Wednesday, 2 December 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Exhibit, Balham

Despite it's proximity to Wimbledon, Balham is a place I haven't visited many times so when I was invited to check out the newly refurbished Exhibit Bar I was intrigued to see what this local Balham restaurant had to offer. The Exhibit is a multi purpose venue with a bar on the ground floor, restaurant and private dinning room on the first floor and a cinema which does public and private screenings at the top.

I visited on a Thursday where all you can drink prosecco for £20 is on offer to all diners. Paired with a selection of tapas from the restaurant, Steve and I had a very nice dinner.

Chilli pork taco

Fish taco

White bean and avocado taco

Patatas Bravas

Jamon croquettes

Deep fried braised pork and potato ball

Braised ox cheek and macoroni cheese

Chocolate mousse

The menu had a nice mix of traditional and fusion inspired tapas. I really enjoyed the tacos, the fish one in particular as it tasted light and fresh. The braised ox cheek was incredibly rich, made even more so by the mac n cheese accompaniment. They may be simple but jamon croquettes are one of my favourite Spanish foods as are patatas bravas, both dishes here were very nice. We finished the meal with a lovely little pot of chocolate mousse. I liked The Exhibit, the atmosphere was relaxed and the interior made the large space feel cosy. It's a great local spot for anyone living in the nearby area.

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Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas Gift Guide: for people who like burgers

To follow up the success of my previous travel gift guide, initials gift guide and music gift guide I bring you my highly sought after burger gift guide. My previous Christmas gift guides are still current today so I definitely recommend you give them a look over for some festive ideas. Like the others, burgers are another passion of mine so here's a list of some great gifts for the carnivores in your life.

burger gift guide

Hopefully there's something on here to fulfil all your burger dreams. From burger themed jewellery we have this wonderful acrylic perspex burger necklace from Black Heart Creatives, a decadent chunky gold burger chain necklace from Wolf and Badger, an amusing chicken burger necklace and a delicate burger necklace with 9 cute little burger charms. John Lewis have a cute eraser and sharpener set and ASOS have this fabulous set of House of Holland burger themed fake nails. In terms of clothes pick up this retro looking burger tshirt or a quirky pair of burger socks. Get cooking with this burger shaped cook book and look super cool at your Christmas party with these novelty burger glasses. The burger plush toy is super cute if not a little over priced and this burger iPhone case is ridiculous and huge. Wrap everything up in the burger gift bag with a set of burger stickers for good measure.

Finally, get yourself down to Paperchase and pick up a decadent burger bauble for a fiver.

How many times can someone write burger in one blog post?

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Friday, 27 November 2015

PHOTO DIARY: San Sebastián, Spain, October 2015

San Sebastián is a city I have wanted to visit for years. It is world renowned for food, boasting an impressive 15 Michelin stars, across 8 different restaurants with three of these establishments holding 3 stars each! It holds the second highest Michelin stars per capita in the world, however it's not all about expensive fine dining as the cheap and cheerful pintxos restaurants in the old town have a stellar reputation as well. We caught the bus to San Sebastián from Bilbao, it takes an hour and costs about around €15 for a one way tickets. We spent 2 nights here which was just perfect. On out first night we did a fantastic pintxos crawl around the old town and on our second night, my birthday, we had one of the most memorable meals I have ever experienced at Mugaritz, a 2 Michelin starred restaurant. In terms of stuff to do during the day there isn't really that much to see, we visited the local history museum, walked along the beach and caught a funicular up the mountain for a great view over the city. It was the perfect weekend away with lots of amazing food and plenty of time to relax. I absolutely loved it.

Day 1:

We stayed at the lovely guest house Pension Edorta right in the centre of the old town. The guest house is simple but perfectly formed and the location couldn't be more perfect. We had a shared bathroom right next to our bedroom which was extremely spacious and for the grand price of €60 a night the deal couldn't have been better.

Our first night was spent on an epic pintxos crawl around the old town. We visited 8 or 9 different restaurants in a two hour period, trying their speciality dish and a glass of wine in each. I'm going to do a proper blog post on this soon but it really was a super fun evening. We tried a ridiculous amount of wonderful wood, from grilled prawns to mini burger to calf cheeks. It was hard to pick a favourite dish and a favourite bar because everywhere is quite different specialising in different options. As our guest house was situated right in the middle of the restaurant circuit it only took us a minute or two to walk back home that nigh where we collapsed with full bellies.

Day 2:

Day 2 started with breakfast at the cool bakery come cafe the Loaf. I had a delicious brunch of fried potatoes, crispy bacon and eggs whilst Steve went for a cheese and onion toasted sandwich. The Loaf do a great brunch deal where you get a main option, juice, hot drink and granola / yoghurt for around €12-14 each. I can't actually remember the price but I do remember it being a decent deal. It's situated on the seafront and the cafe is in the basement whilst the bakery is on the ground floor.

