Travel tips and ideas

,

The Curtain Hotel Review – Shoreditch, London

The last few times I’ve been to London, I always seem to be drawn to Shoreditch although I’ve never actually stayed the night there.

We were invited to an event with Sainsburys as part of their Taste Maker project recently, which happened to be taking place in Shoreditch. So we thought we would make a weekend of it and spend the evening at one of the areas endless supply of uber trendy hotels.

After a bit of searching, we came across The Curtain. The other half always insists on a pool when staying anywhere but London being so bloody expensive per square meter, not many hotels offer them. The Curtain however had a cool little rooftop pool. Now that’s something you don’t get everyday in London, so we snapped it straight up.

 

 

The hotel also had its own nightclub, rooftop bar and terrace, private members club, gym and fried chicken restaurant too – you really didn’t have to leave the 4 walls. We wondered why there was a huge queue down the street the day of checkout too. Turns out Little Mix were performing in the onsite club that afternoon.

The Rooms

Me in bed at The Curtain Hotel Shoreditch - London

 

I usually end up booking hotels through comparison sites, as you can usually get a better deal but the Curtain website had a few offers on, that seemed to trump anything else I could find. Ok so the suite’s were a little out of our budget but we ended up upgrading from the basic room to a City Room with breakfast and a bottle of bubbly in the room for around £250.

The rooms are not massive by any stretch of the imagination, but this is London after all. It certainly wasn’t the smallest room either and I thought the space was just right for what we needed for a single night. The bed was pretty big to be fair and so comfortable.

I loved the decor of the room – gold, dark green with little touches such as the Marshall radio, minibar trolley with some pretty decent selections of spirits in half bottles from East London Liquor Company Gin to Lagauvlin 16 year old whisky. Ok so you had to pay for them, but they beat the standard mini bottles of Gordon’s gin and Bells Whisky and probably worked out a lot cheaper if you were planning on sinking a few in the room.

We had our bottle of champagne chilling on ice ready for us too, which was a nice touch. I’d heard that in the evening a trolley comes around making martini’s for guests but we were in and out in the evening so missed it.

We each had robes and slippers in the room, which were handy for travelling between the room and the rooftop pool or just chucking on after falling asleep in the very spacious steam shower in the room. The toiletries smelt lush too.

The Rooftop Pool

You wouldn’t get any Olympic athletes practicing their lengths in the rooftop pool as it wasn’t the biggest but I just like being in the water and not bothered about breaking much of a sweat after a night on the beer anyway. It was March with a bitterly wind but we were adamant we were going to use the pool before breakfast.

The hotel is nowhere near the height of the Shard so you don’t get breathtaking views on your morning swim in 5C but at 6 stories, you do get to peer over a number of neighboroughing buildings. There’s quite a lot of development going on in Shoreditch, especially the couple of building’s near the hotel so it could get quite entombed in the near future, but I enjoyed our brief trip into the water.

 

 

One thing that was quite annoying was you had to go through the terrace bar, which also hosted breakfast, to get into the outside pool area in our swimwear and gowns. It’s a shame there wasn’t a side entrance just before coming into the breakfast area.

In the evening the terrace room turns into a bar, serving up cocktails till just after 10pm. I actually remember walking past the building last December not knowing it was a hotel. There seemed to be a party going on, with little white garden lights glowing in the winter chill. Unfortunately we didn’t get back from the event till late, so we didn’t end up making it onto the terrace bar for a drink.

We took our towels from our room to the pool but there’s no need, as you can pick one up from the counter up there but I’d take your bath robe. especially if it’s in March like us.

The Breakfast

Breakfast wasn’t offered to all guests as standard but we had it in our package. The Curtain also allowed non patrons of the hotel to dine for breakfast too, with a choice of continental, full English or other standard numbers with avo and eggs.

The complimentary breakfast included both continental and a hot food choice. I opted for the full English as standard, then hit the continental hard to line the stomach for a day on the beers as it happened to be the final weekend of the 6 Nations. You know, that one where we (Wales) won the grand slam…again.

 

 

The breakfast was excellent, I’ll give them that. A choice of cheese, freshly baked breads and pastries and the cured meats were epic. None of that laser cut 90% water ham, this was thick cut proper charcuterie. Probably the best i’ve had at a hotel breakfast. There was plenty of fresh fruits, a selection of yogurts, milks for all tolerances to go with your cereals too.

The full English was a very good example of a cooked breakfast too. Thick cut bacon, tasty sausages, runny eggs and the black pudding was cooked just how it should be.

I obviously had a Bloody Mary to sip on with my breakfast.

 

Me having a breakfast cocktail at The Curtain Shoreditch - London

 

The Verdict

I loved our stay at The Curtain and would definitely go back. The room was lush and the steam shower was epic.

First class breakfast and great to be able to do a few breast strokes pre-breakfast to make room for more of the buffet items.

The gym looked pretty well stocked and I’m gutted we didn’t have time to check out the rooftop terrace at night. The Bloody Mary I had up there for breakfast we pretty good though.

Contact Details

The Curtain Hotel
45 Curtain Road
Shoreditch
London
EC2A 3PT

www.thecurtain.com

,

Nobu Hotel Shoreditch Review

Being obsessed with Japan and dreaming of a trip there in the near future, we thought we would have a taste of Japan on home turf for our trip to London last weekend. We decided to book a night at Nobu Hotel in Shoreditch.

If you’re not familiar with Nobu, they started life as a Japanese restaurant in Hollywood in 1994 and it’s joint venture between Robert De Nero and Japanese Chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. The Shoreditch Nobu Hotel was the first hotel in Europe from the successful chain of restaurants. They already have two restaurants in London, so the hotel was the next obvious choice.

We actually passed the hotel, the last time we were up in Shoreditch staying at the Curtain and said we would love to go back and check out the Nobu Hotel.

The Hotel

The facade strikes a very impressive pose, with it’s fusion of modern architecture but based on the traditional Japanese detailing. The front of the building, with it’s glass and minimalist black facade is transformed into an industrial feel at the side of the hotel, with exposed concrete and overhanging steel beams showing a building of two halves. It’s got a Samurai feel going on for sure.

 

Nobu Hotel Shoreditch Bar

 

The interior again gives a nod to traditional Japanese living, with the wooden structures and panelling especially in the underbelly of the venue, where the restaurant and bar are situated. There’s modern touches of gold and contemporary lighting throughout, to marry the two traditions together.

 

Hanamai Garden Terrace - Nobu Shoreditch Hotel

A Hanamai inspired terrace garden, used to showcase the bar and drinks along with the choice of having a Japanese inspired afternoon tea. The terrace also hosts collaborations with the hotel and more recently Suntory Whisky, with a Japanese twist on some classic cocktails using Japan’s oldest whisky distillery.

The rooms are what sold us, with the stripped back look, bare concrete ceilings, sliding panels, black panelling and a fluttering of gold, to add a touch of colour. I’ve got a little bored of traditional styling, which some of the more established higher end hotels seem to favour.

There was no swimming pool at the hotel, much to Llio’s satisfaction. They did have a fully equipped gym, steam room and spa treatments should you feel the need to break a sweat or have last night’s alcohol squeezed out of you. We didn’t get a chance to check these out due to our tight timescales.

The Rooms

We went for a superior room with breakfast and with my works discount, managed to get 10% off bringing the price down to around £240. Check in isn’t normally till 3pm and we arrived at the hotel at 12.30 to see if we could drop our bags.

 

Bedroom at Nobu Shoreditch Hotel

 

Luckily for us they had a room free already. Not our designated room but an accessible room. We could have waited for ours to be ready or just take this and dump our bags, to get on with some exploring. Accessible rooms tend to have a bit more space so we decided to take it. The only difference they said was we got a wet room with a few handles dotted around to help those with wheelchairs.

