Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Charlotte Tilbury, Blow Ltd and the Delaney, Aldwych, London

For my birthday this year I had a day of pampering. I'd gotten a voucher for a makeup session at Charlotte Tilbury in Covent Garden for Christmas which I had booked to do on my birthday which was a Saturday at the end of April.

It didn't get off to the best start as I realised in the morning I'd had no email confirmation, as I'd booked over the phone, so I rang just to double check all was ok - only to find they had no record of my booking! Naturally I wasn't thrilled but luckily the manager said they could fit me in anyway at the time I had booked for (since I had booked a blow dry elsewhere afterwards).

I had a two hour session and was shown looks for daytime and evening, perched awkwardly on a high stool in front of a huge mirror with lights around the edge, feeling slightly crammed in next to the other women (most of whom had brought a friend or their mum) seated around me. I think I expected the session to be more of a makeup tutorial and there was a degree of finding colours and looks that suited me but I'm not sure I took a lot in about how it was being applied which was a bit of a shame.

I didn't realise as well that their two hour session is quite unusual and most people have an hour. It was described on the website as a 'makeup wardrobe' to find colours and a look that suits, but when I had the conversation with the manager about how they had lost my booking, she said they didn't offer the makeup wardrobe session any more and it shouldn't have been on the website (though it was) and that the person taking my booking shouldn't have done so in the first place! They did honour the booking and give me the session I had booked and paid for but I could tell that after about an hour and a half the girl doing my makeup was really struggling for something to do and it was a bit like 'shall we add an extra bit of highlighter'... still she did her best and did a good job and I was happy  with the rest (though I'd advise anyone else to just book the one hour session) - and ended up buying several products to take home. The manager even slipped an extra product into my bag to make up for the confusion over my booking.

Then it was on to Blow Ltd, a blow-dry bar in nearby St Martin's Courtyard. They don't do hair cuts but will style your hair in a selection of styles, and also do hair and makeup. There was only one other person in there having her hair done at the time who turned out to be one of the other stylists - they were quiet so were practising on each other! I was surprised they weren't busier for 5pm on a Saturday afternoon but I'd never heard of this place before until I was googling where to get a blow dry. They did a great blow dry and the girl was happy to adapt the style to my hair type and talked to me about what I wanted rather than just have me point to one of the eight options pictured on the wall. I'd definitely go back and get another blow dry if funds allowed - though I'm not normally the type of person to get glammed up to go out on a Saturday night!

I met my husband outside and his reaction to both the hair and makeup was 'wow'. He'd come in to London to meet me to take me for a birthday dinner. My criteria for choosing a restaurant was 1) somewhere I hadn't been before 2) somewhere near Covent Garden 3) somewhere worthy of a birthday dinner 4) somewhere with a menu that would suit both me and my fussy-eater husband.

I found the Delaunay online and couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before. It's run by the same people as the Wolseley, a high-end restaurant my husband and I went to for my birthday a couple of years ago. It stands on the corner of Aldwych and Drury Lane and is apparently popular for pre-and post-theatre dining, which explains why it was really busy when we arrived then emptied out dramatically just before 7.30!

The other reason I was surprised I hadn't heard of this place is because I love German food, having twice lived in Germany. The Delaunay describes itself as a European cafe - it has a cafe section and the main restaurant - but from looking at the menu the food seems to be German or Austrian-inspir ed. There's a fair bit of seafood including crab and oysters, sardines and scallops, and 'normal' things like a burger but the fact that the eggs section is called Eier and the daily specials Tagesteller is a bit of a giveaway. They have Wiener Schnitzel and chickens schnitzel , a whole section of German sausages and a dessert selection that is decidedly Germanic, from Black Forest Gateau to Sachertorte to apple strudel.

I was in heaven. My husband had their chicken schnitzel which he'd eaten in Austria and really enjoyed, and I picked a mixture of two types of sausage - a Frankfurter and a Berber Wurstel, which was a pork and garlic sausage, stuffed with Emmental cheese down the middle, and wrapped in bacon. It came with a small portion of potatoes and sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut and don't think I've ever had it in a restaurant in the UK before) - but as I didn't know it came with those, I'd ordered a side of spƤtzle, which is like a kind of pasta that you typically get in southern Germany and Austria.

The cheese was actually a bit much with the richness of the sausage and if I had this again I'd stick to a plain sausage, but otherwise it was really good. For dessert I had a piece of strudel which came with an edible biscuit plaque where the restaurant had written a happy birthday message - I must have mentioned my birthday when I booked, which I thought was a nice touch. So if you are yearning for a little bit of Germany and Austria in London, or just want to try something a bit different, I strongly recommend the Delaunay.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 29

Back at work after two weeks holiday (though I was only actually on holiday in Malta for a week). In some ways I'm looking forward to going back to a routine and healthy eating though there are actually several things happening this week that might alter that a bit!

