01 July 2015

Brunching at The Providores in Marylebone

Marylebone high street, only a short walk from Oxford Street, is a great place to escape to in central London. Its full of cafes, restaurants and shops, and retains a little bit of a 'village' feel. Because its so central, its a great half-way meeting point to catch up with friends. And that's how I came to be at The Providores for a spot of brunch with a friend of mine one weekend.

As we didn't have a reservation,we were lucky to snag a seat in the busy Tapa Room on the ground floor and quickly ordered coffee - that's the only incentive that can drag me out of bed before 10am on a Saturday - while we ummed and ahhhed over what to choose from the menu. Being run by two Kiwis, it was nice to see Vegemite on toast on the menu.

From sweetcorn and blueberry fritters, French toast, fruit salads to tortillas and fry-ups, everything seemed to have a bit of a twist. I ended up ordering a veggie fry up (my breakfast taste buds can be so boring sometimes), while my friend gave me serious food envy...

She'd ordered the Turkish eggs on whipped yoghurt with hot chilli butter and gluten free bread with a side of avocado and bacon. My gosh did it look good. It even sounds good doesn't it? I really wanted to order it too but was worried it might be too spicy. It wasn't...next time that's what I'm getting! When it arrived, everything was delicious.

The Tapa room was buzzing with chatter while the staff swiftly took orders and delivered food to ravenous customers. At our window seat, my friend and I caught up while people watching. We couldn't help feeling very lucky as people came in wanting a table but having to either wait or find an alternative. It did get a little too noisy after a while due to the small space - or maybe the coffee kicked in ;) Either way, we were happy to move our catch up to the high street and wander a while, explore a bookshop or two - not a bad start to the weekend don't you think?

Any other brunch spots you think I should try? Whats your go-to brunch dish?

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23 June 2015

Are you afraid of the dark?

I wasn’t going to tell anyone this. In fact I was very serious when I said, quite sternly to a certain Kiwi, "That never happened". But there are moments which are just too funny not to share. One such moment happened to me in the dark. Please wrench your minds out of the gutter. I said funny, not dirty. Ahem. Anyway, I was in the dark and I was having dinner. It was so pitch black that I could not see my hand in front of my face. I had to feel my way around my table, yup, there's the cutlery and…pat pat pat…yep there's the glass of water…mmmhmm, feels like a square plate…ok now the tricky part, fork in hand, lets find the food on the plate. A methodical light 'scraping' and…found something! Eureaka! Stab it! Quick! Before you lose where it is! Hahaha! *smug look* Yeah, no one can see that. Now to actually eat it. "Woohoo! I found my mouth!" Um, yeah, I actually said that last bit out loud. In a still relatively quiet restaurant. But I had to laugh, and the lovely Emma (the Kiwi in this story) had the generosity to laugh at with me too. Thankfully no one can see you go red in the dark.

Arriving at Dans Le Noir, the hostess sat us down and explained the process before asking us to choose which menu we preferred and taking our drinks order. The menus are generic (meat, seafood, veg, 'suprise me') and you can make dietary requests. Once that was sorted, we were asked to place all glowing/light generating/shiny objects, jackets, bags, scarfs and the kitchen sink into a locker before being taken to meet our blind waiter Darren. Introductions made, it was time to go in. Right hand on each others right shoulder, Darren led us beyond the heavy red velvet curtain and into the darkness. It wasn't a gradual loss of light, almost as soon as we'd stepped through, and the curtain had closed behind us, it was pitch black. I could not see a thing. I have to admit, I had a "Holy sh*t! What have I done?!" moment and maybe a bit of a "What excuse can I come up with to back out without looking like a coward" moment too. But it can be really surprising what you learn about yourself when you push through challenging moments. Have I said moment enough times yet? Moment, moment, moment.

Total trust and rationality got me to my seat. The feel of the chair and the table, oddly grounding. The voice of my fellow diner, reassuring. Especially when the both of us started giggling away at how surreal it all was. But it was fine, after the initial nerves died off, we both settled into the amusing challenge of eating in the dark. Darren was great and learning to eat without being able to see was surprisingly easy - sort of. There may have been the occasional use of fingers to find/eat/poke the food...what? Its not like anyone could see what you were doing!

