Thursday, 31 January 2013

Skinny dinners: three simple suggestions


As many of my Twitter followers will know, I’m currently trying to shed a few pounds and as I hate the gym with a passion, I’m so much easier with just eating better. Last year I lost close to a stone with Celebrity Slim and have reverted back to it again this time. Basically it’s cutting out carbs and this week I’ve attempted three fairly simple dishes, which prove dieting doesn’t have to be boring!
Each recipe serves one, so if you’re cooking for two, double the measurements.
Monday
Salmon with chilli and ginger
Ingredients:
·         A salmon fillet (although you can use any fish you like)
·         1 tsp sesame oil
·         ½ deseeded and chopped red chilli (more if you like it hot)
·         Couple of slices of lime (I used artificial lime juice in the marinade instead)
·         1 tsp fresh chopped coriander
·         Choice of vegetables (I used half a bag of Waitrose Essential stir-fry but I would recommend bok choy, spring onions and broccoli)
Method:
·         Place the salmon on a piece of tinfoil, big enough to wrap it for oven baking (alternatively you can use greaseproof paper and steam it)
·         Top the salmon with the oil, chilli, lime and coriander (I mixed these in a ramekin before pouring over the top)
·         Wrap tightly to ensure the juices don’t leak and bake in an oven – gas mark 4 – for 30-35 minutes
·         Stir fry the vegetables in fry light as to instructions on packaging
·         Serve salmon on top of the vegetables and garnish with more coriander
Tuesday
Chilli lamb stir-fry
Ingredients:
·         120g lamb loin or steak
·         2 tsp light soy sauce
·         2 tsp Chinese rice wine (shaoxing)
·         1 tsp olive oil
·         1 tsp sesame oil
·         ½ deseeded and chopped red chilli
·         Choice of vegetables to stir-fry (I used the other half from Monday’s recipe!)
Method:
·         Combine the soy, rice wine, olive oil and sesame oil and chilli. Season if necessary
·         Thinly slice the meat and stir in the marinade. Leave for 30-45 minutes
·         To a hot frying pan or wok, add the lamb and cook until sealed
·          Add the remaining marinade and vegetables and cook as to instructions
·         Serve with extra chilli if required and chopped spring onion
Wednesday
Chicken tikka skewers
Ingredients:
·         1 tbs low-fat yogurt
·         2 tsp hot curry powder/paste (I used powder)
·         A boneless, skinless chicken breast
·         8-10 cherry tomatoes (dependent on size of skewers)
·         ¼ of a cucumber
·         Salad leaves
Method:
·         Mix together the yogurt and curry powder/paste and cube the chicken. Leave to marinate for 45 minutes
·         Once marinated, thread the chicken and cherry tomatoes onto skewers alternatively (if you’re using wood, leave them to soak and if you’re using metal, remember they’ll be hot under the grill!)
·         Cook for 20-25 minutes on a moderate heat under the grill, turning regularly
·         Serve with the salad leaves and diced cucumber
Alternatively, you can serve them with a dip of yogurt, diced cucumber and mint or make a salad dressing with lemon juice.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

