to make a difference

Some weeks are quiet, some weeks I'm out for dinner four times a week and working long hours. My goals might be the same but different things going on in your life can affect what's realistically achievable. Some weeks work is the top priority, some weeks it's my own hobbies, some weeks it's about just doing the bare minimum! I love seeing what the main priorities are and finding ways to move myself closer to my goals.

I love how all-encompassing bullet-journaling is. It's not just about tracking personal admin, fitness, food, work, self-development, social life - it's a way of combining them all.

Essentially: I love lists. I love stationery. I love writing notes. So it's a win-win for me!

Thanks to luxury and designer stationery company Rooi, for sending me this gorgeous Kate Spade notebook for me to log away with :) It's been a dream to write in!

I'm by no means a bullet journal expert, and if you are looking for more in depth info on bullet journaling - definitely give it a Google and find a tutorial that resonates with you, if you fancy it. Would also recommend my lovely friend Kat Horrocks who's amazing at helping with goal setting and personal development (she's a life coach!).

This Buzzfeed article sums it up pretty well, ha!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Friday night @ Australasia

Friday was "date night" (can't express how much I cringe at that term), which was made significantly better as Australasia had invited me down to review their updated menu. Some people who read my blog (shout out to my dad) might remember when I was last invited to Australasia to review their Sunday menu, or when I took my mum (years ago) for afternoon tea to celebrate Mother's Day. We had a lush meal last time and I was really excited to go on a Friday night when everyone there would be celebrating the arrival of the weekend. 

This had the potential to be a lovely pic had I not been impatient to get to the table haha
When we arrived it was buzzing, really 'chatty' and upbeat, with lots of people looking ready to have a good night. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but the lighting in that place never fails to amaze me. I always forget that I'm underground thanks to the soft, golden glow and white wash walls. They'd also added mirrors since I'd last been, which helped bounce more light around. 

We started off with cocktails: a smokey old fashioned for James and the Australasian porn star martini for me. 

James always gets the smokey old fashioned and I really like it too so it was win win. My martini was gorge - Grey Goose, lychee liqueur, lemon, mango, vanilla, fresh passion fruit and a shot of sparkling Chardonnay (any Belinda Blinked fans out there will know how much excitement that brings!).

We opted to choose from the 'local' menu - (choosing small dishes to share) and our waiter recommended 3-4 dishes each - which is right up my street. I dislike it when you go for the sharing plates option and a waiter recommends a silly number like 2 each. 

So, safe in the knowledge that we had around 6 to 8 dishes to choose from, we got stuck in. 

Salmon sashimi (x6 pieces) was first on the list, it's got to be done. 

We also chose prawn nigiri (x4 pieces) and the Avocado, mango and broccoli Californian rolls (x4 pieces). 

Edamame beans with lashings of lime and salt accompanied this and made up the first part of the meal. 

I love wasabi, and even more so in Australasia when the waiter grates the fresh stuff right in front of you. Please note: I found it so much stronger than usual wasabi, and that's coming from someone who loves spice. There were a good couple of coughing / eye watering fits during this, much to my embarrassment. 

The way the salmon is served is pretty cool, and I was a big fan of the avocado Californian rolls - the floral detailing stamped on the rice made it look really pretty.

We'd also ordered a bottle of sauvignon blanc to go with the meal, and our waiter gave us some good advice on which bottle to have (this didn't feel pushy, it was the same price), but the flavours would compliment our choices better. Or something. Either way, it was lovely.

For our next round of small plates, we chose:

Prawn tempura (a classic), Yakatori chicken skewers and the best named dish... 'ANGRY PRAWNS'  (both from the Robata grill menu). We chose the latter on the name alone, although I did ask what they were, and they're in fact tiger prawns. We also almost ordered scallops sashimi but very quickly changed our minds when we remembered that they would be raw, so opted for the 'hand-dived scallops, cauliflower, carrot and ginger'. 

Let me start with the Angry Prawns. Oh my gosh. If you could only have one dish, make sure it's this one. I feel bad in saying that as all the plates we got were delicious, but these prawns were absolutely insane. Meaty, almost creamy, with a rich sauce, we could've eaten this dish three times over (it's £13.50 for three prawns so make every bite worth it). 

Next up, the chicken skewers. These were right up my street and the portion size was massive. To me, the marinade was almost like a satay, with a spicy but sweet dipping sauce. I really really enjoyed this dish and was pleasantly surprised with how big the skewers were. 

