Christmas Afternoon Tea at Corinthia Hotel

Whether you are a local or a tourist, one thing you cannot miss in London this Christmas is a festive afternoon tea! Spending a few hours with your family or friends in a beautiful hotel eating sandwiches and scones with tea is FUN all year round, no doubt about it. But with all the decorations, lights and elaborated festive-theme cakes, afternoon teas at Christmas time are something special!

This month I had the pleasure to try the festive afternoon tea at Corinthia Hotel, a luxury hotel situated in the heart of London, just a few minutes’ walk from Trafalgar Square, the Strand and the Southbank.

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It was the perfect location to meet my friend Sally of The Cafe Cat blog and chat about our gift shopping and holiday plans. Neither of us had been to the Corinthia Hotel before, but we loved the elegant Lobby Lounge where the afternoon tea is served and the hotel’s Harrods shop with beautiful Christmas tree and gingerbread houses on display.

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We were invited to try the Festive Laurent-Perrier Afternoon Tea, so we started with a glass of Champagne and a selection of freshly prepared sandwiches on artisanal bread: Roast Turkey with Cranberry Compote; Loch Var Smoked Salmon; Roast Sirloin of Beef with Mustard; Egg Mayonnaise with Watercress; Creamed Innes Goats’ Cheese and Cucumber.

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For our tea selection we both chose the Ceylon Orange Pekoe, a rich and delicious tea from the Nuwara Eliya tea plantations in Sri Lanka. I visited that region in the summer so it’s a tea I am familiar with and which I love.

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The afternoon tea arrived on a three-tier stand with warm scones (plain and with raisins) served with house preserves and clotted cream; and two plates of beautifully decorated cakes.

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Jack Frost: Lemon Drizzle Cake, Lemon Marzipan, Soft Coconut Dacquoise,Toasted Italian Meringue.
Stocking Stuffer: Yuzu and Clementine Mousse, Orange and Chocolate Sable.
Sugar Plum Fairy: Plum Crumble Tartlet, Spiced Frangipane, Muesli Crumble.
The Scrooge: Chocolate Roulade, Tea Infused Ganache, Gold Chocolate.
Rudolph: Crispy Topped Choux filled with Malted Milk Chocolate and Banana Cremeux.
Yuletide Treasure: Moist Dark Chocolate Sponge, Amarena Cherry Compote, Nyangbo Cremeux, Velvety Red Finish.
Santa’s Little Helper: Chestnut Cream and Blackcurrant Macaroon, Sugar Snowflake.
Avalanche: Dark Chocolate Shortbread, Salted Caramel Ganache, Vanilla Frosting.

It was such a rich afternoon tea that I couldn’t eat everything, so they kindly prepared a box with scones to take home.

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I love luxury hotels and going to cafes or tea house, so for me there really is nothing better than afternoon tea! I love this tradition and I wish we had something similar in Italy. If you live abroad and are planning to visit London in the future, don’t miss it!

The menu at the Lobby Lounge at Corinthia Hotel was delicious and it was the perfect way to get me into a holiday spirit!

Disclaimer: I was invited to try the afternoon tea at Corinthia Hotel as a guest. All opinions are my own.

The Christmas Season in Chelsea, London

I can’t believe Christmas is less than a week away…and I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping! ;) I usually finish my online purchases at the start of December, but when it comes to the real shopping from the high street I always leave it till the last week!

Despite dreading shopping all year round, I love doing at least one trip to King’s Road in Chelsea before Christmas. It’s become somehow a tradition to go to Peter Jones to look at the store decorations and buy last minute gifts, then to do some window shopping in Duke of York Square and on King’s Road. Mostly just browsing as a lot of those shops are out of my budget sadly!

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Like anywhere else in December, King’s Road is busy, but it’s also very pretty and I love walking around the back streets and looking at the beautiful townhouses. It’s nice and quiet compared to Oxford Street and if I need some rest from shopping I can head to Tom’s Kitchen for a nice brunch or lunch!

Tom’s Kitchen Chelsea is the informal counterpart to Chef Tom Aikens’ Michelin starred restaurant and I love the bright ground floor brasserie with open kitchen, the cozy upstairs room and their menu of classic British dishes.