January’s book: One Day


Like I said in my previous post, I have a really bad habit of watching film adaptations before reading the book; One Day is a classic example of this. I’d been meaning to read the David Nicholls' novel for ages and when my mum finally got round to buying it, she read it first!
As you’d expect, having read and watched both versions now I see that the book has been massively cut down to cater for the needs and timescale of a film. In my opinion, for that reason alone, the book is so much better – and so if you haven’t read it already, you need to make sure you do!
One Day is a novel spanning over 20 years telling of the friend/relationship of the two central characters: Emma and Dexter. Beginning with 1988 when the two met after their graduation from the University of Edinburgh, although the novel goes forward in time, it always reverts back to that one day – July 15th.  Whether they are together, or apart, the book always seems to manage to bring both characters together and we are kept informed of what they are doing, the relationships they have and this makes us feel like a part of their everyday life.
“They spoke very little of their mutual feelings: pretty phrases and warm attentions being probably unnecessary between such tried friends.”
The book is split into four main parts: early twenties, late twenties (also split into Dexter’s and Emma’s stories respectively), early thirties and late thirties. The final part is entitled ‘three anniversaries’ and depicts three years of importance. Each part begins with a well-known quotation from literature and is a nice opener to what to expect, it explains well the relationship of the duo at that particular point in time.
“You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.”
Emma and Dexter are two very different characters, and that is the reason why they work so well together and bounce of each other. Emma is warm and friendly, but always filled with self-doubt as she doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing or where she’s going in life. She’s the brains, while Dexter has the looks. But he’s also arrogant and one-dimensional, a stereotypical ‘Jack the lad’. He seems to wing everything in life – his job as a TV presenter, his relationships with a string of women...
“You’re obnoxious Dexter. I mean you were always a bit obnoxious every now and then, a bit full of yourself but you were funny too and kind sometimes and interested in people other than yourself. But now you’re out of control, with the booze and the drugs.”
As a reader you can’t help but empathise with the two, but at the same time you feel like you’re a third person in their relationship – you want to tell Dex to stop acting up, or give Em some friendly advice about making bolder and braver moves or risks. You’re a part of their arguments about morals, relationships and even scrabble – it’s almost like as you read, you’re very much part of their lives too.
The novel isn’t just amusing though and there is more to it than the jokes through (and I’m not just talking about stand-up comic, Ian); it’s compelling and compassionate and really evokes a number of emotions.
If you’ve seen the film but are yet to read the book, do it – you won’t be disappointed! Don’t be put off by the 400-odd pages either as it’s littered with anecdotes and letters shared between the two characters. This too makes us feel closer to them, reading their private exchanges throughout the years.
And on that note, I’m off to watch Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in action!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Graze: 27.12.12


In this box I got: lightly salted popcorn, Eton mess, toffee apple and crunchini basilico.

Lightly salted popcorn
The popcorn is a new addition to the Graze range and fortnightly I’ve worked my way through all three varieties, courtesy of ‘send soon’. I was least looking forward to the salted popcorn as generally I prefer sweet flavours, but I thought I’d at least try it to see what it was like and to hopefully change my opinion. I didn’t like it but for people that do like salty popcorn, I guess this would be amazing. I gave most of it to my mum and she loved it because it wasn’t too salty and made a great snack while we were watching a film.
BIN
Eton mess (almond slices, blackcurrants, mini meringues and cranberries)
I absolutely love the classic dessert Eton mess, mainly because it’s a mixture of things that are generally bad for you – but work together well and taste amazing! With this in mind, I couldn’t wait to try the Eton mess from Graze, although obviously it wouldn’t quite be the same. It was a good mix though – the crunchy almonds, sweetness of meringue and sharpness of the berries. I can’t decide whether or not I like it enough for it to be sent regularly, so I’m thinking I will make my mind up on a second tasting.
TRY
Toffee apple
One of my downfalls is sweet snacks; I could honestly eat an entire packet of biscuits in one sitting if push came to shove. And I have always loved sweets. Toffee apple has become the perfect substitute for when I’m craving something sugary and at 68 calories a punnet, it doesn’t seem so bad. Toffee apple is slices of dried granny smith with a toffee sauce dip and is just amazing. The annoying thing about it is, once it’s gone, it’s gone – I could totally demolish another couple of punnets, but then I have no self control. I’ve had toffee apple three or four times now, and I’ve loved it since the first one.
LOVE
Crunchini basilico
Another one of my favourite Graze snacks, ever. Crunchini basilico is another dipping punnet and combines crunchini (like breadsticks) with a basil infused oil. When dieting, I normally have soup for lunch and this is the perfect accompaniment. At only 80 calories, it’s not as naughty as toast or crisps and tastes great! I normally dunk the crunchini in the oil, leaving it to soak a little bit, as dipping isn’t quite as effective. The basil infused oil is lovely though – they really need to do it by the bottle so I can continue to snack well!
LOVE

