I’m heading to Venice, Italy this week!! I haven’t been since I was 19 years old. That’s a long long time. I’ve been wanting to go for ages, but I’ve also been wanting to avoid high tourist season. Traveling between September and November is my favorite thing to do anyhow, so it all works out. The crowds will be smaller and the light will be softer. I honestly can’t wait. I haven’t been this excited about a trip in ages.
I got a great deal on my BA flight and have booked myself into a decently priced hotel. (Hotel prices in Venice are truly outrageous.) I’ve started a Flipboard with lots of places to eat and shop. (I seriously love Flipboard.) And I’ve already booked some tours via Viator. It’s a quick trip — just three nights to keep costs reasonable — but I honestly can’t wait. Please send me any of your tips and advice!
The pound is at a historic low against the dollar right now, so if you live in the U.S. or are paid in U.S. dollars, you should seriously pack your bags and hop on over the pond for a few days. Come eat all our delicious food — seriously don’t believe what you hear about food over here — and see our plays and well, spend your dollars. Spend ALL your dollars. But spend them wisely. Here are some great ways to save money on dining out in London.
OpenTable Deals: Another big brand name and lots of interesting looking offers to look at here. But beware! Some of these aren’t offers per se but more advertising for prix fixe meals the restaurant offers anyhow.
Bookatable Star Deals: A more local brand here in London, but they’ve still got a great list of offerings. (Same caveat applies however about how sometimes, the deal is the same deal you could get by booking the restaurant directly.)
Lastminute.com Special Offers: Make sure you click the “Special Offers” checkbox here. There’s some great money saving to be had. There’s a nice long list of offers, including The Palm Court at The Langham and Maze Grill.
TravelZoo Restaurant Deals: Confession. I’m kinda obsessed with TravelZoo. One of these days, I will book one of their special offer travel packages. They have a very small list of restaurant offers and they’re geared more towards tourists, but they are always work a look.
Squaremeal Offers: Squaremeal is like totally old school London. This was pretty much the first online restaurant guide in London. Imagine me, in my Cannon Street office back in 2004, wondering where to have dinner. Squaremeal is the website I checked. I think you can tell that they’ve been around for a while because this is a pretty extensive and interesting list of offers.
Living Social: Super quirky list of offers. Would anyone like a whole leg of Serrano ham? You’ll find offers for a few chains, a few afternoon teas, and some touristy bits here.
Money Saving Expert: Ah, Martin Lewis. He is so wise. He also has collated a nice collection of Pizza Express and similar vouchers. Go get ’em!
Buyagift.com: I’d never heard of Buyagift until I started researching this piece but they have a nice quirky list of deals that seem good for tourists and visitors and people who like chain restaurants.
I’m sure there are other ways to save money on London restaurants that aren’t necessarily restaurants…the Happiour app is one that comes to mind. What are you favorites?
Detoxing. Clean eating. Cleansing. These are pretty unpopular words within the food community. And trust me, I get it. A few years ago, I met with a nutritionist to discuss my lifestyle and dietary habits. (I’ve heard time and time again that it’s 80% diet, 20% exercise.) She told me I could never eat chicken skin again.
Who wants to live in a world with no chicken skin???
Not me, that’s for sure. So I never met with her again.
But I’m not the 29 year old that started this blog anymore and certain things need to be addressed. Luckily my blood pressure is low and so is my cholesterol, but it’s everything else that needed some attention. Overall diet, stress levels, caffeine and alcohol consumed…hopefully you get the picture.
I’m a strong believer in collecting expert advice and uh, also paying money to make problems go away. So I decided a two week detox somewhere tropical made an awful lot of sense for me at this point in my life. I needed a kick-start. I called a bunch of travel agents and interviewed them all. (It’s amazing how helpful a knowledgeable travel agent can be.) My simple question…where was the best place to go for a big ole dose of healthy living?
