My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Travelling is one of my biggest passions, something I have always loved doing since I was young. I guess I have to thank my family for it! I have always had a curiosity for different cities and countries or even just exploring my own city, discovering new neighbourhoods, learning how to get around and meeting locals. Every time I see a new place, I feel like I have learnt something new.

The challenge when you are young is finding the money or when you are my age is finding the time to keep travelling. Visiting new destinations but also revisiting places which you have been to and loved.

I was nominated by Make New Tracks to write this post as part of the Booked.net Top Destinations to Go There challenge, so I have shortlisted five countries or cities that I would love to go back to, for different reasons.

Here are My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To:

NEW ZEALAND

My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Number 1 on my list has to be New Zealand! I fell in love utterly and completely with this country in the three weeks I visited it last December. I blogged about it as soon as I came back, so you can really feel my love in this post.

Me and my husband spent three weeks travelling across the north and south islands in a campervan, but we could only see a fraction of what this country has to offer. There are so many places we had to skip, often driving through them without stopping, like Bay of Plenty, Marlborough vineyards, Fiordland.

I'd love to go back for two months at least and explore New Zealand at a slower pace, spending days camping and just, relaxing, eating amazing food and just enjoying the view! :)

 

TOKYO

My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Visiting Tokyo was my dream, so when the chance came up to go there for a week with some friends, I took it immediately. My friends and I were really into street and portrait photography at the time and we just went crazy shooting the city with its street lights, skyscrapers and millions of people.

Tokyo is the coolest, craziest, most beautiful and mesmerizing cities I've ever seen. Photography-wise, I never felt more inspired and amazed by a city in my entire life. Words can't describe it. I shared this experience with a close friend and I will treasure forever the memories from this trip.

I was also lucky to stay in a flat with a good friend of mine, Japanese, who was living in Tokyo back then, so I could experience living in Tokyo – even if only for a few days.

I would love to go back to Tokyo for a longer time and live in the city for real. And start learning Japanese again!

 

GOA

My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Goa, just because…honeymoon!

After my Indian wedding in Mumbai, my husband and I went to Agonda Beach in south Goa for three days with our brother/sister and our best friends who had come to India for our wedding.

After the stress of the wedding, I was so grateful to leave Mumbai and spend three days on the beach with absolutely nothing to do, apart from eating, chatting to my best friends and laying on the beach! I also found the locals to be friendly and the food was great!

I am not the type of person who spends holidays on the beach relaxing, I can't stop for too long. My curiosity always make me want to explore new places! But this time I really needed to stop and Goa was the perfect place to just disconnect from everything and live in the moment.

 

COPENHAGEN

My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Copenhagen is a city that surprised me a lot and I would love to go back there with my husband. I didn't expect to fall in love with this city, I went there last year to meet my best friend and spend a few days together. Copenhagen was one of the few European cities that neither of us had been to yet.

The city itself is beautiful, with lots of green areas and water sides. It's young, cool, trendy, and I got the feeling that the quality of life must be high.

The food and coffee was amazing and yes, it was expensive, but not so much if you compare it to London. Anyway, I'm hoping to go back soon for another weekend and next time I will make sure to hire a bicycle!

 

ICELAND

My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To
My Top 5 Travel Destinations to Go Back To

Iceland is becoming a trendy destination, I always see photos of it on my Instagram feeds! Maybe through social media more people are realizing how much this country has to offer.

I really enjoyed the quiet and stillness of life in Iceland. We didn't meet many Icelandic people, the country has a small population after all, but the few that we spoke to were friendly and kind.

The scenery was breath-taking and quiet diverse between south and north of the island. The natural pools were amazing to relax my muscles after driving for hours every day. The capital city, Reykjavik, is charming and lively, with cozy cafes and nice shops.

I would love to revisit Iceland in winter, to see the country under the snow and with a bit of luck see the Northern Lights too!

Hiking at the glacier in Mount Cook, New Zealand

Hiking at the glacier in Mount Cook, New Zealand

I hope you enjoyed this post about my top five destinations to revisit. What are the cities where you would go back to any day?

I nominate five other bloggers to take part to the Top Destinations to Go There challenge:

 

 

A Cocktail Masterclass at Kettner’s

This post is about a cocktail masterclass my husband and I were invited to attend at Kettner's last month. And also about how we won a prize for creating the best cocktail of the evening! Let me explain…

My triumphant husband Sandy with all the competition cocktails

My triumphant husband Sandy with all the competition cocktails

The event was organized by Surgery PR to promote Kettner's, an all day brasserie and cocktail bar located in a Grade II listed building in Soho.

