Even though it’s a good six years since I lived there, Shoreditch is still my favourite area of London. It’s not edgy anymore, it’s not particularly trendy (don’t you have to go to Putney to be trendy these days?), but I love it. I know the streets, the bars, the coffee shops, the people… it’s a vibrant and fun place and I just love to be there. In the last six months I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot more time in that area and now I’m working there too I thought it would be a great opportunity to tell you all about my favourite places. So without further ado, here it is; MTT does Shoreditch:
Even though I no longer live in London I would definitely say it is my spiritual home. Something about the place is so energising: the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the tourists, the traffic. I love it all and every time I make the thirty minute train journey into the city I feel excited at the prospect of spending a few hours in my favourite place.
But a few hours never seems to be enough; luckily I have a good few friends who let me crash in their beds when I’m in town on a girl’s night, and you can always get a good value hotel room via Hotel Tonight (I love The Threadneedles) or at The Hoxton. And a couple of weeks ago I added a new hotel to my list of favourite places in London to lay my head: The Cavendish London.
The Cavendish London is a 4 star boutique hotel in on of the most gorgeous areas of London, St James, just off Piccadilly. I visited on one of the first super sunny days of the year and it was just glorious; the sun was bouncing off the stone buildings, the sky was blue and though it was still pretty chilly there were bare arms and smiley faces every way you turned. I’d just indulged in one of my favourite activities, a hair cut with the ever-amazing Sam at Ena Salon (he knows how to make you feel spoiled, ladies), and strolling through such a beautiful London meant I was walking on air by the time I got to my hotel. You’ll find it easily as I did tucked in on a little side street just behind Fortnum’s: such a fantastic spot for anyone wanting to explore the finer parts of London.
I checked in and made my way up to my room. Just check out the view I was greeted with! I don’t mean the view of myself in the mirror, I’m talking that breathtaking London vista up there. Totally stunning.
I never know what to do when I find myself in a hotel room. A place where you are ALONE, with a TV, a huge bed for SLEEP, magazines that you can READ. The potential for alone-time fun is incredible. So I did what I always seem to do which is order a Caesar salad and bowl of chips on room service, don my bathrobe and eat my lunch snuggled into the big fluffy hotel pillows. Blissful.
Caesar salad and chips is always my go-to room service choice and this one was top-notch. The chicken was perfectly chargrilled and though I don’t normally go for chunky chips these ones were wonderful. And anchovies, mmm, anchovies.
Not wanting to be totally lazy and explore the local area (and OK, cos I’d left my contact lens solution at home), I took a wander up Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus. Up here you’ll find some shops and a LOT of tourists (and also a huge store dedicated to Nespresso? Who knew). I picked up a little bottle of wine from Whole Foods (fave supermarket in the whole world, sorry Waitrose) with plans to enjoy it in the bath later and just took an hour to walk aimlessly. This part of London is so different to what I’m used to, it’s a feast for the senses with its bright lights, smells wafting over from Chinatown and busy streets. It was fun but I was happy to retreat to the sanctuary of my room at The Cavendish London.
There are rarely many things I find more satisfying than a nap in a hotel bed, so nap I did followed by a happy half hour gazing out of my window at the view with my Whole Foods glass of wine in hand. Soul food, that was. Then it was time for dinner after a long soak in a bath. This day… it just gets better and better, right?
I’d invited my gorgeous friend Caoimhe to dine with me and was so excited to catch up with her. We began our evening with cocktails in the bar and gossip about boys before moving on to the restaurant. The food was one of the things I was most looking forward to at The Cavendish; their in-house restaurant Petrichor has 2 AA rosettes and after checking out their menu online I was really excited to dine there. It’s one floor up in the hotel so you get a really unique birds-eye view of the streets below which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a quiet, luxurious restaurant that would be suited to a romantic date or anniversary dinner. Or a catch up with one of your favourite Irish babes :)
I plumped for the Scottish Scallop started which came with breaded frogs legs and was every bit as delicious as it looked. The scallops were cooked to perfection and though I’ve only had frogs legs once before these really hit the spot. Delicious.
Caoimhe went for the Trio of Quail: breast, egg and confit leg croquette. Just YUM.
Next up were the mains and though I chose well with my Suffolk Chicken Roulade (the pan-fried lettuce was to die for and I loved the earthy taste of the king oyster mushroom and truffle hollandaise) I have to admit, I had total food envy. Caoimhe’s plate was a work of art; her beef fillet came with smoked potato puree, ox cheek croquette, duck liver pate and a potato ring. WOW.
