A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

The Refinery Hotel - New York


The Refinery is a little heaven of tranquillity in Midtown's buzzing life.

Sweet scented candles and low-lit arches meet you at the lobby. They create a tranquil environment any time of day or night. In the evenings, a live jazz band plays downstairs, which is great, even if you come back from a whole day of exploring the city, you can still sit back and relax, without the need to venture out.

Fifth avenue and the Chrysler Building

One of the rooms with a view of the Empire State Building

The Refinery is a stone's throw away from everything you have seen in the movies.
Within a five-minute walk you find yourself in Fifth avenue, Bryant Park, the Empire State Building, Grand Central station, the Rockefeller Centre and Times square.
Nordstorm Rack is ten minutes walk and so is Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building.
Two subway stations (Bryant Park station is 3 min away and Times Sq station is 5 min away) provide access from Brooklyn to Harlem.
SoHo and the Meatpacking District are fifteen minutes away by subway too, or 20 minutes by taxi in normal traffic.  
Good for...
Spacious rooms with high ceilings - a welcoming escape from NYC's hustle & bustle. 
Rooftop Bar with a view of the Empire State Building.
Art Deco bathrooms with ma-hu-ssive walk-in showers.  
Comfortable beds with fluffy duvets.
Some of the Suites are decorated with pencil-like murals! (check availability)
Live Jazz band playing almost every night, right next to the lobby - great meeting space.  
Friendly and helpful staff - spot-on hipster attire bellboys and smartly chic front desk staff.  

Spacious suite, home away from home...
Art deco bathrooms

Can I just take a moment to say how much I loved Bryant Park?  
We arrived late in the evening and my sister-in-law took us out for a little walk to stretch our legs after our long flight. Bryant Park was in full swing, people sitting around the park cafés, friends sitting on the grass and couples walking around this beautiful green space, surrounded by a fascinating mixture of skyscrapers and old turn-of-the century buildings.

The city Public Library backs on to the park too. It turned out to be one of my favourite buildings, not just because it was where Carrie from Sex and the City run down the Fifth Avenue stairs after Mr Big walked away, but also because it filled me with joy that such an impressive building is a functioning library that New Yorkers still use.
I kept returning to the park for morning walks, when the sunshine filtered through the tall trees and I had time to examine the impressive skyline.

Old and new, the impressive skyline around Bryant Park
New York Public City Library on Fifth Avenue
Morning stroll in Bryant Park

Sindhu at the Compleat Angler, Marlow

The Compleat Angler is an institution in Marlow. It sits like a white swan on the other side of the whimsical, white, suspension bridge. It's a destination for picture-perfect afternoon tea on the green lawns, by the Thames.
Atul Kochhar is the master-mind behind the uber-luxurious Benares. An elegant Indian restaurant, around one of London's most beautiful squares, in Mayfair.
The two have joined forces, creating Sindhu at the Complete Angler and quite frankly I haven't heard a bad review, since.
Forget what you think you know about Indian restaurants. This one is a riverside, wood-panelled room, with windows opening right over where the Thames overflows and roars with white foam. The windows are all along the room and it does feel like you are in a river barge; a very elegant barge, nevertheless.

Going over the menu attracted our interest; the dishes were innovative, yet the flavours were familiar, a nice play on the smells and flavours you think you know.  And the cocktails are all fragrant with mango, rose petal and lychee aromas, to keep you going while you are making your mind up.
Venison Samosa and Charred Chicory
The starters...
Venison Samosas with Charred Chicory - samosas are traditionally, heavy and stodgy pastries, stuffed with a mashed potato, onion and pea, spiced mixture. You can get keema (mince meat) samosas too, although not very often.
This version of samosa with venison was a real treat. The venison was minced really finely and the first bite was particularly fragrant, possibly with cinnamon and cloves. It was served simply with charred chicory, perfect balance that didn't take away from the delicious venison bites.   

The mains...
Tandoori Turkey Supreme with Tikka Masala Gravy - let's be honest, when we first saw the turkey on the menu we immediately thought...dry and too weak to handle Indian spices. We were wrong.
Firstly, there was a good chunk of it, no thin, dry slivers involved. It was juicy and because it was sitting on the gravy rather than  in it, it still maintained some of the Tandoori charred flavour. This was a lovely surprise!

Winter Vegetable Biriyani Parcel & Smoked Raita - Biriyani in a parcel? Well, it's the Christmas season after all! Biriyani is traditionally a layered rice dish, but in this case I was all tied up in a little pastry parcel that kept the rice soft and flavoursome.
I think that the raita was made with goat's cheese, instead of the traditional yogurt, which gave it the smoky flavour.