Kamalaya Koh Samui was the resounding answer from all four travel agents that I spoke with, and they all enthusiastically endorsed what a great place it is for the solo traveler — the community table at mealtimes was a nice selling point. I’d be alone, but only really alone when I wanted to be. So I booked through Healing Holidays because their prices were the best and they also seemed to be the largest UK travel agent partners of Kamalaya, which I liked. They also threw in a £150 quid gift card that I could use on spa services. While some other travel agents offered me a small incentive, the Healing Holidays incentive was by far the best.
I’ll get more into the particulars of my visit to Kamalaya in other posts, but my two weeks were absolutely, positively beautiful. The food was delicious, the staff were lovely, the spa treatments were amazing, and the grounds were gorgeous. (Although there were many stairs. About 100 steps uphill to get from the spa center to my room.) I returned to the UK refreshed, clearer, and lighter — both physically and spiritually. I discovered a previously untapped knack for meditation (good to reduce the stress I let myself experience), and I have an entirely new appreciation for both lemongrass and ginger tea. I also read five books and made a good start on a sixth. Most importantly, I abstained from meat, caffeine, refined sugar, soy, gluten and booze for 14 straight days. Complain about clean eaters all you want, but I think it’s a good thing to abstain from crap every so often.
Of course, as soon as I got home, I had a glass of rose and some delicious cold Middlewhite at St. John. You know what they say about old habits…
I mentioned in my post the other day that my cousin got married in Manhattan back in June, which gave me an excuse to hang out in New York for a few days. But honestly, when does anyone ever need an excuse to hang out in New York? London, New York, Hong Kong…best cities in the world in my opinion and cities I never need an excuse to visit. Here’s where I ate and drank when I was in New York.
The National Bar & Dining Rooms: When my brother dropped me off at The Benjamin, I still hadn’t had lunch yet so after checking in, I headed straight to the hotel restaurant. It was totally packed with movers and shakers and I was ignored there for a while. I ordered a chicken caesar salad which arrived as a sliced chicken breast and some lettuce and a tiny dollop of dressing. Errr…the bare minimum. I ate it and paid like a gazillion dollars for it and swore to never return. The Verdict: Pass.
Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecote: I knew we’d be able to have a quick lunch at Le Relais De Venise L’Entrecote in Midtown, which would let me get back to the hotel with enough time to get ready for the wedding. If you’re not familiar with the restaurant’s concept, it’s pretty much all you can eat steak and frites and green salad. The restaurant was practically empty when we arrived and still half empty when we left. We managed to demolish a lot of steak and a lot of frites and a surprisingly copious amount of green salad. Service was polite, efficient and surprisingly French throughout. This was a definite crowd pleaser. The Verdict: I like it.
Jue Lan Club: In the mood for Asian food the morning after the wedding — and in an attempt to relive our youth — we dropped into Jue Lan Club, located within the old Limelight. (I really can’t believe The Limelight is now a gym, a set of boutique shops, and a Chinese restaurant.) Service was oddly elderly Italian and it was all you can drink Bellinis. (Or maybe it was just two Bellinis. That’s what I had. Two Bellinis.) The food was nothing to write home about, and the atmosphere was oddly quiet and oddly odd. We should have gone to Chinatown. The Verdict: Pass.
Cosme: You know how after you spend a lot of time with friends and family, you really need an escape? Well Cosme was mine. I booked a table for one here seriously within a month I think of seeing the new season of Netflix Chef’s Table, featuring chef Enrique Olvera and his restaurant in Mexico City, Pujol. I liked Cosme, but the service was just so darn fast, I was done with my meal in about 45 minutes. (My server was tremendously sweet, to be fair.) It’s a very large space — cavernous — and the tables are spread out, which is nice. The Verdict: Good but not as good as Pujol. Plus, too fast for me.
I spent a few nights with my brother in Astoria and understood immediately why he liked it so much there. Lots of cool restaurants and bars and a great neighborhood vibe. The area is rapidly gentrifying though…highrises taking the place of old bungalows. I had to work a lot while I was at my brother’s, so I relied on him to bring me food: New York pizza, bagel sandwiches, and the occasional empanada, but here are a few places I tried while I was in the hood.
