A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

The Pig, Brockenhurst, New Forest

Arriving at The Pig on a warm spring afternoon is probably one of the nicest things, after you've spent your day battling the wind on the nearby beach or chasing wild horses around the New Forest! Welcome to this little paradise of tranquillity and culinary pleasure. Turning into what seems like a forest path brings you to this boutique hotel, with a working garden and a fabulous restaurant. Not the "fancy plates, tiny portions" kind of restaurant, though! The star on the menu is pork off course, but every other ingredient is also grown within the grounds of The Pig, or sourced locally.

Simple starters: scotch egg and fried crackling, done beautifully. Once you break into the Scotch egg, there are three perfect circles of bright orange yolk, surrounded by flakes of pink well salted, well cooked pork and a golden crust! The crackling is just every foodie’s paradise, although it might get too much for you towards the end and you will find yourself downing your drink in an instant to ease the strong flavour. You'll still feel like a kid in a candy shop though; crackling is always so precious and you have to fight for it at home, while here you have a whole portion to yourself!

Having a pre-dinner drink in the sitting room feels like you are visiting a friend’s house back in the fifties, when even dinner used to be served elegantly, yet effortlessly; love the wooden bar, heavily curved, covered in bottles and silver olde-world ice buckets, adds a grand note in the otherwise easygoing room. It helps that the staff is friendly and happy to have a chat rather than rush you. Finally the cocktails! Actually, they are more like refreshing, fragrant potions in all sorts of glasses, jars and tumblers topped with fresh flowers! I don’t know about you, but I love this mix and match of vintage glassware, it brings back memories of your grandma’s kitchen rather than a restaurant. Even the dining room resembles a greenhouse, with mismatched chairs, rustic tables, plants and flowers everywhere.

After dinner just sit on the big wooden swing under the oak tree and watch the sun set through the treetops of the New Forest. Nice and simple!

PS: Guess what? There is a new piggy in town! Head over to Dorset to see for your self, till then have a look at The Pig on the Beach!                            

Aashni & Co, Notting Hill

This is my connection to Bollywood! It was meant to be my secret weapon for party dressing but it's too exciting to be kept secret! Walking around Notting Hill, you don't really expect to come across a saree shop and yet there it is. Only this is not your usual old fashioned saree shop. This is an exclusive boutique that stocks gowns straight from India's latest catwalks. Aashni has brought all of the big fashion names to London and I couldn't be happier. Out with the heavy, glitzy stuff and in with luxurious lehengas bursting with colours, handmade embroideries and elegant stitch-work. This boutique is packed with interesting pieces and cheerful assistants. Be reassured that the people helping you pick, know their stuff!

Manish Malhotra's collection is all about playing with bulk colours and different kinds of intriguing embroideries; Gaurav Gupta's about putting a twist on traditional shapes;  Amit Aggarwal's offers smart and sexy cocktail dresses; last but not least Pria Kataria Puri's kaftans are full of funky prints and will be a staple of your summer wardrobe!
Often a lot of my Indian girlfriends will simply go where their mothers used to shop and haven’t even heard of these designers. But if you are looking for something with an attitude rather than yet another saree or a lehenga, make this your destination. These are pieces with character and charm; you are guaranteed to stand out!

Red Nose Day, Cupcakes and Marilyn

Now, you can't go to all this trouble, without the perfect attire...Stella McCartney special edition T-shirts for Red Nose day!
How often are you prompted to "do something funny for money"?
Red Nose Day is becoming a nice little tradition in modern day Britain and all you need to do is pick a way to raise funds for charity! You can bake, challenge, dare, entertain, sell or dress up. 

Comic relief is a charity that aims to help young people in Britain that battle issues with alcohol, abuse and mental health as well as young people living in conflict zones and slums abroad. From simply wearing a red nose for the day, to schools' bake sales, this is a great way to get stuck into pulling together for bettering people's lives.
My forte is baking, so Ina Garten's Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter icing it is!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing

- 160g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 150g sugar
- 110g light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- 250ml buttermilk
- 125ml sour cream
- 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
- 250g plain flour
- 90g cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 100g peanut butter, smooth
- 70g unsalted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and preheat the oven to 180C. Whisk the butter with the two kinds of sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, as well as the vanilla essence. Add in the buttermilk, sour cream, and coffee and whisk until you have a smooth batter.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  Using low speed, add the flour mixture slowly to the butter and cream mixture. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended. The buttermilk makes the cupcakes rich, yet soft and fluffy!