Puddings were up next and again these were big old plates of loveliness. My star anise creme brulee was a lovely end to a beautiful meal and Caoimhe’s Chocolate brownie could have been eaten three times over.
With stuffed bellies we headed off round the corner to Quaglino’s for a little sip of Prosecco and an old-fashioned flirt with some bartenders. We must have done something right because they kept appearing at our table with shots of delicious alcohol: this one below was rhubarb pavlova and coming with a teeny tiny meringue it literally tasted like pudding in a glass. We were impressed. And slightly drunk. See: LEGS. My mother will be horrified.
When we ran out of gossip I wobbled back round the corner to my bed at The Cavendish, excited about the TEN HOURS sleep I was about to have. There’s always time for a mirror selfie in a lift full of reflections, though…
The next morning I woke up feeling
refreshed and energised hungover and starving. Luckily on my return to the hotel I’d had the wherewithal to crazily scribble a room service breakfast order and leave it on my door for morning. So I had a slug of water, took a picture of the London sunrise and waited for my feast to arrive at 8.30.
Yep, apparently when I’m a bit tiddly I want ALL THE BACON. The breakfast was divine and tasted just as good as it looked, especially when enjoyed in bed with a massive cup of tea and Sunday morning breakfast TV. If you decide to brave leaving your room for breakfast though it’s worth noting you can until 12pm: it winds me up no end when you wake up at 10.15am on a Sunday morning in a hotel and realise you’ve missed breakfast and I wish more hotels were flexible with their times like this.
A little post-breakkie snooze and I was ready to start the day. I had to be back home for the kids fairly early so after I checked out of my St James’s bolthole I took a little browse through Fortnum and Mason and hopped on the tube home.
All in all, a thoroughly wonderful way to spend 24 hours in the capital. I may not have gone sightseeing, taken in any museums or visited any great monuments… but I returned home feeling like I’d spent a whole day pampering and pleasing no-one but myself and that was worth its weight in gold. The memories of that wonderful alone time will last and last :)
The Cavendish London: I’ll be back!
I was a guest of The Cavendish London – thank you so much for having me!
Since I split from my husband I have relied on my friends more than I ever had before. When I was married my husband was my best friend and I definitely neglected my female relationships in favour of this relationship. One of the best things about splitting up has been re-discovering the connection I have with my lady friends and I couldn’t be happier with the brilliant examples of womankind I am surrounded by. Unfortunately one of the best friends I have is all the way in New York. Kirsty is the one I went to when things with my marriage went tits up and Skyping her is the first thing I want to do when I have a terrible date or rubbish day. When we’re together we always have an absolutely wonderful time and I can hand on heart say that I know I want her to be in my life forever. I never laugh more than when I’m with Kirsty. We met in one of the first weeks I lived in London, having dinner with a mutual friend. Because I was the country mouse transplanted to the big city Kirsty took me under her wing, introduced me to people and showed me the ways of the London world. I remember meeting her for dinner for the first time at Mildred’s in Soho and she’d just finished scouring Primark; she had a brilliant on-the-side eBay business selling on 99p glasses for a tenner and was frantic because everywhere had sold out and she had orders stacking up. I remember feeling wide-eyed and in awe at this exuberant, confident chatty woman who took me to dinner and talked my ear off. She has remained my friend ever since, even helped me get a job at the place she worked, and though slightly less frantic and chatty these days (I like to tell her like a good stilton, she’s matured with age and is very cheesy) she is still one of those people whose spirit lifts you up just by spending time with them. Enough Kirsty loving, she’s going to have an unbearable ego when she gets round to reading this. LOVE YOU DARLING. Anyway, because of the nature of Kirsty living on the other side of the planet it can be difficult for us to get together. She has fleeting visits to the country every few months and this time I had her for a whole 24 hours. To say I was excited is an understatement, and even more so because we’d planned to jampack that whole time with FUN! We started at Chuan, the spa at The Langham, at 10 am. The order of the day: body scrubs, back massages and mini facials. I had a foot massage that sent me to sleep (woke myself up snoring like the classy bird I am) and then onto the spa for a dip in the pool, jacuzzi and sauna. I do mean a literal dip: that thing was freezing so we promptly retreated to the bubbles of the jacuzzi and the serenity of the heated beds. Lovely. Now, I like the changing room at my gym. It’s always clean, the shower is super-powered and the hairdryers are excellent. But the one at Chuan spa was simply out of this world. The shower had about 12 heads and a million knobs, there were not only hairdryers but hair straighteners and every sort of beauty product was there available for you to use. Oh, and slippers. You know times are good when there are hundreds of pairs of slippers at your disposal. Relaxed, we went from the spa to