Thursday 28 May 2015

HOTEL REVIEW: citizenM, Glasgow

Glasgow, a city I've been meaning to visit for more years than I can recount. A lot of people have asked me why and it's a very simple answer, music. For me, Glasgow is the epitome of modern rock music, for such a small city (population 600,000) the sheer volume of critically acclaimed bands created in its lowly suburbs is beyond impressive. From indie-pop to post punk to classic rock to post and alternative rock these many different genres mean Glasgow can proudly call itself a music destination and I for one have been itching to visit ever since I first heard the dulcet lullabies of Stuart Murdoch many, many years ago.

The reason it's taken me so long to visit is because I've been quietly waiting for a Glaswegian band to play a weekend gig in the fine city. Gigs have come and gone but the circumstances were never right, until finally, Belle and Sebastian (one of my favourites) announced a Friday night show at the SSE Hydro. This was to be their biggest headline spot to date and I knew, it was finally the right time for me to visit.

I'll talk more about my love of all things Glaswegian in another post but for now I want to concentrate on where we stayed because it's probably one of my favourite hotels to date. Whenever I book a holiday the first thing I do is research accommodation, by now you must know my mantra, affordable luxury. With a quick google and flick through my trusty Wallpaper and Lonely Planet guides I knew citizenM was the place for me; a small chain of boutique hotels with prices starting from £69 a night. The style and price couldn't have fitted my mantra more perfectly.

The rooms are basic in the sense you get an extremely comfortable XL king sized bed, a powerful rain shower and iPad to control the TV, blinds, lighting and temperature. There isn't a great deal of floor space but what the rooms lack for in width it certainly makes up for in ingenuity. A small room isn't a problem for me, I don't spend a great deal of time in hotels when I'm on holiday so my perference is always a great bed and a shower that'll give me a boost in the morning above anything else. The bed was huge, I've never slept in anything like and now I'm back home my measly double pales in comparison. The shower certainly cured my hazy head each morning, with a powerful force of water and plenty of space to move around, it was perfect. Our trip was definitely a case of late, boozy nights so a good sleep and a wash was most definitely apprecaited.

The storage is clever, with a wall to wall bed the underneath acts as a huge drawer to tuck your luggage away, but don't worry there are a few hooks available for hanging up your delicates. The iPad control is another clever touch, as is the mood lighting. You can change the 'ambience' of the room to whatever shade your heart desires, as you can see I liked the pink / purple vibes.

The charm of the hotel doesn't stop at the rooms, there's a 24 hour bar and plenty of space to kick back and relax plus it's city centre location is perfect to access the culture and night life of the city.

citizenM are doing an amazing job at fun, affordable hotels and with locations in London, New York, Amsterdam and Rotterdam I know I will definitely visiting them again. Thanks for a great (three) nights sleep.

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Tuesday 26 May 2015

BURGER REVIEW: Byron's Sweet Caroline

Another month and another free Byron burger thanks to the generous Byron Burger Club. This time it's the Sweet Caroline, a 6oz beef patty topped with pulled pork, streaky bacon, jalapeño slaw, crispy potatoes, lettuce, red onion and apple vinegar mayonnaise. I really enjoyed this one, the crispy potatoes were a textural delight and the small amount of pulled pork made this really meaty. The slaw and mayonnaise allowed the burger to stay moist but this did mean it was a little on the messy side.

Another great special from Byron, the Sweet Caroline is £10.95 and on the menu for the summer only so make sure you grab one soon.

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Wednesday 20 May 2015


Last weekend my friend suggested lunch at Naughty Piglets in Brixton, I read a few great reviews and jumped at the chance. The restaurant has only been opened a couple of months and whilst Brixton has been undergoing a wave of gentrification the last few years I really can't complain about this simple yet smart wine bar opening. Headed up by husband-and-wife team the food is stripped back, seasonal and absolutely delicious. Husband, Joe Sharratt hails from Trinity in Clapham where his role as head chef has given him the confidence to open his own establishment. Wife, Margaux Aubry heads up the front of house, as she did in Trinity. A perfect match.

The three of us ordered a selection of plates, being lunch time we didn't want to go too overboard which is a shame because there are so many wonderful options to choose from.

The ham croquettes were perfect, the coating was light and crispy with the centre remaining soft and cheesy with a smattering of ham.

The burrata was so light and creamy it actually melted in your mouth, wonderful.

Asparagus, duck egg and parmesan - perfect

The pork belly was succulent and rich with a crispy skin. The sriracha chilli paste was hot but combined with the BBQ meat, gave a nice Asian vibe to the meal. The lettuce wedge added a nice crunch.

