A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Return to Shoreditch - Street Food, Decadent Bars & Permit Cafes

I moved out of Shoreditch with a heavy heart, as the regenerated, new age Spitafields market was re-opening, a couple of years ago.


http://www.spitalfields.co.uk/about.php

Even though I am not your usual full-time hipster or vintage type, but rather the City type that was chaffed to walk to work, I loved that place. Hence, I do not understand why people think that Shoreditch is only good for the 20somethings that have had a rainbow explode in their wardrobe. I remember frequenting all the joints around Hoxton Square and Brick Lane after work in my smart suit attire - no matter the grey clouds and rain, in my wardrobe!


A lot of my friends from Chelsea and Fulham rarely venture East. To be honest Shoreditch is hardly considered "East" any more, it's right there, on the edge of the City and during working days ties mingle with arty polka dots and pink jeans. There, not so scary!  So when I called for a gathering in Shoreditch, last Bank holiday weekend, only a few obliged. I have to apologise beforehand for not taking too many pictures, I was a bit busy eating most of the time! 

There is so much diversity. And that's where my head and soul flourish. First stop Beach Blanket Babylon. A massive warehouse space turned into an uber-decadent, quirky and luxe bar and restaurant. Very different to its' Notting Hill sibling. Service is much better too. We grabbed some sliders and croquettes to go with our BBB cocktails, and lounged around in the red sofas. The sliders were juicy and yummy but...tiny, so their effect wore off quickly. Time to move on.  


Next stop the Urban Food Fest for some seriously fresh and tantalising food. Every Saturday night this Shoreditch Highstreet car-park turns to an open air food fest. We walked around guided by what smelled best. I went for the Frenchy Bur-ger with Duck Confit and Blue Cheese & Honey dressing - now try saying that with Steve Martin's accent in the Pink Panther, I promise it will taste even better! 






It wasn't an easy decision. 
There was a "grilled cheese" stall which I can live on, but summer being so close I resisted. The next contender was Peruvian skewers. They smelled superbly! My friends went all Peruvian and got the chunkiest pieces of meat, grilled over roaring flames to perfection.
Another friend came back with the brightest looking burger ever: corn bread packed with grilled chicken, salad and feta! How crunchy and fresh does that sound?
One of the boys announced very proudly that he got a salad...puzzled looks all around. We soon discovered it was a fried chorizo "salad", covered in creamy sauce, that made much more sense!
As a snack we got Wunder-Wurst to share! Why "Wunder" (i.e. miracle) you ask. Well, it was stuffed with melting cheese...not for the faint hearted.
Last but not least crepes! Simple really...Nutella, bananas and strawberries, very healthy... 

Why would you pay money for a sit-down restaurant when you can do this on a Spring evening, in the city? Street food galore, plus you get to mingle with a nice crowd! People come up to you, to ask how your food tastes so, smile and chat away...you'll be surprised.



In typical English weather style, it soon started drizzling. Time to take cover. Well, we run across the road to Dishoom. I've been waiting to try a Julep for a long time, so here we go. Edwina's Affair was the perfect love triangle of cardamon, rose water and gin, although I could have done with less ice and more drink. Just saying! Loved the copper tumblers though! What a great concept, to bring Prohibition time Mumbai cafes back to life... this is one of those times when we all thought "I'd love to own a place like this". 





































The evening finished at good old Loungelover's that never ceases to impress, even after all these years. Really, how old is this place? It was already established a decade ago, when I first started going there and it is still relevant with no major changes... Hidden in the tiniest street off a tinier street, it's a hub of all things wonderful and miraculous; 
Oh yes, I do miss Shoreditch! 

Naumi Boutique Hotel, Singapore

A lot of hotels claim to be "boutique", but this one, certainly lives up to it! 



Coming to the end of our Asian Adventures, having had lazy days in Malaysia's Sepang Coast, glamorous nights at Seminyak's vibrant hood and adventurous jungle experiences in northern Bali, we are back where we started from: my new obsession, Singapore
 

Our stay at the Naumi was very much like unwrapping a box full of surprises! 
 
If I was in Singapore again for business, I'd gladly pick this hotel as my home away from home. The whole concept is based around clever design and space maximisation, with a sense for comfort.


