May 2018: Spring Staycation
Happy June! I can’t believe that we are rapidly heading towards the midway point of the year already. Wasn’t it just Christmas?
I began May in NYC and ended it in Alderney, with a couple of weeks at home in London in between. I’m going to focus on my time in London for this post because I think the New York trip deserves one or two of its own to do it justice. Also, the amount of content would get wildly out of control and you’d all lose the will to live halfway through.
The day after my return from NY, Sara arrived for Eurovision week so I was lucky enough to have a staycation immediately after my vacation. I love it when she comes to the city as we always adventure and try new places along with revisiting old favourites.
No 1A, Duke Street, Richmond
Sipped on: Elderflower & Earl Grey Fizz
Feasted on: House Salad with quinoa, edamame, squash, beets, broccoli & seaweed
The sister restaurant to the awesome No197 Chiswick Fire Station – No 1A is tucked away in a courtyard off Duke Street in Richmond. It might not be as architecturally impressive as it’s sibling but it has the same great atmosphere. We sat in the bright front area (there is a large second room with a bar in the back,) to avoid the blazing early afternoon sunshine. I had a refreshing gin cocktail & the same salad that I ate last September at the Fire Station. One of a couple of vegan options, the house salad manages to be light, flavoursome and filling at the same time. No1A doesn’t specialise in any one kind of cuisine so it’s a good spot if you need to cater to a variety of tastes.
Élan Cafe, Knightsbridge
Sipped on: Soya flat white
Feasted on: Pumpkin Vegan cake
Visiting Élan was a last minute decision after a snafu with the train into Waterloo (thank you SWR!) We were aiming to have a post-yoga lunch but before we knew it, 3pm had rolled around and it didn’t seem worth it to have a full meal with drinks + dinner on the schedule so cake seemed a good call.
Located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, Élan is incredibly instagrammable and thus very popular. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait for more than a couple of minutes to be seated. That said, the service was disorganised and we then waited a while to be given a menu and have our order taken. One member of staff was new and in training, so it could just have been a bad day. Food-wise there were a couple of sweet vegan options on offer so I went for the pumpkin cake. It was moist and tasty but ultimately nothing special. Some of the ‘normal’ cakes did look beautiful though.
What sets this cafe apart is the decorative elements, phrases embedded in the floor and floral installations everywhere. There is a wall of flowers in the back room so if you can, try and nab one of those tables for fun selfies. As I hadn’t pre-planned this visit, I was dressed practically so I could hop in the ball pit later at Ballie Ballerson so I wasn’t at my most picture ready. If I do return I’d head there more prepared.
If you visit, head there for the vibe, not the food.
Kaia at The Ned, Bank
Sipped on: Yuzu Splash – Yuzu Sake, grapefruit, lemon, cucumber, kombucha
Feasted on: Rainbow Poké Bowl – rice, papaya, avocado & tamari nuts
Kaia is one of 7 restaurants & bars housed on the ground floor of The Ned, now a luxury hotel – part of the Soho House group. In its former life, the building was a bank & all of the eateries are housed in what was the former banking hall. They’ve left the area open plan so you get a real sense of the space and grandeur of the place.
Kaia specialises in healthy Asian-pacific food, with sushi, sashimi, robata grilled items and poké bowls. I went for the latter and it was the by far the best poké bowl I have ever had the pleasure of eating and I’ve munched my way through a few, before and after I began to eat a predominantly plant-based diet. It was so fresh, packed full of flavour + texture plus the portion was enormous. I wanted to finish it all but it defeated me – great value too at only £9.
As a kombucha fan, I was happy to see it as part of a cocktail at Kaia. I almost felt virtuous while drinking it.
I don’t have much cause to be in the Bank area these days, but I liked Kaia enough to come across town to eat there again. I’d also be interested in trying out the other spots at The Ned in the future.
Bluebird Cafe, White City
Sipped on: TVC Sour – Pisco, Rhubarb liquor, pineapple, lemon juice
Feasted on: Quinoa, toasted corn & smoked almond salad + fries
I’ve been meaning to check out Bluebird in Chelsea for years but am still, somehow, yet to make it. So I was excited to see that D&D was opening a sister Bluebird Cafe in White City, a much more convenient location for me as I often nip over to Westfield London.