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I usually go there for weekend brunch (it’s best to book a few weeks in advance), but now that I am self-employed I had the time to visit for lunch during the week. Two of my high school friends from Rome were in London to do some shopping, so I suggested we meet at the restaurant. I think it’s great for tourists, as they get to try British dishes, made with good quality ingredients and cooked well, in a beautiful and elegant environment.

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I was in a festive mood of course, so I wore my new ASOS Christmas jumper! I love that it’s red and Christmassy, but not silly or tacky. It’s smart enough to wear around Chelsea and for lunch at Tom’s Kitchen (or at least I thought I was dressed well for the occasion!).

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After lunch I wandered through around Chelsea to take pictures of the buildings and homes, hoping not to be told off by the residents! I probably looked like a tourist myself, with the big camera and shopping bags!

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Whilst I wouldn’t like living in Chelsea all year round (as I always feel a bit out of place), I love being there at this time of the year. What is your favourite London neighbourhood during Christmas?

Disclaimer: I received the Christmas jumper as a gift. All opinions are my own.

Apple Butter Galette + “Slow Cooked” Cookbook GIVEAWAY

This season is the best for baking with apples, so even though I shared my Strucolo de Pomi just two weeks ago, I am back today with a similar recipe: Apple Butter Galette. You don’t mind, do you?

The inspiration for this cake was Miss South‘s latest cookbook “Slow Cooked”, published last month (read here my review of her previous book Recipes from Brixton Village). When I received a complimentary copy from the publisher I didn’t even own a slow cooker, but the recipes by Miss South looked so appealing that I decided to buy one.

I discovered that slow cookers are so versatile that you can use them not only to cook, but also to bake and make preservers, like a seasonal Bramley apple butter!

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I loved the idea of slow-cooking apples into a “soft, spreadable butter full of cinnamon and spice to preserve it for a long, cold winter” as Miss South describes in the book.

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Except my apple butter didn’t last for a whole season, as I used it to make Apple Galettes for a Christmas party I threw last weekend! I used the recipe for an “all butter, really flaky American pie dough” from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which is always a reliable source of pastry recipes.

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Since it’s Christmas and I’m in a festive mood, I am going to give away a copy of Miss South “Slow-Cooked” book to one of you, lovely readers of Mondomulia! :)

To enter the giveaway, simply like the Mondomulia Facebook page and leave a comment on this post to say which one is your favourite slow-cooker recipe. The best comment will win! You have time until Monday 22nd December 2014 12:00pm GMT. One entry per person please.

Apple Butter

  • 1kg apples
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 heaped tsp ground allspice
  • 1 heaped tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 250ml water or apple juice
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

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Peel, core and slice the apples. Put them into the slow-cooker crock and toss with the sugar, ground spices and salt. Add the liquid. Put the lid on the slow-cooker and cook for 10 hours on low. According to the recipe you should stir once an hour, but I left it overnight so I skipped this step.

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When it is all thickened from the apples breaking down with very little liquid on the surface, it is cooked. If your apples are still watery, simply cook for up to another 4 hours. Allow it all to cool slightly. Remove the cinnamon stick, if using. Blend the butter using a hand blender until it is smooth and thickened. Add the vanilla extract.

Ladle into sterilised jars and store in a darkened place for up to 6 months. Keep in the fridge when opened.

Apple Butter Galette

  • 160g plain flour
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 110g unsalted butter, very cold
  • 60ml ice-cold water
  • 150g apple butter
  • 3 apples
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • icing sugar for decoration

In a large wide bowl, stir together flour, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into a small cubes and scatter the pieces over the flour. Break the butter into the flour mixture until the largest pieces are the size of tiny peas. If the butter has warmed up a bit, place the bowl in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Drizzle the water over the mixture and use a spatula to gently stir it together. Knead the dough, working quickly so as to warm it as little as possible. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/180ºC fan. Dust your kitchen counter with flour, place the dough on it and sprinkle the top with additional flour. Begin to roll it out into a 30cm round. If the dough becomes soft, it will be harder to roll so place it into the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the apple butter over the bottom of the galette dough, leaving a 5cm border. Scatter the peeled, cored and sliced apples on top.