The duck fell away from the bone with the slightest prod of the fork, not quite confit but still tender and crispy. The pistachio paste was divine, rich in flavour but not overpowering. Same goes to the juicy prunes and slow roasted lettuce.

The chocolate mousse was rich and indulgent, the almond crisp added a nice textural contrast.

The vanilla panna cotta was the winning dessert for me, cloud like in softness I always think of it as a more refined version of ice cream.

Naughty Piglets was lovely, the sort of place you could spend a Saturday afternoon knocking back a great bottle of wine and picking a lots of different plates. It's a great addition to the Brixton scene, adding a touch of class to an otherwise casual area.

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Monday 18 May 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Som Saa at Climpson's Arch

Last week I was in Hackney to see Hot Chip at Oval Space and decided it was the perfect opportunity to check out the Som Saa residency at Climpson's Arch. I didn't have my DSLR with me so thought I'd trail the camera on my new iPhone 6, so far I'm impressed but that's largely in part to the abundance of light in the dinning room. Anyway, I digress.

Som Saa specialises in northern Thai cuisine and uses seasonal ingredients along with Climpson's wood fired oven to produce authentic Thai flavours in a semi industrial part of Hackney, underneath the railway arches. The dining room is lovely and cosy, full of trinkets and fairy lights. You're sat around sharing tables but in typical London fashion no one appears to talk to their neighbours. I arrived at 6pm on the dot and whilst I waited for Steve with a portion of deliciously moorish Thai seasoned cashew nuts the dinning room quickly filled up.

The menu is designed for sharing so we ordered a few dishes from each section to taste the different sweet, savoury and spicy flavours. We ordered a few Chang beer cans, one of the few beers I actually enjoy drinking and eagerly awaited for our food to arrive whilst delicious, fragrant smells wafted through the dining room.

neua yang - the grilled onglet was wonderfully tender and rich in flavour, combined with the hot chilli paste the overall taste was a deeply rich heat.

yum pla meuk yak - the octopus was perfected cooked whilst retaining a slight char from the grill. This dish was hotter than I was anticipating but the abundance of fresh herbs and tangy marinade brought out the fragrant flavours.

lon gapi - the shrimp paste and coconut cream curry was rich in flavour and unlike any Thai curry I've tasted before. The smoked trout added to the richness whilst the assortment of vegetables added a lightness to the dish. This was one of the stand out plates for me, absolutely stunning.

geng hung lay - the pork belly curry was full of garlic and ginger flavours. The meat was wonderfully succulent and fell away easily from the bone. The sauce was moorish and rich without being too spicy.

som tam - the green papaya salad added a much needed sweetness to the rich flavours present in the rest of the meal. Whilst still packing heat from the chillies, the salad was fresh and juicy.

kluey yang 'ice cteam' nam dan beep - there's only one dessert on the menu and it's the perfect finishing plate. The salted palm sugar ice cream is very similar to salted caramel and the sweet and salty flavours, combined with the cold are the perfect end to a meal of hot and deeply rich curries. The grilled banana wasn't much to my liking but I've never like the fruit anyway. I don't think I could have asked for a more pleasant finish.

Som Saa was an unforgettable meal, don't forget to order yourself some sticky rice and plenty of beers and you're really in for a treat. I've not had Thai food like this since I was there myself, and back in 2010 I was very much on the backpacker trail so this probably beats anything I tried anyway. Will I be back? Absolutely, I can't wait!

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Sunday 10 May 2015

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Donostia Social Club

I love Spanish food, in fact I'm going to Bilbao and San Sebastian for my birthday this year with the soul intention of eating. Basque Country tapas i.e. pintxo is a little different from the food you'd find in other regions on Spain. Pintxo is normally characterized by morsels of food pinned to a piece of bread with a toothpick. I love the style of eating, because pintxos are normally only a few bites worth of food you can try lots of different things.

Donostia Social Club have been around for a while making a name for themselves on the street food circuit. I've tried their food at a few different KERB markets before but with my up trip to the Basque Country this autumn I wanted to refresh myself with their delicious style of cooking so I heard down to the Streets of Spain festival at the Southbank where I knew their eye catching blue van would be parked up.

The bar is covered with cold pintxos for you to ogle over and there's a menu with hot options that you can order as well. I've had the braised pork cheek and bean purée before so didn't order it this time but it's lovely and rich, a really hearty little stew.

From the cold bar we ordered a slice of bread with goats cheese, strawberry and a balsamic dressing. The slice of cheese was a generous size and the combined with the fresh strawberry this was a lovely combinations of sweet and savoury.

The crayfish is also from the cold bar and consists of big, juicy crustaceans in mayonnaise. Very similar to a prawn cocktail, just better.