Divide the batter among the cupcake moulds. Bake in the oven on 180C for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before icing.

For the glorious icing:
Whisk the icing sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla essence, and salt in the bowl until creamy; you need to make sure that the sides of the bowl are clean and the mixture is light and smooth.

Spread the icing on each of the cupcakes but do not smooth it down, let soft peaks form, for a rustic look.

The cupcakes will not be very sweet but the icing will more than make up for it! This is not your everyday cupcake recipe; the buttermilk and cream upgrade it to luxurious and heavenly!

The Big Easy, King's Road

Recall the scene from "My Best Friend's Wedding", where Julia Roberts and the family are having a rehearsal dinner?
Her pretend-boyfriend breaks out into THE song: "the moment I wake up, before I put on my make up, I say a little prayer for you..." and the whole place joins in!
The Big Easy call themselves a "crab shack", just like in the movie.
Rack of BBQ Ribs and Sweet Chili Prawns! 
The name says it all, this is a very chilled out place and after a Strawberry Margarita or two, you might feel like breaking out into song too! Come to think of it, you might need a couple of pitchers, because Margaritas here are more like slushies and go down way too easily!
The good news is that if you feel like singing, there are live bands playing downstairs, so if you are really nice, they might help you revive the scene from the movie.
You might be on King's Road, but when you sit down you feel like you are on the East Coast, about to battle your way through some crab and lobster shells and make as much mess as you like!
Forget about knife and fork, this is getting serious!
This place is Surf & Turf at its' best, not ideal for vegetarians!
Portions are massive, chips and salad complete your lobster dish and the silky Thermidor sauce that comes with your red monster is divine.
We also tried the ribs, couldn't finish them off! Very unusual for such a bunch of foodies like ourselves, but that's how big portions are. To top it all off, ribs come with deliciously sweet barbecued prawns, colwslaw and a side of mac&cheese, yes a "side"!

4lb red monster - for two to share...or not!
Choice is wide open: you can work your way up from a 2lb lobster to a 6lb one...if you dare!

Sophie Gass, Holland Park

When a friend called to say that we should have a girlie catch up, maybe over a glass of bubbles, my mind went straight to Sophie Gass;
a bijoux nail salon, in Holland Park.

The first time I went there, I ended up staying for two hours, much of the time chatting to Sophie herself.  She is a sweetheart with attention to detail. She won't let you leave this place until you are totally happy with the result.

There are big comfy leather armchairs for you to sink into , an iPad to play with and perfect lollipop Essie colours to pick from. It is not your usual mani-pedi parlour; rather a chilled out place, decorated in white and grey tones, where you can meet your friends and have a good old chat, while getting pampered.

Even better, bring your other half along on a date; it's a relaxing way to end a long working day - they stay open till 8 on Thursdays and Fridays; much better than watching TV, wouldn't you agree?

While you are waiting for your nails to dry, walk around to browse through the elegant selection of jewellery and clothing, also on sale. You can order wonderful flowers too and this week I even had a quick peek at some cute baby clothing; a nail salon with benefits!

So even if you are visiting London, this is a quick stop I'd recommend, to kick start your holiday with a touch of class.

Porn Star Martini

Whenever I order this in a bar, people always ask me "what are you drinking"? My answer is "simply the best cocktail ever"! And it's a Londoner too...it is claimed that the first version ever created was in Lab Academy, in Soho!

With the mix of sweet followed by sharp, this is dangerously easy to drink. To make a Porn Star Martini you need a cocktail shaker, jigger, strainer, chilled martini glass, chilled shot glass and the following ingredients:

- Ice
- 2 shots Passionfruit Puree
- 2 shots Vanilla Vodka
- 1/2 shot Passoa Passionfruit Liqueur
- 1/2 shot Lime Juice
- 1/2 shot Vanilla sugar syrup

Place all the ingredients into your cocktail shaker and shake away. Strain into your chilled martini glass, garnish with half of a passionfruit (optional) and serve with a chilled shot of your favourite champagne. I like to use Laurent Perrier Rosé.

They're not all for me!

Take a sip of martini followed by a sip of champagne...naughty and nice!
ps: another post courtesy of my lovely other half!