Originally a series of four Georgian town houses, Kettner’s was first opened as a restaurant by Auguste Kettner, (chef to Napoleon III) in 1867. Popular with deliciously colourful characters of the time including Oscar Wilde, Edward VII, Lillie Langtry, Agatha Christie and Bing Crosby, Kettner’s was renowned for hosting incredibly risqué parties.

Official Website

The masterclass was conducted by Kettner's bar manager Jason Palmer, a charismatic and skillful mixologist. During the class we learnt how to create four classic cocktails: Old Fashioned, Mojito, Martini and Porn Star Martini.

Jason gave us a demonstration of how to prepare the different cocktails, but he also explaining the history of each one of them, with fun anecdotes that kept our attention up.

The Old Fashioned was the most complicated cocktail, as it required 9-10 minutes to make. This time is necessary to let the brown sugar completely dissolve in the drink. You can cheat by soaking the sugar cube in angostura and orange bitters, hence cutting a few minutes off the preparation time.

Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

The Mojito is one of the world's most popular cocktail, but to get it right you need to balance its flavours correctly: the strong liquor and the sweet, sour, bitter and herbaceous notes. That's why it's the best cocktail to judge how good a barman is: the art of mixology is about balance!

Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.

Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.

There are a number of techniques for making Martini (shaken, stirred, thrown) and variations on the traditional recipe. When you order one at a bar, you should be asked to choose the spirit, the vermouth and the garnish.

Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.

Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.

The Porn Star Martini is a relatively recent creation, a decadent mix of passion fruit and vodka served in a chilled glass with a shot of champagne on the side. It's a Soho cocktail classic, invented around the corner from Kettner's in honour of Paul Raymond, "The King of Soho".

Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.
Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.
Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.

Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.

At the end of the masterclass, each guests was asked to create its very own cocktail which was then rated out of 10 by a judges' panel. And as you already know, we won the first prize: a gin distillery kit!

I take the merit for the cocktail presentation, but the recipe was created and executed entirely by my husband Sandy. He used our favourite cocktail ingredient, elderflower cordial, and built the drink around it. We named it the Sunflower!

It was delicious and I can't wait for Sandy to prepare one for me again!

Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

If you are curious, here's the recipe:

  • 50ml Elderflower Cordial
  • 5ml Orange bitter
  • 75ml Vodka
  • 3 to 5 Lemon/Lime drops
  • 1/2 Passion fruit
  • 10ml Vanilla Syrup
  • a splash of lime juice

Thanks a lot to James and his assistant for the lesson and the invaluable tips we learnt during the masterclass!

A Cocktail Masterclass at Kettner's

Disclaimer: we were guests of Surgery PR and Kettner's. All opinions are my own.

Kettner's on Urbanspoon

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

My in-laws (who live in Mumbai) have been staying with us for a few weeks now and as you can imagine it's been challenging. Sharing your home with elderly people who come from a completely different cultural background, have strict eating habits (they are vegetarian and are used to only eat Gujarati food) and with whom you can barely communicate in English and hand signs, is not easy.

The other difficulty has been finding ways to keep my parents-in-law entertained in a city they don't feel capable to explore on their own. They spend most of the week at home, so the pressure is on to make the weekends count.

Since the main activities my mother-in-law does everyday is cooking vegetarian dishes, I suggested to my husband to take her to a PYO farm to pick fruits and vegetables. And guess what? She was the happiest I have ever seen her!

My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)
My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)

My husband had a lot of fun too! ;)

I went to a PYO farm in Buckinghamshire last summer and I absolutely loved it. This time though we went to a farm closer to home: Garsons Farm in Esher, Surrey. They have an incredible range of fruits and vegetables to pick: apples, raspberries, blackberries, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cabbages, cauliflower, onions, potatoes, sweetcorn and even sunflowers!

We picked a lot of Victoria Plums too, which were in season and incredibly juicy and sweet!

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

When we arrived back home that evening, with ten bags full of fruits and vegs, I immediately used the plums to make jam. For the preparation I followed a recipe from Thane Prince Perfect Preserves book which was published on Metro last month, though for the ingredients I followed my mum's recipe (less sugar and no added water). We used to have a plum tree back home in Rome and my mum would make kilos of jam every summer, I love her Plum jam!

I wanted to use my plum jam for a cake, but I couldn't decide on a right recipe. Finally this weekend I picked up the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook from my bookshelf and found Deb's Raspberry Chocolate Rugelach recipe.

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

Rugelach are tiny crescent-shaped rolled pastries traditional in Jewish cooking. The name literally means "little twists" in Yiddish. They are made with a cream cheese dough and can be filled with preserves, chocolate, raisin, nuts, or just sugar.