After breakfast we went for a walk along Playa de la Zurriola and then around the huge Monte Urgull, we meant to go back a walk to the top at some stage but we never did, the steep path was a little off putting.

Back in the old town we checked out the marina and some of the beautiful buildings around Plaza de la Constitucion. San Sebastián has been voted city of culture for 2016 and there were posters all over the place celebrating this fantastic achievement.

In the early afternoon it started to drizzle a little so we held of visiting the other beach until the weather improved. We popped into Holly Burger to share a birthday burger. We weren't that hungry but the place was meant to be decent enough so we decided to give it a go, after all I am the burger queen. It was OK, nothing amazing but not terrible either. We went for a simple cheese burger without any sides and it was the perfect snack to keep us going until our fancy dinner that evening.

The rain stopped and the sun came out so we ventured across Playa de La Concha which must be one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain. The beach stretches for almost a mile and the clear blue waters lap against the golden sand bay. There's a sheltered walkway for the fair skinned people but as it wasn't too hot we took of my shoes and walked through the water. It was a little chilly but nonetheless a wonderful stroll. The beach isn't too busy in October but I can image it being full of sun worshipping locals and tourists during the summer months.

Once we reached the other end of the beach, passed Playa de La Concha and the Playa de Ondarreta extension we caught the funicular to the top of Monte Igeldo where we were met with beautiful views across the city. At the top of the mountain you'll find an almighty awful theme park, we took a ride on the world's worst log flume but the main point of the visit to admire the views which we did with great satisfaction. After our fill of sea spanning vistas we took the funicular back down the mountain, walked back across the bill and chilled out at the guest house for an hour before dinner.

That evening we had a 26 course dinner at Mugaritz, a 2 Michelin star restaurant which is voted one of the best restaurants in the world every year. I wont say too much about this place as it warrants a blog review all of it's own but let me just tell you that this meal was an experience. We were there for over 3 hours, ate plate after plate of amazing delights, went on a tour of the kitchen and spent an absolute fortune but you know what, it was 100% worth it.

Day 3:

Our final day was spent tying up lose ends and by this I mean visiting pintxos bars that we hadn't had a chance to visit on our first evening. This meant having cured ham, a smoking cod lollipop and cheesecake for breakfast but YOLO we were on holiday.

We spent some time at the fantastic San Telmo Museoa which documents Basque history. Much of the museum doesn't provide English translations but I really don't think that hindered my experience plus the museum itself is situated in a beautiful convent with a contemporary extension.

Before catching the bus back to Bilbao airport we had a late lunch at the lovely La Fábrica which was conveniently located directly underneath our hotel. The bus to the airport takes a little over an hour and costs around €15 per person By this stage I was tired and full from all the food we had devoured that weekend and was completely read to crawl back into my own bed, but alas there was a few more hours of travelling to be done.

San Sebastián is a wonderful city, the old town is tiny so you really don't need to spend a lot of time visiting, a weekend is perfect. I'll definitely be back again to sample more of the food and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and glorious beaches, maybe I'll even walk to the top of Monte Urgull.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

PHOTO DIARY: Bilbao, Spain, October 2015

Last month we visited the Basque Country in celebration of my birthday. We were away for four day and split our time equally in Bilbo and San Sebastián. Four days in this area was just perfect. We were able to see everything on my list and eat copious amounts of wonderful food. I'm absolutely sure there's more to the region than Bilbao and San Sebastián but these cities were great places to start, plus we did only have a long weekend.

I loved the contemporary vibe of Bilbao which was quite in contrast to the old town, tradition atmosphere in San Sebastián. However, the linking factor between the two cities comes down to food. My fondest memory of the weekend is probably the pintxos crawl we did in San Sebastián on our second night away. We visited about 8 different restaurants in 2 hours, stopping at each for their signature dish and a glass of wine. The weekend wasn't all food and wine, we visited a handful of museums, caught a couple of funiculars and strolled along the beach. All in all our four days away was a blissful and relaxing experience, something I can't say about most of my trips as we're usually go go go. Would I go back? Absolutely, but mainly because there's a few more restaurants I'd like to visit.

We spent one evening in Bilbao, we arrived early on the Thursday and left late on the Friday afternoon meaning we had practically 2 whole days to visit the city. This was the perfect amount of time.

Day 1:

We flew into Bilbao Airport early with British Airways from Heathrow. Once we had landed it was a only short bus journey into the city centre. We arrived at our hotel hours before check in opened so we dropped our bags and began exploring.

Our first port of call was always going to be the Guggenheim Museum, not only is it the most significant tourist attraction in Bilbao but it was also a stones throw from our hotel. The entry charge varies depending on how many exhibitions are open. You have the option to pre-book tickets from the website which is probably a good idea if you're visiting at a peak time.