We order three things from the hot menu, the first being the prawns a la plancha with alioli. This was lovely, the kings prawns were cooked perfectly with an ever so slightly caramelized exterior. The alioli had a nice twang to it making for a really delicious dish full of flavour.

The seared scallops with Spanish ratatouille was perfect for two as it consisted of two big juicy molluscs. The ratatouille was light enough to not obscure the delicate taste of the perfectly seared scallops, a really lovely fresh dish.

The winning plate for both me and Steve was the confit duck slider, so good in fact we had to have one each. The duck was succulent with a crispy skin, combined with the juicy apples slices the sweet and savoury combination of this mini burger was perfect.

I really love Donostia Social Club and their relaxed attitude to food where you just order one plate at a time. Even better, they've just opened their first permanent spot at Pop Brixton where they'll be serving cold and hot pintxos galore, I can't wait to check it out.

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Thursday 7 May 2015


I love dim sum. I love the delicate, bite sized steamed parcels of succulent meat and fish. I love the fact you're meant to order loads of different morsels, a bit like Chinese tapas. And I love the way you're meant to spend a few hours eating a little here and there. Ever since I visited a friend in Hong Kong a few years ago I've been in love with this type of cuisine and the thought of somewhere new opening not a million miles away from my flat fills me with joy.

Let me introduce you to Fu Manchu, a bar come nightclub come dim sum restaurant around the corner from Clapham North tube station. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the concept sounds horrendous. The last thing I want to feel whilst eating dim sum is that I'm in a club, especially as dim sum is traditionally ate in the afternoon. Also, I think the name is a bit dodgy as it perpetuates a Chinese caricature but I guess this wasn't raised as an issue during planning... But bear with me at my experience was very positive. I, like a lot of people, am tempted by soft launch discounts. On this occasion may have only been 20% every little counts and being only a short distance from Wimbledon I was more than happy to check it out last Friday night.

I was pleasantly surprised by the cocktail menu, lots of interesting ingredients and combinations to ponder. I went for the Lady Jasmine which was a nice, not-too-sweet gin, lemon and jasmine mixture. I was expecting it to be a little bitter but it wasn't at all, much to my enjoyment as I prefer sweet or sour cocktails. Steve had a Lotus Juice Cup which was tasted a little like a mojito, very nice.

1. king prawn dumplings in translucent skin - these were delicious, the prawns had a nice bite to them but were not overcooked. The dumpling was light and delicate.

5. pork and crab sauce dumpling - a nice dense, meaty centre in a delicate dumpling skin. A very traditional dumpling, this was nicely done.

6. honey barbecue pork fluffy bun and 27. sweet spiced mutton puff - I think these got mixed up with as we were given four similar looking puffs. I think Steve and I managed to take two of the same rather than one of each. I'm pretty sure I had the pork which was perfectly sticky and sweet.

8. monkfish and lime dumpling - this was a combination I've never had in dumpling form before and it was an interesting one. The sharp lime cut through the delicate fish and the end result was very Thai inspired. Whilst I did enjoyed this I think I prefer the more traditional flavours.

14. beef and pumpkin dumpling - another unusual taste I hadn't experienced before but it was definitely a success. This sweet pumpkin heightened the intense flavour of the beef making for a very rich filling.

15. turnip cake - this was wonderful, the texture was soft but shrimp filling added a textural edge. I didn't notice the Chinese sausage but despite that I enjoyed this plate very much.

19. salt, pepper and chilli squid - the quid was coated in a lovely, light, tempura batter. The chilli gave this a real hot kick and the chunks of squid had a great bite without being overcooked.

33. hot and sour rare beef and broccoli - probably my least favourite dish of the evening but mainly because it was a lot hotter than I was expecting. As you can see the beef was nice and rare and the broccoli was perfectly al dente. It made a nice change to all the dumplings but in comparison to the delicate textures this was in stark contrast.

I really enjoyed my dinner at Fu Manchu, the food was a lot better than I was expecting and I can definitely see myself returning. I like that the restaurant is situated underneath the railway arches, you can hear the trains chugging by and the exposed brick work juxtaposed with the classic Chinese screens gives the room a modern vibe. I wasn't a fan of the increasing music volume or the neon lighting but don't let that stop you trying the food, just make sure you get there earlier enough to avoid the 'club' vibe. I don't know how this club-restaurant experience will pan out but I feel that if this concept will kick of anywhere, it'll probably be on Clapham High Street. I'm just happy there's a decent place to grab dim sum not too far from where I live.

The soft launch is on for another week so try and grab a table to make the most of 20% discount.

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