The Sparrow Tavern: I REALLY liked The Sparrow. It was pretty expensive for what it was…I think lunch for two was $50…but the old school meets new school vibe was great, our server was great, and my pulled pork sandwich was surprisingly tasty. Also…the pickles were excellent. This experience was probably helped by the fact that my brother apparently eats here a lot. The Verdict: Go if you are in the ‘hood.
Mosaic: Much like I had my getaway moment at Cosme, I also had my getaway moment at Mosaic, a wine bar down the street from my brother’s. Yes, I went to a bar by myself while I was in Astoria. But my brother had a late work call so it was just me and the dog hanging out. Rather than just sit around and watch TV, I checked Foursquare for places to go in the ‘hood and they directed me here. I liked Mosaic, although I liked the drunk people sitting next to me less. Also, they need to check their margins on the roast nuts they’re selling. I can’t believe how large my portion was for the price. The Verdict: It’s okay. Better with friends probably.
I’m probably missing more than a few bagel places on this list, and then there’s also the bar at The Waldorf Astoria, which my cousin Jen and I hit up late one night — best line of the trip: “What do you mean you’re closing in ten minutes? I thought this was the city that never sleeps!!??”
Let’s face it. Everyone needs more Chablis in their life. EVERYONE. As a keen consumer of Chardonnay — yes, just call me Bridget Jones — Chablis and I are well-acquainted. But to be fair, that’s about all I’ve ever really known about Chablis. It’s Chardonnay. Without the oak that American Chardonnays tend to so heavily favor.
Douglas Blyde, Masterof Big Words, did me the honor of including my name on the guest list for his Bacchus on a Knife Edge Supper Club at Andaz Studio in The Andaz Hotel in Liverpool Street. (If you’re ever looking for an event space, you should consider Andaz Studio.) I returned the favor of his invitation with a dramatically, dramatically delayed blog post. See, I’ve spent the last six weeks, chained to my laptop, imprisoned in my own apartment, as I try to get a lot of work done in a very small window of time so that I can just hang out and relax for the rest of the year. (Right.) It’s been insane to say the least. Sorry Douglas. And sorry too to the lovely Thomas from Sopexa, the PR firm representing the Bourgogne Wine Board.
What did I learn about Chablis? It’s had a terrible year so far. Hail, floods and frost everywhere, significantly damaging yields. I also learned about the “Four Sisters” of Chablis: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Crus and Grand Crus.
Our evening started with tiny Norwegian fishcakes and cured cucumber filled with crab and avocado salad. They had been prepared by Martina and Magdelena of the NORDISH supper club. These were tasty little bites, but I wanted more! So I filled up on Chablis instead, quaffing as much as I could of the citrusy Petit Chablis (Pas Si Petit, 2014, La Chablisienne) while we waited to be seated.
Shortly after taking our seats, Hana of Pickled Plates delivered a lovely summer vegetable salad with roasted radishes, brown butter dressing, pan-fried whiting and tempura samphire. I could have had two of these, but I couldn’t really because that would have been hedonistically rude of me. (I am a Taurus though.) So I drank more Chablis instead. This time, a clean and fresh Alain Geoffroy 2014 Chablis, which paired well with the spring-like flavors on our plate. (Even though it was summer.)
I was giddy now with anticipation of the main event…also, possibly giddy with hunger. Chef Rosie must of anticipated this because she presented us all with a hugely huge pork chop and a generous portion of rice. The soy and miso glaze on the pork chop was fantastic. Douglas chose Julien Brocard’s Chablis, La Boissonneuse to accompany our mains (also 2014). La Boissonneuse was the first Chablis of the night to demonstrate a little bit of oakiness, which helped it stand up to the flavors and textures of the pork chop. Now…now…you could roll me out ot Andaz Studio. I was FULL. Full of food, full of Chablis and having one of those “Life is grand!” moments as the conversation swirled around me.