It was perfect for my needs, so I decided to adapt it using my plum jam, replacing white flour with spelt and removing the chocolate chips from the filling.

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam
Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

Ingredients

For the plum jam

  • 900g plums (washed, stoned and quartered)
  • 550g sugar

For the dough (yields 48 rugelach)

  • 230g butter, softened
  • 230g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 200g spelt flour
  • 50g plain flour (plus more for dusting)

For the filling

  • 300g plum jam
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 3 tbsp pecans, roughly chopped

For the egg wash

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp water

Decoration

  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam
Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

Preparation

Make the jam a day in advance. Place a pan with plums over moderate heat and cover with the lid. Bring to a simmer and, stirring from time to time, cook until softened for about ten minutes.

Turn the heat to very low, remove the lid from the pan and add the sugar. Stir until has completely dissolved. Increase the heat to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until the jam has reached setting point.

Leave to cool for five minutes, then pot into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Store in a cool, dark place.

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam
Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

Make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Add flour, sugar and salt and beat on a lower speed until well combined. Wrap the dough into a large piece of cling film and refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to three days.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Prepare your three fillings: heat the jam in a small saucepan until it simmers, then set aside. Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Chop the pecans.

Divide the chilled dough into three equal parts (keep two part in the fridge while you work on the first one).

On a well-floured counter, roll the dough into a large, thin circle about 30cm in diameter. Spread three tablespoons of jam across the dough, then sprinkle three spoons of cinnamon sugar and one of chopped nuts.

Using a pastry cutting wheel, cut the dough into sixteen equal pieces. From the outside of the dough, into the tip of the triangle, roll each section of the dough.

Transfer the rugelach to an oven tray lined with baking paper and space them 2.5cm apart. Place the tray in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Before baking, brush the rugelach with the egg yolk wash. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the rugelach are golden brown and puffed.

Transfer them to a cooling rack while they are still hot, to avoid them sticking to the paper.

Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam
Spelt Rugelach with Homemade Plum Jam

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

Nordic countries (Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland): I love them. I only started discovering them three years ago, with my husband, and we both fell in love with the culture, the people, the scenery and the food. I haven't seen a lot of them and I haven't been to Finland yet, but I am slowly and steadily exploring these countries as often as I can.

Last June, taking advantage of low-cost flights and a close-to-expiry Schengen visa (my husband's), we booked a weekend trip to Gothenburg, Sweden with plan to celebrate Midsummer in the Swedish way.

View of Gothenburg from Masthugget Church.

View of Gothenburg from Masthugget Church.

Midsummer / Midsommar is one of the most important holidays in Sweden and for many it marks the start of the five-week long summer holidays.

The successful midsummer never-ending party formula involves flowers in your hair, dancing around a pole, singing songs while drinking unsweetened, flavoured schnapps and downing a whole load of pickled herring, sill served with delightful new potatoes, chives and sour cream. All in all? A grand day out.

Visit Sweden website

Midsummer Eve is usually celebrated in the countryside, so the day before everyone leaves town, everything closes and the city streets are deserted.

The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.
The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.
The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.
The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.
The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.

The Midsommar maypole at The Garden Society of Gothenburg, one of the best-preserved 19th century parks in Europe.

As we were going to land in Gothenburg late on Friday evening, we actually missed the celebrations, but we had a wonderful Couchsurfing host who cooked for us a Midsummer dinner the next day. I had not used Couchsurfing in a few years, but in this occasion it seemed the perfect way to discover Gothenburg in the short time we had available.

We were really lucky to have our couch request accepted by My, an incredible host who was happy to welcome us into her high-rise flat on the outskirts of the city and spend the weekend with us.

My stayed up late to wait for us (with mugs of steaming tea and homemade bread) on Friday night. The following two days she showed us around Gothenburg (when she wasn't working), told us stories about the city and took us to Café Husaren to eat the world's biggest cinnamon rolls!

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

On Saturday evening I helped My preparing our Midsommar dinner and she taught me how to prepare traditional Swedish dishes, like the Smörgåstårta (Sandwich Cake)!

I am so grateful to have met My – a smart funny generous girl! Our trip to Gothenburg would not have been so great without her. The city was deserted that weekend, but we got to spend time with our new friend and learn a bit about Swedish culture and traditions! In true Couchsurfing style!

Of course, it was a shame that I didn't get to visit the city's best restaurants and shops. Saluhallen, the biggest indoor market in town, and Feskekôrka (‘fish church’ in Swedish) were both closed all weekend.