24Hours Lamb Shoulder, Spiced Turnip, Chickpea Hummus - the lamb! Oh the lamb!
Soft, succulent, in a velvety, spiced sauce, deep burgundy colour and a generous portion. That was our favourite dish all around!

The sides...
All mains come with Pilau Rice with golden, fried onions on top and the star of the show, Daal Makhani. Daal, was the one thing we still remembered form our visit to Benares, many years ago.
It involves black lentils, cooked for hours to soften and absorb all of the spices, tomato, ginger and garlic flavours, topped with cream for that final luxurious touch.
It's not an everyday dish and this was thankfully as special as we remembered it to be. Smiles all around.
Biriyani Parcel
Mint Paratha and Tandoori Roti
Turkey Supreme in Masala Gravy
The desserts...
Gulab Jamun Crème Brûlée with Pistachio Kulfi - let me start by saying that I am not a dessert person. Neither am I a gulab jamun person - it's too sweet and syrupy for me.
But I most certainly am a Brûlée person. This combination was light and the little bubbles of gulab jamun popped up here and there in the crème brûlée like planets in a child's colourful universe toy-set.

Zarouchla - Olympian Gods & Jazz in the Snow

The drive to Zarouchla is a real-life Narnia adventure. There are nymphs and deities involved.

Zarouchla is a lady - the word is treated as female in Greek.
This lady stands proud, amongst tall, dark green fir trees that carry a good amount of snow on their branches. It's all so quiet and still. The only sound on the main road comes from the nearby stream, which despite the -3C temperatures, isn't frozen yet.

Of Nymphs & Olympian Gods...
When we left the northern Peloponnese coast behind us, on a sunny December morning, we could still see the sea and the sun shining over the coastal villages, up until the first dustings of snow appeared on the roadside.

Then gradually, little by little, we were leaving the buzzing world behind, entering this wondrous gorge that leads up to Zarouchla. Half way up is Tsivlos lake - one of the youngest lakes in Europe.
It was formed roughly 100 years ago, after a landslide of the neighbouring mountains into Styx river.

Leaving the northern coast of Peloponnese behind
Fir trees covered in fresh snow, a majestic sight

Styx river
If that doesn't awaken ancient Greek myths in your mind, nothing will!
And so the legend begins: Styx is the river that bridged this world to the underworld, according to ancient Greeks. The Olympian gods swore by drinking the waters of Styx; Achilles was dipped in it to become immortal - he was held upside down by his heel, the only part of his body that didn't get dipped in - it became his weak point.

See, you are not all the way up Mount Aroania yet and ancient myths have already overtaken your trip!
Utter peace and quiet around Tsivlos Lake

The spectacular setting around Tsivlos lake
The dirt road leading to Tsivlos Lake was covered in fresh snow.
We opened the windows; not a sound...just the cars sliding slowly through the snow, amongst the overhanging branches.

We were aiming to have lunch at "Paradise", a lakeside restaurant, with traditional dishes, like rooster cooked in a red sauce served with pasta (kokoras makaronada) or traditional wild greens pie (hortopitta). We didn't stay long enough to have lunch. My dad and my husband were both keen to get moving and reach Zarouchla, before it got dark, in case the roads were closed, due to the snow.

But we did take a few minutes to stand on the shores of Tsivlos lake, observing the calm waters. You don't even have to look up because all of the gorgeous colours of the surrounding mountain peaks, the trees and the sky are all mirrored in the still waters. Absolute peace for a moment. Not a sound.

Arriving in a snow-covered Zarouchla, we are here now so...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Mountain breakfast - fried dough puffs (loukoumades) dripping with honey, cheese, ham and stone baked bread, alongside these old Nescafé mugs, blast from the past!

Stay at... 
We stayed at Aroania Hotel, which is right at the end of the Main Street, easy to walk down to the restaurants.
The view from our balcony was mesmerising; through the opening of the surrounding mountains, we could see the fog travelling back and forth, bringing light snow along. We didn't care. Once we had made ourselves comfortable in our warm hotel, we wouldn't drive anywhere for the rest of our time.
Breakfast is a treat. You get an almost retro spread of sliced ham and cheese, bread, butter, orange juice and loukoumades, that is a mountain hug concealed in a light puffy fried dough covered in honey!

