Thursday, November 24, 2016

Travel Talk: What's In My (Carry-On) Bag

I'm always curious to sneak a peek into other peoples' bags at airports - I want to know all their travel secrets! What are they reading? A Kindle? A paperback? A hardback? What kind of headphones to they use? Neck pillow? Snacks?

So, I decided to put a little twist on the "what's in my bag" blog post and show you what I pack when I'm about to board a long-haul flight.


I have a little ritual before I go on vacation: pedicure, followed by a magazine purchase (or two). I always read Conde Nast Traveller when I travel. I know! It seems so counterintuitive - what weirdo would want to read about other destinations when they're already on holiday? This weirdo. I love travel writing though, and I find the articles and images so inspiring. 


Once, I didn't bring any snacks with me on a long-haul flight and ... I pretty much inhaled breakfast when it was served and had to distract myself from hunger by watching a pretty forgettable movie beforehand. Now, unless I'm flying Business class (which is like, never, btw - okay, once or twice), I always bring a snack. For a recent trip, I brought these Kind bars, which are delicious and nutritious (see what I did there?). They're not too sweet, like some other bars (which leaves a horrible taste in your mouth when you're travelling) and they come in sweet and savoury flavors. The bars are made from whole nuts, fruits, and whole grains, so they keep you comfortably full until the next meal is served. I'm a fan of the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond flavor, which you can buy here.

Avene Thermal Water Spray - Travel Size

I know I go on and on about this spray, but it really is a miracle product. I mist it over my face every two hours or so during the flight and it is such a relief from the dry cabin air. You can find it at Boots. I also like to slather a bit of Laneige's Water Sleeping Mask on my face as well, to keep it well-hydrated (though my mom once asked me why my face was so shiny when I disembarked, so maybe wipe it off when you land!).


I get a super attractive oily and dry face on flights, so I always carry a pressed powder compact with me so I can dab at my face before we land and carry at least a passing resemblance to my passport photo at border control. 


I'm totally conscious of other passengers who might be allergic to perfume, so I avoid applying any fragrance on the flight itself, but I do this just after disembarking because - unless you're flying in a cabin with a private shower (check you out!) - no one smells great when they first step off a flight. I love these roller-ball fragrances that are exclusive to Sephora US and always pick up one or two when I'm visiting the States.

Eye shade

Must. Block. Out. All. The. Light. I alternate between the pretty one you see here (made from Liberty fabric by a friend of mine) or the one I rave about in this post.

Gigantic Scarf

One that can double as a blanket or a cape or a pillow, etc. I've got a great one from & Other Stories but if I'm travelling to a colder climate, I like to use a cashmere wrap.

What are your carry-on essentials? Let me know in the comments below!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Interior Inspiration: Have Yourself a Very Hygge Christmas

After visiting The Duke of York Square earlier this week and seeing all the magical, festive decorations, I started feeling really excited for Christmas - particularly as my mom and dad arrive in less than three weeks (LOLs, just kidding- I'm actually freaking out, but oh well). We're taking a short trip to Amsterdam and Cologne to visit the Christmas markets and I just placed our Christmas food order at Waitrose (we're having honey-glazed ham this year *mini fist pump*) so ... all systems are go.

Last weekend, John dug out our Christmas decorations from the attic and, well, it sounds stupid, but my heart swelled a little at having Christmas decorations that are ours to use every year. I woke up early, baked some banana bread, and it all felt very ... hygge. You know, that Danish concept of "coziness" that's been blowing up your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The week before, I'd been on a little Christmas shopping spree at T.K. Maxx and - you guys - I was like a kid in a candy store. I mean, seriously. I've written about how much I love T.K. Maxx before, but the hunt for the most glorious bargain is more fun than the actual item itself.

Case in point: I couldn't wait to light these beautifully-scented candles encased in simple gold and silver glass, which I found by literally getting on my hands and knees and rummaging behind rows of other candles before emerging, triumphant.

The scent of that Golden Shortbread candle combined with smell of banana bread emerging from the oven was heavenly and very hygge. The Fresh Cut Pine candle is lovely on our coffee table and creates a cozy ambience for Netflix and chill (literally chilling, folks - it's not that kind of blog!).

I also love wrapping presents and writing Christmas cards. In fact, I think I might like preparing for Christmas even more than I like the holiday itself - oops.

