Monthly Archives: May 2017

BlindSpot Speakeasy Cocktail Tea reviewed, St Martins Lane, London

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.

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.

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!


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.

At Sziget you don’t use cash to buy food and drink. Instead, you pre-load money onto a Festipay card and this can be used to pay for everything at the festival. There are several booths dotted around Sziget where you can top-up, and you can protect your money by downloading the Sziget App and registering your card. If you lose it, you can cancel the card and reimburse the money on a new card. Very nifty.

What’s the music like at the Sziget Festival?

We arrived at the main stage on the first day mid-way through a fun and energetic performance by Bosnian group, Dubioza Kolektiv. Taking inspiration from reggae, ska, alternative rock and Bosnian folklore, the band whipped the crowd into a joyful frenzy. This is what makes Sziget so special: the opportunity to discover bands from across the globe who would otherwise never enter one’s consciousness.

The music line-up was, admittedly, a mixed bag. The seven headliners absorbed over half of the festival’s €20m budget, yet they weren’t the big hitters of rock and pop that I’d become accustomed to.

I really enjoyed P!nk’s fun and fiery performance on the first night, but confess I was less thrilled by the prospect of Kasabian, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Major Lazer. Tamás Kádár, CEO of Sziget Cultural Management, admitted to us that the line-up was weaker than usual, in part because some of the acts are asking for 50-60 per cent more money than the previous year.

This has become a serious issue for festival organisers around the globe. Fortunately there were some excellent performances by lesser known artists on the main stage including a feisty set by The Kills and a beautifully sweet performance by English rose, Birdy. The closing act on the main stage, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike, was also a surprising sensation.

There was also plenty to see away from the main stage. My personal highlights included DJ Shadow and Crystal Fighters at the indoor OTP Bank Stage by A38. USA born DJ Shadow put on an exceptional show with the best backing video I have ever seen. Striking images of wildlife, landscapes and abstract shapes burst on the screen in perfect timing to the music. The bass was so intense it made my shoes vibrate and my nose tingle. Crystal Fighters put on a jubilant performance inspired by the Basque heritage of one of its members, Laura Stockley. This band really should have had a prime spot on the main stage and I think Sziget missed a trick here.

The World Music Stage hosted a brilliant set by Orkestra Mendoza, who made it totally impossible not to get up and dance. This performance was particularly memorable as the final song coincided with Sziget’s 25th birthday party. Sziget staff members ran around the festival presenting a random selection of Szitizens with birthday cakes and party hats. My friend, Hannah, was one of the lucky recipients and her pure joy at being presented with a cake was one of my happiest memories of the festival.

What else is going on?

My advice for Sziget is to make sure you don’t just stick to the main stage and really make time to explore every area of the festival. There is much to discover, from Sziget beach to the Luminarium: an 800minflatable sculpture with a labyrinth of rooms to explore. There is also the travelling funfair, cardboardia tent, Sziget comedy tent and Magic Mirror which hosts a colourful array of cabaret, drag shows and talks by the LGBT community.

Celebrate National Dog Day

August 26 is National Dog Day, so what better way to show your four-legged friend how much you love them than by treating them to a break. Your furry friend will love these places:

1Doggie treats at Tewkesbury Park, Gloucester

At Tewkesbury Park dog-friendly rooms are kitted out with memory foam mattresses and have patio doors that lead straight onto grassy areas. Waiting in your room will be a welcome pack with doggie treats and suggested walks, a luxury Hunt & Wilson dog bed, food and water bowls.

There’s treats for you too – a traditional afternoon tea for two, £25 spa gift voucher (per room), three-course dinner in the Piano Lounge (with a “Dog’s Dinner” for your pooch, of course), overnight accommodation with full use of leisure facilities, English breakfast and a sausage or two for your furry friend. Priced at £199 per room, per night.

2Treehouse comfort at Chewton Glen, The New Forest

At the luxurious, five-star, Chewton Glen near New Milton, dogs can stay in the Treehouses and they receive a special Welcome Pack which includes a bowl, dog-friendly treats and dog popcorn, a small dog bed and an organic meal menu. There are lots of dog-friendly Estate walks to enjoy and the beach is just a short stroll away. For owners enjoying al fresco dining at The Kitchen at Chewton Glen, their four-legged friends can also join them for lunch or dinner. Treehouse Loft Suites from £1250 per night B&B (sleeps four people). Dogs cost £35 per night.

3Doggy Divine in Stapleford Park, Melton Mowbray

Stapleford Park has commissioned bespoke luxury dog beds designers to come up with uniquely designed dog beds to complement the style and character of four suites at the 55-room country house hotel. Each bed contains hypo-allergenic materials.

Doggy menus iclude delicious treats like Pawpato treats and character creams. There’s even a Stapleford Park has also introduced a new Doggy Afternoon tea menu, offering a doggy biscuits and Pawsecco (herbal doggy drink) to sit alongside its traditional and very popular afternoon tea for human guests.

Doggy Divine includes an overnight stay for two in a choice of four state rooms on a B&B basis, afternoon tea for two, a bespoke handcrafted doggy bed, a new doggy menu, doggy afternoon tea, a selection of doggy toys, doggy walking trails within the hotel’s extensive grounds and dinner dog sitting. The package is available from £475 per room, based on two people and a dog sharing. A special doggy gift bag is available for all bookings made over National Doggy Day on 26 August.

4Seaside antics at South Sands hotel in Salcombe

Salcombe’s boutique South Sands hotel situated right on the beach in Salcombe’s stunning estuary welcomes dogs and humans alike into its classy, understated beachside décor. A dog friendly hotel with dog walking opportunities along the beach just beyond their door. There is a gastronomic restaurant with a doggie area – but you have to bring your own dog food. Doubles cost from £170.

5Five star pampering at The Arch, London

The Arch a contemporary-cum-English Heritage styled boutique hotel near London’s Hyde Park has opened its doors to all canines big and small treating them to luxurious dog beds, feeding bowls, treats and delicious pet food cooked to order.

Dog walking services are also available, so you can relax while your pooch explores the 350 acres of nearby Hyde Park. There’s also a pampering session opportunity in Chelsea’s luxurious Pet Day Spa, a calm relaxing and safe haven in which pets can be groomed, indulged and revitalised. And when you need some time out, you can ask or the dog-sitting service.

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.

Corn flour bread is a staple of Basque cuisine, but here it was flash fried and served as a crispy base to a melange of heritage tomatoes with basil emulsion and decorated with summer flowers. I swear I could actually taste the sunshine that ripened the tomatoes.

The second was the Cerdito Callente. The menu describes it as a “hot dog” but it looks more like burger. The meat is Iberico ham with mushroom durrelle served in a Basque muffin.

It was served with a huge sense of humour in a pig head shaped wooden box. In any case there was nothing funny about the flavour; juicy melt-in-the-mouth meat tinged with mushroom and a curl of mushroom puree to dip it into. Quite delicious.

Then the Egg Yolk Tempura arrived. Deep friend battered eggs yolks are served on a bed of velvety creamed potato. An unusual combo made sweeter by the confit of vegetables.

For the main course you get to choose something from the Asador (A Spanish word meaning barbecue, grill or spit) charcoal-style grill. I chose the monkfish cooked with garlic and parsley and my co-bruncher chose the duck breast with the sweetest Gernia peppers.