We stayed in the Habitat room; 
a room "full of surprises", as the staff informed us. 
As soon as the room door opened all you see is a transparent minimalist bar, that lights up and is surrounded by neutral whites and greys. It's your sink, beauty counter and mini bar!  
 
Right behind it, there is a glass wall. You are thinking wardrobe? Nope. Hit the switch and the glass unfrosts to reveal your toilet and shower! "Unfrosts" is the cool word here! 
Then you pull out a tall cupboard, wardrobe here? Nope! It contains your Nespresso machine, loaded with a dozen coffee capsules. 




Now brace yourselves: the first helping at the mini bar is free!
Beer and spirits included!
The bed is fluffy and very comfortable and on the bedside table there are a couple of chargers for your i-devises, Wi-Fi is free off course. 
 
When we arrived, we got talking to our hostess about how amazing it must be to swim in the highest infinity pool in Singapore, the one in Marina Bay Sands hotel. The lady (with her futuristic cape/uniform) informed us that the Naumi pool has also been designed as a copy of the one in Marina Bay Sands and that we won't be disappointed with the view. 
Off course we run to the top floor, like children looking for a playground and...whoa!
Did not expect that!
Needless to say we spent our first evening right there, by the rooftop pool, surrounded by skyscrapers, all lit up, ordering yummy fusion Indian and Chinese snacks, alongside pizza and cocktails.

 
The next morning, when I came to swim amongst this very dynamic backdrop, I realised we had a straight view of the iconic Raffles Hotel.
I knew straight away how we were going to start that evening! Did you know that at the original Raffles bar, all of the peanut shells go on the floor? That was a fun fact to learn, on the spot, while complaining about the mess on the floor...embarrassing!
Now! When was the last time your hotel offered collagen for breakfast?
Yes you heard me. And it wasn't in Hollywood!
How progressive!
No I didn't have any, my husband did though; those lips are filling up quickly!
Off course, if I tell you that they also offered champagne to ease your morning-after hangover you'd say...it makes sense.
It does, just like every other little detail around the hotel!































































41 Seah St, Singapore 188396
 Phone: +65 6403 6000

The Inn at Fossebridge, Afternoon Tea in the Cotswolds


In honour of the mini May heatwave we've been having in the UK, I've decided to take a break from telling you all about our Asian adventures and tell you what we did last Sunday afternoon, instead.

If you are stuck in London with nothing to do, blast your favourite playlist in the car and take a mini road trip to The Land of Hobbits and Men , as I love to call it! Even though the weather wasn't that great when we went, after having spending all Saturday sorting out the junk that accumulates during the week (you know the feeling, I'm sure!), on Sunday we thought we needed some tranquillity with no fuss and no rushing, no matter what the weather was like! Off to the Cotswolds! 

 
I searched online for the best afternoon teas in the Cotswolds and the Inn in Fossebridge came up.
I called to make sure they had space and off we went! Here's the thing about driving around the Cotswolds: you have to drive slow to take it all in. It's not just the destination that matters, it's the journey. Horses and farm animals pop up everywhere in the fields, and my favourite honey-stone cottages covered in foliage make me smile at the thought that some simplicity and tranquillity can still be found in the world.
 
The Inn was quiet. I actually mean, dead!
We rang the bell at reception and a lady came out, sounding a bit puzzled about us wanting tea..."but we called"!
"Off course you did and you'll get the high tea you bargained for, too", she said!  
Tea is normally served in the bar area of the Inn; a bare stone den with burning log fires and deer antlers crowing the walls. We asked if we could take our tea in the breakfast area, it's a shabby chic room, with mis-matched tables and amazing views over the back garden.
It was great having the place all to ourselves, we even put Spotify on for some background music! Looking out of the window, we realised why this is considered one of the best places for afternoon tea: the back garden!
 
 
Sandwiches were freshly made, a bit rustic, but yummy.
Tea is a simple affair here, but it hits the spot. Chocolate overload: warm brownies, on top of chocolate tart, which we demolished, nevertheless!  We couldn't finish everything, but at £15 per head, grandma's words about finishing what's on you plate, went out of the window. 

 
When we finished our tea, we went out in the garden, walked around the lake and messed about taking photos.
We stopped and looked at the crystal clear reflection of the trees and the clouds in the lake. I love feeling in owe of nature. There is a 2 mile walk, which must be heaven on a sunny day.
 