What I learnt

  • How to pour a glass of water without spilling.
  • How much I rely on seeing someone speak to 'hear' them in a noisy room (and the restaurant did fill up and get quite noisy)
  • I do things subconsciously, like gesturing when I speak, even if no one can see me.
  • In a normal restaurant, I don’t think about or 'taste' what I'm eating. Its as though just knowing what I ordered, my brain supplies the flavour when it sees the food presented. Unless its an amazing restaurant where the flavours blow you away.
  • Seeing food is part of the pleasure in dining out for me.
  • Just how much I rely on my vision – to feel safe, to 'read' people, to get around and be independent.
  • Just how little I rely on my vision – my body knows how to do stuff without my having to really think about it; think muscle memory.
  • I will never stop seeking and trying such weird and wonderful experiences.

Tips to make it through the dark

  1. Keep your wits about you.
    • You need to trust that a) Your waiter knows his way around the room and will make sure you reach your table safely and b) You wont trip, this is a business who knows people cant see where they're going so they are not going to put anything in your way
  2. Don’t Panic
    • No one is going to jump out at you.
    • You aren’t going to be left on your own.
    • You can leave at any time.
    • You will get used to the darkness once your mind builds up a mental image.
  3. Feed your mind anything you can for a mental image
    • Use your sense of touch to 'see' your chair, table and items on the table.
    • Use your hearing to figure out where other people are, where they are and how far they are. This gives you a sense of space and your place within it.
    • Use your imagination. Its like daydreaming, you can 'see' things in your daydream and this is no different.
  4. Go with a friend
    • You can go alone, but having someone to share the weird experience with helps it feel real. And chatting to someone distracts you from your initial discomfort.

The food

To be honest, I wasn’t blown away. It was average. But that may have something to do with the fact that I couldn’t see it and didn’t know what any of it was. I'd love to do an experiment where I did the whole thing again knowing what I was eating to see if it affected the taste. My one criticism, which has nothing to do with not being able to see, is the temperature of the food, it was warm, not hot, and one dish was actually slightly cold. So, don’t go for the food, go for the experience ;)

Would you try eating in the dark?

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16 June 2015

7 Tips to see and enjoy Shakespeare

Photo by John Tramper. Courtesy of Globe Theatre.

Ok, ok. I know Shakespeare isn’t for everyone. I didn’t like it either thanks to English class at school. But I fell in love with it thanks to a friend of mine taking me to Twelfth Night performed by Sydney's Bell Shakespeare Company. Twelfth Night became my favourite play because of that production. Since moving to London however, I've been incredibly lucky to see many of Shakespeare's plays; Much Ado About Nothing by the RSC, Taming the Shrew at Kensington Palace Gardens, Twelfth Night at Richmond Theatre, A Midsummer Night's Dream & A Comedy of Errors at the Globe Theatre. And on Saturday I went to see As You Like It, also at the Globe Theatre.

So why? Why do I bother going to these plays? Because they are quite funny. Yes FUNNY. If you don’t know Shakespeare, each one of those plays I mentioned are one of Shakespeare's comedies. Aside from Hamlet in high school, I haven’t seen any of his tragedies or histories. So hear me out, I'm here to help you enjoy a night out watching Shakespeare. If it doesn’t work, you are welcome to come back and yell at me, I can take it ;) So for Shakespeare newbies, here is how to do Shakespeare.

1) First thing's first. Choose a Comedy. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT be silly and pick a tragedy or history as your first Shakespearian play. Go for something fun, light and full of laughs. Some of Shakespeare's more popular comedies are those I've already mentioned.

2) Make sure its performed by a company known for good Shakespeare. This will probably cost a bit more but its worth it. Amateur productions may be interesting , have an interesting take, and done well enough but a high-end company will really make a difference to such a play. In the UK/London, you cant go wrong with the Globe Theatre or the RSC.

3) Get a good seat. I know good seats are expensive but here's the thing. A lot of what makes a play is the expressions on the actors faces…if you are too far to see it, you miss the emotion and impact of the words. It leaves a whole lot of talk and little meaning.

4) Get an idea of what the play is about. You don’t have to read the play – in fact, that’ll probably just bore you – just hop onto the interwebs to find and read the synopsis. This will help because, if you know basically what's happening, the language won't lose you.

5) Expect that you wont get all of it. And that’s ok. Even today, a lot of people who study his plays still arent sure what is meant by some of the things he wrote. But Shakespeare wrote for all audiences, some stuff is subtle, some slapstick. So if you get a few laughs out of it you have just rocked your first Shakespeare play, you awesome thing you.

