Monthly Archives: April 2017

BlindSpot Speakeasy Cocktail Tea reviewed, St Martins Lane

So, it was 7pm one heady summer evening. The sun was still out and seemed to shine down on our mission. We were heading towards St Martin’s Lane to take what we knew was no ordinary tea.

First we had to find the joint. We sauntered into St Martins Lane Hotel but there was nothing to say “hidden speakeasy this way”. After quick stake-out and we uncovered a gold hand that jutted out of a white wall.

Hand door knob

Naturally I reached for it and hey presto I opened a door. It was a sudden change of scene leaving the bright light of the reception for the dark, dimly lit demeanour that unfolded as we descended into the cellar. I loved the feeling of subterfuge that eked out of brown walls, low lighting, brown upholstered chairs and banquettes – it’s classic art deco and so so swanky.

It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust and indeed to get comfortable on the hard chairs but there was chatter in the air mixed with a jazzy style music and the outer world was a million miles a way. I began to believe that we really were in a speakeasy joint that harked back to the 20s during prohibition in the US.

The Speakeasy tea, was not in any way, a traditional tea. There was no jam and scones and certainly no bone china.

A black mini shelving unit arrived. The selection had some savoury morsels such as quiche Lorraine, spinach and feta feuilleté, crayfish and mango brioche bun with coriander and lime which were decent enough to keep the taste buds entertained.

But it was the sweet stuff that were the stars of of this show: mini chocolates baileys cakes with coffee creams, a selection of chocolate and passion fruit macaroons, and a velvety dulce panna cotta with blackberry compote. Take a few moments to mentally savour that.

And top billing was the flight of three tea-infused cocktails.

Flight of cocktails

The cocktails had amusing names: “Giggle Water” made with Bombay sapphire gin, English summer tea, rosé champagne, peach syrup. The second, “Have the Bee’”, had an unexpected kick. It was a blend of bacardi carta d’oro rum, pineapple spicy mix, and darjeeling syrup.  The third, the erroneously named “Teatotaller”, was a fizzy number which came with chamomile-infused grey goose vodka, lemon sherbet and a white vermouth syrup.

Festival Review: Sziget, Budapest

I was excited to return to Óbuda Island in Budapest for the third year running to attend the Sziget (9-16 August 2017) for seven days of sunshine and spectacle.

As well as more than 10 music stages, Sziget promised a varied programme including theatre, dance, traditional Hungarian craft workshops and even an interactive games area focusing on helping people with disabilities.

Who goes to Sziget Festival?

Diversity is the heart and soul of Sziget Festival, with over 100 countries represented on the island. As well as Hungarians, who tend to purchase day tickets, the festival attracts hoards of ‘Szitizens’ from the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and beyond. There were more than 1,000 Australians at Sziget this year: quite a journey to make for a festival!
Sziget Szitizens enjoying the festival (c) Andrew Moss

Accommodation

I opted to avoid camping at the festival and instead rented an apartment with a group of friends. This allowed me the opportunity to return home each night for a shower and a decent night’s sleep, and also meant I could catch the Sziget boat to the island each morning: a truly lovely way to start the festival each day.

The simplest way to rent an apartment in Budapest is through Airbnb, and if you book enough in advance you should be able to rent a lovely, air-conditioned apartment for peanuts. Our base was only a 10-minute walk from Sziget boat and housed 14 people, at the cost of £15 a night – bargain!

You can also book an inexpensive hostel in the ‘Pest’ side of the city. If you go down this route, make sure you check there is air conditioning in the bedrooms.

You can, of course, camp at the festival and there are plenty of shady spots to pitch your tent. There is also a VIP camping option, but if you’re willing to spend the extra cash I recommend you book an apartment or hostel in the city instead.

