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A fairytale evening with Debenhams

It’s a Thursday evening in London at 6pm. I’m sweating profusely under my bright orange velvet suit after running frantically to make my train. I squeeze through the closing doors, desperately hoping the wide-leg style doesn’t get trapped as they close. Ripping off my jacket in this -4° weather receives numerous odd looks, as if I’m trying to seduce the mid-fifties man opposite me by fanning my sweaty, unshaven armpit in his face. ‘Sorry’ I say, ashamedly. He doesn’t look up.

I’m off out on an evening with Debenhams*, and despite the disastrous start, I’m so exceedingly excited I might actually wee. Let’s hope not, eh. I’m meeting a crew of other bloggers to watch Florence and the Machine at the o2 in a box (yes, you read correctly, a BOX). Not only that, I’ve also picked out the orange, velvet and now slightly damp suit I’m wearing from Debenhams.

Once on the Jubilee Line, I realise that I stand out like a sore thumb. Especially amid all the grey suit-wearing city workers at Canary Wharf. I suddenly doubt my fashion choices and regret picking an outfit that a) means I can’t stand at the back and pretend to be socially inept, b) only women such as Heidi Klum should wear and c) makes me look like an Oompa Loompa on steroids. I text my boyfriend ‘I feel stupid :(’ covering my phone with my chewed fingernails so over-the-shoulder-lookers on the tube don’t see. ‘I thought you looked great! Even rushing around and sweaty!’ he replies.

One stop away from North Greenwich, I decide there’s nothing else to do but own it. I’m going to strut into the o2 like I’m Naomi bloody Campbell, and then find a quiet corner to remove scruffy trainers and change into heels…

I don’t know what it is about heels, but as soon as I’ve got them on I feel like my alter ego comes out. A bit like Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce, or Paul O’Grady’s Lily Savage. I stride confidently over to the gate where I announce proudly ‘I’m here with Debenhams, to sit in a BOX’. ‘Ok love,’ the woman replies, ‘we just want to take a look inside your bag’. Disappointing.

Once inside, a kind man named Davide leads me to the other bloggers. Explaining that I don’t wear heels regularly, I apologise for tottering behind him so slowly. ‘Tottering?’ he exclaims, ‘What is tottering?’ I explain, and due to his olive skin and European accent, I ask him where he’s from, ‘Deptford’ he replies.

The minute I see the other bloggers, I’m met with sequin skirts, silver boots, and satin dresses. What a relief. There are burgers and chips and cheesecake and everyone is chatting about whether it’s better to have your instagram profile as a business or personal account. I feel instantly relaxed. We take photos of one another like we’re old friends, sipping wine and filming boomerangs as we go. 

I’ve seen Florence a few times. Once at Reading Festival when she first became a ‘thing’, and once at Ally Pally when she became more of a ‘thing’. I feel quietly proud that I know all her songs and am v grateful to Debenhams that we’re seeing her and not Boyzone or one of the other crap o2 listings (yes ok Boyzone had some bangers, but come on: Florence > Boyzone).

Florence is an ethereal woodland nymph, running around frantically in a sheer, pale green-coloured dress. Barefoot, of course. It’s always odd when singers speak between songs and Florence is no exception. She has a small, child-like voice that seems strange compared to her warbling, empowered vocals. As she throws herself into Ship to Wreck, I actually worry that she might be over-doing the running around bit and am relieved when she stops for water (reason no. 1 for why I am a mum**).

I am seriously considering packing in my gym-membership and buying a wafty 70s dress to run around the house in. I’m sure it would do me more good than running on a treadmill for half an hour watching Loose Women.

She comes back on stage for the encore. The familiar lyrics of Shake it Out fill the 20,000 capacity o2 arena and that is my cue to leave. Mainly because I’ve seen her perform it live before but also because I’ve already experienced one over-crowded tube this evening and I’m not overjoyed about the prospect of another one (reason no. 2 for why I am a mum).