We arrived at the tail end of lunchtime totally ravenous – so, fortunately, it wasn’t too busy. I liked that the cocktail menu had plenty of nods to the fact that the restaurant is located on the site of the former Television Centre – now converted into a mixed-use development. The drink I picked was called TVC Sour and it was the perfect balance of tart, sweet & refreshing. As for the main – the quinoa, toasted corn and smoked almond salad had a great blend of flavour and texture and completely hit the spot. We also ordered some fries due to our starving state but unfortunately, they forgot to put in that part of the order so we had to chase up and wait a while. We were also left waiting a while to get our hands on the bill but otherwise, the service was friendly and attentive.
This is a good spot if you want a quality yet casual lunch in the area, outside of the Westfield chains. The brasserie-style menu is diverse so there should be something for all.
The Gate, Hammersmith
Sipped on: Peach Bellini
Feasted on: Thai Red Curry with tofu, okra, plantain, shiitake, baby corn and sticky rice + sweet potato wedges
Having been around since 1989 (like me!) The Gate is a well established and highly regarded restaurant on the London vegetarian scene. Now a trio – there are outposts in Marylebone & Islington, the Hammersmith branch is the original – tucked away in a courtyard off Queen Caroline street.
We came on a Friday night at 9pm, fresh from working out hard at Balance Festival (see below) so ready to eat. The dining room was completely packed with the tables crammed together – verging on uncomfortably so. We waited an excessively long time to place our order. The people at the table beside us arrived later and already had their drinks by the time someone came to serve us which was disappointing. Then the drinks which we initially ordered were unavailable along with multiple other options so we ended up with the peach bellinis by default.
Fortunately post-ordering we didn’t go on to wait too long for the food. My Thai Red Curry was pleasant if lacking in heat both in spice and temperature. I did enjoy it but something was missing in the flavour, I think it was overall underseasoned. The sweet potato wedges were excellent.
It was my first visit to The Gate and while I overall enjoyed myself, I wasn’t wowed by anything. It might not have helped that I’d just returned from New York where I was spoiled by excellent vegan food. I’m willing to give the place another go & try a different dish in future, maybe at a time where the staff are less busy.
11 Coffee & Co, East Sheen
Sipped on: Turmeric Latte w/ almond milk
Feasted on: Vegan Spinach Shakshuka
11 is my favourite local cafe in East Sheen. I’ve said before on Instagram that it is my ‘nearest & dearest’ and it’s completely true. I pop in regularly for take-out coffee & a slice of vegan cake and love to go there for food when I get the opportunity. The cafe has a cosy but modern atmosphere & the staff are always so friendly and accommodating.
We popped in for Saturday brunch and I tried out the vegan spinach Shakshuka for the first time (they also serve a more traditional tomato based vegan option and a standard one with eggs). An excellent choice, it was filling whilst still being light and the soft spinach and mushrooms were perfect with the crunch of the toasted bread.
No11 also have a really comprehensive choice of different hot drinks. The chai & turmeric lattes are my personal favourites.
Ping Pong, Westfield London, White City
Sipped on: Jasmine Pearl tea
Feasted on: Spicy vegetable dumpling, golden dumplings, vegetable spring roll, vegetable bun, chilli aubergine rice pot
Ping Pong was our lunch choice on the final day of staycation. We were still struggling after the excesses of Eurovision night so cocktails were off the menu and tea was on instead. Ping Pong may be a chain but the food is always reliable and they helpfully have different versions of the menu available for different diets or eating concerns, saving a laborious trawl through, figuring out what might work.
There are plenty of vegan options and as usual, when visiting, we ordered way too much food – I had to take my two vegetable bao home to eat later!
Ballie Ballerson, Shoreditch
Sipped on: Prosecco, Salt Bae – rum, pineapple, orange, macadamia & The David Bowie – vodka, bitters, cassis, lavender
This is a bar with a ball pit for adults and it’s ultra fun.
We got upgraded to the VIP section so had an included coupe glass of prosecco each, along with a pizza – which Sara did an exceptional job of working through while I chewed on some of the crust.
The cocktail menu is unusual, it’s not your classic fare but full of concoctions to appeal to the childish spirit within. I had to get the Salt Bae (any of you who don’t know who Salt Bae is – please meet my favourite Instagram video ever) I’m a huge fan of sweet & salty flavours in combination so this hit the spot.
I was pretty tipsy by the time Sara and I split The David Bowie (it was second choice after a Harry Potter themed drink) but I remember enjoying, also it came with a glittery lipstick so whats not to love.
