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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Borough-Market-London-41

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! :)

Christmas Hampers by Harvey Nichols

It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas here in London: festive lights are on, shop windows are filled with party clothes and gift boxes, mince pies and Christmas puddings are on offer in supermarkets. So, unless you are one of those people who finish the Christmas shopping in July, it’s time to start buying presents!

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I’m the kind of person who leaves things till the last minute, so every year I find myself on Christmas Eve morning desperately looking for last minute gifts. When you’re running out of ideas or out of time, Christmas Hampers are a life saviour.

Harvey Nichols, a luxury fashion retailer which first opened its store in Knightsbridge in 1831, offers a range of luxury hampers to suit for different types of people (For Her, For Him, For Foodies and For Wine Lovers).

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They must know me well, because they sent me the Rise & Shine Hamper to review this year, perfect for a breakfast lover like me!

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It has all my favourite things to start the day: ground coffee, English Breakfast loose leaf tea, preserves (gooseberry and strawberry) and Acacia honey. The hamper also comes with two Harvey Nichols mugs.

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The small bottle of Prosecco is a nice addition to the hamper and makes it a little bit more precious. I will stick to the coffee or tea for breakfast, but I will definitely raise a glass on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday season with my family!

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The Rise & Shine Hamper costs £65 and can be ordered online at Harvey Nichols. Store collection and same day delivery are available: perfect for saving you from that last minute gift shopping panic!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Rise & Shine Hamper for this review. All opinions are my own.

Franco Manca: Neapolitan Pizza in East Dulwich

When I moved to London eight years ago it wasn’t easy to find good, authentic Neapolitan pizza. Then, four or five years ago, one name began popping up in conversations with fellow Italian expats: Franco Manca. Like a secret code carefully shared within our community.

“You have to try Franco Manca, it’s a tiny pizzeria inside Brixton market online open for lunch, they make the best pizza in London!”

This is what one of my friends told me once and so I wrote the name down and made a note of visiting it as soon as I got the chance. A few months later my husband and I moved to Stockwell in south London, so we were finally close enough to Brixton to visit Franco Manca. I still remember that first lunch on a Saturday: we queued for about 30-40′ and were rewarded with the best pizza I ever had outside of Italy!

Fast-forward to today and Franco Manca is still one of my favourite pizzerias in London. Living ten minutes’ walk from the original Brixton restaurant (they now have ten branches in the city) means we eat there regularly. We know when to go to avoid queues and what to order.

Last night I had the pleasure to eat at the new Franco Manca restaurant in East Dulwich for a soft launch ahead of today’s opening.

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It was my first experience in a “real” Franco Manca restaurant (the other two I tried before are in a market – Brixton – and in a shopping centre – Stratford) and I liked the modern and warm interiors.

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Since it was a soft opening for friends and family, there was a cheerful atmosphere and all the staff was trying their best to impress.

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They didn’t need to try very hard with us, we were easily won over by the new Franco Manca!

While we usually order just a pizza and lemonade and are in and out within thirty minutes, tonight we enjoyed our dinner of starters, pizza and dessert. We shared a dish from the “small bites” menu: Burrata & Almonds, Wild Pig Prosciutto.

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Only if you have done a month of Whole30 diet you can understand how we felt eating the delicious burrata with slices of warm focaccia!

When it was time to order the pizza my husband had no doubts: it had to be Margherita! I admire his resolve to always order a “marghe” (as he calls it), but I like to always try something different and so I usually order from Franco Manca’s specials board (one meat and one vegetarian).

Tonight it was a Mozzarella, Tomato, Aubergines, Pancetta, Watercress. I asked the waitress to have it without watercress and added Parmigiano Reggiano shavings instead.

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Franco Manca are famous for their sourdough pizza dough, which makes a highly digestible pizza and it’s true! I barely eat any bread nowadays and I was worried about feeling bloated after last night’s pizza, but I felt great afterwards.

We use a soft wheat flour that at the end of the long fermentation process exhausts its starch content, transforming it in to “noble sugars”. To reach this we need a flour with just enough gluten to hold the dough together at the end of a 24 hour fermentation.  The result is a digestible product where the enzymes have done most of the hard work for your stomach, breaking down starch and gluten.

As a result the Franco Manca pizza base is full of flavours and very tasty even without (or very little) tomato sauce.

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After the pizza we treated ourselves to dessert: a sticky and light Neapolitan Caprese Cake made with almond flour and served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

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Franco Manca East Dulwich will officially open its doors to the public today at midday (no bookings: it’s first come, first served).  You can find them in 21 Lordship Lane, SE22 8EW London.

Disclaimer: I was invited by the restaurant as a guest to the preview dinner. All opinions are my own.