Then something amazing happened. UNPASTEURIZED CHEESE. And BUCKETS of Chablis. I mean, let’s give Douglas some credit here. He knows how to throw a good party. EVERY party needs to end with huge boards of cheese and huge buckets of Chablis. In front of us, there was Stichelton from Nottinghamshire, Bleu d’Auvergne, Baron Bigod from Bungay, Camembert from Normandy, Montgomery Cheddar from North Cadbury, Somerset, and finally, my personal favorite, Comté. In the buckets, we found:
Domaine William Fevre, Vaulorent, Premier Cru 2012
Jean Paul et Benoit Valmur Grand Cru 2012
Clotilde Davenne Les Preuses Grand Cru 2008
Domaine Laroche Les Blanchots Grand Cru 2007
Given the tough year that Chablis is having, as you’re out there doing you weekly shop and perusing the wine aisle, find yourself some Chablis. Not only will you be enjoying a tremendously versatile wine, you’ll be supporting a region that’s been hard hit by weather lately, which may have knock-on effects in 2017.
Tremendous thanks to Douglas, Thomas from Sopexa, and our supper club hosts who put together a fantastic evening for both the attendees and for Chablis. I know what I will be drinking a lot more of this year. So should you!
My cousin — who will forever be eight in my mind — got married in New York in June. It was a great excuse to spend some time in Manhattan — this would be a real New York wedding, attended by all New Yorkers, smack dab in the middle of the city.
Because I wasn’t quite sure what would all be involved in the wedding, I wanted to stay close to the venue, a catering hall and steakhouse across the street from the Waldorf Astoria. I also knew that because I would be in New York for over a week, I didn’t want to break the bank. New York has a way of adding up — especially after all the eating and drinking — so I was already planning on staying with my brother in Astoria for a few nights. After a bunch of comparison shopping, I settled on The Benjamin on 50th and Lexington, just a two block walk from where the wedding would take place.
Thanks to all those years in financial services, when I give myself a budget, I stick with it! I used some Expedia points that I’ve had hanging around for a while and got my two night-stay down from $584.60 to $506.94 or $253.47 a night. If you don’t know about Expedia points, you can essentially earn up to 2 Expedia Rewards Point per $1 spent on flights, hotels, activities, and packages that include a hotel. Then you can redeem those points for flights and hotels on Expedia. The great thing is that you can still totally “double dip” and still earn frequent flyer miles and hotel points on your stays too. (Note that I use my points through my US Expedia account. I believe the UK program is different and involves Nectar points but don’t quote me.)
My brother dropped me off at the hotel and the staff couldn’t have been lovelier. Check-in was efficient and friendly. The hotel lobby is super small and not a place to linger so I quickly headed up to my room.
The room had a microwave, which I thought was a great touch, and one of the most fully-stocked minibars I’ve ever seen. Later in the day, I popped out to Duane Reade — who doesn’t love an American pharmacy — for microwave popcorn (pun fully intended) so I could have a little snack after the wedding festivities. For some reason, I spend a lot of time in Duane Reades when I am in New York. Standard shopping list: Secret deodorant; Gillette razor blades (they are much cheaper in the US); People and US magazines, maybe InStyle too; Twizzlers; big fat tubes of Colgate toothpaste; Ziploc bags in all sizes (!!!); Pond’s Cold Cream (Super cheap and I love it); Noxema (again, super cheap but I love it); Tylenol PM (jet lag cure); tortillas (I’m serious); and maybe, just maybe if I feel like risking glass jars in my suitcase, a few jars of Pace Picante Sauce — yum.
The Verdict: The hotel restaurant at The Benjamin as nothing to write home about — my ceasar salad was distinctly unmemorable — and the hotel’s elevators were tiled like showers, which was a little odd. But the bell staff were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met and the wifi was free and plentiful. All in all, The Benjamin is a sweet little hotel in a convenient location. I recommend it.