Breakfast: porridge and fruit juice.
Lunch chicken salad
Dinner quick chicken cacciatore - make 1 extra portion and freeze. At least that was the plan, I discovered at 7.30pm I didn't have any tinned tomatoes or passata so used a jar of pasta sauce instead and basically we are having spaghetti with a chicken breast for dinner. Damn.

Breakfast out at a work event
Lunch out at a work event
Dinner out at a work event

Breakfast yogurt and Scotch pancakes
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner out with friends

Breakfast yogurt and Scotch pancakes
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner going shopping after work for our bbq so something quick and easy

Breakfast wholemeal toasted bagel with peanut butter
Lunch chicken and mango salad
Dinner pasta with tuna and tomato sauce was the original plan but after a bit of a disaster on Monday I think I'd better do something else. I think salmon with new potatoes would be nice.

Breakfast yogurt and muesli
Lunch baked potato and cottage cheese
Dinner hosting a BBQ

Breakfast with the friends who are staying over, one of whom is vegan: I found a recipe for vegan French toast which looks nice
Lunch the above may end up being brunch; otherwise something like salmon pate on ryvita. My husband can have a bacon sandwich
Dinner probably leftover barbecue food!

This is a blog hop, join in!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Boozy Brownies

These chocolate brownies are definitely not suitable for children! They're great for an adults-only party or barbecue, though I made them as a gift for a friend who had been through a tough time lately. He seemed pretty pleased with them when I described what was in the brownies!

The recipe comes from Bake in Black - Music-Inspired Baking by Eve and David O'Sullivan which I reviewed when it came out. I hadn't made anything from this book in a while so when I decided to bake something for my friend, had a flick through until I came to a recipe I could make fairly quickly and easily and that I could package up to give to him. Chocolate brownies it was!

The recipe is actually called Whiskey in the Bar- all the recipes in the book are inspired by music and this one is apparently Thin Lizzy. They are raisin and whiskey brownies with an Irish cream liqueur glaze - they came out gooey even though I extended the cooking time, and they taste amazing!

Makes 12
150g raisins
4 tbsp. Irish whiskey - though I didn't have any and used Jack Daniels
250g milk chocolate
200g butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
60g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

for the glaze:
50ml Irish cream liqueur
75g milk chocolate

Soak the raisins in the whiskey for at least half an hour.

When you are ready to begin baking, preheat the oven to 180C and grease a 20x20cm square cake tin.

Melt the chocolate either in the microwave or a bain-marie. Meanwhile in a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar and beat in the eggs. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix gently so it is all combined.

Add the raisins and the whiskey and fold in the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Pour into the baking tin and level the top; bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes [mine took more like 45, after I checked it a couple of times] until still squidgy but not raw in the middle when you test with a skewer. The skewer should emerge a bit sticky but not with raw brownie mixture on it.

Allow the brownies to cool in the tin. Make the drizzle when the brownies have cooled; heat the cream liqueur in a pan or a bowl in the microwave until just bubbling. Add the broken up chocolate and stir until smooth. Spread over the top of the brownies; the glaze will harden and you can then cut the brownies into squares.

I love Baileys but didn't have any and drinks like this don't actually keep that long - so if you have a bottle on the go that's great but I would advise against opening a new bottle for this recipe if you then aren't going to drink the rest (not on your own obviously!). Instead I found something really handy in Lidl a few months ago - a box of cream liqueur pots, like the milk you get in hotel rooms; you can open one or two as you want them and the rest will keep. Great if you just want the occasional drink or want to use in a recipe (or pour over ice cream perhaps?).

I'm sharing these with We Should Cocoa over at Tin and Thyme  and Treat Petite hosted by Kat the Baking Explorer.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Restaurant review: Absurd Bird, Spitalfields, London

Well don't you know about the bird? Well everybody knows the bird is the word!

Unless you were a fan of a pop group called The Trashmen in 1963 if this phrase rings any bells it's more likely to be because of Family Guy (Seth Macfarlane is a genius,  fact). I had the song firmly in my head when I had lunch with a friend at Absurd Bird in Spitalfields recently. The food is inspired by the Deep South, London food vans and 'a huge dose of fun and irony'. As well as free-range chicken they boast secret-recipe sauces, irresistible sides and 'insanely good' desserts baked in-house.

There were so many things I wanted to try from the menu it was a tough decision, from the mac and cheese with smoked chicken and bacon to the grilled chicken itself; I went for the BBQ pulled smoked chicken sandwich which came with pulled chicken, BBQ sauce, crispy onions and a potato bun. To be honest the bun didn't taste much different from a normal bread roll by the time all the other flavours were competing for attention in my mouth! The onions were deep fried, a bit like sections of onion rings, which I didn't really like as I could taste the batter more than the onion, but otherwise the burger was really good - and really messy!

There's a lunchtime menu on weekdays featuring six dishes at £6 (plus an extra £2 for fries) which my friend chose from; his fried chicken burger was a lot cheaper than the £10.80 mine cost and he kept casting envious glances in my direction.