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Fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit; the center will be open. Whisk egg yolk with water and brush the galette crust with this mixture. Sprinkle sugar over the cake.

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Bake until the filling is puffed and the crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes, rotating the galette front to back halfway through for even browning.

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Cool and serve dusted with icing sugar.

Exploring Borough Market in London

This week I went back to one of London’s most beautiful and famous markets: Borough Market. It was a pleasure browsing the market halls on a week day, for a change! I have always been on Saturdays when Londoners and tourists visit en masse and it can be a bit tricky to move through the crowd and buying lunch from the street food stalls requires some queuing. Either way though it’s a beautiful place and if you have never been, then you must visit soon!

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My Instagram friend and fellow food blogger Asha of Fork Spoon Knife was in London visiting from the States, so we decided to meet up for coffee at Monmouth and for a walk in the market.

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Obviously you cannot visit Borough Market without stopping at Bread Ahead to buy doughnuts, so that’s exactly what we did! :)

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The main reason for our visit though was to meet one of the Borough Market’s marketing team to learn about the events they regularly organise in the Demo Kitchen and new Market Hall. They are currently organising an event taking place this Sunday 14th December, which I am happy to promote: Tom Hunt’s Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The Feast of 7 fishes is a traditional Italian christmas feast […] Tom will be representing 7 species of fish that will be caught using sustainable fishing methods from recommended healthy stocks. The banquet will be created using surplus fresh ingredients gathered at the end of the trading week, giving unwanted wonky vegetables, blemished fruits, wild, foraged ingredients and cuts of fish a new purpose. [Official Press Release]

Standard tickets cost £43, but you can get them with 20% discount using this promo code: GIULIAMULE20. 50% of the profits from ticket sales for this event will be donated to a food waste charity, Fareshare. The event will take place in the new Market Hall.

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After our visit, Asha and I had lunch at Elliot’s, a lovely cafe and restaurant which is part of the market.

Being based in the inspiring environment that is Borough Market, our menu is created using the diverse ingredients available and in season. We have a simple but mindful approach to our cooking that allows the ingredients to dictate the menu but to be prepared in such a way as to show them at their absolute best.

I had crab salad on toast with a side of cavolo nero, almonds and onions, while Asha had the lamb tongue.

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A stroll along the Southbank after lunch was beautiful, though quite cold this time of the year. I took these photos with my phone, just before dropping it because I couldn’t feel my hands anymore!

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I am definitely enjoying having the time to explore my city during the week and doing things I wouldn’t have had time to do when I had a full time job! :)

Hot Balloon Flight and Wine Tour in Yarra Valley – Australia

So it’s official, I am a full time blogger now! :) I left my job in advertising last week so I can now focus on my blog, photography and writing collaborations. The past year has been so busy as I was juggling different jobs and commitments while also travelling extensively around Europe and beyond. One of my hopes for the next six months is to finally edit all the photos from my recent trips as well as my honeymoon in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. It’s a mammoth task to blog about all the places I have visited in the past twelve months, but it would be a shame to leave all those photos on my laptop and not share them!

I am starting with sharing one of the highlights of our Australian holiday: the sunrise hot balloon flight we did with Global Ballooning in the Yarra Valley.

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Watching the sunrise from a hot balloon above the clouds was incredible and I am so grateful that I had the chance to experience this with my husband!

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Photo taken with GoPro Hero 3

It wasn’t cheap (around £200 per person), but it was worth every penny! We woke up very early to meet our driver in Melbourne CBD, then one hour drive to the Yarra Valley where we met the rest of the group and went to an open field where we helped the pilot with the launch.

That morning there were low thick clouds over the valley and I was worried they would disturb the flight and the view, but it was quite the opposite.

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Shortly after take off we flew through the clouds and emerged on the other side to a beautiful sunrise. The thick bed of clouds underneath us gave the feeling of being far away from earth and in heaven!

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We floated over the Yarra Valley in our beautiful hot air balloon for about one hour. I’m scared of flying during turbulence, but this wasn’t scary at all as the flight was gentle and smooth.