Instead of the standard key cards, you get a plastic key to open just like with the card by tapping the sensor on the door, but you insert into the pad in the room to give you your lights and power.

 

 

 

Nothing was on display letting you properly get into your zen mode and relax All the mod cons such as the huge tv were hidden behind golden doors, which also contained a well stocked mini bar with champagne, some really good Japanese drinks such as Hitachino. The prices were extortionate though, even for london at £9 for a bottle of beer!

There was a drawer filled with a few handy pick me up’s and toiletries should you have forgotten them but again, with a hefty margin added on top. You got your standard shower gels, shampoo, slippers and sewing kit, Japanese tea’s for free though.

I emailed the hotel prior to arriving, to say it was my partners birthday, so we were heading to London to celebrate (Well it’s 2 weeks away, but she’s away working and this will probably the last chance we get so not entirely a white lie). and they left a card, some chocolates and a happy birthday written in chocolate on a plate, which I thought was a lovely touch. The staff were all so lush too, making sure to say happy birthday and couldn’t do enough at reception.

The beds were so comfy, with big soft pillows that seemed to swallow you up. The only thing we could complain about with the room was the air conditioning, which even on the lowest temperature of 18C and the highest setting of the fan, it was way too warm. I worked out that the mirror in the bathroom was boiling hot to stop it steaming up and I don’t know if it was that warming the whole place up.

There were ample amounts of plugs and the addition of usb plugs next to the beds was very handy.

Food

We didn’t dine at the restaurant for lunch or dinner, but I’ve heard the brunch they do on Saturday’s are legendary. For around £45 you get to eat as much sushi and Japanese patisseries including macarons as you like.

 

Restaurant at Nobu Shoreditch Hotel

 

This is high end Japanese cooking and sushi. Nobu have 30 restaurants around the world in some very affluent places such as Mayfair in London so it’s not your bog standard Yo!

 

Breakfast menu at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch

 

Our package included breakfast, although I was surprised when it only included the continental and not the standard fry up option too. For non breakfast bookings or if you just wanted to eat there without staying, the continental is priced at £18 and includes:

  • Choice of tea or coffee
  • Cured meats and cheese
  • Pickles
  • Slices of smoked salmon
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Pastries
  • Cereals
  • Selection of fresh breads
  • Jams and marmalades
  • Yogurt
  • Roasted tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Juices
  • Fresh fruit

 

Buffet breakfast at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch

 

To be fair, you could have filled up on what was on offer, but reading the a la carte menu and their Japanese twist on the Full English, I just couldn’t pass up the offer.

The “Nobu Style” Full English was priced at £14 and consisted of:

  • Ginger Pig back and streaky bacon,
  • Japanese Kurobuta sausage
  • Shitake
  • Onion confit
  • Cherry tomato
  • Two eggs of your choice,
  • Crispy black pudding

 

Nobu Style Full English Breakfast - Nobu Hotel Shoreditch

 

I wasn’t even that hungry to be honest, but when in holiday mode I was not going to miss out on a twist to the standard full English and am I glad i did. This was probably top of favourite fried breakfasts of all time.

It was great to have two types of bacon, as everyone knows I’m a bacon whore and they were from Ginger Pigs who have a butchers in Hackney, so keeping it local. Everything on the plate just packed an umami punch from the shitake, the onion confit adding a lick of savouriness to the rest of the dish and just swamping up the oozing juices from all the meaty items on the plate. It would have made an epic stock to any noodle dish too.

I don’t know what the hell they did to the tomatoes but they were insane. I don’t know how something so small could pack so much flavour. They must have poached them in soy or miso to get the hot, juicy, sweet yet salty flavour bomb. How could I forget the fried, crispy balls of black pudding too. I doused the perfectly fried eggs in some shichimi togarashi for a lick kick of heat too.

There were a few other Japanese inspired breakfast items too such as

Matsuhisa Benedict with crispy tofu, spinach, dorset crab, shiso bearnaise, salmon egg for £13

or

Scrambled Egg Donburi with salmon, steamed rice, nori, sesame, soy, salmon eggs, soy salt for £14

The Verdict

I did enjoy the hotel and I would recommend it. The breakfast was out of this world, even if I had to pay again for a fried option.

The hotel looked amazing and so striking from the outside with the industrial meats Japanese Palace look. Some areas were needing a bit of tlc though, as Llio kept pointing out such as the gold had worn away in the sink leaving a white undercoat, cracked glass mirrors in the lift and a few other things but not massively noticeable.

The staff were lovely, especially on reception. Very friendly and helpful.

We both agreed that we enjoyed it but still preferred the curtain. Might have been the pool or the fact that you had continental and full English or it could have been a multitude of the little things that added up. Saying that I would recommend a night there if you’re looking in the area.

It’s about 5 minutes walk from Old Street Station and around 30 minutes from Paddington by tube. We were pressed for time heading back on Saturday and opted for a taxi, so we didn’t have to lug our bags to the underground, carry them up the steps and change over platforms. It cost us £19 using Uber to get to Paddington. Bare in mind Saturday evening around 7pm is manic on the roads so give yourself plenty of time in the taxi, if you pick that option.

, ,

Gerald of Wales Gin Train from Cardiff to Anglesey with Arriva Trains Business Class

We were asked by Arriva Trains who still run the service from Cardiff to Holyhead on Anglesey to join them on the Gerald of Wales, their premium carriage service to celebrate the launch of the Welsh gin being served on the service from Eccentric Gin.

The Gerald of Wales offers the only first class train service from Cardiff to North Wales offering guests a cooked breakfast or 3 course evening meal, depending on the route and time they travel. With one trip leaving Holyhead at around 6am and the return journey leaving Cardiff Central at 5.15pm Monday to Friday.

Being a regular traveller to Ynys Mon with the other halfs family living there, we either drive or catch a flight, so the thought of sitting in a luxury carriage with a 3 course meal and unwinding with some of the best Welsh Gin sounded very tempting.

As there train wasn’t returning on the Friday evening or running on the weekend, we did half a trip to Shrewsbury with enough time to sample the food menu and taste our way through the growing selection of Eccentric’s catalogue of gins.

The Food

The morning journey from Holyhead serves a hot Welsh breakfast with the usual cooked breakfast items but we had a choice of three courses for the return journey from Cardiff.

 

Starter on Business Class Arriva Trains Wales

 

I opted for the pate to start. A healthy wedge of seasoned offaly loveliness wa offered, a few bits of foliage for display and a nice portion of chutney to cut through the richness of the pate.

 

Main Course Business Class Arriva Trains

 

For mains I went for fish in breadcrumb crust, potatoes, vegetables and herby sauce. The fish was alright actually, tender and flakey. New potatoes…well they do what they say on the tin. The veggies reminded me of the frozen bags you chuck in to boil for a few minutes, which I’m generally not overly fussed on but I will eat them if I’m hungry. The sauce was ok, but felt a bit plastic and not made from scratch. It was needed in the dish though for a bit of moisture for the potatoes and veggies.

 

Welsh gin and cheese - Garald of Wales - Arriva Trains

 

Cheese and gin, now that’s a winning combo if there ever was one. A selection of Welsh cheese with variety of crisp eating vessels to choose from.

We were heading close to our final destination on the journey so we had to rush through the cheese board but what I did have certainly hit the spot.

The Gin

I was no stranger to Eccentric Gin, having attended a tasting event in Cardiff around the same time as setting up Cardiff Gin Club for research purposes and have been a fan ever since.

We also included some of their gin during our live tasting with BBC radio, showcasing the best of Welsh Gins.