The scallops were lovely too. I have to be in the mood for scallops, and it's one of those food items that I can't really think about what I'm eating when I'm chewing it (anyone else?!), but the texture of these was lovely, not slimy or tough, but had a melt-like quality I've not experienced. The cauli / carrot / ginger puree was a really nice addition too.

We were stuffed. Which naturally meant one thing: dessert menu. 

James was really keen for the Chocolate Dome (it's amazing), and we'd had it last time so you know, needed to try it again, just to be sure we liked it. It comes with molten caramel sauce that they pour over a chocolate dome, it melts and reveals salted caramel icecream and peanuts. YEP. It's actually divine. We demolished it, and also ordered another scoop of icecream to go with it. 

Our serving staff were so friendly, offering helpful advice on what to get and generally looking after us to make sure we were having a good time. Looking around as well, the staff are all so busy but calm, there's a real emphasis on making sure people have a relaxed, amazing experience. 

We never once felt rushed or that the waiters were hurrying us up, and so after we'd been chilling out in a dome coma and they asked if we wanted anything else, espresso martinis seemed like a great idea. 

Going on a Friday night was the perfect way to start the weekend (we ended up 'out out' so Saturday morning was a struggle), and I really couldn't recommend it any more if you're looking for a Friday night treat. Also, the playlist was fab - so many Jessie Ware remixes and just generally 'my type' of chilled music.

It's really funny reading this alongside my last review - I'm clearly still a huge fan!

Naturally, I'm reviewing this place and so wouldn't be posting unless I'd had a good time - I'd like to say though that not many of the staff knew we were reviewing and they were so polite and friendly. 

Australasia remains to be a classic favourite of mine on the 'Manchester scene', and I'm so glad that eighteen months on I'm able to give it as glowing a review as I did then. I've been back in between the two reviews for drinks etc and will no doubt be drinking espresso martinis there again soon... 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Lentil & Blackbean curry with a nutty butternut squash mash

This weird and wonderful concoction occurred earlier this week when James and I had come home from a long weekend away and there was "nothing in the cupboards" (apart from 9782 tins of beans and tomatoes). I couldn't be bothered to go out so decided to get frugal and creative and voila, this little beauty was born!

It's definitely comfort food at its finest. And 100% not traditional, as I wouldn't usually put the two together, so you could just make the curry on its own...

It's a good job it tastes so nice because it's really hard to make what's essentially a plate of brown vegetables look nice, even with a filter (I took these pics at about 9.30 when this was ready and wasn't expecting to do a blog post from it, so excuse the shoddy photos).

It really is delicious though, so give it a go.

Serves 4:

For the curry you'll need:

  • 1 tin green lentils
  • 1 tin black beans 
  • 100g chesnut mushrooms (any mushrooms will do)
  • 1 tin chopped tinned tomatoes 
  • 1 good squeeze of tomato puree (I love it so always use about half a tube)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala 
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt to season

Chop your onion and fry in a pan with the garlic. Add the garam masala and stir, coating the onion. After a few minutes, add your mushrooms and do the same. Then, add your lentils and black beans and stir again. Add the paprika and chilli powder and mix. If things are looking a bit dry, add some water (I think I added about a cup of water). Then add your chopped toms and puree, and let things simmer for about 20 mins. Add a sprinkle of salt and you're done!

For the butternut squash mash you'll need:

  • Around 300g butternut squash (I used pre-diced frozen stuff)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon paprika (or a teaspoon if you don't like spice)
  • Pinch of salt
Boil or steam the butternut squash until it's soft and mashable. Drain and give it a mash in the pan, adding in the tahini and paprika and salt. Mix it up well (tahini has a tendency to stick together). 

Serve :)

So there you go. A really quick and easy recipe to make when you've got next to nothing in the cupboards. 


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Why I love: Walking

I used to really dislike walking as a form of exercise. In fact, I never used to consider it 'exercise' at all, thinking it was 'just' a scaled down version of running, and something you did on hangover free weekends with friends and family (or something your parents would force you to do each Sunday until the day you left home!).

Now though, I'm a total convert. I'm not pretending I've taken up hiking holidays or anything like that, but I've started walking my commute. I know, groundbreaking. It's not a fresh mountain view hike or anything remotely half as beautiful as the picture above would suggest, but it's become a morning ritual (and evening, some days) for me now and I love it.