6) This is a Globe Theatre specific tip. Those £5 standing only tickets are a really good deal, you're as close as you can get to the stage and, often have actors walk right past you. Don’t buy them for your first play. Just no. After about maybe 15 minutes or half an hour the novelty of being close to the action will wear off and all you'll think about is sitting or getting out of there. And lets not even mention how wet and miserable you'll be if it rains. If you get a seat, fork out an extra £1 for a cushion – trust me, your bottom will thank you.

Alternative 6) Buy 2 £5 tickets to the same play on different nights. Watch the first half one night and the second half another night. Bring a rain poncho - I doubt they'll let you obstruct other peoples views if it starts to drizzle.

7) Its ok if you do all of the above and still don't like Shakespeare! I'll still love you, and you'll still be awesome ;)

Do you have any of your own tips or experiences to share?

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09 June 2015

Against Captain's Orders

Welcome aboard the HMS Adventure! We're a little cheesy here but totally awesome too. To get you ready for your immersion, floatation vests! You there, you look like you like shiny objects, you can be part of our Salvage crew. And you, the tall gangly one, you look like you have a sharp eye, we'll put you in Ships Watch. Right-o, have we got everyone? Navigation crew? Midshipmen? Ready? Good. Let's go!

Its Thursday night and I've dashed out of work to make one of the 'Against Captain's Orders' adults only (no, not that kind of adults only!) sessions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. I could tell you what happened. I could. And I so, SO want to. But really, do you want me to spoil it for you? What I will tell you is that the sets are jaw-droppingly detailed, the actors funny, the story clever and, at just under an hour, it left me wanting more. I wanted time to wander around the set, like I had in The Drowned Man, and lose myself in this 'other' world.

Against Captain's Orders is an immersive theatre collaboration between the incredible Punchdrunk and the National Maritime Museum. The adults only sessions are open to Punchdrunk Keyholders and Museum members. But anyone can become a key holder or a member, for a price. I myself am just crazy enough about Punchdrunk that a became a Keyholder just for this event, and in the hopes that there might be more this year. Or, if you have kids, this is a great thing to do with them, you dont have a member or keyholder to attend with kids.

So, will you be brave and dare sail into the unknown???

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02 June 2015

Favourite Travel Souvenir - #travel linkup

I will wear almost anything, anything! on my ears. And I have done. My earlobes have been home to turtles, owls, birds, flowers, and the letters L.A. Masks have dangled from them, as have crescent moons and stars, paper cranes, bows and arrows, keys, the Eiffel tower, though strangely enough no Big Ben, black cab or red double-decker bus. I've worn odd pairs, loooong pairs, pairs which have a back as well as a front, even some the glow in the dark. I'm an earring tart, I'll do anything for a nice pair of earrings. As long as they aren't gold. Or pink. I don't do pink.

So guess what my preferred souvenir is? Yup a pair of earrings. If it's something gaudy and iconic of the place I'm travelling to, then all the better! But I'm ok with ones that are just different - or hand made.

If it's not earrings, my souvenir will be something else practical or wearable. I just don't do ornamental keepsakes anymore. I used to. But being an expat meant I had limited storage. And, as I've always been an earring addict, what better excuse to buy a few more? And each time I wear them, I'll be reminded of my travels :)

Some other practical souvenirs I've picked up on my travels include trousers (Valencia), scarves (Lisbon - I wore it the entire winter, and Valencia), Japanese blue ceramic bowl, miso bowl, mug and tray (Japan), coin purse (Lisbon), shoes & jeans (Bangkok and New York)

Erm, what about edible souvenirs? A girl can go to great lengths to get her hands on some delectable delights. I once planned a trip to Brussels purely to stuff myself with frites and waffles and had hopes of finding earrings, which I did. So. Worth. It. Oh and Chimay cheese. I practically inhaled a small wheel of it when a friend brought it for me on returning from a Brussels trip.


But my favourite souvenir? Its hard to choose. Its probably a toss up between the unique plate I got at a pre-show tea ceremony when attending the Miyako Odori in Kyoto and the Venician mask I got to decorate myself. Then again, the best souvenir, even if I come away with nothing, are my photos. I ALWAYS bring photos and memories back.

What is your souvenir tradition?