PS: do you live in or near Dulwich? Read my post about brunch at Toasted.

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Brunch at Toasted in Dulwich

In the happy days when I could eat things like pancakes and drink flat whites, my husband and I went for brunch to Toasted, a restaurant and wine shop in East Dulwich, South East London. Sandy’s mum was visiting us from India, so she came with us and so did my brother Paolo.

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Toasted has been open for a couple of years, but it’s only recently that I have noticed it popping up on my Twitter and Instagram feeds. I have a few friends who live around Peckham / Dulwich and Toasted seems to be a regular brunch spots for locals. I was curious!

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I am also always on the hunt for interesting brunch spots, particularly ones that offer elaborate pancakes / french toasts dishes such as this one: Sourdough Pancakes, Fig, Damson, Walnuts and Mascarpone.

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It looked so good, all four of us ordered it and liked it! The Allpress coffee wasn’t bad either!

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The atmosphere was very relaxed and informal, as Toasted is the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that locals would want to keep a secret. It’s also a wine bar specialising in ‘vins naturels’ (wine made with a natural fermentation) so I’d love to visit for lunch or dinner someday.

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As for the menu, Toasted offers “a daily-changing, produce-led menu focusing on seasonal ingredients and based around ‘small plates’, to encourage people to eat across the menu and try a variety of dishes and flavours”. I only tried one dish, but from what I tasted, I can definitely recommend Toasted!

PS: after brunch at Toasted we walked around Dulwich and discovered a lovely farmers’ market on North Cross Road. What a nice discovery!

Toasted on Urbanspoon

“Be The Barista” with Selfridges London

Specialty coffee shops are taking over London and all over the world many cities are ridong the same wave. The UK media are catching up too, so what was a niche trend now is turning into a global phenomenon.

One thing is clear: being a coffee connoisseur is a trend, Britain is now a nation of coffee drinkers, customers are better educated about coffee and more people want to learn how to brew the perfect cup at home!

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"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

For years I have used the same supermarket coffee blend and a Bialetti stove pot. Nowadays I like to have multiple coffee choices: from freshly roasted specialty espresso blends to single origin coffees; from espressos to filters.

My husband is even more of a coffee geek than I am, so between the two of us we now have a range of brewing devices at home: a stove pot, an aeropress, the Hario v60 and a chemex (and the Hario Buono Drip Kettle).

The latest addition to our coffee makers’ collection is the ROK espresso maker.

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

The ROK is “a finely engineered gearing that lowers the piston to generate the pressure to extract the coffee oils to create the perfect espresso”. It’s a simple machine that works without electricity: just the power of your arms!

I received a ROK espresso maker from Selfridges London as part of their campaign Be The Barista and for the past week my husband has been experimenting with it. I just let him practice with the ROK, while I’m enjoy having my breakfast coffee served to me every morning! I hope this new routine lasts! ;)

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

 

“The Selfridges campaign celebrates the art of specialty coffee, and being able to create coffee shop quality at home. From artisanal coffee masterclasses and demonstrations of essential coffee-making equipment and accessories to amazing bean-to-cup coffee machines, discover a world dedicated to coffee.”

 

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Making the perfect espresso with the ROK requires practice, so allow some time to master the machine. There are also many other variables to a good coffee: the quality of the beans, the freshness of the roast, the coffee grounds, the right water temperature and brewing time.

For the ROK machine you need coffee grounds suitable for espresso (not too coarse or the water will pass through too easily, not too fine or it will be very hard to push the arms down). I usually buy fresh roasted coffee online at Pact Coffee, a London-based roasters and monthly subscription service*.

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Fill the ROK cylinder with hot water, lift the handles and then push them downwards in a firm, smooth motion. Hold them down until all the water has been extracted (this should take between 20 and 30 seconds). Your double espresso is ready!

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Making good coffee at home is a priority for us and the day cannot start without it!

Whether it’s an espresso or a milk-based coffee drink, we can use the ROK to make a good coffee. As I said, it requires a bit of practice and it’s not as straight-forward as using a stove pot, but I’m confident we will master it soon and learn how to create a good espresso crema!

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
As part of the Be The Barista campaign, Selfridges have partnered with Origin Coffee Roasters to hold weekly coffee masterclasses in their store, in the “Cookshop” area on the lower ground. You can buy tickets online or in store.

Disclaimer: I received from Selfridges a complimentary ROK machine. All opinions are my own.