It takes the same time to walk as it does to get public transport (give or take 5 minutes), and by walking I've found I can reap a whole host of benefits.

Here's why I'm loving walking to work:

1 'Me time' 

I'm absolutely loving having 45 minutes in the morning to walk and wake up, mull over my thoughts, stresses and to-do lists.

I feel like I gain a lot of clarity on my walk, I have time to really think things through and it feels amazing.

I've been trying to walk 'handsfree' as I'd noticed I was glued to my phone and carrying it *all* the time, and every time I've done this I've been amazed at what it feels like to have two hands swinging by my side, rather than one wrapped around my phone, slave to my headphones wrapping themselves around it. It makes me realise how addicted I am to just holding my phone.

I also looveeee listening to podcasts on the way in. Educational, health, funny, smutty, murder / crime thrillers - you name it, I've probably subscribed. Current faves include:

- My Dad Wrote A Porno ( I've never laughed out loud so uncontrollably in public before).
- The Inquiry (really good 20 min podcasts on news and current affair topics, it has four opinions on one subject)
- Don't Salt My Game (Laura Thomas is a Registered Nutritionist and is calling bullshit on the diet industry / fake wellness era we live in)

I'm planning on doing a podcast post, so will leave this here for now..!

It also means I have 45 mins to chat to my family & best friends who don't live near me. This is especially good in the evening when you've got a load of dirty goss to catch up on and couldn't possibly do this on the train with everyone listening. Bliss.

Headspace is a massive plus to walking in, too. In a world where we're bombarded with so much information (see addicted to phone point above), it's nice to have this time to myself.

When I get to work, I'm not annoyed at having been squished on a tram carriage with loads of other people or sat stuck in traffic, I've had 45 minutes to do my own thing, let my mind play out scenarios, plan the day ahead, workout my priorities and just get 'ready' for the day. I've found I come in to work alert, motivated and really refreshed - not groggy or half asleep.

2 Exercise / Fitness

I wear a Fitbit and immediately I noticed the impact walking to (and most days, from) work had on my step count and calorie burn. This really isn't about calories burnt or steps taken, but it's definitely had an impact. The walk is around 5km and I burn around 300/350kcals (obvs this will be totally different for everyone according to distance, body weight, heart rate etc etc etc). I'm also, for the majority of the walk, in the 'fat burning zone', which is different from my usual running / HIIT / strength /  circuits based workouts I do, so a great addition to add to my workouts for the week.

It's great because if I know I'm going to have a busy week and will struggle to maintain my usual workout plan I know I'm still getting 45 minutes (90 if I walk home) of activity in my day.

3 General health

There are a load of other health benefits to walking - including reducing the risk of chronic illnesses (like heart disease, asthma), improving physical health, helping mental health, improving joint and back pain. You can find them all listed on the NHS website here and Bupa here.

4 Getting outdoors

I spend the majority of my time inside. I work in an office. I go to the gym. I cook in the kitchen and chill in my living room most evenings. I go out for dinner (and sit inside) and bars and shops and go to events with friends and dates and most of the time, it's all inside.

On weekends I try and spend as much time outside as possible and during the week, when we're lucky enough to get 'ok' weather, I do really try and make a real effort to get out as much as I can, but living in the UK means this isn't always achievable.

So, walking to work in all weather is another way to make sure I spend some time outside (bear in mind I'm writing this in August and might be telling a different story in November ha).

Lucy Mountain aka @thefashionfitnessfoodie has said so many times on her Instagram that she walks anywhere that takes an hour or less, and that's something that's stuck with me for the past few months. It's very typical in London to walk 45 / 60 minutes as a standard way of getting around and not think about it, but in Manchester / Bristol / other places it's a lot less typical. So I'm trying my best to make it the norm!

I do also have some top tips on how to stick at it, too.

Firstly, don't like I did, try and walk to work in brand new, rigid, heel-skin ripping, blister inducing shoes. Stick to your good old trusty trainers. Yes, you might look like a bit of a knob in a dress and Nike free runs, but such is life.

Secondly, upgrade your dress-meets-trainer look and walk to work in gym kit. I've started doing it and get changed as soon as I'm at work. I found when walking in normal clothes I'd get in the office and the heat of the walk would finally catch up with me and I'd end up half-drenched making lift small talk (gross).

