Saturday, 28 June 2014

Malta: Part One

After an early morning flight from Stansted, my sister, mother and I arrived in Malta last Sunday to an onslaught of sunshine. After the early summer sun of England, those shining rays felt glorious and so we eagerly hopped in a taxi to find our hotel.

Before long we were there and starting to settle in. We were staying at the The George Urban Boutique Hotel, which was fairly centrally located in St Julian's and so provided us with a good base from which to explore. Despite being in a built up area, it had a rooftop pool (and a basement spa pool) and so we headed up to catch the last rays of the sunshine before getting ready for dinner.

After we'd spruced up, we wandered towards the harbour in search of food. We eventually settled on a pretty restaurant on the water front, with a rather extensive menu offering Italian and Maltese dishes. Of course, we quickly dug in! My favourite dish had to be a simple but gooey camembert, sesame seed and pear salad, which was perfect after the heat of the day.

When we'd finished eating, Mum and I went for a walk around the harbour in search of ice-cream. The sea front was buzzing with people, especially crowds of excitable Frenchies who were all watching their football team play in the World Cup on a large screen set up by the water. Their cheers of happiness and sighs of disappointment could be heard all around the harbour, adding to the lively atmosphere. I could tell this was going to be a fun holiday!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Taste of Turkey: Saray Mangal

Jossi found this little gem of a place. She'd been telling me for ages that we should make some time to go out for dinner and eventually, we both managed to clear our calendars enough to fit in an evening of new food. Joss had been to Saray Mangal once before and had come away raving, so trusting in her impeccable taste, I was pretty keen to try it. Only thing was I'd never eaten much in the way of Turkish cuisine before and so didn't quite know what to expect...

The first thing that struck me was how colourful and lively the little restaurant was. We were greeted warmly and shown to a window table, right next to the counter which displayed all the food on offer. We could see directly into where the food was cooked and the chefs were more than happy to lean over the counter and help us pick our menu choices, explaining what went into each of the kababs. 

As soon as we ordered, a big bowl of delicious, warm, complimentary pide bread appeared, accompanied by two dipping sauces. We happily munched through it while chatting over our drinks. Joss had ordered a 'ayran' which is a yogurt drink mixed with salt and is apparently a national drink of Turkey, where as I'd gone for a slightly less exotic Fanta. I was soon jealous however when I saw how hers arrived, foaming over the rim of a beaten copper cup. 

Before long our food materialised, along with more of the yummy bread. We'd decided to share and so had gone for the 'special mix' which was a huge platter of chicken wings and chicken, lamb and lamb mince kebabs. This was all cooked in different spices and presented with a second (unexpected) platter of colourful salad and rice. 

We happily tucked in, chomping through the massive pile of food in front of us, before finally admitting defeat with only one lonely little chicken wing left on the table between us.We just couldn't manage another bite, no matter how much we wanted to!

 We ordered the bill and were shocked to discover that the entire meal had come to just over sixteen pounds which was a complete bargain, especially considering how stuffed we were feeling, the level of attentive service we'd received and amount of complimentary bread (which had just kept coming!). We left very happy customers and will hopefully be returning in the future!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Leicester: Jones' Café

Today, I'm going to share with you a badly kept secret... Jones'. Over the last few years, this café has been a firm favourite of my university friends and I, my record being five visits in one week! It's an addiction and now having left uni, I'm not sure how I'm going to cope without!

Unfortunately for us, it's also a lot of other people's fix as well- I've spent more than a few drizzly afternoons queuing out the door, hoping someone will leave before they stop serving food! However, when you get inside, you remember that it's all very much worth it.

To drink, I normally almost always order the home-made strawberry lemonade which arrives in a jam jar with fresh strawbs, slices of lime and lemon on the side. However, I have been known to stray away from this summery concoction to thick milkshakes, cream-topped hot chocolates or even the odd cocktail....

My favourite dish is the 'veggie bagel burger'. This is a delicious stack of roasted red pepper, mushroom, goats cheese and, if you're like me and ask for a few, fried onions, all incased in a bagel with chilli fries on the side. I love opening up my bagel and filling it with the home-made garlic mayo and ketchup, before squeezing it all together and digging in! It really is truly delicious.