Espresso Martini

Like a lot of people, I'm not really a beer drinker and when at home I occasionally like to have a drink or three! Today I decided I would try and do something different, so here it goes... My home made Espresso Martini's which are surprisingly easy to make.

I love my Alessi cocktail shaker!
First, as you would with any task, make sure you have the right tools and ingredients.
You need a cocktail shaker (if you don't have one, you can use two glasses pushed together like a boston shaker, I would advise that you use one glass and one either metal or plastic), chilled martini glasses, a strainer and a jigger spirit measure.

To make an espresso martini you need:
- Ice (crushed)
- 2 shot Vodka
- 1 1/2 shot Espresso
- 1/2 shot Pure Cane sugar syrup
- 1/4 shot Kahlua Coffee Liqueur

Place all the ingredients into to the shaker and shake to your hearts content, open your shaker and pour your drink through a strainer, as an option you can finish off by adding two or three coffee beans as a garnish floating atop in the middle of your glass.

Strain your drink directly into your chilled glasses.
Et voilà, sit back and enjoy! In my mind, this is the best way to get both caffeine and alcohol into your body.

Ice cold Espresso Martini's
ps: this was a post from my other half...he usually does the photos but he's pretty good with cocktails too!

In the land of Hobbits and Men: fairytale Cotswolds

What do you do then, when spring is supposed to be knocking on your door but the weather is as grey and cold as ever?
Like every other Londoner - or southeast surburbanista for that matter - head to the Cotswolds! 
Bibury: Arlington Row
The choice is vast, but for now let's talk about a cute little village with clusters of dollhouse-looking cottages, southwest of Oxford;
Coln St Aldwyns is easy to describe: one pub, one post office, done!
How would you like a room in a boutique hotel for seventy pounds a night - breakfast included?
Yes please!

The New Inn is a foliage covered boutique pub. (check availability)
And by "boutique", I actually mean rooms with exposed beams for rustic flair, an iPod dock for your tunes and two shots of elderflower liqueur for your nightcap! Not too shabby, hey?

We only came across this place looking for a good Saturday roast, where we could go with our friends and their kiddies.  Food in the New Inn is all sourced locally and venison features often in the menu, especially in the form of steamy, puffy pies.
Gammon with fried eggs was oh, so wholesome, simply the right amount of salty and sweet that you need on a cold winter's day, to wash down with ginger beer...hey, preference is a personal matter, don't judge! 
The New Inn, Coln St Aldwyns
So, "where do we get phone reception?" we asked the waiter at the Inn;
"walk down to the river, follow the road around, you'll get a couple of bars next to the swans..."; Brilliant! 
And so we went...not so much for phone reception but to have a look at the overflowing river Coln creating new ecosystems, taking over surrounding fields. 
There had been some heavy flooding around here at the time we visited and every little stream turned into a pretty bubbling brook, cutting through the peaceful silence of the hills. This is welly territory, no messing about! We walked and talked and walked and talked some more...what shall we have for dinner?

There was no space for dinner off course, but breakfast was welcomed on Sunday morning, in the buzzing, cosy restaurant of the Inn, next to the lit fireplace. Dipping soldiers in the rich, orangey yolk of local Burford hens' eggs was the way to go! Don't leave this place without getting some Burford eggs with you, they are what all organic producers dream and strive for!
Bibury: Trout farm and Swan Hotel
Bibury up the road is the epitome of "the Shire".
Yes, yes Tolkien wrote all of the Hobbit books in Oxford but he must have taken frequent trips this way - it's so picturesque! 
The famous Arlington Row with its' weaver's cottages is nested on the side of a tiny hill, with crooked roofs and chimneys. River Coln was overflowing here too, flirting with the front doors of the tiny cottages. Nobody seemed too bothered. Picture perfect!
The chef at the Swan hotel in Bibury, makes his own trout terrine, not too heavy, not too salty, just light and fluffy! It's always nice to enjoy local delicacies, not because you are obliged as a tourist, but because they are actually good! The local trout farm shop also stocks flavoured fruit wines produced in neighbouring Somerset - strawberry please! Feel like catching your own lunch in the trout farm? Go for it!

Best of all, on the way back, just outside Coln St Aldwyns, we slowed down to watch a group of hunters; an amazing creature, a deer seemed to fly past the front of our car - jumped over the stone  wall and kept gliding gracefully through the fields....did we just dream that? We left Coln St Aldwyns smiling;  hopefully, by now you are smiling too.
© Life Love London

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