Friday, 25 January 2013

Sweet Lily Sparkles


I can’t remember how I first came across Sweet Lily Sparkles, but I’m so glad I did. Four or five purchases later and I think I’m totally addicted – and you should be too!
Kayleigh is the brains behind Sweet Lily Sparkles, dedicated to jewellery and other bits and pieces inspired by her favourite sweets. As she says on her website, every piece is unique, handmade and can even be custom made if there’s something specifically you’re after.
I love all things sweet, so what better way to pay homage to them than wear it? Although it isn’t just sweet treats that can be created, there has previously been a ’50 Shades’ inspired collection and more recently a new range entitled ‘Trip to Paris’. As you’ll see later on, those bits are gorge!
Everything is really reasonably priced and always good quality. I’ve had so many people come up to me and compliment me on earrings and necklaces, which is always nice – and hopefully that’s been able to spread the word! Even better than that is the offers Kayleigh puts on. If you follow her on Twitter you’ll often see “free delivery” (although delivery is always free on orders over £25), “10/20% off” and even sometimes a “goodie bag”. There’s never a minimum spend either, so you can purchase as much or as little as possible, but as she’s always updating the range, there’s always something to catch the eye! And it’s a lovely surprise when your order arrives with a couple of complimentary bits – I’ve had two, and they’ve always contained something I was close to buying.
So here are the bits I bought most recently:

Sweet Treats
Jammie dodger style ring – £4.00
Mini flump earrings – £4.00

Trip to Paris
Eiffel Tower necklace – £6.00
Charm bracelet – £10.00
I love you postcard necklace – £6.00

Goodie Bag:
Gingerbread man earrings – usually £4.00
Sweet lips hairgrip
Rose filigree ring – usually £4.00

As you can see, each piece is cute and girly and although they make a great treat for yourself, they also make a perfect gift for someone else. I wish I had bought my mum a couple of pairs of Christmas earrings when the Christmas range was out. The ‘baby on board’ charm bracelets – a recent addition – make a lovely gift for any expecting or new mums as well. And they’re available in blue and pink.
So follow Sweet Lily Sparkles on Twitter and be sure to visit the website. You don’t know what you’re missing!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Lush: Mr Bumble gift set


Every Christmas my dad always buys my mum and I a little gift from Lush so imagine my delight when I unwrapped this gorgeous little bundle of delights. Mr Bumble is a sweet parcel of honey and toffee scented goodness and contains: honey bee bath bomb and honey I washed the kids soap. Both are contained within the knot wrap and I was definitely buzzing to run a bath, soak and enjoy!
The best thing about the knot wrap is that it can be reused, so the spirit of Mr Bumble can live on after you’ve used the treats. There are instructions provided explaining how to re-tie your bumble bee. I’ve already decided I’m going to use mine as paper weight and sit him on my desk!
The honey I washed the kids soap has always been one of my favourite Lush products and I cannot get enough of it. It’s also one of the company’s most popular. With its orange oil and honey, it leaves you smelling utterly gorgeous and although it’s not a soap that lathers up well, it leaves skins feeling soft and not dried out. It also looks good enough to eat, and the sweet scent reminds me of a flan – it’s just so yummy! I definitely recommend buying this product, whether it’s individually or part of a set.
The honey bee bath bomb went well with the soap and as I used to soap while in the bath with the bomb, I smelt doubly as nice! Lush says you’ll enjoy the honey bee bath bomb if you’re a fan of the raining men shower gel or ma bar bubble bar. The bomb also looked like a bee with its yellow and brown stripes – a mixture of honey, aloe and rhassoul mud. The scent was really relaxing and once I’d enjoyed my bath, my skin was left moisturised and silky. The only downside was the colour of the water – a rather garish yellow. You definitely get your money’s worth though and could probably have two baths with this product.
At £7.95, Mr Bumble is very reasonably priced, particularly considering the cost of both products individually. I recommend this knot wrap to anyone – male or female – and it makes the perfect gift for kids because he’s just so cute!