Also, get a raincoat. Seriously. Pride, style and fashion sense must go out the window. One day I think I'll invest in a lush, sleek looking waterproof that will make me look like something out of the Lululemon brochure but for now I'm wearing a massive old Berghaus raincoat that was James's about fifteen years ago (school label in it and everything).

I do have a lush Sweaty Betty rucksack though which is amazing as it fits clothes, shoes, towel, lunch, breakfast, shower stuff, makeup, purse etc etc in it... It's the All Sport rucksack here.

I want to inspire you to walk a little bit more to see the benefits. I'm really really enjoying it, and think you will too. Other people that post a lot about walking and the benefits include my pal Spamella, and Twins in Trainers (these two girls did a really good post here about walking and its benefits).

Long live #LISS.


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Butternut Squash Squares

Oh my gosh, this recipe was a complete accident. One of those total accidental foods that you don't expect to amount to anything but the way it turned out means this will be a weekly thing for me now.

I had a butternut squash to use up (does anyone else hate cutting them?! The skin is so tough..), and decided to roast it so I could chuck it in the oven and forget about it, and have it with something for tea that evening.

Now, I'm trying to go more plant based / veggie 80% of the time (more on this later, I'm sure), so I knew I wanted to try and spice this up a bit more to make it more of a 'main event' in a meal.

The flavours, the texture - this is a winner, and I think you'll love it.

You'll need:

  • 1 large butternut squash, de-skinned and chopped into cubes
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons of tahini (I used Meridian)
  • 3 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • Sea salt 

This makes about four portions, so alter if you want to make more.

Chop your butternut squash into cubes, removing all of the skin. It's a bit of a chore to chop, and be careful as it can be a bit slippy sometimes with a knife (or you could buy the pre-chopped stuff). I really hate the stringy bits (they literally freak me out so much), but don't let me stop you adding these if you want to.

Place on a baking tray, and drizzle with olive oil, mixing the cubes until they're covered. Then add your paprika - I love a bit of spice so went for three generous tablespoons but you can adapt to your preferences... also I used smoked paprika because I like the taste but normal paprika is fine.

Next, sprinkle sea salt over the cubes and mix everything so that all your cubes are covered. Then, drizzle 3 or 4 tablespoons of tahini over and mix again, ensuring all of the squares are coated.

Roast in the oven for 40/45 mins at 180 degrees until they're crisp, golden and fluffy inside.



Monday, 10 July 2017

Double 00 Pizza Chorlton

I never ever ever exaggerate. Ok. I do. But, oh my gosh why haven't I written a post about this before now? Considering I've been going two years? Considering that Double 00 pizza is the best pizza I've ever had?

See. No bold claim. Just pure, unadulterated truth.

I've been going to Double 00 since it first opened a couple of years ago; in fact, I went in its first week when things weren't quite ready and the place stunk of fibreglass, and it was still great.

I've probably been between 15 - 20 times, and I'm not bored (I last went on Sunday).

I've seen the restaurant go from having stacks of flour by the windows, to opening up the main front wall with bifold doors (always a winner) so that now, the terrace and the inside of the restaurant are basically one.

I don't just love the pizzas.

I love the fact it's BYOB.

I love the fact it's equally somewhere you can go on a date, for a birthday meal as a big group of friends, for somewhere to gossip and catch up with a best mate, and to take your parents.

I love the music they play. Feel good house (oh yes kids) - the playlist always makes me want to go on a night out (but my carb baby says otherwise).

I love the fact you can either choose one of their own pizzas, or make your own (I always make my own). Their starters are pretty good too.

I usually always get the make your own with chicken, jalapenos and nduja, or balsamic onions. And it's soo good.

Quite often if I'm in a group we'll get a couple of the rocket and parmesan side salads as they're lush.

For starters, the fig crostini is incredible, the olives are good, and the antipasti platter gets a thumbs up from me.

My favourite thing though has to be... no matter how rammed or busy they are, and despite not having booked sometimes, they'll always always do their best to fit you in, whether that means moving tables around (it happened to us where we've literally moved mid meal so they could accommodate some more people - it's just their 'vibe', and I'm totally fine with that), or being realistic about timings. It's busy and loud but the people are so friendly you feel like you know them.

You can find them on Twitter here, on Trip Advisor here. If there's more than two of you, definitely book. And thank me later ;)

Here's some more pics of pizzas...


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Amma's Canteen

Amma's Canteen - photo courtesy of Amma's Canteen
This is going to be a short and sweet one from me, but I have to tell you guys about this place.