There is a more opulent option, that is hotel Styga Mountain resortbut it's a bit higher up and if you are driving in the snow, getting there might get challenging. To be fair the hotel's 4x4s were roaming around the village to ensure that guests were comfortable moving around.
It must be amazing in spring though, sitting by the pool surrounded by dark green for trees.

Old stone houses around Zarouchla
Maxairas Taverna in Zarouchla
Lamb Giourbasi (cooked in a steam-tight parcel), full of cheese and herby flavours

Eat at...
"Mahaira's" for an array of well-cooked traditional Greek mountain food, next to a gorgeous fireplace.
Make sure you chat to the chef, who happens to be the owner's wife too. She's witty and funny and a very adventurous cook! She made this lovely salad of fresh uncooked beetroot, grated, topped with simple red vinegar vinegret and crumbled feta.
For starters get some Cheese Saganaki (baked cheese) and for main "giourbasi" slow-cooked lamb wrapped up in a neat little parcel full of garlic and melting cheese, heaven! Amongst the chef's welcoming tone and the lit fireplace, there isn't much else you need really; oh, maybe seeing your parents giggle might be something, wondering how these carafes of red wine keep disappearing.

For a simpler even  dinner, that is pure barbecued meats in this part of the world, try "Yianni's" taverna. Go for lamb chops, wild greens and fries - Greek mountain staples. This is where skiers come after a whole day on the slopes, in their ski attire to eat and warm up.
So it's a very simple place, with an old fashioned wood burning heater in the middle of the room!

Keep warm inside with some hot raki and honey

Gorgeous view of Zarouchla, from the place with "no name"!

Of Jazz in the Snow...
In the evenings you have two options: Jazz in the snow or warm raki and stone-baked pizza in lux surroundings with he most amazing view!
"To Rema", meaning "the stream" in Greek, is a Jazz Bar, right by the stream that runs through Zarouchla. It's a wood cabin, serving drinks and fabulous brownies, alongside Jazz vibes and collector's memorabilia.

Of Luxury pizza and honeyed Raki...
If you carry on the same little path, past the Jazz bar and the school house, take a left turn into a building that sits on top of Zarouchla's most houses and offers an impressive view of the whole gorge.
For some reason, it has no name! But you can have stone-baked pizza and warm raki with honey, lounging in the endless sofas, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows with an excellent view of the snow-covered slopes.

Log fire, family all around and warm raki - you might want to come to Greece this winter!

Red Velvet

This beautiful trend is coming to town this Christmas season.
Deep red, burgundy, berry and old wine are all shades of elegant velvet that will make it to your wardrobe. I am fascinated by the Reiss sculpted dress - soft fabric, sophisticated outline and just enough off-the-shoulder to make it slightly alluring...  

NYC Eats

Lunchtime at Lexington Brass
Travelling is about immersing yourself into local life.
Travelling on business for example, goes a long way towards experiencing the daily rhythm of a new place because you have to go with it! If you are travelling for pleasure, food is the way to get a glimpse into local life.

New York is all about food. Unlike London, food is a 24-hour affair - thank god for $1 pizza slices, Jewish delis and diners. On a Sunday evening, we managed to get takeaway at 11pm from a Kosher deli (2nd Avenue Deli), who then sent us for a midnight slice of cheesecake to a neighbouring diner (Sarge's Deli & Diner)!

I've put together a guide of some of the delicious stuff we got to try on our trip to NY - it's by no means exhaustive, but I dare say we put a good dent in it!

White pizza at Don Antonio's

Neapolitan Pizza - Don Antonio, Midtown
Look beyond the $1 pizza slice. Don Antonio's is one of the first pizza places in New York to have gained a certification from the town of Napoli, in making traditional Neapolitan pizza.
Sourdough base, thin, light, with a slight crisp right where you need it.
I tried a Bianca (white) pizza, no tomatoes, just gooey mozzarella, rucola, prosciutto di Parma, parmigiano and extra virgin olive oil - heaven!
Go beyond your usual, try burrata filled with black & white truffle cream; pistachio pesto; walnut cream & porcini mushrooms, oh don't worry about the calories, it's NY, you'll walk it off!

Business Lunch - Lexington Brass, Midtown East
A lunchtime people-watching spot more than anything else and a glimpse of the last remaining 90's business characters, in their oversized business suits!