What are your favourite Lush products and have you tried any of the knot wraps?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Restaurant review: Catch


Where we ate:
Catch, Queens Road, Buckhurst Hill
Boasting such names as Joe Cole and Kano, I went to Catch at Buckhurst Hill last Friday night with a friend to celebrate my birthday. I’d never been before, in fact I’d never been to Buckhurst Hill, but my friend had been a number of times and I’d heard nothing but good things about the restaurant. I was obviously really looking forward to it and needed to see what all the fuss was about!
The name gives it away somewhat, but Catch is indeed a fish restaurant which prides itself on local and fresh fish from Billingsgate market. They also do a tradition roast on Sundays and breakfast every morning (ranging from pancakes or porridge to eggs ‘your way’ and kippers); as well as running a delivery service for when you can’t get down there.
The restaurant is situated in Queens Road, which on a Friday night is fairly quiet. There are a couple of boutiquey shops as well as other eateries so I imagine during the day there’s more going on. The main colour scheme is black and white, which is apt for a place as sophisticated and modern as Catch. Nicky, the owner is absolutely lovely and after greeting us on arrival made time for us during our meal and as we left. When we went it was really busy and his wife’s birthday so it was great he still managed to mingle with the customers. With that also in mind, there was entertainment provided with a live singer – Samantha Scott has a regular slot as well, if you like that kind of thing! With the music, I found it hard to chat, but the overall atmosphere of the restaurant was good and sitting by the window, I almost felt famous! We were looking at the cars parked outside – Bentleys and the like. The waiting staff were all friendly and very attentive for what was a busy serving period. The overall experience was definitely made more enjoyable by the fact we weren’t waiting around and our needs were met throughout the evening.
What we drank:
Kim – lime and soda
Me – Bellini
Catch has a pretty extensive wine and champagne list and also sells cocktails (costing between £5 and £7 which is about average). I love cocktails and although I was tempted by the mojito (which I’d class as a summery drink), I went for a Bellini which is just a classic.
What we ate:
Chilli prawns, sharing two sides: minted petit pois and mixed salad. Followed by smashed meringue with seasonal fruits.
There is so much to choose from that you simply have to return to Catch to try everything! I already know what I’m going to be having the next time I go! Following Kim’s recommendation (she says she always has it) I went for the chilli prawns. They’re normally on the starter menu, so I’m not sure if we ordered a main-size, or if the starters come up quite big. We had a couple of sides as an accompaniment, but if you’re dining as a group it would make sense to order several of the starters and share – almost like tapas. The prawns were in a chilli dressing which wasn’t too hot but really moreish and were served with a shredded vegetable dish which worked well – also complementing the salad well.
I’m a real sucker for desserts and I think if push came to shove, I could quite easily skip the main course and have three or four puddings. We both went for the smashed meringue (another recommendation!) and although it wasn’t what I was expecting it was amazing. I was just glad the main course was light, or else, I could have been waddling on departure!
The best thing about Catch is that it’s a restaurant you can go to with anyone regardless of occasion – boyfriend, girlfriend, family or friends; it’s definitely a special experience.
I cannot wait to return!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Winter sales are still here!