Nestled in between Chorlton and Didsbury (no man's land), opposite the massssive Southern Cemetery graveyard (stay with me, people), is Amma's Canteen. You'll have probably driven past it a few times and not really noticed it, as it's on a row of small shops, easily miss-able with a blink of an eye.

I'd heard a few mumblings about the place on social, and so last Thursday, Hannah, James, Jak and I made the way to no man's land to see what the fuss was about.

First of all, it's BYOB which is great, and even better when you realise you've got a bottle of unopened red from that one weekend where you managed to abstain from drinking.

We went on a Thursday evening and there were about four other tables eating. It's not massive, so definitely book if there's more than four of you. The atmosphere was very chilled and friendly - our waitress was great.

This isn't Indian food as us Brits know it. It's South Indian street food serving small plates... essentially Indian tapas. You won't find any korma here, which is fine by me.

I'll get straight to it, as that's essentially what we did on Thursday - we ordered pretty much everything off the street cart menu bar 4 dishes (I think there are about 14) so we had a LOT of food - but it was so delicious we polished it all off.

They're great as they cater for meat eaters, pescetarians and veggies / vegans alike - there's so much choice. The emphasis really is on flavour rather than the 'meat source', which gets a thumbs up from me.

From memory, we ordered:

Chilli paneer: The paneer was absolutely incredible. Big, chunky and a really generous portion, it came with a gorgeous sauce and lots of veggies- almost like a mini curry. Would have eaten two portions if I didn't have the rest of the menu to devour! My favourite dish..

Masala Vadai (4x pieces of falafel with a red cabbage slaw). Very very flavoursome and not hideously deep fried like some falafel can be.

Spiced Sundal - slow cooked chickpeas with chilli, mango, coconut and lime; really refreshing and I loved the addition of coconut - this was a great side 'filler' dish, but if you're veggie definitely get the paneer and falafel to go with it!

Chicken 65 - apparently this is a famous bar snack in Chennai - deep fried spicy chicken, really, really good!

Tamarind wings - can you ever go wrong with sticky chicken wings?

Beef dukka: slow roast beef, pearl onion and coconut - this was gorgeous, pulled beef with crispy veg - no sauce, but I really liked it dry. Great portion size here too.

Pepper squid - I'm not a massive fan of squid, I have to really be in the mood for it, but I tried a little bit and was pleasantly surprised! Again, comes with loads of peppers and onion (a big win in my eyes!).

Sauteed prawns - king prawns with red chilli, crushed shallots and coconut. These were amazing and the prawns and veggies were coated in a gorgeous light sauce.

Well, you'd think after that we'd be full, but we decided to order "just three" main meals to finish us off.

We ordered two dosa's (Indian pancakes) - one beef and one potato and spinach. They're massive and come with a nice dipping sauce. I'd never get pancakes as a main usually, but these were great.

Jak also ordered an amazing chicken curry pot - spicy, pulled chicken pieces in a gorgeous spicy, thick sauce that was literally "me in a dish" - it came  with pancakes, not rice as a side.

One thing I'd say is that you really get the feeling that the food has been cooked with care, and passion - does that make sense or just sound odd? To explain a little better, the chef came out and chatted to us for a while and wanted to know where we'd heard about their place (I think he might have been the owner.. could be wrong), and explained why they'd chosen the seemingly random location. He said that they couldn't choose between Didsbury and Chorlton so chose somewhere slap bang in the middle to attract both tribes. Clever, and I bet they've saved a fair bit on rent too!

It was a good 'double date' venue but I also think it would be great as somewhere to come as a group where you can all order loads of bits and share.

It's a fifteen minute walk from Chortlon and probably a bit longer to West Didsbury / Nell Lane, but trust me, it's worth the short Uber ride.

They also feature on a Manchester Confidential article about restaurants locals don't want you to know about - you can read it here.

Their website is - check out their menu there.

We'll definitely be back - Indian tapas is amazing!

I'm hopefully going to do a few posts on my favourite restaurant gems, so keep an eye out for more!

Monday, 12 June 2017

#CubaDiaries - Part Two - Havana

Havana is absolutely incredible.

Everything I read before I went didn't do it justice, and this probably won't, either, but here I go. Imagine if Barcelona was in the Caribbean, but a bomb had hit the city leaving some parts in ruins, with trees growing out of the buildings, and yet still, sunshine, music and a strong sense of 'being Cuban' shines through - it's like that.