After saying goodbye to all my new blogger friends and the wonderful Debenhams crew, I leave the o2 feeling extremely fortunate and full of wine. My Cinderella evening is coming to an end and I take off my silver heels and put my muddy trainers back on. Someone’s been sick in my train carriage and I do the incredibly British thing of staying exactly where I am for fear of being impolite. I suddenly panic and wonder if it’s all been a dream. Did I really see Florence and the Machine at the o2? Or have I just been sat on this stinking sick train for 2 hours? I flick my camera on. I feel like the girls who captured the Cottingley Fairies, because there she is, a tiny figure, a distant memory, a minute, mid-air, Florence and the Machine.

*This experience was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for more details.

**not a real one, obvs. 

 

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Winter walks, fresh flapjacks and Radio 3: a simple way of life at The Painswick

It’s a Monday morning, and while others are sat at their desks doing the same old 9-5, I’m fortunate enough to be off on a Bridget Jones-style mini break in the Cotswolds. I’ve never been before, but I can’t wait to get snapping buttery-coloured buildings and sit by an open fire with a glass of red wine.

We pull up in Bibury, having fought with other tourist BMWs to get a parking spot – don’t judge my sister in a Skoda, she is fierce. Bibury is everything I imagined and more: there’s a post office that sells postcards and fudge, ducks waddle over quaint wooden bridges, and autumn leaves cascade down pretty cottages with uneven roofs. I dream of what it would be like to live here: a simple life where I can have my own vegetable patch and chat to Cedric next door about what a scandal it was that Margaret’s turnip wasn’t picked as ‘best in show’ at the local village fête. Outrageous. But then I notice all the tourists (me included) taking pictures of the cottages and remember that I always forget to close the curtains when I’m getting dressed. Maybe it’s not the simple life I desire after all.

I forget that it’s winter and the sun only rises for practically 2 hours a day, so by 4pm it’s dark and we haven’t even made it to our destination yet. Although it’s only a half an hour drive to The Painswick, it’s so dark that we manage to get lost down country tracks and at one point my sister even drives over a village green. After a daunting ascent up a road with a 45° angle, we arrive at the welcoming sight of The Painswick.

As we go inside the typical Cotswolds hotel, we’re hit with the thick, smoky smell of a wood-burning fire. With only 16 bedrooms, The Painswick feels more like a luxurious B&B than a large, corporate hotel. Our room ‘Griffin Mill’ is the epitome of cosy. There’s a hot water bottle lying on top of a gold, herringbone wool blanket. We’ve been left homemade flapjacks from the chef, there are giant square pillows embroidered with the letter ‘P’ and Radio 3 is playing Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending. We boil the kettle so we can sit down, have a cup of tea, and take it all in.

What to do first: have a bath? Read my book by the fire? Order a glass of Malbec to my room? It was just all so inviting! I run a bath while admiring the pencils-come-paintbrushes that are left on your bedside table (in case you want to do a sketch and then a watercolour, because that’s what you do while on a mini break in the Cotswolds).

After a solid 30 minutes of post-bath-and-nap selfie-taking, we head down to the lounge to sample ‘Merry Mondays’: half-price cocktails until 8pm. We peruse the dinner menu (one of my favourite pastimes) and nearly choke on our Pornstar Martinis as we spot ‘beef wellington with buttered greens and dauphinoise potatoes’. Oh, the delight of a chunk of meat wrapped in pastry!

Previously a vicarage, the restaurant – once a Parish room, is beautifully snug with original features such as arched window frames and tiny wooden doors perfect for escaping a tiresome Sunday School session. It’s warm and inviting with rustic hessian napkins, studded leather chairs and sturdy, solid wood furniture. My sister and I note how nice it is that all the furniture is matching. We’re so bored of this strange mis-matching furniture fashion.

We decide to share an ox cheek ravioli with beetroot and a grilled octopus to start. Formerly beetroot’s arch enemy, I apprehensively try the roasted delicacy, preparing myself for the worst. Whether it was the Guinness reduction, or the sprinkling of parmesan, the earthy root vegetable seemed to melt in my mouth in wholesome goodness, and I instantly retract any hatred I ever had towards the purple produce. The dinner was faultless and we finish off (as we always do) with a fresh mint tea.

It’s the details at The Painswick that make it so special. Local walking routes have been written, rolled up and stuffed in pigeon-holes for you to choose from. Whether it’s a 1 mile, 5 mile or 10 mile walk you’re looking for, they all start from the door of The Painswick. And don’t worry if you’ve only got leather loafers or white trainers with you, there are welly boots in every size to borrow.