We were too stuffed to contemplate dessert and were just about coming to the end of our lunch break anyway. This is definitely one of the hidden gems of Spitalfields - not in the main covered market area but not far away, along a street filled with eclectic shops but with an unpreposessing entrance that I'd missed despite having walked past it several times. But it's well worth seeking out - as the bird is the word.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Shop For Shoes and Nobody Gets Hurt Birthday Card

My mum has such tiny feet she finds it very hard to buy shoes, having to resort to the children's section which is fine if you want black 'school shoes' but if you want a pair of summer sandals, it can be hard to find ones without flowers, butterflies or sparkles! On occasion I've trawled every shoe shop in town with my mum looking for a particular type of shoe, so when I saw this stamp in a set from Born to Shop by Do Crafts I knew it would make the perfect birthday card for her.

It's the top left stamp in this pack with a picture of a lady holding several bags and shoe boxes, and the words 'let me shop for shoes, and nobody gets hurt'. It made me laugh and hopefully my mum did too!
I had some backing paper I'd printed out from a craft site years ago with pink shoes and the words 'happy birthday' throughout; I covered half a square card blank and also one corner, and edged both off with a border. I coloured in the stamp with Promarkers pens.

And as for my mum? When I got married last year I found her the perfect pair of shoes to go with her outfit from John Lewis' Rainbow Club range - they were ivory which went with the colours in her dress but best of all, the shoes can be taken back to John Lewis and dyed in another colour which will give her the perfect new pair of heels for any occasion.

I'm entering this in the Naughty or Nice card making challenge where the theme is 'if the shoe fits'.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Osteria Dell'Angolo, Westminster, and Sister Act with Live Gospel Choir

If you ever get the chance to see a movie with a live orchestra or choir, I highly recommend it. There's been a whole host of these events over the past few years, where you watch a film on a big screen (usually in a theatre, or church) and the soundtrack is played live over the top of the movie.

I saw the first new Star Trek film at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago (a while after the film first came out), with a full orchestra - and a special guest appearance from JJ Abrams who was in London at the time filming Star Wars. I never realised quite how much orchestral music was in Star Trek until I experienced this- it was well worth the £50 or so ticket price.

When I saw something similar - but very different - advertised for just £20 a ticket I jumped at the chance and invited my friend Ros. This time the setting was a church in Westminster, central London, and the movie was Sister Act - with a live gospel choir.

I've always loved Sister Act and the soundtrack in particular. It started with a high-energy warm-up that wasn't quite what I was expecting  - I know gospel is about praising the Lord but I was in the probably fairly large non-religious segment of the audience - but it was great to see the young people's passion.  I read later they were a group called VM and New-Ye who were MOBO award nominated which probably explained the enthusiastic reception from some of the crowd.

The 35-strong gospel Choir who accompanied the film were very good,  with various soloists and small groups taking it in turns as well as the full choir. My only disappointment was that there wasn't more music in the actual film for them to sing along to!

As we were going straight from work Ros found a restaurant for us to have dinner beforehand called Osteria dell'Angolo nearby in Westminster which had an elegant but slightly stuffy feel to it. We started with a selection of breads and breadsticks with oil to dip them in.

For my main course I chose a filled ravioli pasta with crab which was lovely; a fairly light dish so I decided to indulge in dessert as well and had the semifreddo - described as an almond nougat parfait with chocolate sauce. It was very good and service was prompt so we finished just in time to see the show.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Alpaca First Anniversary Card for my Husband

I have a bit of a thing about alpacas - they're so cute with their thick curly coats and crazy fringes that either make them look like a visit to the hairdresser went wrong, or they went in asking for the same style as Mimi Labonq from Allo Allo.

Image result for alpacaImage result for mimi allo allo

I like them so much that part of my hen night involved alpaca trekking and we even had alpacas at our wedding - just milling around during the afternoon reception amid the guests!

I had a birthday present this year from my friend and her daughter, where her daughter chose a couple of things to give me including a sheet of alpaca stickers. A month or so later when I came to thinking about an anniversary card for my husband I decided it ought to include alpacas and remembered the stickers.

The theme of the first wedding anniversary is 'paper' so I was always going to make my husband a hand made card, but I wanted it to be very 'us' and not just something generic with hearts and teddy bears. Alpacas are just as cute and cuddly anyway!

There was one large alpaca sticker on the sheet I was given, along with a few tiny alpacas, bees and an apple (do alpacas eat apples? I'm not sure!). The main alpaca was so big it would have taken up most of a standard A5 card blank and not left much room for a sentiment, so I used a giant A4 card blank.

I covered it with pink and red spotted paper as this seemed appropriate for an anniversary and printed the sentiments on the computer, then added the stickers. Easy to make though the sentiments took a bit of thinking about - it's a bit daft but then so am I, at least when it comes to cute animals, and luckily my husband knows that and loves me for it!

I'm sharing this with Ooh La La Creations as their theme this week is anniversary.