A lively, proud, gorgeous, crumbling place - I read that it's a city of contradictions, and they really weren't wrong.

I could talk about Havana for days but here are my top ten things to do /see / restaurants to eat / places to stay. If you are going to Cuba, you might also find my post 'travelling to Cuba: what you need to know' useful.

In no particular order, here you go:

1) The architecture

The first thing that hit us as we arrived in the dead of night, was why the building next to ours had been completely demolished. Our taxi driver just laughed, shrugged and said 'Cuba'.

The main thing we noticed with the buildings in Havana was just how many buildings and streets looked as if a bomb had just hit it. You'd be looking at an amazing church or building and next to it would be a complete wreck, with plants growing out of windows. It was really apocalyptic and a bit dystopian, which took some getting used to.

The colonial old town is very much like a European city (it really reminded me of Barcelona or Rome), but make your way over to Vedado to the 'commercial' side of the city and you'll see the overwhelming 50/60s concrete sky scrapers, dominating the skyline.

2) Walking the streets 

We walked from Habana Viejo (old town), through an area called Animas (probably one of the most eye-opening streets I've ever walked down), through to Vedado, choosing to see the city in all its different lights. We never once felt unsafe or really vulnerable, despite a lot of the time being the only tourists about (especially in the streets back from the main squares / roads).

There's so much to see, but hands down one of the best things about the city is the cars. I thought they were just something that we'd see every now and then as a bit of a tourist trap (and don't get me wrong lots are), but they're literally everywhere and add such a quirky, timeless aspect to the place!

One thing we did notice was the pollution was quite bad, so if there's not much wind you might find that you really notice it too and would prefer to get in a car - you can do car tours for about 70/80CUC for a couple of hours.

3) Drinks... 

The best places for drinks we discovered were:

O'Reilly 304

Nestled in the old town, this place was great. I had an amazing gin cocktail, and the drinks list was extensive and soo reasonably priced, so I'd definitely recommend this place.

Hotel Inglaterra 

We had a lush night here drinking beer and cocktails and listened to live bands until the early hours of the morning. A great place to end up after a night out...

During the day, this strip of hotels including the Hotel Inglaterra is a great place for a drink or coffee, as they've got seats and tables outside, and it's where a lot of the tour cars wait, so it's really colourful, busy and lively.

Hotel Ambos Mundos rooftop bar

This place was really special, with incredible views over Havana. If it wasn't for the relentless wind, it would've been perfect, but we didn't let that stop us enjoying a few drinks at sunset.

La Floridita

We discovered this place on our first day in Havana, where we found ourselves, not long after we'd had breakfast, ordering rounds of Daiquiris...

This place is apparently the birthplace of the daiquiri, made famous by Ernest Hemingway, who visited La Floridita loads. You can't help but get sucked in to the atmosphere of this place - the moment you walk in there's a band playing loud jazz and everyone is dancing, drinking and laughing together, despite the fact it was barely midday.

Definitely spend an afternoon getting tipsy here!

4) Eat...

The food in Cuba is weird, just to warn you. We found it difficult to find a good meal, but there were a couple of places in Havana that stuck out (and a few gems in Trinidad and Cayo Guillermo, so keep your eyes out for that post, too!)

Cafe Laurent

Wow, this place is amazing. It was recommended to me by someone through work, and I can't thank them enough! Situated in the heart of Vedado, it boasts a very unassuming entrance, so you think you're entering in to an office block or something similar. There was also some dude outside waving a menu which I usually find off-putting BUT don't let that put you off - the food, service, views... everything was so good.

Spicy garlic prawns

Seared beef, egg on toast
THE nicest lobster I've ever had!

We stayed for hours, drinking wine and coffee - the views are like something out of a film:

The Edificio Focsa (ugly huge building pictured, ha) was named one of the seven modern engineering wonders of Cuba (yep), and despite its ugly facade, it's actually pretty fascinating - there's a flock of vultures that live on the top floor!

I wish we'd seen this place at night, too.

Plaza Vieja

This little square in the old town is like something straight out of a European city and has lots of cute little restaurants and bars to sit and lap the sun up in. We had a great meal at a restaurant that I can't remember the name of but the atmosphere was amazing - live bands, people dancing and good, tasty food. It was on the corner of the square, as you enter from the old town.