We’re suffering from post-breakfast blues as we pack our bags. It’s not just the luxury of fresh linen or the delicious madeleines in our room that we’ll miss. It’s The Painswick’s all-consuming sensation of total relaxation. Walking the Cotswold Way, sketching the view, sipping tea while reading the next chapter of our page-turning novel: a slow way of life that all of us crave and few seem to achieve.

When we return home we light a fire, sit under blankets and read our books. No phones or TV, only green tea and my sister’s company. We’re one step closer to that simple life we all desperately want, and that’s thanks to The Painswick.

 

 

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Laura Ashley The Tea Room at the Burnham Beeches Hotel

It’s one of those Autumn days where you’re not sure whether you need an umbrella, SPF or a pair of highly-insulated snow boots. We take a risk and drive to Burnham Beeches in the hope of going on an instagram-worthy autumn walk. As we drive down the country lanes, the sun decides to poke its weary head out of the looming clouds just at the moment we pass the Burnham Beeches Hotel.

“There it is! There it is!” my mum and I squeal in excitement, simultaneously regretting having such a big breakfast this morning. We’re off for afternoon tea in the new Laura Ashley tea room* and I’m mainly excited because not once in my 26 years on this earth have I been out for afternoon tea with my mum.

We drive down leafy lanes named ‘Pumpkin Hill’ and ‘Dove House Crescent’ and I feel like I’m in an American musical; any minute now my mum will burst into song about cake and tea and how ‘she longs to visit England in the fall’.

We arrive at Burnham Beeches, a scenic nature reserve populated with dog-walkers, bike-riders and instagrammers. Optimistically I jump out the car shoving my walking boots on and preparing for a hefty hike through the woodland (gotta make room for the cake). The beech trees are spectacular and as the breeze blows through the trees, tiny yellow leaves twinkle back and forth, reminiscent of a disco ball in a night club.

I actually felt more worthy of a visit to the Burnham Beeches hotel now knowing what the Burnham Beeches were and I was ready to have all the finger sandwiches and posh slices of cake.

We’re greeted by Fernando, the Deputy Manager of the hotel, who leads us to what he calls ‘his baby’: the brand new Laura Ashley tea room. It’s a muted pink with a dark wood floor, glass chandeliers and pristine white table cloths. We’re seated next to a sash window overlooking the front lawn. We order tea and prosecco, my two favourite liquids.

As we’re admiring the Laura Ashley teapots on display in a dresser, we’re presented with a tiny chocolate bonfire! Chocolate truffle logs, matchstick biscuits and white chocolate flames make up the sweetest novelty amuse bouche I’ve ever had the good fortune to eat. As a savoury gal, however, I can’t stop thinking about the egg and cress brioche buns that are about to grace our table. I practically salivate over Fernando, poor bloke, as he brings over a three-tiered cake stand adorned with scones, tarts, delices and bavaroises. The scones are light, the sandwiches fresh and the rose bavaroise fluffy.

I think my biggest flaw as a human being is my stomach. It’s just not big enough. I desperately want to taste a tiny rosemary and pumpkin cake, but for fear of being sick in my mum’s Skoda I refrain from trying it and just stare at it instead, wide-eyed and longingly. I somehow manage to finish my prosecco though, why don’t we ever get full of wine? One of life’s great mysteries.

Without hesitation Fernando offers to box-up the rest of our sweet treats and I contemplate how I’m going to hide the box from my dad when I get home.

Usually I find with an afternoon tea, there’s an element missing. The tea’s cold or the service is slow, but not at the Burnham Beeches Hotel. The room is warm, the service was outstanding and the food, faultless.

I leave feeling happy and full. Stuffed like a turkey and unable to eat another morsel. That is, until I get home and polish off another scone and an apple and cinnamon tart.

*This afternoon tea was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for more details.

 

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Christmas party season is upon us and the fateful time has come to choose yet another black dress to wear to yet another Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE an lbd: classic, sophisticated, but arguably boring?

Christmas is probably the only time (apart from Glastonbury) that we can wear whatever sparkle, glitter and twinkle the fashion Gods up in buying heaven dare to let loose on their websites. And I am 100% THERE.