I love shopping but there’s nothing I despise more than going during the sales. I get horrible flashbacks of the time I went up to London before and after Christmas – queues around the block for any shop selling Ugg boots and Topshop at Oxford Street was absolutely rammed with people continuously standing around,  getting in the way and generally being an annoyance. I have a very little patience threshold at the best of times! And then there’s the matter of every single shop resembling a floordrobe or jumble sale – I’m not going to buy clothes off the hanger that have been trampled on, thank you very much. This is why, post-Christmas, I look online for a bargain.
There was nothing in particular that I needed, or even wanted, but following a number of shops and brands on Twitter, I was immediately drawn to the @rarelondon sale. This was largely thanks to the constant ‘up to 75% off’ and ‘under £x’ tweets. I’ve been shopping at rare for a long time now because the prices are decent and the quality is normally very good. I think the first thing I bought was my dress for my first year at Uni’s summer ball and I’m always browsing because there are always items I wouldn’t usually wear, or colours I don’t go for.
So here are the three items I ended up purchasing:
Embellished matte rubber leggings
Was £34.00 ––– now £8.00
I am still in love with my wet-look leggings, but I get through pairs like there’s no tomorrow because the ends always end up stretching and being too baggy around my ankles, or worse, looking like three-quarter lengths! They’ve almost become a staple and make a change from wearing a dress when going out. I loved these as soon as I saw them simply because of the embellishment detail on them, like I said before, they’re a little different! With so many styles of legging out, I’ve not seen anything like them. I’m going out for a meal tonight, so I’m considering wearing them with a vest top and blazer!
Stud shoulder jumper (available in five colours – I went for brown)
Was £39.00 ––– now £7.00
Last autumn I bought as batwing jumper in a rusty colour, which had threads of gold running through it. Despite being a colour I’d never have dreamt of wearing before, I got several compliments about the colour and style. This is what made me choose this jumper in brown. Brown’s a colour I don’t wear very often, especially as I have to wear black for work – but it’s a colour that would always go with my hair. I still love the stud trend and knowing the high-quality of rare knitwear, I couldn’t really say no this jumper – even more so with £32 off! I wish I had bought every colour now though – so I may have to head back online!
Embellished long sleeve top (available in two colours – I went for blue)
Was £49.00 ––– now £10.00
My mum was looking over my shoulder while I was browsing and when I clicked on this item, her initial reaction was “ooh, I love that” – I’m not sure whether she meant for me or herself! Initially I preferred the jumper in grey, but she persuaded me to go for the blue; again, it’s not a colour I wear often (I must come across as really dull?) and the electric blue is certainly a lot brighter. I loved the flower detail on the sleeves although I’m having to be careful that they don’t get attached to loose threads on other garments. Still for only a tenner, I don’t mind if it only gets a couple of wears!

Paid £25.00 ––– Saved £97.00

I’m still looking for a leather-style jacket, mind. With a birthday next week, I’m not sure if I’ll be saving my money or splurging it on yet more clothes!
Did anyone else get any nice bits in the sales?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

December’s book: Confessions of a Shopaholic


I have a horrible habit of seeing the film adaptation before reading the book, but in the case of Confessions of a Shopaholic, I managed to read the book first – and after reading it, it made me want to see the film asap! I’m a sucker for chick lit as well, so I was well impressed when my mum bought me the Sophie Kinsella hit for a holiday read the other year. I’ve only just got round to reading it again, because I have a real lack of books (somewhere in the house are all the ones I had growing up and as a teenager, mind).
Confessions of a Shopaholic revolves around the life of central character: Becky Bloomwood. She lives in a flat in fashionable Fulham with housemate and best friend, Suze. She’s a financial journalist and has a very unhealthy obsession with shopping.
In some ways, I think we can all relate to her character and from experience I know if a girl says she hates shopping, she’s generally lying. As soon as I have money, I can’t help but spend it: shoes, bags, lingerie, clothes, make up – I literally buy anything and everything! I don’t think I would ever go to some of the extents of Becky though – I would never let myself get into debt or struggle to make ends meet because I like to shop, but then I guess I’m not addicted, it’s just something I enjoy doing.
Suze is very much the opposite of Becky. Her family are wealthy and bought her the flat, but she’s switched on. Despite still having an allowance from her parents, she lives within her means and often questions decisions Becky makes regarding money matters. I’d like to think she’s like that friend we all have – that one voice you have to hear to push you in the right direction, although at times it may be hard to hear; she’s that one friend that helps you out in your greatest time of need.
Becky is a single lady, looking to meet that certain someone and the novel tells of all her relationship disasters. There’s Tom, a neighbour from childhood who Becky once rejected. There’s Tarquin, Suze’s cousin who turns out to be the 15th richest bachelor in the country and then there’s Luke Brandon (of PR company Brandon Communications) who Becky eventually spends the night with towards the end of the book. In some ways, it appears she wants a man to help her fulfil that ‘high life’ lifestyle she craves and needs someone who can afford to keep her habit going – and help out here and there with the bills! That, or she genuinely wants to change and needs a man able to tame her of her unhealthy obsessions.
The main plotline follows the life of Becky as she tries to juggle her shopping addiction with work and general day-to-day life. She knows she’s in financial trouble, but doesn’t know who she can confide in and instead keeps the secret from everyone. This proves difficult when bills and ‘urgent’ stamped letters arrive at the flat, but the more the lies are spread, the more danger she finds herself in. Bank manager Derek Smeath constantly tries to arrange meetings, regarding her troubles – but Becky comes up with excuse after excuse. Although towards the end she breaks-through and finally admits she would like his help. You can’t help but feel sorry for Becky throughout the novel, although it’s obvious if she had some self-control she wouldn’t be in the predicament.
I thoroughly recommend Confessions of a Shopaholic, it had me laughing throughout, as well as sympathising. I’ve got another in the Sophie Kinsella ‘Shopaholic’ series and need to purchase the rest really. She also writes under the name Madeleine Wickham.