 

Welsh gin on Arriva Trains business class - Cardiff to Anglesey

 

The gin menu on board the Arriva Gerarld of Wales has a couple of the Eccentric gins on it such as Cardiff gin, their most popular dry gin on the market.The ever enthusiastic Rob from Eccentric, was more than happy to let us taste our way through their classic range such as Madame Genever, Young Tom, made from redistilled 8% IPA beer and Limbek, made from gin rested in Burgundy barrels giving it a lovely amber hue.

We also got to try some new trial gin’s Rob was working on such as Rhubarb and Violet gin. The bottles came with new branding and stood out with their bright natural colouring compared to their other classic range. I did like the two new ones but I preferred some of their older ones like the Limbek.

The Verdict

This wasn’t fine dinning by any means, but everything we ate was cooked and prepared on a moving train, in what must have been a dinky little kitchen. I struggle to eat a sandwich without tipping it all over me on a train, so hats off to the guys in the kitchen for knocking out what we had to eat, in such a short space of time.

I enjoyed the food and ate all of it, although I had to rush to finish off the cheese board because we got off in Shrewsbury and didn’t do the whole route to Holyhead.

I loved the gins and it was great to catch up with Rob from Eccentric who we’ve spoken to and helped support at our Cardiff Gin Club events from the start and he’s been great in giving us some samples to offer out to people at our talks at Tafwyl in Cardiff Castle, St Fagans Food Festival and The National Eisteddfod in Cardiff Bay last year.

If you are travelling to Anglesey and don’t want the stress of driving through the heart of Wales countryside for nearly 5 hours after work, i’d highly recommend booking a trip on the Gerald of Wales. You can sit back, enjoy some decent food and sip on some fantastic gin with an epic scenic display through Wales.

One thing I would point out though if you’ve never been to Anglesey and plan on visiting a few places whilst your there, organise a hire car for the island in advance.

Everything seems to be very far from each other and I’ve spent most of my weekends there in the car, driving from place to place. There are trains on the island obviously as you will be riding on one but they don’t connect up on the island very well. I’ve not used the local bus service to comment on the service or reliability.

,

Albert Adria’s Cakes and Bubbles Review at Hotel Cafe Royal – London

By a stroke of luck, we found out recently that Albert Adria was opening his first restaurant outside of Spain, after watching Top 50 best restaurants in the world on Netflix.

We watched the episode on Albert and how he went from being awarded the best pastry chef in the world, working alongside his older brother at the now closed El Buli. You’ve guessed it, also voted the best restaurant in the world, during it’s heyday.

It then went on to document Albert’s own journey, with the creation of the totally bonkers “Tickets” restaurant in Barcelona. After a quick look on the tickets website, we saw a banner mentioning the launch of a new collaboration in London, with the luxury hotel Cafe Royal on Regent Street.

I was due to travel to London on the 17th, to judge in the People’s Drinks awards to find the public’s favourite gin, at the Colonel Fawcett bar in Camden. My star’s must of aligned that day because they had an availability at 7pm on that exact date. This meant I could work my way through 24 gins, go grab some food to sober up, then try some of the best cakes on the planet, before my train journey back to the land of song.

The Venue

I’m not sure what to call the venture as it’s not quite a restaurant as they only do cakes and not quite a bar because they only do bubbles, so lets just call it a very high end Cafe. Being located on the ground floor of the luxurious 5* Hotel Cafe Royal, it seems quite fitting anyway.

The cafe is located within the hotel, but with it’s own entrance a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus. Located on the outermost wall of the hotel and surrounded in big glass windows, the marbled and gold interior really grabs your attention when you walk past.

Inside Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal London

There was a mixture of tables for large groups, tables for two and a couple of bar stools next to the bar, that could be used for customers going solo.

The decor was classy yet not too pompous, for the location and being in such a luxury hotel, that demands around £700 a night for a room. A tall Japanese Fasuma esque door, acts as a partition between the cafe and the hotel. I did sneak out to have a look, on the way to the little boys room and the reception area was beautiful, especially with the Christmas decorations and huge chandelier.

Shelf of The Cheesecake by Albert Adria London

The Drinks

As the name suggests, they not only specialise in desserts, but they had the most comprehensive list of vintage carbonated wines I’ve ever seen. Prices started around £9 for the house Champagne, with a few other glasses available by the glass up to around £100 per bottle. Anything higher, and it was by the bottle.

There wasn’t just Champagne available, but Cava’s and sparkling wines from around the world, including Essex right here in blighty. I opted for something a bit different in a sparkling sake, at £16 a glass or just shy of £100 for the bottle.

If you’re off the booze, fair play to you, they have a selection of freshly made juices on offer.

The Cakes

Back to what this place is all about, and that’s the desserts. You have a choice of a few appetisers, to get you in the mood, some fruit bowls and then the main course.

Albert Adria's Dessert Menu at Cakes and Bubbles - London

We opted for the chocolate eclair with praline to start, coming in two finger sized portions served in a gold vessel, for around £8. Other options included a carrot cake, that was another strong contender and a strawberry and chocolate marshmallow after eight.

Chocolate and praline eclair at Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal Review London

Albert sets out to deceive throughout the cake menu and this was the start of things to come. It looked like a stodgy chocolate bar but was so light, with a crisp white, airy nougat inside. This was laced with swathes of praline and nuts. Oh, and lets not forget the little shard of gold leaf, on top of the dark chocolate casing, for extra bling.

Onto Albert’s most famous creation, The Cheesecake priced at £12. Using a play on words, the cheesecake was in fact made to look like a little round of cheese. With the outer casing mimicking the rind of an aged cheese in colour and texture.

Albert Adria's The Cheesecake at Cakes and Bubbles London

It looked hard to touch, but just gave way to a a gooey almost molten Camembert inside. The outside was made from white chocolate and you were smacked in the face by the strength of the cheese used inside. This was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.

It played mind games with you as it was made to look like a savoury object, was made of chocolate yet still had an explosion of savoury from the pungent cheese. It wasn’t sweet at all though, which is probably why it forked so well.

Biscuit base for The Cheesecake at Cakes and Bubbles - Hotel Cafe Royal

The cheesecake was served with mini biscuits, that served as the standard crunch base of a cheese cake. I slathered the soft cheesy core onto the biscuits and ate together for a much needed contrast of crunch.

Last but not least, we had the frozen caramel and lemon cake (£12). Again this was different to any dessert I’ve tried previously and was a cross between a cake and a sorbet.

Albert Adria's Frozen Caramel and lemon cake - Cakes and Bubbles London

A zingy frozen centre with an added kick of gin to lift the citrus flavours and just make it extra naughty. A thin creme brulee like layer of caramelised sugar topped the dessert, which I gave a little smash with my fork and spooned in equal measures with the frozen, lemony core.

The Verdict

I’ve never been to Barcelona, so it was great to get to try some of Albert Adria’s desserts on home turf, even if it was over two hours on the train.

The eclair’s were good, not stand out for me but they were totally different in appearance and taste to what I was expecting. Not too bad at £4 a piece for the pair though.

I wish I’d opted for the carrot cake to start, instead of the eclair or just gone for both. The starter courses all seemed to come out in bite sized portions.

For those torn between a dessert or cheese board, then The Cheesecake is the ultimate crossover, for a hit of both. The strong, pungent cheese paired with the only lightly sweetened chocolate was indulgent and addictive.

I noticed a few dishes coming out with an egg in an egg cup, which looked very peculiar. It wasn’t evident from the menu what it was, but I’m guessing it was the egg flan, which mussed of been served inside an egg shell. Again thinking outside the box or outside the shell with this one.

The venue is situated inside a very high end hotel but the vibe here is much more relaxed. Everyone we spoke to from the team were very friendly but I think there wasn’t much in the way of organisation. I think they should of had one waiter / waitress between a couple of tables, who just looked after those tables. Instead it was a bit of a free for all, where we were approached by 3 or 4 people during between ordering and having our drinks, which was a bit confusing.