I’ll wear your bodycon dresses, playsuits and wrap-around maxi dresses literally any other day of the year (pm me for my address yo) but if it’s not got a sequin on it at Christmas, I’m not touching it. I think my biggest regret in life is not wearing some form of glitter on my face every day of the year. Doesn’t it make you happy? It makes me happy.

That’s why I’m totally invested in Warehouse’s party dresses collection*. They just know that there are some women out there (i.e. – me) who will not be leaving the house between November 1st – December 31st unless they look like a giant Christmas bauble has thrown up on them.

There are 3 types of se-queens and fortunately Warehouse has provided for us all. What legends.

 

1. The ‘on-the-verge’ se-queen

You’re all for a bit of sparkle at Christmas but you’re not quite ready to throw in the lbd and commit to looking like Dame Edna Everage (understandably). You love a twinkle here and there but maybe not combined with a bright colour. You’re discreet, classy and I LIKE you.

You are: a sheer sequin panel dress!

 

2. The ‘halfway-house’ se-queen

You are a se-KEEN but maybe not so keen that you have diamantés adorning your toenails. You’re more than happy to commit to some sort of sparkle, but maybe not sequin on sequin on sequin?

You are: a rainbow sequin cami top!

 

 

3. The absolutely committed ‘I only wear sequins don’t @ me’ se-queen

You are here for it. The words ‘too glittery’ are not in your vocabulary and you’d give Strictly Come Dancing a run for its money the amount of glitz you own. You will wear glitter with jacquard with lurex with leopard print with sequins and that’s just to get milk.

You are: a sequin catsuit! 

 

 

Which type of se-queen are you? Let me know!

 

*AD. See disclaimer. This was a collaborative post but all writing/opinions are my own.

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A rib ride, rooftop hot pools and a 360° sea view: Solent Forts

When you book a minibreak, what do you look for? A nice hotel, with plush interiors and good food, maybe by the sea? Well, what about in the sea? Like in the middle of the actual Solent, slap-bang-you-have-to-get-a-boat-there-in-the-middle-of-the-bloody-sea. Solent Forts* are a small collection of well, forts, plonked in the middle of the sea by Prime Minister Lord Henry Palmerston (probs not ‘plonked’… it’s probs really hard to build in the middle of the sea). Built initially as a means of defence, they’ve now been transformed to luxury hotels offering a uniquely unparalleled sea-life experience. 

Myself and the crew of other bloggers (see what I did there) hop on the exclusive Solent Forts‘ rib, life jackets strapped firmly round our shoulders and between our legs (this is a very important and necessary safety precaution – thanks very much lovely skipper Griff). I choose the seat at the back which was stupid because having washed my hair, completed my make-up to goddess-standard, and worn a CREAM jumpsuit (why, God, why?!), I didn’t expect the rib-ride to be quite as thrilling as it was. To say that I sailed along with ‘the wind in my hair’ was an understatement. Put it this way I had crabs legit land in my lap (this might be a lie), but, I tell you what, I absolutely loved it! Have you even been on a boat if you don’t get splashed in the face? I probably should’ve expected seeing as I’d looked up where the forts were on Google Maps that morning *eye roll emoji*.

I arrived at Spitbank Fort like I’d entered a wet t-shirt competition, and I welcomed a glass of champagne from the hotel staff like I’d won the thing. I. Was. Buzzing. 

Spitbank Fort is a delight. The entire interior is exposed brickwork with blankets, cushions, candles, globes and compasses adorning every surface. So much care has gone into furnishing it while taking into account it’s historical context – it feels like the French will invade at any moment (but preferably after my three-course meal and glass of Laurent Perrier thank you very much). The original hammock hooks where the soldiers would’ve slept still poke out from the walls, as do the sinks in which the officers used to wash. 

The views from the roof of Spitbank Fort are spectacular and literally every room has a sea view. I just kept thinking how cool it would be to hire the whole fort for a weekend and come with a massive group of friends. But before I got too excited planning my decadent sea-party (maybe it could have a PIRATE theme?!), we were back on the rib and off to fort number two. 

No Man’s Fort is much bigger and feels much more like a  traditional ‘hotel’. There’s 5 different bars on the fort, various eateries, a huge lounge, a games room, a spa and 23 bedrooms, but it only takes a glance out a window to remind you that you’re staying aboard a secluded, historical structure with no neighbours to worry about – just maybe some fish. 