You can't deny that the Frank Gehry designed building is breathtaking. The curve of the walls, the shimmering metallic façade and the beautiful use of glass make for an other worldly architectural delight. From the outside, through to the interior, it's hard to fathom just how this enormous building was constructed. Everywhere you look there's bold angles of metal, glass and stone. I could have spent hours gazing around the main atrium in awe at the different shapes created from the materials. The space is stunning and whilst the dramatic asymmetric element of the construction could have made for a confusing area, the abundance of light and clean cut colour scheme provides a relaxing and truly enjoyable atmosphere.

The art inside the museum on the other hand isn't so spectacular. I did enjoy wondering through the huge steel spirals that make up the permanent Richard Serra's The Matter of Time installation as you get a perspective of changing time as you walk round and around. And of course at the back of the museum there is the sculpture area with work dedicated to Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, and Anish Kapoor. I was a little gutted that Koon's Puppy was receiving a makeover during our visit as this enormous flowered covered dog looks simply delightful.

Tulips by Jeff Koons

Tall Tree and The Eye by Anish Kapoor

Maman by Louise Bourgeois

After the museum we went on a stroll through the city, towards Casco Viejo i.e. the old town in search of a lunch time spot. We stopped by Restaurant Rio Oja for some traditional Basque food. This included fish cooked in an oily, buttery sauce and squid cooked in it's own ink. Both dishes had quite distinctive flavours and whilst they were enjoyable I don't think I'd be in a rush to order them again. The restaurant itself was lovely, with pretty white and blue tiles and very friendly staff.

We wondered around the old town, checking out the shops but I stupidly didn't take an photos which is a shame because the buildings are very beautiful. La Ribera Market is a fantastic food market in the area.

We strolled along the river, marvelling at the wonderful architecture and just how contrasting it is compared to the old town. We found the entrance to the Funicular de Artxanda and took a ride up to the park to see dramatic views over the city. There isn't much at the top so it's definitely best to visit during the day. After a walk around we caught the funicular back into town, it's only a five minute journey and one of the highlights of the city.

We walked past this crazy looking hotel, I love the colourful windows and it fits in so well with the contemporary Bilbao architecture.

We walked over the incredible Zubizuri bridge which offers fantastic views down the river. I loved how curved this structure is, great fun for some creative photography.

Once we'd finished our walk along the river we checked into the beautiful Hotel Miro and spent a few hours relaxing before dinner. Dinner starts late in Spain, 8pm at the very earliest so it was nice to have some down time. I even had a bath which is something I never normally have time to do on holiday.

For dinner we did a mini pintxos crawl. Pintxos (pronounced pin-chos) is the Basque equivalent of tapas. Tiny morsels of food on top of a little piece of bread with a cocktail stick stuck through the middle to keep everything together. The idea is to hop from restaurant to restaurant trying their speciality dishes.

The first place we went was terrible and not even worth mentioning. Our second stop, which is where the above pictures were taken, was La Viña del Ensanche. We sampled some delicious croquettes, patatas bravas, octopus and calf cheek. Out third and final stop of the evening was situated next door at El Globo. We ate spidercrab, fois gras and seared tuna. The food at both of these restaurants were divine and definitely places to visit if you're ever in the city. The experience of standing at the bar and choosing whatever cold dishes take your fancy (or ordering from the hot menu) may not be the most relaxing way to eat but it's certainly good fun. Order a glass of wine at each place as well, the local produce is excellent, and dirt cheap.

Day 2:

After a fantastic breakfast at the hotel we walked around the corner to where the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao is located and spent an hour or so checking out the impressive collection. This gallery is a lot more history focused than the Guggenheim as well as having a contemporary art section. You'll get a great sense of how art has progressed over the years in the Basque region as well as the rest of Spain.

After strolling around the nearby park we walked over to Estadio San Mameś which is the football stadium for the local team. Interestingly, the team is made up entirely of Basque players and is one of the best teams in Spain. Whilst the stadium is in use there's still construction work going on as it's relativity new. You can see the pitch quite clearly if you take a close look through the railings and don't forget to visit the gift shop. Steve spent ages talking to the reception guys at our hotel about football so he was quite happy we visited this place.

We walked over to Casa Rufo, near the train station, for a delicious lunch of steak. Casa Rufo is a wonderful little, traditional restaurant found at the back of a food shop. You'll probably need a reservation but it's worth it for the old school vibes and delicious food.

We popped our heads into Alhóndiga Bilbao, a multi functionally venue designed by Phillippe Stark as we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags. The ground floor is covered with pillars, all varying in design and is a nice place for a quick walk around whilst you're in the centre of town.

Before heading to the bus station to catch a coach to San Sebastián we stopped by Mami Lou Cupcake for a quick cupcake, it was my birthday the following day after all. The shop is really cute and the cupcakes weren't bad either.

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