We got everything we ordered and we really enjoyed the experience, but a bit more thought or planning on the service would of meant it wasn’t like organised chaos.

I’d definitely recommend Cakes and Bubbles for some decadent, mind bending desserts if you are ever in London. We were lucky to get a table when we did by pre-booking two weeks in advance, but it was the first week of opening and it should die down slightly.

The bill for cakes and bubbles - hotel cafe royal london

We had a starter course to share, two desserts, a glass of Champagne sparkling Sake, which came to around £65. Not exactly cheap but then, you get what you pay for.

If you want a soft serve ice cream, with a few sprinkles and a plastic cup of coke for less than £5 for two, then there’s McDonalds. Albert has worked in the best restaurant in the world and been crowned best pastry chef in the world for a reason and you will pay for the constant experimentation to get desserts of this standard.

Dukes Hotel Review – Mayfair, London

I only became aware of Dukes Hotel recently from following The East India Company Gin page on Instagram, after seeing they were doing an afternoon tea with mini Mar-tea-ni’s at the hotel.

I was in the process of pairing up a 5 course Indian food tasting menu with gin’s myself as part of Cardiff Gin Club for The Purple Poppadom Spirit menu they’ve recently launched, so I was intrigued to see what they were doing with the menu.

It was only after this that I did a bit more reading about Dukes Hotel, that I learned about the history of the historic building that had played host to many famous faces throughout it’s 110 years of being. These included Winston Churchill, whose blue plaque I also happened to notice next door to Dukes, where he was born and lived for his first few years on this earth. The other notable figure to favour the little gem of a bar nestled in a quiet side street adjacent to St James Park and just around the corner from the Ritz Hotel was the original bond author Ian Fleming.

Winston Churchills Old House

You see, Fleming was a fan of Dukes and it’s now famous Dukes Bar for it’s specialty, which happened to be the classic Martini cocktail. Can you see the connection? Yes, Dukes is noted as being the main influence behind James Bonds’ insatiable appetite for the gin laced cocktail.

Well I love a good Martini and where better to try them than the venue that gave way to the most famous Martini fan the world has ever seen. It so happened that the most spectacular festival to hit the shores of Britain was due to take place on the weekend of 1st September, “Meatopia” at Tobacco Dock. A three day celebration of the ultimate summer get together, The BBQ. With 20 of the best pit masters and meat smoking magicians on the planet driven, flown and shipped under one sun drenched canal side location in London’s historic docklands each day to show people how to really appreciate our four legged farm friends.

I thought why not kill two birds with one stone as I’d wanted to attend the festival for about three years now so I booked two tickets for the festival followed by a luxurious stay at the London hotel, which is just a short stroll from Queen Liz herself at Buckingham Palace. Whilst I was at it I also thought I’d throw in a booking for lunch the following day at the Michelin starred Indian restaurant Gymkhana in Mayfair, just because.

The Hotel

The hotel is not much more than a mile from London Victoria, so it’s quite a nice walk up the mall especially during the change of the guards if you arrive around that time. Sadly we were pushed for time with the thought of smoked, caramelised 70 day salt aged beef flying off the bbq and running out by the time we go to Meatopia so we grabbed a taxi to the door, which cost us around £8.

Outside Dukes Hotel London

Turning down the street just after The Ritz and taking a small opening in the road to the left, you could walk past and not even realise this little jewel of a hotel existed. You soon know it’s there though with it’s own little courtyard, shielded by buildings on either side with the British flag draping down outside the door and beautifully constructed and preserved Victorian Facade to welcome you into the quintessentially British luxury hotel.

Checking isn’t usually until around 3ish at most hotels so instead of lugging our overnight bags around London, we thought we would see if they would keep them until check-in as it was only 11.55am. Luckily for us the room was free and they let us check in there an then after reception gave us a guided tour of the facilities and our room.

Hotel Facilities included:

  • Steam room and fitness suite (unfortunately we didn’t have time to use these)
  • GBR restaurant and bar open from 7am for breakfast till late evening for dinner.
  • Meeting suites
  • Drawing room used for afternoon teas
  • Cognac and cigar terrace (Open 8pm)
  • Outside seating at the front of hotel for smokers or catching up on emails
  • The Famous Dukes Bar serving the best Martini’s in London

Onto our rooms. We only ordered the standard room as the price for some of the more luxurious rooms started around £500+ per night.

The standard rooms weren’t the largest I’ve stayed in but for the central location in Mayfair, it had everything we needed and more. I’ve stayed in a lot smaller rooms in Cardiff too.

Dukes Hotel London Reception

The specifics

  • The bed was a decent size and so comfortable, I had one of the best nights sleep in ages
  • Robe and slippers in the roomDesk side mobile phone allowing free calls to anywhere in the world that can be taken around the building and outside to receive internet connection
  • Fridge with 4 bottles of water. It wasn’t stocked with a minibar as we were told they are in the processes of changing the contents and menu
  • TV with internet
  • Security safe
  • Large bathroom with luxury toiletries
  • Combined bath and the most powerful shower I’ve ever stood in

After checking in and offloading our bags to head to Tobacco Dock we took the advice of reception to book a table at Dukes Bar as we were told it gets really busy on weekends and they like to offer preference to guests to the hotel. We booked ourselves in for 9pm to give ourselves time to get back from the festival and freshen up.

Getting Around

The hotel reception were very friendly and offered to make arrangements for taxis if you need one but as we were heading a few miles away it worked out cheaper to get the underground. The closes underground station to Dukes Hotel is Green Park on the Jubilee, Victoria and Piccadilly line so you can pretty much get to anywhere you need without too many changes.

As the hotel is quite central we decided to head out on foot the morning of our stay after leaving our bags with the hotel. It was less than 10 minutes to Gymkhana in Mayfair, where we went for a delicious 6 course tasting menu for lunch.

It’s also less than 10 minutes walk to the Ritz if you fancy something a bit more extravagant for lunch or you can do what we did and picked up a load of nibbles at Fortnum and Masons for the journey back.

Food and Drinks

Breakfast

As we were going to a food festival and had already booked lunch the following day for 12 o clock we skipped breakfast as it wasn’t in with the room. You can add it to your booking for £24 each for a full English, pastries, tea and juice or there are a number of smaller options from £6 for something lighter, which are all served in the basement GBR restaurant.

Afternoon Tea

We were hoping to grab a cup of tea sourced from my favourite tea importers The East India Company in the Drawing Room but sadly they had stopped serving afternoon tea and there wasn’t anyone taking orders when we popped in for a look.

The room was beautifully decorated though and would be a lovely spot to sample the afternoon tea that also has the option to include mini Mar-tea-ni’s using The East India Company Gin, which is how i’d found out about the hotel in the first place.

East India Company Gin Martini with Dukes London Afternoon Tea

The receptionist also informed us during our tour of the hotel that the late Lady Dianna was a regular at the hotel and would come in for tea in the Drawing Room. This is the reason they only have white flowers in the room and throughout the hotel as a tribute as they were her favourite.

We opted to head downstairs to the GBR restaurant for tea instead as they serve a selection of The East India Company Tea there all day too. I opted for a smokey GBR blend, which was a lovely change to my usual English Breakfast. The cost of two pots of tea was around £12 with the service charge of 12.5% automatically added to all orders, wherever you are in London.

Afternoon tea and East India Company teas at Dukes Hotel London

Dinner

Even though we didn’t eat at the GBR restaurant we did take a peek at the menu whilst having a pot of tea before we left.

There were only two dinning whilst we were there and the steaks brought out to them looked amazing. The menu featured a grazing menu with small and large portion of each. I was half tempted to have a burrata to nibble on with my tea.