And I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite lines:
I can’t cope with this anymore. It’s not fair. Why haven’t I got a boyfriend to buy stuff in Tiffany’s?
I have never spent so long getting ready for a date in my life. Never. The process starts at eight on Saturday morning... and only ends at 7:30 that evening
Rebecca Bloomwood advising the nation. And what are you advising them on? Finance! You are advising the British public on finance!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Graze: 12.12.12

As I said in my previous post, my Graze Box arrives fortnightly on a Wednesday and for some reason, I’ve only just got round to writing about this box. I think it’s because I left the popcorn for so long – saving the best ‘til last! In this box, I got: slightly sweet popcorn, summer pudding, salt and vinegar nut selection and coffee and walnut cake.
Slightly sweet popcorn
The popcorn is fairly new to Graze and being a big popcorn fan, as soon as I saw them on the website, I was sure to press ‘send soon’ so I could check them out as soon as possible. In a previous box I tried the ‘hint of black pepper’ popcorn and I loved it. Generally, I’m not a fan of savoury popcorn, always opting for sweet, but the pepper wasn’t too overpowering – I think it’s my favourite so far. Back to the slightly sweet snack and I was a little disappointed; it certainly lived up to its name, mind. I like my corn very sweet, preferably covered in layers of sugar, or thick toffee. I think the next time, I’ll just add a little bit more sugar, which defeats the object of it being healthy I guess. The instructions to cook are included in the packet which is helpful, although I couldn’t really tell when it was done – we have an E watt microwave and I found myself cooking it for nearly two minutes; even then some of the kernels hadn’t popped. Still it made a change from the usual snack, so all in all, I can’t really complain.
LIKE
Summer pudding (yoghurt coated sunflower seeds, blackcurrants, sponge pieces and cranberries)
I requested summer pudding with send soon as I hadn’t tried it before and I thought with it being so cold and wintry, would remind me of summer and some of flavours I’d have to wait a few more months for. Dried berries, sponge pieces and yogurt coated seeds: the summer pudding was absolutely amazing. It was a little on the sweet side and because I ate it so quick, my teeth were aching a little bit afterwards. I saved most of the yogurt coated seeds until last because they were my favourite bit as well.
LOVE
Salt and vinegar nut selection (Salt and vinegar almonds and peanuts)
As soon as I opened the punnet, the smell was really overpowering – like the smell of a fish & chip shop, or strong smell you’d get when on a seafront. With that in mind, I was expecting the flavour to be as big, but it wasn’t. I love a really salty and sharp vinegar taste like your average packet of crisps. I’m also a big fan of flavoured nuts – whether it be chilli, honey or salt and vinegar – so I guess I was expecting big things. The portion size was spot-on though and was just enough to keep my snack cravings at bay for a little while – usually if a bag of nuts (or any other snack for that matter) is open, I could easily wolf my way through the lot.
LIKE
Coffee and walnut cake (milk chocolate coated roasted coffee beans, walnuts, sponge pieces and jumbo raisins)
Another snack I just had to have as soon as possible, because it sounded so amazing. At 149 calories per punnet as well, I certainly wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was in such a hurry to consume the coffee and walnut cake, you’ll have to wait until next time to see what it looks like! I always try each element on its own, before mixing together to enjoy the overall taste. My favourite bit was the chocolate coated coffee beans, which was, as you’d expect, the strongest flavour. Mixing those with the sponge pieces and walnuts, it really did taste like a piece of coffee and walnut cake – if I closed my eyes, obviously. The raisins were a lovely addition and added a different texture. Hot Cross Yum has always been one of my favourites, so in comparison, this had a lot to live up to – but I think I may have found my new favourite. I cannot wait to have it again, maybe next time with a skinny latte in tow.
LOVE