About a year and a half ago, I decided to write my first blogpost ever, right down the road, in Cold St Aldwyns, after a wonderful weekend full of food, friends and amazing landscapes.
As you realise, my husband and I, as well as our friends, are all very fond of this area so if you have any tips about little hidden gems, please do share!

Beyond Ubud:Tribes, Civet Coffee, Elephant Caves and Volcanoes

After spending our morning in the outskirts of Ubud, we headed up towards Bali's north to Mount and Lake Batur. Since I heard about the Bali Aga tribe, living in their traditional ways on the shores of lake Batur, I have really wanted to go. I wasn't sure I was brave enough to get in a boat and visit the tribe that wraps and leaves their dead under a big fragrant -magical even- tree to decompose, but I was very excited at the idea that such a remote way of life can survive just across the busy and touristy shores. 
 


Entering Kintamani area, you have to pay a fee of roughly £10. The mountain is actually an active volcano and the lake is covering  one side of it. Arriving at the south side of the lake, you are still quite high in altitude with amazing panoramic views, but you soon realise that this whole mountain-lake system is actually part of the older, much larger crater that you are about to drive down into! It's very difficult to draw your eyes away from the view, it feels like you have dived into a cart-postal that some adventurous, explorer friend has sent, from far far away. And yet, here you are!








Our driver was a bit wary of the local vendors; he mentioned that they can be a bit aggressive with their selling techniques, hence he prompted us to be cautious, once he dropped us off at Kedisan's promenade. It is a small village right on the south edge of the lake, with a lot of the agricultural land backing into the waters, for irrigation. There isn't much infrastructure, just a floating restaurant and a few basic shops. The driver's cautionary words, the wilderness of the landscape and the idea of the ancient tribe closely, kind of scarred me a little bit, so we did not stay long. I wish I had shaken it all off and taken the time to explore the area more, hike up the volcano, visit the temples and the hot springs nearby... it's all part of the exploring process, I guess. We can always come back!   

On the way back to Ubud our driver suggested we stop for Kopi Luwak, or Civet Coffee or simply cat poo coffee! The burning question... how did cat poo coffee taste?

Well, it was very much like Greek or Turkish coffee; ground and boiled in water and then let to set at the bottom of the cup, strong flavoured but apparently not so high in caffeine content. It was a bit sharper though. 
And to be fair, these little creatures, are not cats, they are Asian Civets; a fox-like cute creature that only feeds on papaya and coffee beans. When we got there, there was nothing but lush vegetation, no signs, no buildings just a path amongst the trees, where we saw a couple of Asian civets in cages, munching away on their papaya... not sure it's the most natural setting for them but we certainly didn't witness the imprisonment conditions that we read about online, thereafter. Like any other farmed produce, it is important to find balance between profits and ethics. 
 


Midway through the path an old toothless Balinese lady was roasting coffee over an open wood fire and we got to see all of the stages that the beans go through until they are roasted and ground. Locals discovered this specially digested bean, when the workers in Dutch-owned plantations were not allowed to take beans home and realised that the little civet eats the beans and digests them whole, reducing the caffeine content in the process. Off course the farm does not produce only Civet Coffee,  they primarily produce normal coffee with a dozen infusions, palm sugar and other herb potions. Ginseng coffee was my favourite, Tamarind potion was interesting and we even got offered tobacco. The young girl who was showing us around kept calling it marijuana; we laughed straight away, knowing that was not the case, but the couple next to us were staring at her with the most petrified look! The more they stared, the more she said it! Clever little thing!  


I'm not sure I would pay to have Civet Coffee outside of Bali; but sitting there peacefully under the little hut, after a whole day of driving around, completely engulfed by jungle and lush vegetation, sipping on sweet Ginseng Coffee, certainly makes the cut into my bucket list! 
 
Last stop on the way back to the Alila in Ubud was the Elephant Cave or Goa Gaja. How magical does that sound? I was prepared for a massive cave with elephants roaming around. Reality was a bit different but equally fascinating.

This is a small sanctuary, built between two rivers, hence it unfolds around a pool of fresh water with an impressive carving on the rock face, above the cave opening. As the name suggests it is an elephant carving but I couldn't see it. It reminded me more of the faces on the statues that guard Balinese houses and temples, to ward off evil spirits. Apparently, both Buddhist and Hindu symbols and statues have been found here that indicate the peaceful co-existence of the two religions. We got there late in the afternoon and we realised that this site remains open 24 hours a day! It's about 10 minutes east from Ubud centre, so visiting when the crowds are gone will leave you free to enjoy the site almost alone, like we did!