T.K. Maxx always has amazing surprises in the stationery department and there's always something that manages to perfectly reflect my personality. On my visit, I found these pretty cards, gift tags, wrapping paper, and ribbon:

I'm not gonna lie ... I like having creative control over Christmas decorations and pretty much ban anything that's red and green. Sorry. I'm a Grinch like that.

John hates this (in fact, he calls me a not-very-nice name, but I'll look past that as he will be solely responsible for carrying the tree home this year), but I love having a Scandi-leaning, silver/black/gold decor-scheme.

So, I was very excited to find this acorn garland, which I plan to display in our living room (and/or on our Christmas tree. Tip: don't leave it on the floor for your unsuspecting husband to step on when he wakes up for work at 5:30 in the morning. It's kind of spiky.):

Are you looking forward to Christmas? Do you have decorations that you like to put up every year? Let me know in the comments!

Products shown were provided by T.K. Maxx. All opinions are my own. Shop their stores here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Taste of Christmas at The Duke York Square

The Duke of York Square is one of my favorite places in London to eat, shop, and generally hang out. The Saatchi Gallery is a must-visit for any art enthusiast and Partridges food market is somewhat of an institution for American expats in London, thanks to its plentiful supply of American products (I go there for my Lucky Charms fix).

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Square to experience the festive decorations, get gift ideas (I'm still not done with my Christmas shopping - I really wanted to finish it early this year!), and try the tasty new Festive Menu at Gallery Mess restaurant.

Thanksgiving is on Thursday (!), so I was super excited to sample Partridges' pumpkin and pecan pies - which did not disappoint. Pumpkin pie is by far my favorite Thanksgiving dessert and Partridges' version was delightful: the filling was rich and creamy, offset with a light and flaky crust. I'm dying to try it with a generous dollop of whipped cream on top! Luckily for me, they come in convenient personal-sized portions, so I'm definitely going back to get my own.

I also loved their Christmas-themed hampers, which I'm thinking of getting for our next door neighbors as a "thank you" for putting up with all our disruptive garden work over the summer (oops). Nothing says, "Sorry-about-the-drilling-at-7:45-a.m. like a hamper full of Christmas puddings, panettone, and champagne.

From Partridges, we stopped in for a visit to L.K. Bennett to view their seasonal gift options. I've been a long-time fan of L.K. Bennett (and even wore a pair of their beautifully-made, nude-colored heels to my wedding) and am always admiring the shoes, although their accessories are tempting as well.

I spied this chic, light grey cross-body bag in their seasonal offerings, and was instantly smitten. Inspired by the shape and design of vintage camera bags, it looks achingly cool when paired with the personalized initial stickers from L.K. Bennett's recent collaboration with Boyarde.

I immediately made a mental note to put the exact color on my Christmas/birthday wishlist (since my birthday is in December).

The luxurious wool and cashmere pom-pom hats and corresponding pom-pom bag charms also caught my eye - ideal for the sudden drop in temperature. I particularly liked the eye-catching magenta, which tempted me to step away from my usual uniform of grey and black (who am I kidding? If I had to choose, I'd probably choose black. Again.).

L.K. Bennett's new range of candles would also make great gifts for colleagues, or as a stocking stuffer. I left with a gorgeous Red Berry candle, which I've happily added to my collection of winter candles at home. Come Christmas Day, my house will be beautifully scented (which it'll have to be, to cover the inevitable burning coming from the oven)!

Reluctantly tearing myself away from the colorful pom-poms and dream handbags, we made our way to Liz Earle, a brand that has been a staple in my skincare repertoire for years. In fact, I liked it so much after I tried it, I bought it for my mom, my mother-in-law, and even ... John (he's a devotee of their men's range).

The Duke of York Square branch of Liz Earle regularly holds workshops and events; we were lucky enough to take part in a wreath-making workshop, led by Jo Woodward of Columbia Creative.

As Jo taught us how to pin, tuck, and arrange the deliciously scented pieces of our wreath, the lovely ladies at Liz Earle described how some of the very same items we were adding (for example, lavender, berries, and oranges) are also found in Liz Earle products.

Liz Earle has some fantastic gift sets and fragrances available at the moment (I personally love the limited edition hot cloth cleansers - this year's "Winter Icon" is the Sweet Orange & Clove Limited Edition cleanser and it smells divine) and it gave me great gift ideas for my girlfriends and mother-in-law.