We had enough space in the basket to move around a bit and turn on different sides to take pictures. On one side we could see the sun rise over the mountains, on the other side it was the blue sky painted with other colourful baloons.

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After landing and packing the balloon away, we headed to Rochford Wines to complete the experience with a buffet champagne breakfast. We then spent the rest of the day in the Yarra Valley – one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious wine regions – doing a tour of the vineyards with Australian Wine Tour Company.

The Yarra Valley is the region surrounding the Yarra River and is host to a thriving wine growing industry, thanks to the area’s cool climate which makes it particularly suited to the production of high-quality chardonnay, pinot noir and sparkling wine.

The tour lasted around 4 hours and included a sit-down lunch and wine tasting at four different vineyards. We started from Yering Station Vineyards, where we learned about the tasting technique – swirl, sniff and slurp – and tasted their award winning wines, like Chardonney (light, fruity and refreshing in warmer days) and Shiraz Viognier (medium bodied and slightly spiced).

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For our second stop we went to Balgownie Estate, a stylish venue where we had a lovely lunch in the restaurant enjoying great wines and beautiful views of the vineyard.

We tasted a Premium Cuvee Brut, a Sauvignon Blanc wine, a Chardonney (aged 10 months in oak barrels), a Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, a Black Label Cabernet Merlot and a Shiraz.

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After lunch we visited a smaller and more rustic vineyard called Yering Farm Vineyards. it was very different in style from the other big and stylish vineyards and for this reason it was my favourite stop of the tour. I also loved the fresh apple juice from the orchard!

The wine here is made in a traditional way in their cellar door which showcases antique copper wine making tools used by pioneer winemakers over a century ago.

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We finished the tour at Domaine Chandon, the production house of the French company Moët & Chandon which is famous worldwide for premium quality sparkling wines. In the mid-eighties, a group of Australian wine experts found the ideal site for growing champagne grape varieties in the Yarra Valley thanks to its soil type (grey clay loam and volcanic red clay). Since 1986 this has been the site of Domaine Chandon.

We visited the winery before relaxing in the garden with a glass of sparkling wine and a platter of crackers and cheese. We tasted the Chandon Vintage Brut, Chandon Sparkling Pinot Noir Shiraz NV and Chandon Cuvée Riche NV. The location was spectacular and in particular I loved how each variety of grapes was marked with rose bushes of different colours.Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-17 Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-13 Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-14 Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-16 Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-15 Wine-Yarra-Valley-Australia-18

After the tour we were taken back to Melbourne, which was about an hour away by car. We arrived back in time for a nap at our AirBNB before heading out again for dinner. It was a wonderful day, certainly one of the most exciting of our 5-week holiday, and one we will never forget!

My Family’s Recipes: Strucolo de Pomi

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My grandma is a talented baker (I shared a recipe of her Curabiè biscuits last year). Her most popular cake is the strudel, or strucolo de pomi as it is called in Trieste, the city in the north-east of Italy where my mum’s family is from.

The Apple Strudel is a traditional Austrian dessert (apfelstrudel), but it’s popular in many European regions that once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire, such as Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy.

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My mum, who inherited my grandma’s baking skills, claims she never achieved making a strudel as good as my grandma’s. I made one a few weeks ago for the first time, the verdict from my family is that it didn’t have the thin and soft pastry with a spiced and tasty apple filling that my grandma makes.

The secrets to replicating her delicious strucolo de pomi are: always making the dough yourself and stretch it as thin as paper, so that it melts in the mouth when you are eating it. The pastry should not be thick or crunchy. Another tip is using different varieties of apples to get the perfect mix of sweet and sour taste, and also leave them to soak with sugar for a few hours before cooking them with breadcrumbs and cinnamon.

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Ingredients

For the dough

    • 250 g plain flour
    • pinch of salt
    • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
    • 2 tbsp warm water
    • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk

For the filling

  • 1 kg mixed apples
  • 150 g sugar
  • 1/2 small lemon
  • 100 g bread crumbs
  • 60 g unsalted butter
  • 100 g raisins
  • 1-2 tbsp rum or brandy
  • 50 g pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 egg yolk for brushing the cake

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Preparation

Peel and chop the apples into small pieces. Place them in a colander over a bowl and cover them with the sugar and lemon juice. Let them macerate for a few hours to release water. Leave the raisins to soak in a small bowl with the liquor.