*If you live in the UK and want to try Pact Coffee, you can buy your first bag for only £1 using the code GIULIA-3DB5SG. Full disclosure: I paid for the coffee and this is not a sponsored post for Pact, but if three friends use this discount code I will get a limited edition t-shirt. You can get it too, if you introduce three friends to Pact Coffee.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

A great way to spend a sunny day in London is dining alfresco in a nice restaurant followed by a stroll in a beautiful park. That's what I did a few weeks ago when I was invited to review The Guildford Arms in Greenwich, a handsome Georgian gastropub in Royal Greenwich, just a short walk from Greenwich DLR and ten minutes away from the park.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

There are two dining rooms at The Guildford Arms, but the main attraction during the summer is the recently refurbished garden which features a lawn (with an all weather awning), a brand new BBQ and a terraced area.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

It looks like a pub, but the Guildford Arms is a hybrid of gastro-lounging, fine dining and alfresco schmoozing. Stylishly stacked over three floors, it’s an inviting hangout with a beautiful sunken beer garden – probably the best we’ve come across in London.

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We had lunch on the terrace a few weekends ago, on a very hot day. We drunk Lemon & Lime Cordial and chilled white wine, and tasted a few dishes from the August menu by chef patron Guy Awford.

The menu changes monthly and features modern British food, only using the freshest seasonal ingredients.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

We shared a salad to start: Broad Bean, White Asparagus & Fresh Peas with Garlic & Caper Crumbs and Buttermilk dressing. It looked like a light, summer edition of a Ceasar Salad and it wonderfully combined different flavours. I love salads and this is definitely one to recreate at home.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

Onto the mains: I didn't feel like eating meat or heavy dishes, as it was such a hot day, so I chose the Grilled Mediterranean Vegetarian En-croute with Buffalo Mozzarella, Rocket Salad & Pesto.

It was fantastic! The flaky buttery pastry was warm (not hot) enough to melt in your mouth without melting the mozzarella. The grilled vegetables were seasoned simply with olive oil and salt. I loved the Mediterranean flavours of this dish, it was exactly what I want to eat on a summer day!

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

My husband ordered the Pan-fried Loch Duart Salmon, Sautéed New Potato & Salsify, Spinach, Samphire & Tomato Butter. Completely different type of dish from mine, but equally satisfying and beautifully presented.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

Not content, we moved on to desserts: a Lemon Posset with Fresh Blackberries & Cardamon Shortbread for him and Pavlova with Strawberries & Whipping Cream.

The lemon mousse was our favourite of the two, light and refreshing. The pavlova had a crisp meringue shell and soft centre, but it was too sweet for our taste.

I finished my meal with an Espresso Macchiato.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

After lunch at The Guildford Arms I suggested to my husband to go for a stroll in London's oldest Royal Park, Greenwich Park, since we are so rarely in this part of the city. I had only been in this park once, running through it at the 18th kilometer of my first half marathon, so excuse me for not remembering much of it except a blinding leg pain!

A visit was definitely overdue, especially because Greenwich Park is beautiful! There are a few roads going through it and yet there are plenty of leafy and quiet parts of the park where you can relax and have a picnic. The main attractions are obviously the Royal Observatory and the terrace with outstanding views over the city.

The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich
The Guildford Arms in Greenwich

We laid on the grass and rested in the shade of a tree for an hour before heading back home. I am so grateful to have been invited to try The Guildford Arms, because not only we had a lovely lunch but we also discovered a bit of Greenwich.

If you are not familiar with this part of London, like me, then why not plan a day out in Greenwich now since the weather is still warm enough to enjoy the garden at The Guildford Arms? I would recommend it!

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the restaurant. All opinions are my own.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

On one of the hottest day of summer last year, my husband and I rode on our motorbike to Sandbanks in Dorset for a day at the beach. The night before I had googled "best beaches in UK" and the name had come up at the top of the search, so I was intrigued.

Sandbanks is a small peninsula on the south English coast: on the east side there's the beautiful sandy beach while the west side faces the Poole Harbour (one of the largest natural harbours in Europe). From the tip of the peninsula you have views of the harbour and Brownsea island (a National Trust protected island famous for its wildlife), which you can reach with the local ferry boat.

Sandbanks is the fourth most expensive place to live in the world, so the land is mainly occupied by stunning luxury homes worth millions of pounds.

When we arrived at the beach the next day I couldn't believe it: hot weather, sandy beach, clear blue water…it was beautiful! I loved it so much I suggested we should make it a summer tradition to drive down to Sandbanks every year…

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

Then this year I was approached by FBJ Hotel Group and invited to visit Harbour Heights – a boutique four-star hotel in Sandbanks – to review their restaurant and rooms, an invitation that as you can imagine I was very happy to accept.

The hotel is blessed by a great location overlooking the Sandbanks Peninsula, the Poole harbour and Brownsea Island, so it's the best place to stay if you visit this part of the country. If you are just visiting for the day, you can still enjoy the outstanding views from the terrace of the Harbar Bistro, the award-winning restaurant of Harbour Heights which serves seasonal produce, locally sourced and freshly produced.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

We booked the hotel for the first August weekend, when summer wasn't yet a long distant memory (it's now practically autumn over here!)