GBR Restaurant at Dukes Hotel London

Dukes Bar

The dress code read smart casual and no sports footwear for Dukes Bar so I thought i’d put something half decent on for a change with some loafers, shirts and sports jacket.

The bar is very quaint and divided into two small areas by a dividing wall and the wooden paneled bar to the left hand side or the two. Dimly lit with a selection of two and four seat tables to choose. We were seated with two other tables but one left shortly after so we took theirs as it was under a bit more light.

The menu features a good selection of classic cocktails priced around £19 and the famous martini’s around £21.50.

Spirits came in double measures and ranged from £9.50 for Beefeater Gin up to around £15 for Kyoto Ki no bi Japanese Gin. I paid £8.50 for a single shot of Ki no bi with no mixer in Bootleggers in Cardiff not long back, so it wasn’t bad considering.

Gin menu at Dukes Bar London

Cocktail and martini menu at Dukes Bar London

Martini menu at Dukes Bar London

There were whiskies from some of the best distilling countries from a selection of Scotland from highlands to lowlands, Ireland, the US and Japan. What caught my eye was the now discontinued suntory Hibiki 17 year Japanese whisky. I’ve been hunting down a bottle for a while now as the price has spiked to over £900 a bottle online as the Japanese Whisky drought continues and has meant many aged expressions are no more.

The price on the menu didn’t reflect the shortage though as it was £27 for 50ml. Rude not to really.

Hibiki 17 Japanese Whisky at Dukes Bar London

Martini’s

There was none of the candyfloss, glitter or sickly sweet pre-mixed cordial bullshit going on with these bad boys. Pure alcohol lengthened with a splash of more alcohol, just as it should be.

I watched in awe as another guest asked for a dry Martini, to which the bartender shook a couple of dashes of homemade vermouth and i mean droplets from a bitters decanter and proceeded to top it up with the frozen gin of choice.

Dukes Bar martini trolley

The art of pouring the martini’s is like a ritual in itself here at Dukes with the orders taken by the bar tender, who then assembles the components of the crowning item on the menu, which are then wheeled over to the guests table and faultlessly constructed at the table.

As mentioned previously this is were bond got his love for the Martini here from his famous author Ian Fleming who was a regular at Dukes Bar. The vesper was also created here, which was Bond’s favourite martini with a mix of English Gin and Polish Vodka, Shaken not stirred of course.

Surprise, surprise I went all Japanese for my first drink with the Kissy Suzuki Martini featuring Ki no bi gin, Chase vodka, Clementi China liqueur and Griottine Cherry. The bottles came straight from the freezer and glistened with a sheen of ice on the trolley so no need to shake or stir with ice to cool it or for any unnecessary dilution. This was was the strongest martini to ever touch my lips, it was actual rocket fuel but it tasted divine

Kissy Suzuki martini at Dukes Bar London

I’d heard that head bartender Alessandro Palazzi served a maximum of two Martini’s to guests and now I can see why. Although £20.50 they don’t sound cheap, but when you factor in your probably getting close to 4 measures of alcohol per glass, that’s good going even at Cardiff prices for gin. It was all about the experience though as the bar has so much history and famous fans over the years.

The other half went for Martinez with Dictador Colombian Gin, Martini Ross, Maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, Griottine cherry and lemon twist. Also very potent, these were sippers for sure but sat nibbling on Japanese crackers and salty nuts taking in the ambiance I couldn’t think of anywhere better i’d want to spend a Sunday evening.

The Verdict

We both loved our stay at Dukes Hotel. The central location, the friendliness of the staff who couldn’t do enough and the hotel itself looked amazing from outside to inside with loads of character and history.

I loved the little stories about some of the past guests and you really felt like you were sitting in a piece of history sat sipping a Martini in the same bar former prime ministers, princesses, highly acclaimed authors and movie stars had done for over 100 years.

The hotel is worth the visit even if it’s just for a table at Dukes bar for a Martini and they really are worthy of the reverence.

It’s not going to be the cheapest hotel you can get in London but I’d say it’s my favourite so far and would go back in a heartbeat.

For the best deals on a stay at Dukes Hotel in London search on Trivago



,

Free London Trip to new Gin restaurant Tonica

If you like fancy a trip to London on the latest boutique luxury coach service called sn-ap operating from Cardiff this week then you’re in luck.

Also if you like gin and fancy yourself as a bit of a foodie then why not combine this amazing free coach trip with the launch of Portobello Road Gin’s latest restaurant launch called Tonica as they are offering 50% off food for the soft launch between April 25th and May 9th.

Sn-ap

Sn-ap aims to offer it’s customers the chance to tailor their trips to when they want and where they want to be picked up instead of being dictated to by existing coach companies. The sn-ap app and system pools together like minded travellers to build trip based on peoples preferences such as time of departure and location of pick up and offers travellers the latest luxury coaches to travel in style.

I just popped over to the launch in Cardiff to see some of the coaches and they are the best I’ve seen with leather reclining seats and individual screens with Now TV and a host of other entertainment apps at your fingertips to make the journey a bit more bearable.

You can get a free trip to London from Cardiff by visiting the Sn-ap website.

Tonica

Portobello Road, which is one of my favourite all rounder gins. They’ve already established the Ginstitute on Portobello Road, which features a hotel, bar and distillery that also allows visitors to distil their own bottle of gin.

They’ve recently announced the launch of a new tapas style restaurant called Tonica, which will also feature a still at the venue that they aim to create some rather unique spirits such as avocado vodka and butter gin.

To book a table with 50% discount on the menu at the new Tonica restaurant by Portobello Road Distillery then head over to the Tonica website.

Accommodation

If you want to make a night of it with your trip to London then why not check out Airbnb for accommodation. You can rent anything from boat houses, a room in a shared house or a whole house.

Fancy a free £25 voucher for your first booking on Airbnb too?

Just use the following link and you will get the £25 taken off the final bill for your stay:

Airbnb discount voucher

,

Top 5 Ibiza trip essentials this summer – 2015

So Ibiza is nearly upon me with a week to go till I return to the White Isle for my 3rd trip but i’ve been on an 8 year hiatus so it will be good to get back. I think I’m in for quite a surprise mind as electronic music has changed a hell of a lot since then in terms of new clubs, the emergence of the cheese that is EDM and the spiralling prices of door and drinks prices.

There are the trusty favourites still keeping the place in check and keeping it to it’s roots with the King of the turntables himself  Carl Cox, which is number one on my list of things to do as i’ve seen him play countless times but not since Ultra at Miami about 3 years ago and in my 2 previous trips to Ibiza I didn’t manage to catch him or sample the delights of Space.

I was going to attempt to just make do with what i’ve got in the wardrobe as I am only going for 4 days but I’m so shapeless I seem to go in and out of fitting my clothes and these chicken legs don’t do me any favours so I needed a couple of pairs of shorts as I have lost an inch or two from Crossfit since I’ve set my shocking size 7 hobbit feet in a swimming pool last.

I decided to make some last minute purchased on the weekend I just hope they come back in time and a few bit’s i’ve bought in the past week or two from what I think will be the essentials for 4 days of partying at Sankeys on a Sunday, by the pool at Ocean Beach on the Monday, getting down to Coxy at Space on Tuesday and wherever the mood takes us on our final night on the Wednesday.