However, I've recently discovered the thai mussels which are also amazing- a huge bowl of them comes floating in a tangy thai sauce. I've only ever had the starter size and have always had more than enough to share!

They also do breakfast foods such as eggs Benedict, full English and...pancakes and waffles! Yum!

The bar is always packed with batches of home-baked goodies, from festive cupcakes to slices of millionaires shortbread.

Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that I'm a big fan of this little café: the food is excellent, the staff lovely and the prices very very reasonable. Go!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Twycross Zoo

Last week, my university cheerleading squad and I visited Twycross Zoo as part of our Cheer Week celebrations which is basically a week of fun things to celebrate the end of exams, done together as a squad.

Now I love zoos. When I was little, I was definitely one of those kids whose face was pressed up against the glass, trying to get that little bit closer to the animals inside the pens. I'd run excitedly from pen to pen, fascinated by all the creatures with their colourful fur or camouflaged scales . I wish I could say I've grown up a little, but that simply wouldn't be true. Needless to say, I was very excited when we arrived at the zoo...

Twycross had pretty much all the animals you could wish for (except big cats- we only found a cheetah and a snow leopard which were beautiful, but weren't quiet as exciting as maybe lions or tigers), and, maybe slightly oddly, an absolute abundance of monkeys. Seriously, they had more monkeys than I think I've ever seen before. All different shapes and sizes, from the apes and orangutans to tiny little monkeys that chattered excitedly amongst themselves! The zoo's banana budget must be through the roof!

The penguins were hilarious, placing them second in my 'top three animals' ranking. (The elephants came in third (the baby one was adorable!) and the flamingos came in first. Mainly because what could be better than giant pink birds?!) They came right up to the edge of their enclosure and pottered around, craning their little necks to see the people crowed around them. I later realised this was because they were anticipating the arrival of a large bucket of fish, which was fed to them as part of the penguin parade. Here, the smart little birds waddled out of their enclosure to eagerly snap up the fish being thrown to them, while the zoo keeper told us about them and the effect of our pollution on their environment.

But for me, the flamingos stole the show. There was a large pond full of them, each ruffling their bright pink plumage and shaking their tail feathers, determined to outdo each other. Personally, I found them mesmerising- I could have watched them all day!

However, before long, it was time to go. So with one last wave to the monkeys (and with my inner-child sulking at being dragged away) we headed home.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Post Exams Freedom: Durham

Last week, I finally got my life back. Exam season had ended, the sun was shining and I was ready to celebrate my freedom. Not only had I finished what felt like a gruelling few weeks of assessments, I'd also finished my university career! I was flooded with relief at the simple fact that I'd survived, but bar that, I felt.... precisely as I had post exams, which was surprising since I'd been expecting to feel magically different. Older? More mature? I mean, I had just completed the last step in my formal education! No matter. This lack enlightenment wasn't going to deter me and so after my first decent nights sleep in months, I hopped onto a train to Durham...

...and promptly realised just how tired I still was. Thankfully, we refuelled at Tango and I was revived by a deliciously succulent burger, far too many fries and a large glug of ginger beer.

The next week passed in a whirl of cooking yummy food, sunshine, Pimms, eating out and afternoon naps (one of life's luxuries I'd sorely missed!). We attended a charity cricket match one afternoon, taking a picnic of summery food with us, full of strawberries, blueberries and cherries, cheese with onion chutney and pita and hummus. Oh and of course, more Pimms!

We also made the short trip to Newcastle for lunch with some good friends at (an incredibly amazing little place called) the Fat Hippo. (I tried to make out that I was excited about seeing our friends but they all knew it was the food I was so enthusiastic about... Apologies for the lack of photos, but take it from me, the burgers are TO DIE FOR!)

Another evening, we popped out for a Thai dinner at the Lotus Lounge where we demolished a table full of food, happily washed down with cocktails.

(Essentially you get the picture, yes?)

In essence, it was heavenly to have some free time: to sit around doing nothing and not feel guilty or cook and eat meals which took more than a designated lunch break hour. More than that, it was wonderful to finally have a chance to catch up with friends... especially one in particular!