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

The coffee shops I wanted to visit were also closed for the holidays, except for Da Matteo, Gothenburg's most famous specialty coffee chain. Its three branches were open on Saturday and Sunday, so we spent quite a lot of time there (more on this in another post soon).

We made the most of the empty roads, zero traffic and lack of tourists by hiring two Styr & Ställ city bikes and riding in the city centre and around the fascinating harbour with traditional shipyards.

The Port of Gothenburg is the largest port in the Nordic countries (with over 11,000 ship visits per year from over 140 destinations worldwide) so obviously it plays a big role in shaping the city. It's not only a commercial site, but also an entertainment destination with restaurants, shops and museums.

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

From an architectural point of view, Gothenburg is a varied city with multiple faces. From the industrial look of the port area to the big boulevards which reminded me of Paris; from the cobbled streets of Haga to the wooden county governor houses of Majorna.

We cycled and walked a lot during the weekend, trying to see as much as possible of this pretty city. I loved the old neighbourhood of Haga, though it was a shame that its pretty vintage shops were closed when we visited (good for my finances though!).

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

While Saturday we got caught in a downpour, Sunday was sunny and warm all day. We spent the morning at Da Matteo in Magasinsgatan, sitting in the courtyard and busking in the sun.

We went for a walk along the canal and then to Vallgatan and Kungsgatan, the heart of Gothenburg's shopping, where most shops were open and we bought Scandi style home and baking accessories.

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

We had sandwiches for breakfast at Da Matteo, so we skipped lunch in favour of coffee and cake at Konditori Brogyllen, a traditional coffee house and bakery located near the Gothenburg Cathedral and with outdoor seating with a view of the canal. I had the best Cinnamon and Cardamon Buns there!

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

Afterwards we met up with our host My who took us for a walk on Kungsportsavenyen, Gothenburg's main boulevard, and to see the Statue of Poseidon by Carl Milles, one of the city's most famous landmarks, on Götaplatsen.

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden
Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

As we were flying back to London that evening, we looked out at the plane window to look at the midnight sunset and waved goodbye at the beautiful Swedish country.

Until the next trip…

Midsummer in Gothenburg, Sweden

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.

Emerald Street

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.

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

Autumn has arrived early in London, the weather has been gloomy and rainy for two weeks now and the summer clothes have officially been put away. I can't complain though, as summer 2014 was the hottest summer in London to my memory (I moved here eight years ago). I can tell this because for the first time since I left Italy I wore sleeveless tops and sandals for weeks in a row.

The hot weather spell meant that I didn't use the oven much for baking and instead I took my ice-cream maker out of storage and used it regularly to experiment with different recipes. I made coconut ice-cream, milk chocolate ice-cream and a delicious batch of vanilla custard cream ice-cream!

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

Right in the midst of my ice-cream craze, I received a box of the new summer edition Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles to review and I was asked to prepare a recipe using these chocolates.

They are delicious and indulgent white chocolate truffles filled with strawberry pieces and the famous Lindor smooth melting filling.

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

I made a White Chocolate ice-cream and mixed it with pieces of these truffles, then I served it with homemade strawberry sauce. The result is a sweet and intense ice-cream, yet not too rich as it's egg free. The delicate strawberry sauce adds flavour to the dish, while the truffles add texture.

I usually mix chocolate chips into ice-creams and cakes as I love the feeling of biting something crunchy. It's like hiding little sweet surprises that will make you happy later when you feel the chocolate piece melting in your mouth. Extra chocolate is always good, right?

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles
White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

Ingredients

Adapted from Chew Out Loud blog. Makes around 800g of ice-cream.

  • 10 Lindor Strawberry & Cream truffles
  • 50g packed brown sugar
  • 100g granulated white sugar
  • 175ml whole milk
  • 350ml double cream
  • 150-200g white chocolate, melted
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract

For the strawberry sauce (for two portions)

  • a handful of strawberries, washed
  • 1 tbsp sugar

Preparation

Chop the Lindor chocolates to quarters and leave aside.

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

In a bowl, combine both sugars with milk and whisk until sugars are dissolved. Add the cream, melted chocolate and vanilla.

Pour mixture into the freezer bowl of ice cream maker already switched on. Add the chopped Lindor chocolate into the bowl, in small quantities so that they evenly spread into the cream.

Churn the cream for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and creamy. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze overnight or until ice cream is to a desired consistency.

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles
White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

Take the ice-cream out of the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving it.

Serve with strawberry sauce, made by cooking a handful of washed chopped strawberries in a pan with a spoonful of sugar.

White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles
White Chocolate Ice-Cream with Lindor Strawberry & Cream Truffles

Read other ice-cream recipes on my blog: Raspberry Ice-Cream Sandwich.

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.