My Top 5 items to take for this year’s closing parties in September 2015

 

 

danward flip flops asymetric1. Footwear: Danward assymetric flip flops – £89 £38

I’m very, very, very fussy with my flip flops so much in fact i’ve been looking for a pair for the past 3 years and I just haven’t worn any mainly due to that fact and probably as I haven’t been olo a few months ago. After about an hour of scrolling I stumbled on these beauties by Danward (who i’ve never heard of personally) but on doing a google search it turns out his designer footwear for the beach retail around £120 so for £40 they were as good as sold! They didn’t have the all black I fancied so next best was the black and blue. What’s also good about these flip flops is the unique strap mechanism, which doesn’t require that bloody awful thong like rubber to sit in be your toes and irritate them if you have’t work them in Puma X Alexander McQueen some time, which i haven’on holidays since then too. My last 2 pairs of flips have been all white so I fancied something different for a change and i’ve hunted everywhere online and unless you wanted a pair of Gandy’s flip flops or the Diesel Splash, which are the ones I bought 3 years ago and the cheeky barstewards are still flogging them then you’re stuffed! Decided to have a browse on the 5k plus pairs on Yoox as I managed to find a bargain of a pair of tassle loafers there for the polo.

I’ll also need to take some sensible daps for the evening as the flip flops haven’t arrived yet so not sure how my feet are going to fair with the new straps i’ve not been used to yet so taking a trusty pair of Puma McQueen’s, which have been my favourite trainer brand of the past 5 years and managed to pick up a pair on Secret Sales about a month ago with a good deal in the sale.

adeen kill cap

 

 

2. Adeen Kill Cap – £165 £55

So the last cap I bought was about 2 years ago a new era black on black and it’s looking a bit grubby even though i very wear a cap but the few strands of hair i’ve got upstairs are diminishing by the day so I definitely needed some scalp protection. I saw this Adeen cap on the Harvey Nichols site when it was full price and thought that’s mental nobody is going to pay that price. A few months later they had slashed the price down over £100 down to £55. It was the craziest hat i’d seen in ages so thought were better to wear it that Ibiza and unless someone else spotted it at that discount there wouldn’t be many others wearing it out there hopefully!

dolce and gabbana aviators

3. Dolce & Gabbana Aviator Sunglasses – £192 £127

Still on the theme of UV protection with any clubbing outing and arguably the number one accessory is sunglasses. I’m done with Ray Bans after my first pair of neon blue about 6 years ago and my white aviators about 4 years ago I fancied something different. I went for a different style last year with my AM Eyewear Captain Jonny in tortoiseshell, which were pretty cool until I left them on my car seat, gave my sister a lift in the car and she sent them hurling across my drive leaving a scratch across the left lens at the start of the summer. I also seem to have an abnormally large face so most shades look like I’ve stollen them from an 8 year old as they look like i’ve cut the bottom out of a shot glass and wired them to my face as they always look tiny in comparison to my face so I wanted to go bigger to compensate on my next pair. After a good few hours on all the regular suspects for websites I stumbled on a few ray bans in a new shape but they seemed to be modelled on women and weren’t overly large on them so i’d probably need two pairs to cover this face and then I came to the Dolce & Gabbana with chunky hexagonal style frame and lenses. My brother bought a pair of Dolce & Gabbana ones a few months back in black too so i had to check first but his were more of an oval shape so I went ahead and they were in the sale on Asos too saving nearly £70.

4. Swimming shorts and casual shorts

 

This is Ibiza after all and they do tend to have a bit more sunlight than us in the UK so i’ll be needing an array of shorts for both the day in the pool and in the night as I do get a bit hot and sweaty so like to let a bit of steam of my chicken legs whilst busting a move. I’m taking my Levi’s denim cut offs because I love my jean’s and most of my cut off’s are old jeans I’m bored of and taken the scissors to so these are the first ones i’ve bought in ages and will pretty much go with anything in the evening. I bought them in April out of my birthday money so paid full price of £55 but they are in the sale with 50% discount at the moment in House of Fraser. I’m taking a few other’s i’ve bought last year like the Bolongaro Trevor Black mixer shorts, which I’ve just taken to have taken in today as i’ve lost 2 inches around my waist apparently and the 32″ don’t fit me. There’s no way i’m a 30″ waist so they must have stretched or something!

The other two purchases were just for wearing in the pool so didn’t fancy spending much the Van’s were £35 from £50 and the Firetrap just £9 down from £30, which was a bargain both from USC. Only went on there as i’d looked through the 600 pairs on asos 5 times and gave up on the 10th page out of 3000 items on Yoox and couldn’t think were else to go but haven’t shopped there in ages as it turned into a bit of a chav fest after it moved on from St Mary street in Cardiff many moons ago into St David’s 2.

5. Tees

Last but not least and probably my fav item of clothing the tees in close with my shades, which I have another obsession for…saying that I don’t do bad with footwear either mind!

In front with as i’ve waited so long to get my hands on some new graphic tee’s from them with their year long hiatus online is Elvis Jesus. I bought one as soon they came back with the new season online with the Skullwire Tee with an orange skull with lightening bolts on top of an ornate base print in dark navy and grey. I’ve only worn this once so far and that was back at the Above and Beyond gig at Brixton academy so it’s dying to see some lazers and pyrotechnics with some dirty tech house beats thrown in. Recently Elvis Jesus have also taken to Twitter with a weekly #EJAuction of one off pieces and samples to some classics from yesteryear with the highest bidder on a Friday taking the prized piece of the week. I was lucky to win an auction a few weeks back for the Elvis Jesus Sugar Skull with Hendrix adorning the front in light blue, which I fell in love with as soon as I saw it.

I’ll be taking a few of my other favourite brand Vivienne Westwood tees too most probably the Sea Creatures tee with jellyfish and other vibrantly coloured sea beings bought especially for Amsterdam Dance Event last year seeing that it was the most hypnotic and psychedelic piece i’d seen in ages.

I’ve bought a couple of vests on asos just to throw on for going for food and around the pool in the day such as the Jaded London in red with feathers above and the Youth – All seeing eye vest in white. Another brand I think deserves a place on the list especially for a trip in Ibiza and that is Wasted Heroes, which have graced a place in front of many a turntable over the past year or two most notably from house music stallwarts such as Carl Cox, Sasha and most recently Yousef being pictured on the stars in recent gigs. The tees all retail for around £24.99 on the Wasted Heroes website exclusively.

That’s my list of the 5 essentials for a trip to the White Isle this year but don’t forget to pack the suncream too and some ammodium you never know when you might need that especially staying all inclusive in Pikeys Park like we’re doing this year on 13th September!

,

Cheapest Wicker Picnic Hamper for the summer

I don’t know why as it’s not often i’ve actually had a picnic but i’ve fancied getting my hands on a picnic hamper for some time as there is something quite nostalgic and retro about them. I’m much more of a bbq person than a picnic person but I am a lover of buff-et (how i call it) food it must of been growing up in a pub and getting to raid the buffet when my nan was making it for parties and weddings over the years and i’ve just got a soft spot for a carb fest on a cardboard plate.

I couldn’t get over the price on them for something that doesn’t actually cook your food or cool it down so i’ve tried my hand at a few competitions over the past year or two to win one but had no luck. The girls i work with (i say girls but they are 50 somethings) religiously bring the Aldi and Lidl weekly specials booklet in for me to have a gander and I have to say i’ve been quite pleasantly surprised by the stuff they are churning out there recently not only food but kitchen and garden wear too. I couldn’t be without my Tepanyaki grill i bought back last year and they do the best steaks i’ve ever cooked.

They brought last weeks Aldi booklet in with the first batch of summer stuff and garden equipment / accessories and I stumbled on the wicker picnic hamper and i knew at first sight i was getting one! Not quite sure why as it was a 4 person hamper and I am currently single but it will keep for a year or two hopefully but i do like to take my 13 year old sister out for road trips to the beach, random mountain and camping so thought it would be ideal for that too along with my Son of Hibachi BBQ to sear some meat on to go with the carb fest. I always forget crockery and plates too so the wicker picnic hamper with it’s 4 knives, forks, plates, glasses and corkscrew will come in handy.

cheapest 4 person wicker picnic hamper from aldi

Most others i’ve seen are between £30-75 for just 2 people but this is the cheapest 4 person wicker picnic hamper i’ve come across online and was good to be able to see it in person before ordering online as I had an Aldi just up the road from work and comes in a choice of red and white check or a more nautical blue and white with a lighter coloured wicker too for just £30.