Soho house for a lunch of calimari, caesar salad, chips and some other things that I don’t remember. That’ll be the Prosecco. Of which there were lots… yay! I told you, there’s nothing I like more than sitting down to drink a bottle of something chilled and fizzy with a really interesting person and Kirsty, you’re no exception. Kirsty had a conference call to make so we headed back to our hotel three sheets to the wind. I don’t know about you but I find I get my best work done this way, and she seemed to be more hilarious than normal during her call. I of course spent the time flashing my bra at her, retrieving champagne and offering my own terribly important insights into her terribly important business. The dream team, that’s us. We were put up by the marvellous people at Novotel at their Novotel Waterloo hotel. We had a room that was really generously sized by London standards; big enough for a huge bed and a desk that came in very handy for all the proper bizness that Kirsty was carrying out. We stayed on their shopping package, which meant we were greeted with glasses of Champagne (Taittenger too, very lovely) and a goodie bag for a trip to the shops. We had Westfield VIP vouchers (discounts, yo!), treats for our feet for when all that walking got too much, water and a brilliant breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The hotel bar was absolutely beautiful and we enjoyed a second glass of champagne while we waited for our cab. My favourite thing might have been this London skyline rug, though. Absolutely brilliant. The hotel was really well placed for where we wanted to go; we hopped in an Uber (best taxi service ever: if you want to try it this weekend use the promo code ‘sh99c‘ and you’ll get a £20 credit to your account, as will I, whee!) and on a whim headed to Heron Tower. We did the touristy thing and gawped at all the sights on our way passed: The Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge. Ace. There’s nothing I love more than being a tourist in lovely old London. I’ve never been up Heron tower before, heights aren’t my thing, but on such a girly night out a fancy bar seemed to be the way to go. Let me tell you, that lift up to SushiSamba is a total headfark. I ended up clutching on to Kirsty’s arm, whimpering on the floor, not really sure what to do. My ears popped twice. In short, it was pretty awful but the view was just about worth it. Check this out: That doesn’t go any way to demonstrate just how stunning it was. Truly beautiful, a trip up the Heron Tower is definitely one for the ‘to do’ list. Fear of heights or not, I’ll definitely be back. The food at SushiSamba was incredible; we hadn’t booked and were seated at the bar, feasting on tuna sashimi, rock shrimp tempura and cucumber cocktails. It was pricey but worth it and the restaurant itself was beautifully decadent. Feeling full we decided to head over to Shoreditch House, where most of our early friendship was cultivated over espresso martinis and stories about BOYS. Not much has changed really (though this time more tequila was involved and it was me rather than her telling stories of BOYS) and the evening was spent being borderline annoying to our fellow revellers (crashing the British Fashion Council’s Christmas parties was one of the better ideas we’ve had, I feel). We ended the night in reindeer antlers, crawling into bed back at the Novotel at about 4am. It was an awesome awesome night and I haven’t smiled, danced and laughed that much in a long time. It’s probably a good thing that Kirsty only comes over once every six months because it took me a solid 5 days to recover from our day of excess. Ugh, the curse of a hangover when you’re no longer 23. But I really really really can’t wait to do it all again in six months time.
When I was growing up it really wasn’t ‘a thing’ to go abroad regularly, not like it is now. There was no Easyjet, the Eurostar was brand new (travelling under the sea? WEIRD): holidays were expensive. We went to Center Parcs once a year which was always absolutely brilliant – so much that I’m carrying on the tradition with Elfie and Hux – but we didn’t really travel abroad.
Which is why, when my mum and dad sat my brother and I down and told us that we were going on a surprise two week trip to Florida we both went mental. Disneyworld is the stuff that twelve year old’s dreams are made of, right?
It was to be my first time at an airport, first time on a plane, first time in a different country. I was literally so excited I gave myself an upset stomach the night before.
We had an amazing two week holiday. We visited every single Disneyworld park, Universal studios (twice), the biggest McDonalds in the world (they sold pizza!), outlet malls and massive breakfast buffet restaurants. I got my whole head plaited Monica-style, spent hours in the hotel pool and generally had the time of my life. Even now having travelled to Malaysia, New York, Paris, Greece… Florida 1997 still holds the crown for the best holiday I’ve ever been on.
Which is why I’m so excited to plan the same for Elfie and Hux when they’re a little bit older. My dad is 60 in a couple of years and he has requested a Disney holiday to Disneyworld Florida for his birthday treat. That’s something I can definitely get on board with. Last week he uploaded photographs from our trip all those years ago to get us excited about planning Disneyworld 2015… don’t be fooled, I haven’t processed them through some sort of vintage filter, this is what film photographs actually used to look like. Eat your heart out Instagram.