Friday, 4 January 2013

Theatre: The 39 Steps


As I said in my previous post, every year my dad organises a show and meal in London around Christmas time. In 2011, my parents went to see The Ladykillers but this year the four of us went to see The 39 Steps which is being shown until the 19th October – which gives you no excuse not to see it!
I’d never heard of the title before, but my dad usually has good taste – we saw Hound of the Baskervilles at a local theatre the previous month and have seen a number of interesting productions over the years. The Criterion was a theatre I hadn’t been to before either so I didn’t know what to expect. We were sat in the stalls with ‘restricted view’ tickets and as soon as we took our places, I understood why. The Criterion is certainly unique, with Victorian architecture and the pillars despite getting in the way, add to its charm. I’ll admit if you’re short or under the age of 12 or so, you may need a booster cushion and as I looked around during the performance, a couple of people were struggling to see. We were also unfortunately positioned behind someone with an afro – I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! But the seats were comfortable enough and the view wasn’t really that bad; I’d have preferred sitting in the dress circle, mind.
The 39 Steps, initially a novel by John Buchan has been adapted for television and film, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, I’ll try and sum it up. Richard Hannay (the main protagonist) is warned of a spy ring days before a murder takes places in his London flat. As an obvious suspect, he flees the scene and heads for Scotland. The 39 Steps obviously being the mystery that needed to be solved – a typical murder-mystery. This particular production had a comedy element, which of course made it more entertaining. There were only four actors, who played what could easily be 100 characters between them and Andrew Alexander who played the lead role was excellent.
There were a number of funny moments through the play and from the off, you knew it was to be a light-hearted take on the original. As Annabella Schmidt tells Hannay of the murders, two spies are outside his flat – when he looked out of his window, two characters came on stage, standing next to a land post, evidently spying. Obviously, they left the stage when he drew back the curtain and so madness ensued, with the two spies running on and off the stage, carrying a large lamp post! My favourite bit, however, was when Hannay was fleeing the police in Scotland – at one point he was hanging from the Forth Bridge (but I won’t spoil it by explaining how – let’s just say, it was very clever!). There were always surprises as well, and particularly on the on-the-run scenes, you could never predict what was going to happen and this bumped up the entertainment value.
I definitely recommend going to see The 39 Steps if anything, to see the actors constantly having to switch roles.

Prices range from £10 to £61.25.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Restaurant review: Wagamama


Where we ate:
Wagamama, Lexington Street, Soho
Every year as a family, we head up to London around Christmas to go to the theatre. This year we were heading to the Criterion theatre in Piccadilly and after much discussion, chose to go to Wagamama. This was partly my decision as I’d been craving Ramen for as long as I can remember. Needless to say, I did actually opt for something different onced I looked at the menu. With so many restaurants in close proximity it was initially a difficult decision though, but we needed something fairly quick with the show starting at 8pm. I love ethnic cuisine, so personally, it was a simple choice to make, despite having China Town nearby. I became addicted to Wagamama after visiting a Spanish branch – Wagabu – in Madrid.
The restaurant itself was down a side road, with Lexington Street off a busy-looking main road, where a lot more seemed to be happening. The road towards the restaurant wasn’t very well lit and was a lot quieter, so it was a little bit ominous at first, but as soon as the doors to the restaurant were opened, we were met by bright lights and the natural colour scheme of the walls and floor. The kitchen itself is positioned on the same level as you walk in, and there’s instantly a strong aroma of food cooking, with the staff hard at work. The seating is downstairs and as you’d expect from Wagamama, it’s rows and rows of benches: each place laid out with paper mats and wooden chopsticks. It is informal, but it adds to the whole ambience of the restaurant. Luckily with seating for 172, you don’t find yourself sat right next to another couple, so you can enjoy the company of those dining with you.
The team at Wagamama were really friendly and our server Kitti was easy to talk to and helpful with any questions we had. She also recommended a number of dishes. I imagine when it’s busier, you wouldn’t get served as quickly, but it was 6pm on a Friday night so there weren’t that many other people eating at the same time as us.