Sit around the bar with a glass of white wine - or scotch, it depends on what kind of business day you are having - or if you are lucky, claim one of the tables next to the windows, perfect spot to absorb the buzzing lunchtime atmosphere, both inside and outside, on Lexington Avenue.
The food is modern, bistro-style, Caesar salads, burgers, the usual fuel.
I had tuna tartar tacos and a side of truffle fries, the ultimate  guilty pleasure!   
Bagel tower at Sadelle's

Brunch in SoHo - Sadelle's
You can have "caviar on everything", it says on the menu! But that's not why we visited.
You can also have a bagel tower! That's why we visited!
Our tower was made of : a traditional one, a salt & pepper one and the "everything 2.0", a caraway seed and fennel little bomb.
Favourite bagel: the salt & pepper...with chive cream cheese. Simple and flavoursome!  
Sadelle's is a movie-perfect, brunch spot in uber-cool and yet, so easy-going SoHo. 
Exposed brick walls, warm atmosphere, a long wooden table for shared brunch experiences (and little meet-cutes), bistro chairs and a glass room in the middle of the restaurant, where bagels are being hand-rolled and cooked, in a theatrical setting. 
What else can you wish for? 
Oh well, I'll have some grapefruit juice, eggs benedict and coffee, please!

Colourful bao buns just a stone's throw from Macy's & Nordstrom Rack

Korean street food - Broadway Bites, 33d & Broadway
I was on an early pilgrimage to Nordstrom Rack, when I spotted this cute little foodie pop-up, Broadway Bites Market.
On my way back, early lunchtime, the food court was packed - tacos to fresh juices and bao bans to pizza and Greek pitta.
I knew I had to stop and look at these bao beauties closer. Sweet and succulent pork belly. Juicy, slow-cooked, pulled chicken. Delicate flavours coming and going in waves...we were hooked!

Tao - West coast oysters with caviar

Luxe Asian - Tao Downtown, Meatpacking District
You go for the name, you stay for the food!
Tao was suggested to us as one of NY's hot spots. As always, I take this kind of statement with a pinch of salt. It proved to be a grand space, open across various levels, with a theatrical backdrop of an impressive Quan Yin Buddha statue and chatty, hipster waiters.

Surprise, surprise, the food was inventive and delicious.
The oysters - west coast, native oysters, much smaller than the European ones and milder in flavour. They were served with a little vinaigrette, which was unfortunately overpowered by soy sauce and a dash of caviar.
The dim sum - wild mushroom, snap pea and asparagus, a gorgeous, juicy start.
The rolls - Crunchy quinoa crab; loved the quinoa on the outside, unexpected flavour for a roll.
Angry Dragon - eel and kabayaki sauce roll, be brave, it's soft and delicious.
The main  - Miso roasted Black Cod and a side of Seafood Black Rice, with lobster, crab and crispy squid. The squid-ink blackened rice alongside some fresh, steamed bok choy was my absolute favourite, so many flavour layers.  
Piccolo Osteria - Cavatelli with Lamb Ragu and Porcini mushrooms 
Picollo Osteria - Tagliatelle verde with Wild Boar Ragu & Truffle paste
Sicilian dinner - Picollo Osteria, SoHo
Probably one of the best Italian meals I've had outside of Italy!
And it's the perfect, little candlelit place for date nights too, in the heart of SoHo.
Rich, big portions, cooked right at the back of this tiny hole in the wall.
We started with creamy burrata; honestly, I could have stopped at that, the flavour is something I never want to forget! 
But then, I got my tagliatelle verde with wild boar ragu and a hint of truffle paste sitting right on top. Mamma mia!  
Locals were queuing up by the time we left, trying to sweet-talk the waiters for a table...it's funny that even in a metropolis like NY, people still crave for that "neighbourhood" feeling, I love it!
Dominique Ansel Bakery - October cronuts
Cronuts - Dominique Ansel Bakery, SoHo
The craze goes beyond the pastry - a different flavour is released every month, since it's inception in 2013!
October NY flavour: Cranberry Pistachio cronut with cranberry jam and pistachio ganache.

They are so fancy, they come with eating instructions: don't refrigerate or heat; if cut, use a serrated knife!

Red Rooster - Fried Chicken and Waffles!
Red Rooster-style brunch - Grits, Fried Chicken with Biscuits and Mac & Greens, covered in cheese off course!

Soul Brunch - Red Rooster, Harlem
Come again?
Oats darling, cooked down to a smooth cream covered in cheese! Good stuff!

The Red Rooster is the happiest restaurant we visited in NY! It's right by the 125th St station, very easy to get to and the food really does hug your soul.
Crunchy, slightly spicy - just to tickle your tongue - fried chicken, on a fluffy waffle with a hint of maple syrup, perfectly balanced dish and somehow very cheery-looking!
Then more fried chicken, this time alongside southern biscuits and gravy. Oh my! Wow!  I tried making biscuits once...didn't go very well, so I did appreciate being able to try the real ones, fluffy and light, as they are meant to be.