In the years since we visited Disneyworld a lot has changed: there’s been the addition of the Animal Kingdom park and, of course, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Universal Studios. I’m mostly looking forward to re-visiting the waterparks though, OH THE WATERPARKS. There is nothing I like more than charging around a waterpark; throwing myself down slides and trundling along lazy rivers.
I also think the delicious American cuisine will be more interesting to me now I’m that bit older (BURGERS!) and the outlet malls will take on a whole new meaning to 30 year old me. I can’t wait.
I’m just going to try not to make myself ill with excitement before the holiday this time.
This post was written in association with Thomson Holidays. You can see my disclosure policy here.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I like my food. When I go abroad I plan my days around which restaurants I want to eat at and when I was dating I got more excited about eating in lovely London restaurants than meeting new people. Waitrose is my happy place and I like nothing more than an early night with a pile of recipe magazines.
I tell you, my life is wild.
So when we boarded Ventura for our cruise I was pretty excited about the prospect of our all-inclusive dining package. And there are plenty of different options to choose from, whether you’re a foodie, if you like the more traditional sit-down dining or even if you’re a fan of room service (I AM). I was mostly looking forward to the fine dining options; The Glasshouse with wine curated by Saturday Kitchen’s Olly Smith, Marco Pierre White’s White Room and Atul Kocher’s East.
The first thing we did when we arrived onto Ventura at lunchtime was to visit the buffet. Pretty much open 24 hours a day (as I discovered a couple of times at 4am when Hux wouldn’t settle and was desperate for a banana and a bottle of milk) the buffet offered salads as well as hot food choices for lunch that changed every day. We only usually ate at the buffet for an early breakfast, where you could choose between a continental or full English feast. Post-8am and at lunchtime the area tended to get very busy and it could be difficult to get seated with the kids.
At lunchtime we tended to head for Cinnamon (above), where our all-inclusive package meant we could munch on a three-course meal, even if we’d gorged on bacon and eggs just a couple of hours previously. Or if that was too much you could order a salad or a lighter ‘sandwich of the day’ which would mean you’d save enough room for the complimentary afternoon tea.
There is a reason the on-board magazine told us that on a 7 day cruise the average person will put on 7 to 14lbs. And that is because FOOD.
On the last day Hux and I had a bit of a date at Cinnamon on our own: the three course option was a homemade scotch egg with mushroom confit, slow roast pork belly with crackling and a potato cake followed by a mini victoria sandwich. Hux dined off the children’s menu and had gammon, cucumber and chips. Most of it ended up in his hair, as you can see, but it was delicious all the same.
The kids options throughout the boat were very good and the little ones could either dine off the main menu with the adults or choose from the children’s menus. Elfie’s favourite part of the cruise was the character tea when she got to dine with Noddy; she has not stopped talking about it since.
Onto the part I was looking forward to the most: the fine dining. My cruise companion Steph is, much like me, a bit of a foodie so we often found ourselves next to each other having foodgasms over the amazing dishes. And, lets be honest, the wine (Ventura had an excellent wine list but we mostly stuck to the very moreish Marlborough Sauv Blanc).
The first night Steph and I dined at The Glasshouse, which I’d call decent brasserie-type food. It offers small tapas-style dishes as well as burgers and steaks. Above you can see our sharing plate which included ham hock terrine and piccalilli, fishcakes with hollandaise, quails egg scotch eggs and tempura king prawns. Really delicious.
We also ate here en masse with our children on the last night and I had the best surf n’turf of my life which came with prawns the size of my fist. That was one of the great things about Ventura: you could leave your children in the excellent kid’s facilities or they’d be quite welcome to dine with you in the evening. Elfie loved the special treat of dressing up and visiting the restaurants and Hux, well one of Hux’s hobbies is flirting with waitresses so he was in his element.
East was my least favourite of the three fine-dining restaurants though to be fair I don’t react well to spice and chilli (I’m such a special snowflake, you see). My main course of lobster and king prawn was too heavily flavoured for me and I felt the spices overrode the delicate shellfish. The pudding of flambe’d banana was bloody lovely though, as was the rose martini I supped on.
My absolute favourite restaurant on the whole ship was The White Room. With a menu by Marco Pierre White, the meal we had here was so lovely I could eat it over and over. I think the steak with garlic butter snails and bearnaise sauce was one of the best I’ve ever eaten (my mum: “Snails? I thought they were mushrooms…”), the tempura starter was awesome as was the amuse bouche of broccoli soup and tiramisu pudding. Petit fours came with coffee in a sugar basket (that got eaten, natch) and Steph and I polished off the epic feast with dirty martinis in the top deck cocktail bar, Metropolis. Perfect evening!
