Friday, 26 May 2017

Mum's Birthday: Aqua Kyoto and Aline of Lebanon

Last week was my Mum's birthday and, since she was away in sunny Spain on the day, I took her off for dinner over the weekend.

 We met out the front of Liberty before going for a bit of a wander in the Spring sunshine (which translate 'sunshine with the occasional flurry/downpour of rain), popping into shops and galleries along the way.

 The Mayfair Flower Show was kicking off at Sketch so we paused for a moment to snap a photo in their doorway...

 ...Before popping into Aline of Lebanon for a quick drink. The place settings at Aline of Lebanon were just so beautiful I had to grab a snap before any beverages had even made an appearance!

 I had a banana and ginger smoothie which was just delicious (and two flavours I wouldn't have thought to put together) whilst mum had a rosewater lemonade.

 Shortly however, it was time to head to the 'main event' - dinner at the Japanese restaurant Aqua Kyoto. Located on Argyll Street, to access the restaurant we were whisked up in a lift to the 5th floor, before finding ourselves in a large space with an open sushi kitchen.

 We took our seats at the bar where we could watch the chefs slice and shape all the tasty food on offer. Before long, our cocktails arrived - a delicious 'mojito', although I can't say I've ever had a mojito quite like it - it had sherry and passion fruit in it!

 Starters swiftly followed - a beautifully presented sashimi selection and an octopus salad. Mum and I quickly established that we would share all of our vibrant food in an attempt to try as much as possible!

 Mains arrived just as well presented - wagu beef with a yuzu dressing for me and mackerel with a ginger miso sauce for Mum. The mackerel was finished with a blowtorch at table which was a fun theatrical touch. We also had rather a interesting time trying to split up the filet with just our chopsticks - I think perhaps, we may need a little more practice....

 The beef however stole the show. Deliciously tender and rare whilst the yuzu sauce was sublime - I was practically licking my plate clean by the time I had finished!

 Pudding took on the form of a Japanese cheese cake. Not usually a cheesecake fan, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed this one. For starters, the presentation was simply delightful, but I especially loved how the cheesecake topping almost had a 'mellow-y' texture, whilst the accompanying ice cream of sakura and strawberry cut through all the flavours deliciously.

 Dinner at Aqua Kyoto was a very enjoyable experience. The waitstaff were attentive, the food wonderful to look at as well as eat and the setting was vibrant. My only niggle would be that the bar was rather noisy. However, this wasn't the end of the world and we had a very enjoyable evening!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Extended Birthdays and Unicorn Cake

My little sister seems to have a rule. This rule is that birthdays, (well, her birthday to be precise,) can go on for as long as you jolly well feel like. Therefore this weekend I found myself trekking down to the edge of Essex with a 3kg unicorn cake. Complete with horn, ears and enough sparkle for it to blind you in bright sunshine.

Lets take a moment here to consider this monstrosity of a cake. Like many of you I'm sure, in recent months I have been blown away by the beautiful creations of companies such as Kek & Co. and thought I'd give it a go.

Just for reference, this is what a unicorn cake is supposed to look like:

A post shared by KEK & Co. (@kekandco) on

An effortlessly smooth tower of coloured icing.

However, as a distinctly amateur baker, the reality was far from effortless. This cake was much trickier to create than maybe you'd expect. My version took me a week. Yes, you read that correctly, A WEEK.

In light of this, I will outline some of my mistakes below in an effort to help you not make the same!

Firstly, there's the baking. Well, here I perhaps started off slightly on the wrong foot by using tins which were far far too large. It took ten eggs and two nights of baking to create the four layers I needed to get my cake to a reasonable height! However, one useful little trick was freezing my layers to make them easier to work with later. To do this, once baked, wait for them to fully cool before double wrapping them in cling film. Then, simply pop in the freezer. This kept my layers fresh for the duration of the week and also made icing them later easier as they stayed together better.

Icing the cake however is a whole other saga. You need two layers - a crumb layer (to lock down all those pesky crumbs) and a smooth outer layer. My tip here - definitely use a cake turntable  and an icing smoother (I borrowed both of these) and do not make your icing too thick! I found that my second layer of icing was just sticking to the layer below and peeling it up as I tried to smooth. This introduced more crumbs and for a moment, cake-y hell broke loose (quite literally). In the end, I didn't quite have the super smooth finish of the professional bakers, but hey, this had rustic charm!

The decoration wasn't too hard, although I was glad I had bought some official 'icing glue' and not just gone with my instinct that 'oh, using icing to glue should just work'. (I may have also cheated and used cocktail sticks...) The horn however did have a tendency to crack a little and was difficult to get straight... This is an issue I didn't really overcome but just did the best I could - if anyone has any advice on how to do it better, do tell me!

Finally, there was nothing left to do but transport the cake. This was a challenge in its self and unfortunately Mr Unicorn didn't make it to his destination without a couple of dents, scrapes and rough patches... Ah well, I tried.

Thankfully, despite the slightly battered decoration, the cake actually tasted delicious! I was a little surprised as I wasn't sure how well the whole freezing process would work, but it was a success! Maybe it was worth all that effort after all...!