Sides were the revelation for us. Marcus Cornbread, Grits and Mac & Greens. They do something to cheddar here, it's not the same as the UK, it holds better and has a distinct flavour when grilled and thankfully it was on everything! Yum! 

Lulu's Hawaiian Poke
A glorious Corndog

Hawaiian Poke, Korean Spicy Wings & Corndogs - Gansevoort Market, Meatpacking District
Just around the corner from Chelsea food market, we spotted Gansevoort market. It's a smaller, less busy, UN court of foods! 
After days and days of restaurant food, I really just wanted something fresh.
Once I spotted the juicy and perfect-looking pieces of raw tuna at Lulu Poke & Bimibap I knew what I was having for lunch. To my delight, I then realised that poke is a Hawaiian dish, layered with wild brown rice and an array of lovely fresh and pickled veggies, soft seaweed and off course the lovely, fresh tuna chunks.

My husband, has a soft spot for Korean street food at the moment and rejoiced at the sight of spicy wings from Wing Club paired nicely with some ginger root beer and...corndogs! We had to try the epitome of fried food...a Wiener dipped in batter, deep fried to a soft and doughy, golden puff!

A strong double macchiato from Chip NY on the way out and off we went to explore the Highline and walk off this meal that would make the UN proud.

Hanacure All-In-One Facial


My mother is proud of her family genes, she always pats her jawline slightly with her fingers and proclaims it, with a little smirk. She is right, she's always had lovely, clear, taut skin and we (my sister and I) have never had to deal with extensive skin issues, even in our teenage years.
This has made me slightly lazy with skincare. I have to have my morning rich moisturising cream, but truth be told, I don't do much more than that. Last year after a visit to the Barnsley House Spa, I discovered the Elemis Soothing Apricot Toner, which has now been added to my daily routine because it's refreshing, soothing and keeps my skin hydrated. I thought that was a big step forwards and I have been very chuffed with myself since.  
Lately though, every time I Facetime my sister, I hear "you look tired", to which I normally reply with "that's because I am tired".  She has a point, I am going through a demanding period and could probably do with a booster. When I looked around for hydrating and toning masks, I came across Hanacure, as one of the top 10 to watch.

Hanacure is a South Korean brand.
Even though I'm not an expert on skincare, I know that there have been a lot of cosmetics coming out of South Korea in the last couple of years. It's like a cult trend.
When I looked on the website - I realised that Hanacure only make this one product.
The strategist in me thought "If a company is confident enough to enter the market with one product only, it must be a good one". Step one towards being convinced, completed.
The little square box looked luxurious and even slightly clinical. It contained a serum in a glass bottle, a plastic square container and a sleek brush.  
If everything else fails "I have the brush", I thought.
Then I started doubting myself, "Did I really spent £24 on a one-time face mask?"
Preparing the mask involves an element of alchemy - pop the little glass jar and empty the serum in the little plastic container.
Shake and  bippity boppity boo, you have a miraculous, clear gel, ready for application!
As you can tell, I was having fun but I was still not convinced.
I used the brush to apply the gel all over my face, neck and back of the hands.
It had a cooling effect straight away, very soothing.
Nothing happened for the first ten minutes. 
Once the gel dried though I felt my forehead tightening, then the skin on my cheekbones.
Then I walked to the mirror - I saw a taut skinned clown, with perfectly round eyes, starring back at me. The mask has a  lifting and tightening effect, hence if your facial muscles look a bit distorted while the mask is on, it's because it literally sucks out all of the impurities.
After 30 minutes I washed the mask off with warm water.
Oh oh, slight redness on the forehead. Then my cheeks felt warm and my whole face turned red.
It wasn't burning, it felt warm though. I immediately started reading reviews to make sure I'm not having an allergic reaction. Everyone said "give it an hour or so to settle down". I did.
Once the redness went, I was left with visibly clean skin and I dare say no dark circles under my eyes.
Now, I'm an economist, causal relationships are very hard to prove, ergo although I accept that the mask did help with cleansing and tightening, I'm also more aware of my skin looking tired, hence I am making an effort with drinking more water and I have a really good blusher that I use for contouring in the right places.

Good start.
In the past two weeks, since I tried the mask, I've had two people randomly commenting on how bright my skin looks.
I think I'll give it another try, just to see if repeat use indeed produces lasting results.
© Life Love London

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