For lighter meals on Ventura there was also a burger bar and a pizza place for quick, easy and delicious lunches. Room service was brilliant: you could have a continental breakfast brought to your room free of charge each morning or select off the menu. The children often enjoyed a room service pizza and salad on our balcony as mum and I had a glass of wine watching the sunset… there are not many things more lovely than gazing out to sea when you finish off your kids freshly-made pizza.
Though we were dining all-inclusive we had to pay a slight supplement for the fine dining options on Ventura but these range from £3 per tapas dish at Glasshouse (around £8 for a steak) to £25 for the gorgeous meal at The White House. Well worth it, in my opinion. Alcohol was not included in the all-inclusive package but think Wetherspoons rather than London prices. Very good value but excellent quality (around £9 for a bottle of wine and £5 for a cocktail).
When the lovely people at P&O asked if I fancied a trip on Ventura, my first thought was obviously “HELL YES”. And then my second thought was “do I have to bring the kids?”. Because as much as I love my little ones to absolute death, there are some things in life that are slightly more enjoyable without my mini-me’s (sorry guys, you’ll understand this one day). Day spas, for example, or fancy restaurants. Nights out and days of culture. These are all usually better without an accompanying wailing baby or a toddler asking “do you need a wee or a poo, mummy?”
But the kiddos were indeed invited on board Ventura and P&O were keen for me to find out all about how family-friendly their facilities are. Apparently I’d be able to visit the spa, fancy restaurants, have nights out and experience some culture all with my kids in tow. Excellent!
Elfie is three and a half and Hux is almost one and a half. Elfie spends five mornings a week at pre-school and Hux four hours at creche, so they’re pretty socialised kids who really enjoy activities and mixing with other children. I can honestly say that they really really loved the children’s clubs on-board.
Ventura has four different kids clubs depending on the age of your children: for 2 to 4 year olds there’s the Toybox, for 5 to 8 year olds there’s Jumping Jacks, The Den is for 9 to 12 year olds and Decibels for the teens up to 17. There’s also Tumblers, a parent-supervised play area for under 2s; unfortunately Hux was too young to be signed into any of the facilities but he really enjoyed playing with other children and I met other parents this way, too. Tumblers also operated a ‘toy library’ which was great for us: we borrowed various toys and books throughout our trip that Hux loved playing with while we were relaxing with a glass of wine on our balcony (more on this later!).
Elfie went crazy for the kids club. Each day was themed: Space day, Jungle Day, Dinosaur Day, Circus day, with different activities planned around this theme. She spent her days getting her face painted, making cookies, going on Gruffalo hunts, making Elf wands… she adored it. The staff were absolutely brilliant and obviously loved their jobs and the kids in their care, they were always so welcoming and warm. They were very accommodating of Elfie’s medical needs too and I was allocated a pager for our whole stay so they could always reach me in case of emergency.
As well as the Kids Club there were other highlights for the children: the Noddy character dinner is something that Elfie keeps talking about and there were special parties for them to attend (I’ve never seen Hux freaked out before but the lifesize Noddy definitely did it for him).
Crucially for me, though, there were night time kids facilities to take advantage of. I don’t get out much so was really looking forward to the opportunity of a couple of lovely meals out, cocktails, live music and, erm, karaoke.
At 7pm the Toybox turns their lights down and story time begins. Elfie would arrive in her PJs and snuggle on beanbags with her new friends to listen to stories followed by DVDs. The latest you could pick them up was 11pm, but if your child is younger than 5 you had the option of transferring them into the night nursery, which is where Hux spent his time. This was a room of cots and toddler beds where babies and toddlers could snooze the night away (until 1am, anyway) while their parents (ME) partied. Your children had to be settled and sleepy by the time you left them and again you got given a pager in case they woke up. I had a couple of interrupted nights out but on the whole Hux was very happy there.
If I were to cruise again I think I would definitely wait until Hux was 2 so I could take advantage of the Toybox for him; as I was unable to leave him in any of the Kids Clubs he had to be accompanied by either my mum or I. However, I spent most of the time mind boggled that such brilliant child-care were offered free of charge and I wouldn’t hesitate using any of the Kids Clubs again. Having such wonderful and structured children’s activities to choose from would definitely be another factor in us choosing a P&O cruise for a holiday.
P&O sent us away for a complimentary week on Ventura but as always I’ll be writing about our experiences completely truthfully. You can read my disclosure on this here.