We left London on Saturday morning and arrived at Harbour Heights just before lunch time, in time to drop our bags at the hotel and walk to the beach for a few hours of sun-tanning. In the afternoon the wind picked up, so we headed back to the hotel to check in into our room.

Harbour Heights is a relatively small hotel with only 38 rooms, which gives the place an intimately and cozy feeling. The check-in and out process was swift and quick and the service from the concierge was great throughout our stay.

Our large en-suite room had a comfortable king size bed and floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the wonderful views. The room also featured a flat screen TV, Internet access, a working desk area, a lovely Spa bath (which we immediately tested!), two bathroom sinks (one for him, one for her…I wish I had these in my home!) and air conditioning.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

There was a plate of fresh fruit in the room, which was a lovely welcome present for a warm summer day. In my opinion the room would improve massively with a few little touches, like having coffee/tea or mini-bar in the room, as well as bathrobe / slippers and beauty products in the bathroom. At the end of the day, these are the nice perks of staying in a nice hotel and something you would probably expect from a four-star establishment.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

Our double bedroom was on the first floor and had a balcony facing the harbour! What a beautiful view to wake up to in the morning, I absolutely loved it!

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

All guests at Harbour Heights Hotel also have complimentary use of the Haven Spa at the Haven Hotel, which is part of the FJB group and is located on the Sandbanks peninsula (about 5 minutes' drive from Harbour Heights). So before dinner I spent a few hours in their gym, pool and steam room (while Sandy waited for me on the terrace), before going back to our hotel for dinner.

We dressed up for an aperitif on the terrace and the weather was warm enough to wear a summer dress and sandals. We watched the sun go down over the sea and it was just perfect! The glass of Chinkapin Brut Rose (2010) from English Oak Vineyard in Dorset was the perfect drink for the occasion.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

For dinner we moved inside the Harbar Bistro, which was awarded 2 rosettes by the AA Restaurant Guide, and we spent the next few hours eating fantastic dishes and drinking a bit too much Sauvignon Blanc from Yealands Estate in Malrborough, New Zealand.

I'm just joking…there can never be too much Sauvignon Blanc! ;)

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

And how amazing is it to eat a great meal, drink a few glasses of a lovely wine and then having to just climb a few stairs to your big comfortable and incredibly quiet room?!
Living in London you come to appreciate things like hearing the sea waves in the distance instead of the trucks driving past your bedroom window…but I'm digressing, so let's go back to the review of our meal.

We started with a Truffle Goat's Cheese Mousse with Pea Puree, Pickled Girolles, Herb Salad and Grilled Tiger Prawns with Thai Salad. Both were really nice, the mousse was delicate white the prawns had a slight spicy kick.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

As a main course I ordered the Confit Arctic Char, sourced from a local Dorset supplier, and served with Crab & Dill Chickpea Cake, Fennel Puree, Charred Courgette and Fish Cappuccino. The char is a great fish which shares the characteristic richness of salmon, though it has white flesh, and it paired well with the chickpea cake. I don't love fennel and I generally dislike foam, but I have to admit the whole dish worked very well.

My husband had the Poussin with Thyme Polenta, Sweetcorn Puree, Sweetcorn & Girolles Salad and Chicken Jus which was a colourful and flavoursome dish. I don't like polenta, but my husband thought this dish was great.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

Dessert was an amazing Chocolate and Hazelnut Terrine with Mixed Berries. My husband and I voted it our favourite dessert of 2014 (so far)! ;)

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

What a dinner! We were pleasantly full and tipsy afterwards, which is always a nice way to end a Saturday night.

The next morning we woke up to the sound of the…rain! Yes, it was the weekend that tropical Storm Bertha battered Britain, so we had to change our plans of hitting the beach again and instead drove back to London after a lazy lie in bed. The bed was so big it was hard to get off it, you know… ;)

Breakfast was a tiny bit disappointing (I always have high expectations about hotel breakfast buffets), so we skipped the buffet and ordered from the menu: Eggs Royale for my husband and a Full English Breakfast for me. They were good, but after the amazing dinner we had the night before I was expecting something more over the top for breakfast, so I think there is room for improvement there.

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

Luckily the worst of the storm hit Dorset on Saturday night, so by the time we finished breakfast the sun was making an appearance again! We left the hotel and drove by the sea and on Evening Hill to take a few photos of the harbour, before waving goodbye to beautiful Dorset. Until next summer…

Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel
Weekend in Sandbanks at Harbour Heights Hotel

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Harbour Heights Hotel and Harbar Bistro. All opinions are my own.