Also, O'Reilly 304 do really good looking food (the tacos especially). We didn't have enough time to eat when we were there but it looked amazing, and our airbnb host recommended it to us as a great lunch time spot.

5) Universidad de la Habana

We walked here from the old town which took about an hour, so if you're not feeling a big walk, maybe ask to do this on a car tour!

It's worth a visit as it's on the way to the Plaza de la Revolucion and is really interesting to see it in 'action' - there's a HUGE athletic stadium and pool that's completely deserted, which is kind of weird.

The buildings around the uni are lush too.

6) Plaza de la Revolucion

Read up on the politics before you go (I mention a documentary James & I watched on Netflix before we went in my last Cuba post), as it puts the entire area into context.

It's a sparse, humongous space that's guarded seriously by government officials, and even in the gorgeous heat of the day, the ugly utilitarian buildings (built in the 1950s) and their grey colours dominate the landscape. It's not picturesque, but it's really cool, and you can really see how it was the perfect place for huge scale political rallies.

We didn't go inside the Memorial a Jose Marti at the plaza but apparently it's the tallest structure in Havana, with a look out on top, that's supposed to have amazing city views.

7) Malecon

The Malecon is weird. It could be absolutely amazing, like the promenade des Anglais in Nice, but... it's just a bit, well, sparse?

Don't get me wrong, it's seriously impressive (it's 8km long) and when you approach it walking down from Prado (one of the main boulevards), and you see all the amazing cars it's incredible.

Still, the sea is amazing and crashes over the wall onto the streets, so it's pretty dramatic - we ran along it one morning from our airbnb, down Prado and along the Malecon to the Hotel Nacional and back, which was tough, especially coming back; there were lots more cars on the road and the fumes were starting to get a bit much! If you're going to run, I'd recommend going before 9am.

8) Museo de Revolucion

This is just off Prado (a big boulevard that was modelled on Las Ramblas in Barca!) and the Malecon, and is a great place to get a bit of history and context around the city, and the whole of Cuba really.

It's worth looking on all the floors as each room has loooads of information in it through different ages. As you can see, the security guards take their jobs seriously:

It also shows quite graphic pics of torture victims, and blood stained uniforms, so it's a pretty graphic exhibition..

9) Capitolo Nacional

We spent the first two nights and three days staying right opposite this at a place called Capitolo Residences. It's an absolutely incredible location, with the balcony looking out onto the Capitolo Residences.

This building is absolutely gorgeous. It was modeled on the Washington DC building, and built when Cuba was gifted 'sugar money' after WW1.

The Capitolo Nacional was under renovation when we were there, and I think was being used as a science / uni building...could be wrong on this one!

We were a little nervous when we walked up the crumbling stairs to our air bnb, especially since the building next door had literally fallen down, but inside told a totally different story - with gorgeous marble pillars and huge, tall rooms.

If you're looking for somewhere central to stay in Havana, this place is perfect. Markus and the people that ran the place were soo friendly and helpful. They ordered us taxi collectivo, told us where to go, gave us great bar recommendations and made amazing breakfast for us each day:

The room was gorgeous - huge ceilings, white wash walls, gorgeous bathroom and really comfy bed.

As well as being opposite the Capitolo Nacional, you're also opposite is what used to be Havana's most famous theatre, which has just been left to rot, crumble and be ransacked of its beauty. It was fascinating to just sit and drink coffee, watching the world go by and having these two buildings, that couldn't be further apart, in the same frame.

The balcony in our apartment was incredible - look at these views!:

You're a 3-5 minute walk to Parque Central (where there are loads of amazing international hotels with great rooftop bars and live music; you'll hear this at night if you're walking around the area!), and 10 mins from Prado and the start of the old town, so it's a great base to explore the city.

10) Animas 303

I couldn't not mention Animas. It's the street I was talking about earlier, that's like a world apart from any street I've ever seen, and we stayed in a gorgeous airbnb / hotel on this road.

We spent another night in Havana on our way back home, and this time stayed at Animas 303. This place is gorgeous, a little boutique hotel with kitchen, dining room and rooftop bar (this wasn't finished when we were there but they were building it and it looked fab!). I think every room has a balcony, and ours had a great view out on to the lively street below.

The view from the balcony at Animas 303...

Inside Animas 303

I absolutely adored Havana and would go back in a heartbeat. It's bursting with intrigue and history, and has so much rich mystery surrounding it, I couldn't recommend it enough.
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