Visiting Solent Forts is an experience. You have the rich past of the forts for those that like history, hot pools on the roof for those that want to chill, and there’s even a laser battle experience in the basement for those that like running around pretending to shoot each other. It’s the perfect location to ‘get away from it all’ and spend a couple of nights at sea, with the luxury of hopping back on a boat and travelling back to the mainland (unlike the soldiers who would’ve been posted there!). And if your bank balance isn’t keen on staying on one of the forts, why not do a day experience? You can have an afternoon tea, a Sunday lunch, or you can even pop over and get your nails done – FUN. 

How good would it be going into work on a Monday morning and enduring the forever dull ‘How was your weekend?’ question: ‘yeah it was great thanks Julie hun, stayed on a fort in the middle of the sea, had a banging three-course meal, and came back on a boat with a crab in my lap’. Just saying. 

 

You can book a stay or experience with Solent Forts by clicking here. Use my exclusive discount code EMMAJO10 for 10% off. 

 

*This day was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

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A Grape and Grain tour: the Surrey Hills

It’s 10 o’clock on a bright autumnal Saturday and I’m waiting outside Guildford Station trying to spot a luxury minibus and a gaggle of people that look like keen drinkers. I’m off on a Grape and Grain tour*, transported through the Surrey Hills in said minibus stopping along the way at a distillery, a brewery and a vineyard. Fortunately a hearty pub lunch is also arranged so I don’t have the worry of crawling home intoxicated full of regret for not having lined my tender little stomach. I spot a friendly face that I discover is Joel, our tour guide and owner of the Grape and Grain tours, and we pile onto the minibus ready for an exciting day of tasting.

I generally find tour guides annoying. They say the same spiel, in the same way, with the same jokes and you’re meant to laugh along and state your name and a fun fact about yourself. But Joel is wonderful. He’s not an actor trying to earn a quick buck doing walking tours round Dublin – he’s genuinely passionate about what he does.

First stop, the Silent Pool Distillery in Albury. A small gin distillery tucked away in farmland and onsite of the legendary ‘Silent Pool’. Joel, previously a distiller at Silent Pool, describes the process in which the gin is made as we sip away, letting our tastebuds encounter the variety of botanicals. Bottles are bought, and we’re back on the minibus, feeling ever so slightly inebriated (well maybe just those of us who haven’t had breakfast… whoops!).

The Tillingbourne Brewery is tucked away in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and as you drive along the country road approaching it, the Surrey Hills views are absolutely stunning. A distinctive smell of hops washes over us as we pull up to the tiny brewery, steam billowing out the roof. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ yells Steve, the owner of the brewery, ‘Lee’s new to brewing, last week it was pouring out into the gutters!’

I’ve barely sat down and I’ve a pint of ‘Falls Gold‘ in my hand. Steve chats away to us explaining the difference between ale and lager and telling us that they’ve been supplying The Oval. I’m so absorbed in the story about the ‘Dormouse’ beer, brewed in conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to protect the habitat of the Hazelnut Dormice, I’m unaware that my glass has been topped up regularly and I’ve tried 3 different beers! I clamber merrily onto the bus taking in the blissful surroundings and thinking about a) how beautiful Surrey is b) how much I love beer and c) how I can’t wait for the chicken and leek pie I’ve preordered for lunch.

And what a wonderful pie it was! The Queen’s Head is a traditional little pub in East Clandon with a classic pub menu and low beams that my boyfriend was constantly hitting his head on (he’s 6’4″ – the perils of being tall lol). Feeling full post-pub, we’re off on the minibus again to our final destination: Greyfriars Vineyard.

Firstly, who knew that there was a vineyard in Surrey (not me) and secondly who knew that English Sparkling wine was so PENG (also not me). It definitely helped that it was the most glorious day, but when I was strolling through the vines with a glass of Non Vintage Cuvée in hand, I honestly could’ve been in the South of France. The vineyards are beautiful and the wine is superb. After a few tasting glasses of Vintage Cuvée, Non-Vintage Fumé and Sparkling Rosé, I was very happy to return to our luxury minibus for the final time and soak up the wonderful Surrey surroundings.