The wreaths we made were also designed to fit a luxurious botanical candle - it would make a beautiful Christmas table centrepiece, which is how I intend to use mine.

I posted this photo of my wreath on Instagram and was inundated with questions about where to make one! Liz Earle at The Duke of York Square will be hosting more wreath-making workshops before Christmas, so head to their website and social media channels to receive updates.

After working up an appetite pinning our cinnamon sticks and coconut husk stars to our wreaths, we made our way to Gallery Mess at the Saatchi Gallery for dinner. They're currently showcasing a Festive Menu, which features dishes with a decidedly Christmas twist: Barbary duck breast with mulled red cabbage, clementine and star anise jus, stone bass with sage roasted parsnip, salsify and kale, plus a delicious veggie option of broccoli and blue cheese souffle with salt baked celeriac, shaved celery and candied walnuts.

I confess to eating my duck breast in a hurry, because I couldn't wait for dessert. But, while we're on the subject, my duck breast was beautifully cooked: tender and slightly pink in the middle. Not usually one for citrus flavors in savoury dishes, I was surprised by how much I liked the clementine wedges, each charred and finished with a delightfully smokey taste. I closed my eyes for a second and imagined wood-burning fires and warm country pubs.

Before long, my main course had disappeared and I eagerly anticipated dessert: chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream. Too much? Perhaps. Indulgent? Definitely.

But so worth it.

I loved slicing my fork into the middle of that chocolate fondant and seeing the molten-hot chocolate center ooze onto the plate. I admit that the addition of the salted caramel ice cream might have been a tad too sweet for the dessert, even for my sweet-tooth-inclined palette, but it's a Christmas dessert - so it's got to be a little over the top. Still, no regrets.

Also: I don't usually like Christmas pudding, but even Aftab's dessert looked enticing from across the table.

After dinner, I left the group a bit early to take another look at the Square. With the shops shut but the facades still lit and illuminated, I stopped for a moment to take in the beautiful Christmas trees and festive decorations.

Suddenly, the realization that my parents were arriving in less than three weeks' time made me super excited. And while I'd taken my mom to Cadogan Hall for a concert before (it's my favorite classical music venue in London - I performed there a couple years ago and wrote an article in TimeOut London about it!), we never had a chance to visit the Duke of York Square in all its Christmas-sy glory. So, right then and there, I added it to our itinerary.

I can't wait. Pumpkin pie and all.

I was a guest of The Duke of York Square. All opinions are my own. Special thanks to Mina, Evie, and the staff at L.K. Bennett, Liz Earle, and Gallery Mess restaurant for making our visit so very special!


Friday, November 18, 2016

This Is The Week That ...

This is the week that ...

... I won second place in a pub quiz with friends.

Last time we came in first, and really, John and I only contributed to 5 points of this 118 point 90s-themed quiz (the rest of it was totally up to our friends, Lynne and Rachel), but to place second (well, tied-second) out of 15 teams? Not bad. Not bad at all. (Also, seriously: can you name EVERY member of the Backstreet Boys? Every time I tried to conjure up a name - besides Nick Carter - only the smiling faces of 'NSYNC would pop into my head. Lynne made the mistake of saying, "What about Nick Lachey?" and I snapped at her, "NO, HE WAS IN 98 DEGREES, DUH.")

... I asked an Etsy seller to customize a pair of embossed leather luggage tags to read, "Mrs. & Mrs." instead of "Mr. & Mrs." and he was happy to oblige. 

I mean, the fact that I felt nervous and anxious after I sent my request off to him made me feel so sad. What if his response was negative? How do my LGBTQ friends deal every day with this kind of shit? It was that realization that hit me hard. But thankfully, his response was helpful and positive. So, shout out to KarlvonArtistry's beautiful leather goods shop on Etsy.

... I had a pleasant exchange with the guy next to me on the bus.

Which never happens in London. We're in our own little bubbles and our end-goal is to get from Point A to Point B with as little human interaction as possible. Period. But I sat next to him on the top deck of the bus on Wednesday night and we had a little awkward, "Are you getting off ...? Oh, let me get out of the way if you are ..." mini-conversation, which then turned into jokes and small talk about how bad London traffic is, etc. Folks, it was the smallest thing, but it was real and it was a reminder that there is some humanity left in the world right now.