Anyway, cake saga aside, back to the extended birthday.

We spent the first day down at the sailing club where Lulu bullied her boyfriend Alex into a wet suit and out on to the water, despite the poor boy never having sailed before.

I took refuge in the safety of the clubhouse, armed with a ginger beer and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps...

...before moving on to a 99 flake from the ice cream van parked next to the sea front.

The next day was spent on the beach and saying hello to the horses and other various animals, before getting ready for Lulu's birthday dinner.

The theme was 'multicoloured' and so all the food matched this theme, right down to the different flavoured cream cheeses on offer as part of the starters.

A musician came to play, spinning out indie classics ('Naive' by the Kooks, anyone?) followed by some more recent chart toppers.

The evening was finished off by slowly demolishing the cake and playing The Hat Game (a fun mix between Articulate and Charades) which my team proceeded to win, making it a good evening all round!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Easter Weekend: BCA Nationals and the Bluebell Wood

Life recently seems to be always busy. Blink once and before you know it, it's three months later and you're not quite sure where the time went. This very phenomenon happened to me in regards to Easter weekend. I blinked and the four glorious days of holiday were over, blinked again and here we are - two weeks further on and I'm only just putting fingers to keys.

Easter weekend kicked off with a cheer comp - myself and my team, Sparks All Stars, were off to British Cheerleading Association Nationals in Telford. Which, as it turns out, is a large town quite near Birmingham but also quite near Wales. My friends and I stayed in a little village called Ironbridge, home to the world's first  (rather pretty) major bridge made out of cast iron which also happened to be just over the road from our pub hotel. However, we didn't have much time to enjoy the scenery as it was early to bed in preparation for an early wake up call the next day.

The following day, our alarms went off at a painful 6am. Then, it was on with  our make-up, up with our hair and out with our uniforms on, ready to perform on the mat! We were all quite nervous as this competition historically was one we don't perform all that well at, but we were going to give it our best shot!

After much waiting around, we took to  the mat and smashed out our routine with all the energy we could muster.

Then, it was all over and we were back to waiting for results....

Finally, it was time for awards! We nervously waited, our anticipation heightened by the fact that awards were delayed! Bu then, suddenly, with barely any warning, the judges were announcing our category. We came second!!

Although this wasn't first place, we were super super happy as we hadn't been expecting to place at all!

Happy but tired after our long days, we eventually headed home to our waiting beds.

Sunday morning, I was up early again to head to my childhood home for a couple of days of relaxation, tasty food and being spoilt. Oh and Easter eggs (finally!). My boyfriend also joined us, just in time to devour a home cooked dinner of leg of lamb!

The final day of the holiday (after golden chocolate eggs for breakfast) was spent visiting the Bluebell Wood, a wood near my home which, come spring, is carpeted in bluebells as far as the eye can see!

It's really a rather spectacular sight!

Hundreds and hundreds of beautiful blue (purple-y?) flowers everywhere!

After our walk, we retired to the village pub where we basked in the beautiful sunshine....

...before heading home for a late lunch outside under blossom in the garden.

An exciting weekend finished off with some well needed relaxation!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Bumps and Bruises: Paintballing in Warwickshire

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Warwickshire where I went paintballing for the very first time.

To say the least, I was a little apprehensive. I’d seen the bumps and bruises friends had received from previous trips and had heard the stories of particularly painful shots to tender body parts. However, the trip had been organised for my boyfriend’s birthday, so there was simply no way I could gracefully avoid the situation. I was going to be shot at with fast flying paint whether I liked it or not!

My apprehension was not alleviated when, upon arriving at the paintballing grounds (a forest in the middle of the countryside), I was given a padded body protector. This was followed by a boiler suit and a heavy duty helmet, complete with full face visor…

Next came the safety demonstration. I listened avidly, soaking up all of the instructions (“Don’t carry your gun by the trigger”, “Don’t pick up a smoke grenade by the end on fire”, “Don’t shoot someone at point blank range. It will hurt….”) and quickly vowing not to get too close to anyone out in the field.

Then, we were let loose.

We played a number of games out in the woods. One was ‘capture the flag’ where we had to steal a flag from ‘the Tardis’ (a inventively painted portaloo) and run with it into enemy ground. I spent much of this game tactically hiding behind a tree, providing completely essential ‘cover fire’ from a safe, if ineffective, distance.

However, by the second game I was getting more into the swing of things. I’d mastered my gun and even managed to kill off a few of the ‘infected zombies’ heading in my direction without getting shot too badly.

Our last game was a free for all. Finally, the chance I’d been waiting for – an opportunity to fire at will at my troublesome boyfriend who had got me into this situation to begin with. Suddenly, with my new found goal and determination, my aim seemed to markedly improve…!

Paintballing actually turned out to be a lot of fun and not nearly as scary as I had first envisioned. Yes, getting hit wasn’t the most pleasant experience but, to be honest, half of the shots you didn’t notice in the heat of the moment! By the end of the session I had a couple of impressive bruises, but also a giant grin on my face!