The Grape and Grain tour is a wonderful excursion for a group of friends, a couple, or you can even book privately if you’re a stag or hen do group or wanting to arrange a family outing! I learnt so much about what it takes to produce our favourite beverages, you get a fantastic pub lunch and a more-than-adequate amount of alcohol across the day.

You can book a Grape and Grain tour now by clicking here. 

*This tour was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

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Eggbreak: a brunch to end all brunches

It’s not often that I go for a brunch and immediately want to return the next day. Eggs Benedict are Eggs Benedict ya know? Wherever you go they generally all taste the same to me, that saying the proportion of hollandaise to muffin is usually questionable (who wants a dry muffin? Certainly not me).

But Eggbreak* is in a different league. I only ever go for Eggs Benedict cause it’s a safe option and I don’t fancy weird concoctions of gherkins in omelettes with chilli flakes etc. But I would’ve been happy with anything on the menu at Eggbreak, and I can only apologise to the staff for taking 45 mins to choose (soz about that). And when it arrived, I was not disappointed: sweet potato rosti with goat’s cheese, yoghurt with dill, kale, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.

I have come to the conclusion that goat’s cheese should appear on every brunch menu, if not with every brunch dish. Porridge with goat’s cheese, grapefruit with goat’s cheese, granola with goat’s cheese. It was divine. I’ve actually had dreams about it since. Complement with an iced coffee and a pink grapefruit mimosa and you are set for the day.

Eggbreak is tinyyy but that absolutely adds to its charm. Going to the loo makes you feel like you’ve had some of Alice in Wonderland’s ‘drink me’ potion, but they don’t cram people in for the sake of it. You’ve got plenty of room to eat your breakfast, have a coffee and take your time, you just do so in a small, quaint, Notting Hill eatery.

Eggbreak is undoubtedly going on my list of ‘best brunch places in London’ and I highly recommend you take a trip there – if you only go for the goat’s cheese, it’s so worth it. 

*This brunch was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

 

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5 Reasons to go to Petersham Nurseries in Covent Garden

Petersham Nurseries is a green idyll in Covent Garden; a wonderful flash of green in central London! Having been desperate to visit the new Covent Garden branch since it opened, the atmosphere, service and menu certainly didn’t disappoint. Here are 5 reasons why you absolutely must go:

1. There are flowers in your drink

Can you imagine my little face when the Walled Garden cocktail came complete with little baby carnations? I could’ve cried with happiness. Flowers in ma drink make me a happyyyy woman. In fact flowers in ma anything make me a happy woman. (nothing weird though, obvs)

2. There are 2 restaurants for all your food needs

Choose between La Goccia or The Petersham depending on the occasion. Both menus look DELISH so we went for La Goccia, the more casual of the two, but I’ll definitely be heading back to The Petersham for the Roast Florence fennel with braised greens, summer tomatoes and parmesan mmmmmm…

3. They serve 6 different types of courgette

SIX. SIX, I tell you! If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know about my love for courgettes. This year I’ve attempted to grow them from seed and I’m finally having success, yay! But that’s one variety… Petersham Nurseries serve SIX. I didn’t even know there were six different varieties of courgette?! But bloody hell, each and every one of them was glorious. Especially the little, tender yellow one!

4. There’s a hidden courtyard

Go through the shop, past the florist stand, into the restaurant and out through the French doors and you’ll find Floral Court. Ferns hide in every corner and you’re shaded by magnolia trees as you eat your meal. Right in the middle of central London. What a way to live.

5. There are plants everywhere, even on the backs of the chairs

The plant pot on the table is becoming pretty standard in hip hangouts in London, but Petersham Nurseries always seem to be ahead of the rest. Along with the classic terracotta pots on every table, there’s a wrought iron tree design in the back of the chairs which is stunning, sophisticated and won’t be spotted in any other restaurant around town. Call me obsessed, but it’s the details that matter, and these chairs couldn’t reflect Petersham Nurseries more. Seriously tho, where can I buy these chairs?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A perfect Paris stay: Hotel Adèle et Jules

Sweaty, tired and hungry, I scramble off the Eurostar and into the cosmopolitan jungle of the Gare du Nord. There’s a whiff of coffee and pastries in the air and signs are plastered everywhere instructing you not to get in a fake taxi (sounds dodge whatever it is). Amidst the chaos I head for the sortie – suitcase, sunhat and boyfriend in tow. Once out and onto the streets of Paris, we decide to walk to Hotel Adèle et Jules*. It’s only 15 minutes away, and although our backs are already dripping in the 36 degree heat, we’d rather that than struggle on the metro where there’s a 90% chance our camera/phones/sunhats will be stolen (not the sunhats!).