I also found they are doing extra large picnic blanket measuring 2m x 2m in Lidl this week too for just £9, which I also picked up on the way past back into work which comes in blue, green and white or the one i went for which is more of a burnt orange and white. I thought this would make an ideal accompaniment to the wicker picnic hamper for random outings to Ogmore beach or to take to the many food festivals or cider festivals coming up around South Wales this summer.

What kit and equipment should i buy for first time snowboarding trip

snowboarding-jumpI’ve never been skiiing or snowboarding before and just booked my first trip to Andorra in March and just near the end of buying all my clothes and accessories for snowboarding. I wasn’t quite sure what i needed or where the hell to buy everything to start with but luckily a few of my friends who are going have been a few times previously so gave me a few tips.

I’ll list the essentials for clothing and equipment below and as I love a good bargain where i’ve found to be the best value for money.

Snowboarding Jacket

This is essential and will protect you from the elements, whether it’s rain, snow and the freezing cold wind. I didn’t book the snowboarding trip till last minute and had already bought a thick winter coat in the January sales from Asos. It turned out it was an Alpha Industries Polar Explorer Jacket, which i thought would be ideal for the snow as that’s what it was designed and built for with the fur collar and blizzard tested and these people make jackets for the US Army and Navy so they should be able to cope with a 4 day trip to a Andorra, which doesn’t tend to have extreme weather and snow.

A friend of mine though pointed out that as i’ve never been snowboarding before i’m probably going to spend the best part of 4 days on my ass so I’d end up ruining the jacket on a single trip and it was really thick and might restrict my movement so I opted to hunt the perfect coat for my snowboarding trip even though i was a bit pissed about shelling out more money as the Alpha Industries set me back £150 and that was with a £70 discount.

I decided I best off opting for a shell and layering up instead of having a blizzard tested, thick coat weighing me down and potentially causing me to pass out from sweating so much due to my inability to board, which means i’ll be using up every muscle possible trying to stay upright as I won’t know what the hell i’m doing. I scanned every website possible, took a trip to Cardiff in all the ski and snowboarding shops looking at the usual suspects when it comes to skiing such as Burton, Oakley, Quicksilver and Bonfire but nothing was jumping out at me until I stumbled on Nike SB at City Surf in Cardiff. I didn’t realise Nike did snowboarding gear and did a bit of searching after coming back from Cardiff and by chance managed to find a pretty decent Nike SB jacket for nearly half price on Asos of places. The Nike SB Hemlock Jacket was waterproof, wind proof, nice and long so the snow wouldn’t get down my ass and up my back when i end up falling every 10 seconds and lastly it looked pretty cool too if i do say so myself. Unlike most of the other snowboarding jackets I could probably pull this off without being on the snow too whereas the others just looked like snowboarding jackets and not really my cup of tea and wouldn’t be seen dead with it on going to work or shopping.

Shoes and footwear

I was toying with the idea of buying a cheap pair of snowboard boots on eBay as there are a few good bargains on there and I haven’t got a clue what to expect from rentals and the thought of how many hundred people had their mangey feet in there before me. As opposed to skiing boots which clip into the ski’s and are very hard to walk on when they are detached from the ski’s, snowboard boots are just that. They are just like big trainers with big ankle protectors on them to keep you upright and steady but are just fastened onto the snowboard and can are just like having a pair of hiking boots or trainers on to walk in. As it was my first trip i thought it was a bit stupid to buy a pair of boots as knowing me i usually get bored of doing something after a few hours and will probably spend the other 3 days in the pub somewhere keeping warm.

I did decide to buy some waterproof boots though as my Puma McQueen’s have seen better days and wouldn’t cope with the snow or water for long. I’d had my eyes on a pair of waterproof boots before Christmas but not because they were waterproof I just thought they looked a bit different to what I’ve been buying the last few years, which has pretty much been Alexander McQueen by Puma but alternating between low, mid and high tops in every colour imaginable.

The Patagonia boots were brown suede leather with sherling wool inner, which protruded over the ankle, black leather toe section and red soles. I opted for a pair of Vivienne Westwood high tops Christmas time in the end as I’d be able to wear them out instead of having to ruin the only other pair of shoes suitable for a night out in Cardiff but came straight back to the Patagonia when I ended up booking the snowboarding trip. They were discounted slightly in the sale but not as much as i’d hoped as they were down from £120 to £92 but every penny counts and all that plus with the cold weather we’ve had here in Wales recently it’s actually the coldest start to the year I can remember so I’ve got a bit of wear out of them already. Even though most of the roads and stuff will be clear of snow i thought a decent pair of waterproof shoes would’t go a miss just in case we do manage to do any other activities apart from snowboarding plus i’ll pack my Viv’s just in case I fancy something a bit more fancy on a night out in Andorra.

Ski Goggles

Arguably the most important piece of kit there is as they are going to protect your eyes and face from the sun’s glare all day so you don’t want to be tight here and buy a cheap pair that will mist up in no time. Boy did I browse some websites looking for a decent pair but they seemed to be ridiculously priced for my liking for a decent pair and had my eyes set on Oakley’s as they were the only brand I had heard of and you kind of know what you’re getting with them and they do tend to do the best eyewear for sports.

I tried all the well known websites such as Surf Dome, Route One, Snow and Rock but couldn’t find anything that either i liked or within my price bracket. I even took a trip down to TK Max in Cardiff, which i’d heard stocks some good skiing stuff but I went on a Sunday and all the decent equipment and clothes had probably gone on the Saturday.

I then happened to find a site selling last season’s stock of skiing goggles after specifically searching for cheap Oakly Ski Goggles instead of just skiing goggles called Eyewear Outlet. They do hundreds of Oakley Goggles and a few other brands such as Arnette but the Nike ones were over £150 so they were out straight away. I’d seen a really nice pair of Oakley Crobar that were greenish in colour but had a blueish lense on them but for reasons unbeknown to me I left it too late to buy them and someone snapped up the last pair. Back to the drawing board but had my eyes set on a pair of Oakley’s by now so scoured the Eyewear Outlet website once again for another pair and had to up my budget slightly but found a pair of Oakley Splice with yellow frame and Fire Iridium sense, which looked the bollox and seemed to be one of the most expensive lenses they do for the goggles and set me back £65 with an extra £10 for the case but they were still retailing between £100 to £130 elsewhere online so i think I had a good deal.

Snowboarding Trousers

I couldn’t decide on a pair of trousers for ages and was toying with the idea of getting a pair of Nike SB to match the jacket as it has an inner section with clips to attach to the bottoms so the snow does’t get under your back and down your trousers but they were a bit pricey at £120 and couldn’t seem to find a discount on them for love nor money. As the jacket is a greenish brown colour i didn’t want to look like i was in full army camo either all in the same colour so wanted either a red pair or tobacco coloured trousers but couldn’t find any that took my fancy online even other brands i checked as they all had stupid looking pockets on the sides and looked more like army trousers, which i wasn’t feeling. A friend of mine had just come back from snowboarding and was buying a new pair of trousers and was going to sell his Bonfire ones that he had only worn on one trip and they were brown but i think the size was going to be a struggle so before I tried them i decide to take a trip to McArthur Glen Designer Village in Bridgend as I’d heard from a few people in work that they did some snowboarding clothing and I know from previous trips that they did Vans and a few other surfing brands so would probably have a decent collection of kit for the snowboarding trip.