What we drank:
Mum – pinot grigio | sentito
Dad – pinot grigio | sentito
Robert – large peach iced tea
Me – large peach iced tea
With so many soft drinks on offer, I opted for the peach iced tea, although there are a number of juices on offer which sounded tempting. The menus are the same at every branch but since my last visit, there was a new addition: a blueberry, apple and ginger juice. Of course, there are your usual coca-colas, sprites and still and sparkling waters on offer as well. Whilst there are only three Asian beers on the menu, there is sake and a number of wines. My parents shared a bottle of pinot grigio which was a little on the pricy side (£17.95 with the most expensive bottle of white coming in at £21.60). Red wine was cheaper with bottles ranging from £14.70 to £19.95 and rosé a little dearer. For those that can’t manage a whole bottle to themselves or with another diner, wine could also be purchased by the glass (175ml or 250ml) or a carafe (500ml).

What we ate:
Sides – chilli squid (deep-fried squid seasoned with salt and shichimi. Served with a chilli and coriander dipping sauce)
Mum – teriyaki chicken donburi (grilled chicken glazed with teriyaki sauce, sticky white rice, thinly sliced carrots, pea shoots and spring onions with yakitori sauce and sesame seeds. Served with a side of spicy kimchee) followed by taster (latte with chocolate fudge cake)
“The teriyaki chicken as you’d expect was sweet and sticky, which complemented the rice well. The peashoots were enjoyable as it added another texture to the meal, and it was something I wouldn’t have often. I had never had kimchee before so didn’t know what to expect but it was almost like a palette cleanser but a little on the sharp side. It was vinegary. Choosing from the taster menu allowed me to have a coffee and dessert as I knew I’d not be able to manage a whole piece of cake.”
Dad – chicken and prawn pad-thai (rice noodles in a sweet tamarind sauce with chicken and prawns or fried tofu, egg, beansprouts, leek, red and spring onions, chinese chives, garlic, ginger, mint and chillies. garnished with coriander cress, fried shallots, peanuts and lime)
“Pad thai is a particular favourite of mine so the dish had a lot to live up to. I found the noodles well-cooked and the spice blend delicate and not too overpowering; the garnish of coriander, shallots, peanuts and lime, too, added a delicate taste accent rather than swamping the mixture of chicken and stir-fried vegetables. I could have made space for a larger portion size and certainly more prawns but overall the dish compared favourably with pad thais I’d sampled previously in ethnic restaurants.”   
Robert – beef teriyaki soba (grilled teriyaki beef a bed of teppan fried soba noodles with curry oil, mangetout, chillies, red and spring onions, beansprouts and bok choi, with yakitori and teriyaki sauce. garnished with coriander and sesame seeds) followed by green tea
Me – beef teriyaki soba followed by sweet ginger and apple gyoza (five warm sweet ginger and apple dumplings, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a vanilla custard sauce)
“Every time I’ve been to Wagamama, I’ve always gone for the ramen with the seafood variety being my favourite. Since my last visit, this had been replaced by a grilled fish one and although it sounded pretty similar I didn’t think it would match up to my previous expectations. I was immediately drawn to the beef teriyaki soba and wasn’t disappointed. The beef was thinly sliced and marinated beautifully in teriyaki marinade – it was to die for! The mixture of the noodles and beanspouts with other accompanying vegetables made for a perfect dish, which was fresh, not too spicy and just enough. I chose the gyoza for dessert after a recommendation from the waitress and it was even better than I was expecting. Five dumplings was a bit much after such a big main course, but it was a nice thing to share. The contrast of the sweet apple with the ginger and cinnamon spices made it.”
My Waga fix has definitely been sorted for a couple of months, but I can’t wait for the next time I’m in London to go back.