The ball pit itself was hilarious and also hard work. Getting up when I fell over was a core strength challenge. Hold onto your phone because if you drop anything in here, good luck ever finding it again. As we’d come early in the evening it wasn’t overcrowded so we had plenty of room to wallow in balls.
There was just one server for the VIP area – we had some trouble attracting her attention to grab the bill as she was busy dealing with a big group. Fortunately, I was able to push back our dinner reservations by 45mins otherwise we’d have been late.
A great spot if you want to be a big kid again, with the added bonus of getting to make lots of ball jokes and puns.
Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour, Covent Garden
Sipped on: The Henrietta – vodka, cranberry, lime juice, raspberry syrup, ginger beer & Moët Be Seated Now – gin, jasmine pearl tea syrup, lemon juice, Moët & Chandon Champagne
After previous visits to Mr Fogg’s Tavern & Residence, this was the one which we needed to complete the set of his establishments. The Gin Parlour is located upstairs from the Tavern (they have separate entrances but share a bathroom.) While the latter is a drop in affair, the Parlour requires online reservations in advance.
On walking up the staircase, we were transported into an old-fashioned, chintzy parlour with wait staff decked out in period dress. The cocktail menu isn’t as extensive as at Residence but there is still a large choice of cocktails and a huge gin list. The first one I picked, The Henrietta was a fruity and refreshing affair and I worked through it quickly. My second pick – Moët Be Seated Now was a real star, again refreshing but with an unusual twist.
Residence is my overall favourite (go there and try the Drunken Parrot – it’s exceptional!) but the Gin Parlour is a fun spot if you enjoy themed bars and olde worlde charm. I’d like to come again – there is a cocktail with pickle juice as a key ingredient that I’d like to have a sip out of curiosity. Sara wasn’t having any of that but I think my boyfriend will oblige, so something for later in the year.
Balance Festival was the most incredible day out. We headed over to the Truman Brewery early to attend a panel discussion about social media with fitness & nutrition powerhouses: Dr Hazel Wallace, Ella Mills, Carly Rowena, Alice Liveing & Shona Vertue with Zanna Van Dyk moderating. It was fascinating and inspirational to hear all of these ladies speaking about their careers and journey so far. It was a good reminder that nothing happens overnight and the importance of tenacity and a love of what you’re doing.
We spent a lot of time wandering around the site, checking the food item stands & fitness brands. I discovered multiple new dairy-free products and came home with a haul of samples & a gazillion tote bags.
We took 2 classes in the boutique studios. The first one was at Un1t – a competitive HIIT class. This was a humbling experience for me because I struggled. A lot. To the point where there was a moment that I was on the verge of throwing up and had to take a short break. However, I did manage to rally and get back in there so I’m proud of myself for persevering. It was good for me to try because it showed up some deficiencies in my fitness which I’d like to work on. That said, I don’t think I would try a competitive class again because I don’t want to let my teammates down should I need to rest. I feel that it could result in me pushing myself too hard and not being mindful of my body’s limits.
The second class at Xtend Barre was more up my street and played to my strengths. It was a combination of Jane Fonda style aerobics, ballet and pilates. I found this one fun and a decent workout even if my coordination left a lot to be desired.
Post workout, we got free facials at Murad – they used the Environmental Shield range on me – my skin was felt dreamy afterwards. I’m hankering for the Advanced Active Radiance Serum now! Followed this up with a makeover by Sport FX so despite all the earlier sweat we left looking in good shape.
There was a small but high-quality selection of food stands:
Breakfast was oatmeal from Sano To Go & we grabbed a late lunch of poké bowls from Ahi Poké – my tofu and sweet potato number is in the header for this post. But the best thing we encountered was the Bailey’s Almande stand where a vegan doughnut topped cocktail was on offer. Heaven.
I’ve mentioned it before, I LOVE Eurovision and it’s even better when I have a whole bunch of people keeping me company while viewing. Many cocktails were consumed prior, much gin and prosecco were consumed during and all kinds of weird Insta stories appeared. Also, we were all smothered in glitter (biodegradable of course.) But most of all a lot of fun was had and a major bop won.
So that was our staycation! It looks like June is going to be a quieter month and that’s probably for the better. I’ve got a big assignment that I need to finish up for my Anatomy & Physiology class + revision to do before the exam next month so time to get focused.
As for the blog, I still have May’s Lookfantastic box to review and then I’ll get on to New York – looking forward to writing those posts and revisiting the memories!