I tried a couple of plain looking pairs on down there I wasn’t fussed on the Helly Hanson ones and i thought they looked a bit shit to be honest. I called into Billabong and took a look in the sale section and they had a brown pair for just £22! I’ve spent more than that on a pair of boxer shorts in the past and were a cool £100 cheaper that the Nike SB ones. They fitted although were a bit snug on the waist but I’ve been a bit of a lazy bastard of late with my training and Crossfit plus the Crossfit Open Games was between now and the trip so i took a punt on them and got them.

I’ve not been one for sports since I hung my tog’s up at 16 for rugby and haven’t played anything competitive since then so don’t own any sportswear apart from a few tee’s and shorts for Crossfit so i needed some base layers to go under my jacket. There was loads of selection of base layers down McArthur Glen as I’d been a silly boy once again and left things too late when they were selling of Skins base layer compression tops from £45 down to just £10 on Sports Direct so had to make do down there and were roughly on par with the pricing although you won’t beat Skins for quality as they are the best brand on the market for compression wear and under layers and even do thermal ones. I bough a base layer with zip front in Berghaus down from £25, another base layer long sleeve black top from Tog 22 and a mid layer fleece from there for £20 as I don’t own a single fleece an thought a normal grey cotton hoody I take to Crossfit might get wet and leave me cold.

Skiing Gloves

Now these things were giving me a nightmare as I have quite small hands and if one thing i’ve learned from buying things online is I must be the most out of proportion person know to man as nothing seems to fit me and I can be anywhere from a small to a large in the same brand for some clothes. I had tried a few pairs on in Cardiff on my first trip down there after booking the snowboarding trip but was’t really sure what to look out for and they were all around the £40 mark.

Again on my trip to McArthur Glen and in the Berghaus shop they only had one pair of gloves but I don’t know many outdoors brand but Berghaus was one of them so though the quality should be pretty good. I noticed that the gloves for both the men and women were exactly the same design and on speaking to the cashier they said they were identical apart from the sizing and the price. The guys were obviously bigger and with a £10 premium compared to the women’s Berghaus gloves but as I was only a small to medium anyway the extra large women’s ones fitted a treat and saved me 10 English gold coins. They also had an offer on in the store with buy one get one half price so i ended up paying just £27 for the waterproof gloves and a base layer long sleeve top, which is just £2 more than the RRP of the base layer alone.

Hat

I haven’t decided what i’m doing about a hat yet as I have a couple in the house but not sure whether I will be wearing a helmet or not yet. I’ll probably have a helmet for the first day or 2 then when or if i’m feeling a bit more confident on the slopes or just fancy keeping my balding scalp warm whilst enjoying a pint or schnapps outside in the cold i’ll try a hat on.

Base Layers / thermals

As mentioned previously I had bought my base layer tops from Tog 22 and Bergaus but there was one thing I hadn’t quite decided on and that was thermal trousers. I had a bit of bad luck just before booking the trip as I go to Crossfit and the weather is baltic at the moment so decided to buy some Skins compression tights to protect my bambi legs from the cold air. I’ve never worn tights previously so wasn’t sure how I would take to them and wasn’t too keen on other people seeing me in tights either so opted for 3/4 length ones to leave a bit of bare flesh on my pins. I managed to get a pair of A200 3/4 compression tights for half price at jut £37.50 on the Skins website but when they arrived I didn’t realise they were thermal and therefore had a thick furry lining! It’s cold to start off in on the Crossfit WOD but by the end of it i’m usually panting like a dog having heart attack and sweating profusely too so they were a big no no! I decided to send them back a few days later and low and behold my mate rings to ask if i fancied giving snowboarding a try the same night so i could of kept them.

Anyway I put the tights at the back of my mind for a while and thought I would make do with just the snowboarding trousers as they looked quite warm but the cold weather hasn’t seemed to have gone anywhere and I’d heard the compression tights were not only good for keeping warm but can aid your performance whilst exercising and with the Crossfit Open Games on the horizon i needed every little help to beat Mr Fronning this year (yeah in my dreams!) but still they were an investment and should last me a little while as the skins ones tend to look better quality that other compression wear i’ve seen. I want the same colour as I’d originally ordered, which were the black and fierce red instead of the standard black with yellow stitching everyone else seemed to be sporting at my local Crossfit Box. I’ve just bought the new Nike Metcon 1’s in grey and volt though and the red might look ok with my Inov8 fast lift lifting shoes I thought the grey A200’s might match better (yes I know i’m actually trying to match my Crossfit outfit in my head WTF is going on!!)

I opted to order a pair of both the grey and the black and fierce red A200 Skin’s compression tights on SportsShoes.com as they were the cheapest I could find after hours or searching and would decide from there. I opened the grey and as it was freezing on my way to Crossfit and I had forgotten my hoody I just pulled the tag off the grey ones and wore them that night so I was keeping the grey. A couple of days later and on my way to Crossfit again but my grey A200’s in the wash it was baltic again out so bit the bullet and instead of sending the red and black Skins back I’m now the new owner of two colour tights and going from owning none to 2 pairs of tights in less than a few days. I decided 4 days was too long to wear the same pair of compression tights so I would need two pairs to stop my legs catching some funky disease and they can be used again in Crossfit too so I’ve got a double usage out of them plus if i do take to the snowboarding i can always wear them again.

Wrist Protectors

A few people mentioned to me about having wrist protectors as either they had hurt themselves when falling and trying to protect themselves when hitting the ground or they knew people who had actually broken their wrists. I can’t be bothered buying anymore equipment so what I was thinking was to take my wrist wraps I wear to crossfit to give my wrists some support. I bought a pair of Man of Steel Superman Strength Wraps for just £20 at Cardiff Sports Nutrition website, who also do some of the cheapest quest protein bars that you could smuggle in your jacket pocket when you’ve exhausted every last bit of energy on the slopes and need a bit of some back in your body.

Bag

I didn’t even think about this till my mate mentioned about taking a drink with you on the slopes as you will be exerting a lot of energy especially me not having a clue what i’m doing and using muscles i don’t really need to so i’ll need to keep my fluids topped up throughout the day and i’m guessing it’s not going to be cheap buying them next to the slopes all day. He mentioned just taking small back or backpack and taking a bottle of water in there but i haven’t really got one so i’m considering buying a small camel back, filling that with liquids but also put some nibbles like chocolate in the bag too for an energy kick throughout the day.

Protection against the elements

When you’re up on the slopes the views might be spectacular but you’re getting battered from whatever nature throws at you whether it’s rain, snow, sleet, sun, wind or blizzards. Most of you is going to be protected from the elements but not all of it. Your face is going to be exposed and you might not feel like it or think you’re doing ok at first but spending hours on the mountains will take it’s toll on your delicate skin and trust me I’ve just got back and learnt the hard way! I protected my face with suntan lotion whilst i was snowboarding using a small Piz Buin Mountain 15SPF suncream lotion designed especially for the snow and skiing but the last day waiting around for the bus in the pub next to the ski lift in Andorra I burnt my forehead and nose to a crisp! I’ve never had sunburn like it on my head before and is still sore and peeling 5 days later.

Make sure you use suncream and the Piz Buin Mountain was great as it came in a small tube that was easy to carry and it was designed especially for the conditions as according to the box it is enriched with a Cold Shield Complex, it provides long lasting moisturisation, protecting the skin from extreme cold and wind. It’s also sweat and waterproof because trust me you will sweat!! I also made sure I had protection for my lips with a tube of Cherry Carmex lip protection as I’d heard it was good plus it tasted nice but my pocket opened from falling so much and it fell out so I was left with my original lipsil, which did the job of protecting from the wind but tasted horrible.