Food and Drink

During my previous trips to Sziget, the food was disappointing. There wasn’t that much variety and what was there was greasy and salty. This year there was a definite improvement, especially in the area near to the Hungarikum Village. I sampled some delicious Goulash Soup as well as a Russian dish called pelmeni: mixed pasta stuffed with beef and pork with sour cream and vinegar. The food options around the main stage were fairly uninspiring so I recommend branching out from the centre of the festival when you get peckish.

You can’t take in your own alcohol to Sziget. A beer or plastic cup of wine costs less than £3 while one of the festival’s signature cocktails is around £5.50. As with previous years, Sziget’s alcohol policy allows for a very jolly atmosphere without creating too many alcohol-related casualties.

The Bottomless Brunch at Eneko London

I had heard that Michelin Starred chef Eneko Atxa had opened a restaurant called “Eneko at One Aldwych” – One Aldwych hotel. So, when I booked a table I was expecting nothing less than fine dining or more specifically fine Basque Country based bottomless brunching from Eneko.

Here’s why: the Basque Country is in the North of Spain near the Bay of Biscay and in South Western France. Grains and grapes are grown easily and the area has developed a rich culinary heritage. In fact, within this one region there are almost 40 Michelin starred restaurants. Eneko Atxa has one of them, the Azurmendi Restaurant in the town of Larrabetzu, and he has brought his culinary expertise to London.

So, it was 12.30pm, a perfect time for brunch, and I was seated on comfy red leather upholstered seating, pleasant ambient jazzy music in the background and before me lay a menu of five courses.

Mineral water was served immediately and drink orders were taken – Cava and red wine were our choices and we could have as much as we wanted for two hours.

Then came the food entertainment. I use that word deliberately because the visuals were indeed entertaining.

The first was Eneko’s take on the Traditional Talo. It was by any standards, a beautiful work of art served on a wooden board.

The best places to see Britain’s Autumn colours

Summer may be loosing its bloom but as it does so Autumn brings it’s own natural palette to Britain’s forests, arboretums, parks and gardens.

From late September and throughout October it’s all abut fiery reds, golden yellows and rich burgundies of turning leaves. Here are ten places to relax and enjoy Britain’s autumnal beauty at its best.

1Faskally Wood, Perthshire, Scotland

Lake in Faskally Wood

Perthshire is known as big tree country, with around 25 species of tree including Scots pine, silver birch, hazel, ash and oak. While it’s a beautiful place to visit year-round, Faskally Wood really delivers the goods when it comes to autumnal displays.

Created as a “model forest” in the 19th century, it’s full of beautiful specimens which are pointed out on the guided trail-blaze walk in October. As night falls, the wood transforms into the Enchanted Forest with a shimmering light and music show.

2Lime Avenue at Marbury Country Park, Cheshire, north-west England

Lime Avenue

Instagram at the ready! Capture the blonde autumn tints of magnificently symmetrical Lime Avenue – a legacy of Marbury Country Park‘s former grand estate days. The park is in the heart of Northwich Community Woodlands, which is part of the Mersey Forest.

3New Forest, Hampshire, southern England

New Forest National Park’s ancient woodlands cover more than 50 square miles. Discover mighty redwoods planted in the late 1850s, as well as alder, beech, sweet chestnut and other varieties. Take the tall trees trail under majestic conifers on Rhinefield Ornamental Drive – it’s one of the best places to experience the vivid array of autumnal hues, which arrive in time for New Forest Walking Festival in October.

Don’t miss the huge 500 year-old Knightwood Oak on the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive near Lyndhurst, and look out for the park’s famous wild ponies, as well as pigs roaming the forest floor on the hunt for green acorns.

4Richmond Park, London, England

Escape the city and soak up the rich colours of autumn with a walk or cycle around Richmond Park, when the leaves of the park’s ancient oak trees are tinted a deep orange. It’s a national nature reserve, the largest of London’s royal parks, and three times the size of New York’s Central Park. You’ll most likely enjoy some wildlife spotting among the autumn leaves – Richmond Park has been a deer park since 1637, and is populated with 630 freely-roaming red and fallow deer.