Join the travel blog linkup with Emma, Kelly, Rebecca or guest host Jaime and share your souvenir story.

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26 May 2015

Vine leaves, Roman Amphitheatre and Family - Amman, Jordan

After a whirlwind few days packed with family, emotions, catch ups over delicious home cooked Syrian food and very little sleep, I landed back into London yesterday.

Tabouli, stuffed vine leaves and Okra

I was in Amman, Jordan. It was a very last minute trip, more family oriented than a travelling and sight seeing one. But I couldnt resist doing at least one 'touristy' thing - I went to see the Roman Amphitheatre. Ive already been to Petra, and I would have liked to have visited again but it just wasnt the best option time wise. The dead sea is also on my list. Oh that never ending travel list!

Ammans Roman Amphitheatre

A smaller rebuilt amphitheatre next to the large Roman one

This is what the area used to look like...see the pile of rubble on the left...you can just make out the smaller amphitheatre steps - quite the restoration job dont you think?

Amman is an old city that is modernising very fast. The amphitheatre sits next to a modern park/plaza, which is overlooked by crumbling houses, which have expensive high-end cars parked out front, that compete with yellow taxis and white 'shared' taxis that operate like buses along a given route. You can be set down on a sidewalk that has a footbridge that takes up the entire space but a block away is 6-8 story mall complete with indoor electric go-carting drift track. Its a worn out cliche but Amman is really a city of contrasts.

One of the cars with local guys celebrating the Jordanian Independance day

Road side stall selling all sorts of lights and lanterns

It also happens to have been Ammans first post office too

But all of that was just the back drop to being able to see my mum and brother, its been over a year since I last saw them. I alsohad the chance to catch up with my aunt and uncle and their families, and meet my little cousins. I also put my rusty arabic to some practice. It really is quite shocking to realise how much I forget! I have to relearn how to express myself and communicate while knowing exactly what I want to say in English, frustrating!

Whirlwind as it was, when I arrived home yesterday, all I could manage was to fall into bed and sleep. But it was wonderful and totally worth it.

Have you ever done any crazy last-minute trips?

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19 May 2015

Macaron and Mews

Adventure caps on and sweet teeth at the ready people, I'm taking you on a virtual macaron tour, that's macaron with one 'o'. And all these years I've been saying 'macaroon', silly me. The Macaron and Mews tour combines three things I enjoy, exploring London, discovering cute little mews and sweet treats. Is it wrong to like macarons, in part, just because they are colourful? (The correct answer I'm looking for is no ;) )

Our lovely and insightful tour guide, Yannick, took us around Belgravia and Knightsbridge. There were hidden mews, tiny pubs, cobblestone streets, window boxes overflowing with flowers, small courtyards and the most adorable houses and cottages just a street or two away from bustling main roads!

I could. not. stop. taking photos of all the little mews we went through.

We were blessed with good weather, and really, there are afternoon teas, quirky cafes, but, with (hopefully) better weather coming our way, I like to take full advantage of being outdoors and  enjoying the sun. So munching on a delicious macaron while gawking at admiring all the cute mews houses was perfect.

Speaking of munching macarons...

My favourite stop of the tour had to be Pierre Herme where I sampled the Envie macaron - a vanilla, violet and blackcurrant fabulous fusion of flavours creating a fairy tale-esq bite-sized dream. I may have fallen in love with the Envie.

It didn't hurt matters that we pretty much had the shop to ourselves and the attendant was super-nice, and chatted to us about the flavours and what was coming up in the world of macarons and Pierre Herme. But, no sooner had I had a bite of my first macaron of the tour, than I found myself itching to move on to the next macaron stop. Let me at 'em!

Yannick was great, he knew when to be patient and when we wanted to move on so the pacing of macaron, factoids and mews was perfect for our group. We went to a few more macaron stops, our biggest dilemma being which flavours to choose (ah, first world problems) and restraining ourselves long enough to take some photos.

Even with a sweet tooth like mine, with 5 macaron stops (all macarons included in the price of the tour!), I did end up having to saving a macaron for later. Not a bad thing, I made it into a treat later with a cup of tea :)

I'm not sure if I enjoyed exploring the hidden mews or eating macarons more. What I do know is that I felt like my 'explore London' batteries were recharged and I'd love to go and explore the mews again and try some more macaron flavours.

Do you have a favourite macaron flavour? Whats your favourite sweet treat?

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