Playing around the pool with elephants, walking around postcard perfect rice fields, joining the devotees at Tirta Empul Temple around the colourful water spring, standing on the edge of a volcano, relaxing amongst the tranquillity of Balinese countryside, tasting all things wonderful and weird and finally having the peaceful Elephant Cave site all to ourselves as the sun started going down!
Thank you Bali for such an amazing day!

Beyond Ubud: Elephants, Holy Springs and Rice Fields

We used our stay at the Alila in Ubud as a base to explore the centre and north of  Bali's unspoiled, wilder side. What a contrast between the chic beachside restaurants in Seminyak and the tribal villages around lake Danau Batur.
 
We booked the hotel car, after a bit of consideration about the price. Initially we thought that $120 was a bit much, but after a whole day on the road, we got to appreciate the cold water bottles and wet towels coming out of a portable fridge in the back of the car. Not exactly a proud Indiana Jones moment but, hey!


First stop was the Elephant Safari Park & Lodge
It was worth it, just to see my husband turning into a big kid,  before we even walked through the entrance. Total photos taken: 526! 
Entrance costs around $60 each and although initially it seems rather expensive, once you are sitting on the elephant, lazily touring the adjacent forest, it starts making sense. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's so thrilling to get up close and personal with these massive and so gentle animals. 
The little bits of hair on their heads make them seem all the more pre-historic!
We were lucky to encounter two of them chilling out in the pool, with their trunks blocking our path; we got to pat them and chat to them... they are very responsive! 
Elephant rides feel a lot like horse trotting but at a much slower pace. It was so exciting witnessing these giant babies playing around the pool! A young one was dipping in the water, disappearing completely and then triumphantly resurfacing, splashing the whole place with water. Part of our ride was through the pool too and it took the drivers strict instructions to keep our elephants from completely sub-merging and having a good old dip. They love water!
 







Next stop were the rice fields in Tegalalang
I was under the impression that the whole area is covered in them, but this is not the case. 
Northern Bali is very hilly and a lot of the routes take you through deep gorges covered in all shades of green and past enormous Banyan trees that seem to be older than time. 
I was stuck to the window, pointing to all directions, such an amazing landscape!
This village is protected and to enter you have to pay a minimal fee of roughly £5 each. The money goes towards helping local farmers to maintain their rice fields in pristine condition, for tourists. It pays off, because the view is spectacular.
Off course that is on one side of the hill, the other side is completely covered in small huts that sell all things touristy. A local lady was inviting people to pose with her for a small fee, ingenious if you count the amount of tourists that go through this place every day! We spent twenty minutes there, took some pictures and moved on.
 
Thankfully, our driver paid attention when we mentioned that we are not interested to buy-buy-buy and he didn't make the usual "random" stops to earn commission.  We did tip him handsomely at the end. To be honest, driving around the north outskirts of Ubud, you spot smaller rice fields home to whole duck clans; they are more natural and equally beautiful.






Then we deviated from our route a bit, to go to Tirta Empul
A Holy Spring, where locals bathe in the spring waters for cleansing and blessings.
The whole place is alive with flowing water.
 
The original hot spring is a walled garden, with the water coloured in the most imaginative blues, yellows and greens, probably due to sulphur releases. I couldn't pull myself away from this harmony of colours and sounds. It was a Sunday and the shrine was very busy with devotees, if you want to experience even more peace and take your time, try visiting on another day. It's a wonderful place to spend your day at. The temple behind it is accessible to Hindus only, in an attempt to maintain the site's calmness and spirituality. There is no one stopping you from going in, but try to be respectful, if you do. Behind the walls of the holy spring, clean fresh water runs vigorously into another pool where Balinese devotees wash away their worries. This pool is covered in fresh flower petals and Koi fish swim around, for good luck. We were allowed in because our driver supplied us with sarongs to tie around our waist and we managed to dip our feet in the crystal clear waters. What a celebration of people coming together, children excited at the expectation of holy waters, flower petals creating an Impressionist painting and Koi fish providing shiny orange notes.    





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