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To prepare the dough, sift the flour on to a clean work surface. Add a pinch of salt and make a well in the middle. Pour the oil, egg, egg yolk and two tablespoons of warm water. Mix the ingredients into a soft batter then knead with your fingers until you obtain a smooth dough, not sticky. Add flour or more water if necessary if too wet or too dry.

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Wrap the dough in a clean table cloth and leave it for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180 °C.

Now prepare the filling. Fry the bread crumbs in a large pan with butter for a few minutes. Add the cinnamon, apples, raisins and pine nuts into the pan with low heat and mix well.

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Stretch out the dough into a rectangle (long and narrow) on top of a sheet of baking paper. Make the dough as thin as paper. Distribute the filling on the dough, leaving one centimeter out on each side.

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Gently lift the edge of the paper and carefully roll the strudel, sealing the edges with your fingers. Transfer the baking paper with the strudel to the oven tray. Brush the strudel with one egg yolk (diluted with a tsp of water if necessary).

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Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

Serve warm. Sift icing sugar over the strudel just before serving.

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Travel in Style at Gatwick Airport

Picture this: it’s 4am, it’s raining and you’re about to drive for an hour to Gatwick airport to get a 7am flight to your holiday destination. After the long drive you will park in the long stay car park and get on a bus to the terminal, where your reward will be a coffee and pain au chocolat from Costa…

Now picture this: it’s 5am and you have just reached the airport short stay car park, where you have met a friendly and fully insured chauffeur who is going to drive your car to APH’s secure car park. Now you can begin your holiday in style, with a buffet breakfast in the Gatwick airport lounge!

I have been through the first scenario many times, until a few weeks ago when I discovered about valet parking and airport lounges and my life changed forever! Yes, it’s a treat and a little luxury, but it’s one of those things that makes travelling so much easier and less stressful! Especially if you have kids and / or big and heavy bags, the services offered by Gatwick Airport Parking will make a big difference to your trip.

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My husband and I tried the APH service a few weeks ago before our long weekend in Amsterdam and were enthusiastic about it. Dropping off and collecting our car before and after our flights was convenient, easy and quick.

After leaving our car to the APH chaffeur and passing security in Gatwick’s north terminal, we headed straight to the No.1 Traveller to relax for an hour before our flight.

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Spanning 10,000 sq ft of cool marble floors and gorgeous interiors, you can enjoy the best runway views, watch a film or enjoy meal from our Bistro Menu at No.1 Gatwick, our recently refurbished super-lounge. Waiting for your flight has never been this much fun.

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The lounge features: access to Premium Lane Security, free WiFi, TVs, cinema and games room, daily newspapers and magazines, showers and a spa (which is best to book in advance).

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The food and drinks options include a self-service buffet table, which was set up for breakfast at the time we visited with cereals, croissants, fruit salad, fresh fruit, yoghurt and porridge with toppings.

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In addition to the buffet, you can also order one complimentary dish from the kitchen: bacon roll, waffle with berry compote, scrambled eggs on English muffin. I ordered a Full English breakfast for an additional £8 and yes I might have also had a cheeky glass of Champagne!

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Unfortunately the batch-brew American-style coffee available in the lounge wasn’t up to the standards we are used to. As you know, I love good coffee! I was surprised they didn’t have an espresso machine to make cappuccino and latte, as I’d imagine these would be popular drinks for travellers, especially in the early morning. I am sure better coffee would make the lounge experience much more enjoyable to a lot of customers.

After breakfast we moved to the sofas, where read the papers and watched the action on the runaway until it was time to board the plane.

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No.1 Traveller can be accessed three hours before your flight time and entry costs £25.00 per adult. For valet parking prices, check their Gatwick Airport Meet & Greet page.

Disclaimer: I was invited to review the APH service and N1 Lounge. All opinions are my own.