As we get closer, the streets turn quieter, the air seems cleaner, and the buildings are prettier. It’s hard to believe you’re moments away from the hustle and bustle of the Gare du Nord. Just around the corner from Bouillon Chartier and tucked down a side street, we find Hotel Adèle et Jules. The cobbled street is tree-lined, tranquil and traditionally Parisian. It’s a welcome moment of peace amid the frantic French streets, and we both breathe a sigh of relief. We’re offered a tea or coffee as soon as we walk in (Mum, is that you?) and we await our room in the cosy, but quirky living room.

Having struggled across Paris with our luggage, we are relieved to be shown to our room: a Boulevard Club complete with wrought iron balcony. The bed is huge, the pillows are perfect, and the air-conditioning is a godsend. I start snapping while my boyfriend enjoys a complimentary coffee on the balcony, then the bed, then the sofa (one must try all the furniture in one’s hotel room). Leaning out of the balcony I imagine I’m in a film by Jean-Luc Godard: my hair wafting effortlessly in the wind as I elegantly sip on a glass of vin rouge dancing to Edith Piaf – until bam – I stub my toe on a plant pot and I’m back to reality. I wake my snoring boyfriend and clip my toenails (did Brigitte Bardot do this?).

Hotel Adèle et Jules has everything you need for a weekend stay. There’s a simple but delicious continental breakfast, complimentary afternoon tea and an honesty bar downstairs in the evening. It’s perfect if you like a hotel away from the main drag, but minutes from the main attractions. The décor is sophisticated and stylish with a modern French twist and you will undoubtedly get a good night’s sleep (not likely if you pick a hotel along the Champs Elysées). Although important to see the sights, Paris is a city for pausing: grab some bread and cheese and take it all in while sat on your balcony – just try not to stub your toe.

*This stay was complimentary for the purpose of review. See disclaimer for full details.

 

 

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An Evening with Plymouth Gin

 

An evening with Plymouth Gin. Could a better sentence ever be spoken?

Dotted with elegant grey planters filled with pretty pink begonias, the Plymouth Gin Garden bar at The Wigmore was the perfect setting for a summer’s evening cocktail masterclass. A long table was set with test tubes, pipettes, funnels and decanters – reminiscent of Miss Crispin’s year 8 science class where my friend Hayley Cropper set fire to her eyebrows. Obviously no eyebrows were harmed at The Wigmore, and it was much more fun than learning about magnesium. Mainly because – gin.

We were given a tasting map to work out which of the botanicals were our favourites. We sniffed lemon peel, orange peel, cardamom pods, juniper berries and coriander seeds, all of which form the basis of Plymouth Gin. But blah, blah, blah, sniff as much as you want, we all know that I was there for the TASTING. Like any spirit, on an initial sip, it tasted like alcohol. But, with a little water added, I was surprised to taste the actual botanicals I’d spent the last 10 mins sniffing!

When it came to making our own gin I was convinced I was going to be a perfectionist. I wanted to mix the exact proportion of distilled lemon peel, with the right quantity of orris root (a binding agent) complemented with a tinyyyy dash of distilled coriander. But then I watched my boyfriend sloshing a bit of this and a bit of that all over the bloody place and that looked much more fun. The point is guys, I made my own Plymouth Gin!

I don’t know how I’ve got this far and NOT mentioned the lab coats – omg. We got to wear lab coats, with Plymouth Gin on the back, and I felt like an actual distiller, if that’s a job, I don’t even know, but basically: lab coats.

I’m not sure this is possible, but learning about it actually made me like Plymouth Gin even more. It was so interesting hearing about how it’s produced and now I desperately want to visit Plymouth and do a distillery tour. But only if I can wear a lab coat again and taste some more gin.

 

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