... a nice lady picked up my receipt which had my order number on it, after I dropped it during the mad pre-work rush at POD.

If you're not familiar with POD, they have this stressful (but, actually, totally smart) system of having two lines - one for ordering, one for picking up your order - and calling out your order number when it's ready. I was pre-occupied with checking my phone (obvs) and accidentally dropped my receipt, when a lady to my right noticed, swooped in, and said, "Oh! Don't lose that!" with a friendly smile and handed it back to me. Again, so small, but just - a kind gesture.

... I made a few (tough) phone calls to my Senators and Congressmen back home about my concerns.

My heart was pounding and I felt tearful, but I wrote a short script, read it aloud to the staffers who answered the phone, asked them when I could expect to receive a response, and was met with positivity on the other end of the line. If you're a US citizen, you can find your local representatives here, and if you're calling from the UK, you can use ZipCall to call for free, from your phone. If you don't know where to start, my friend linked this super helpful calling sheet, which you don't have to follow to the T, but it's a great jumping off point.

We need to be kind to each other right now, and do things that will make us feel better. Last week, I was all about staying in, lighting candles, and baking banana bread. And that's okay. I needed that. This week, I wanted to act, so I did. I have a few more calls to make.

Have a wonderful weekend. Thank you, always, for being here for me. xo

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The First Sunday Roast of the Season @ The Bell, Walthamstow

I'd forgotten how much I missed having a good Sunday roast. Specifically, a hot plate filled to the edges with roast beef (or pork belly or chicken), a pile of roast vegetables, a big, fluffy cloud of a Yorkshire pudding - all swimming in a thick, rich gravy. Specifically, after a long, bracing walk in the cold - the kind of walk that leaves you with a runny nose, red cheeks, and numb toes.

We had that kind of Sunday roast a few weekends ago at The Bell in Walthamstow. They start serving lunch at 12, but we were warned that it would get busy and, sure enough, every table was taken by 1 pm.

For a lighter version of a Sunday roast, The Bell also serves roast meat of your choice between two soft pieces of brioche, but we arrived with big appetites, so went the whole hog (no pun intended).

While John cut into his roast beef (served with a generous portion of gravy and horseradish), I eagerly anticipated my roast pork belly. Although the crackling was too thick and tough to cut into, let alone eat (a bit disappointing), the belly itself was melt-in-the-mouth tender. Overall, the dish was a little under-seasoned (which I prefer to being overly salty), but it was so satisfying, I ate every last bite. I especially loved the tangy red cabbage buried under the mound of vegetables and the apple sauce - both perfect accompaniments for the pork belly.

Before our plates could be whisked away, we'd already decided on dessert: apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding. The heat radiating off our apple crumble plate was incredible - we warmed our hands above it like it was a fire! I only wished it was served with ice cream instead of double cream (I'm American like that).

Being the greedy guts that I am, I dipped my fork into my brother-in-law's sticky toffee pudding ... which was a bit on the dry side. But, happy with our apple crumble, I scooped the last mouthful into my mouth (which I'm pretty sure was still steaming hot).

I'm so looking forward to taking my parents to The Bell for a roast when they're here in December. What's your favorite place to go for a roast? We love making our own too (John's speciality is lamb and/or chicken ... I handle all the sides!).

Monday, November 14, 2016

Self-Care Saturday (+ A Giveaway!)

Last week was ... really hard. And to be honest, the past few days have been very difficult. As my friends and I struggled to comprehend the outcome of the US election (or rather, its consequences, as the outcome did not surprise me), I had to take breaks - breaks from social media, breaks from the news, breaks from reading the papers. Because it got a bit too much.

So, on Saturday, John and I decided to have a "self-care" day. A day where we'd stay in, be silly, watch lighthearted movies, and do things that would make us laugh and lighten the burden that's been sitting heavy on our hearts.

In the morning, I ordered brunch from EatFirst - in bed. It arrived to our door in the time-frame it said it would, I proceeded to whip it away from John so I could take a billion photographs, and then I forgot to heat half of it up.

Oh well.

It looked pretty and it was delicious. I particularly loved the colorful Cannon & Cannon brunch charcuterie and the scotch eggs, which would be terrific for a picnic in warmer weather.

On Sunday, I went to a yoga class in Leyton and the teacher spoke of compassion, of healing, and of protecting our hearts. I nearly burst into tears. It was just what I - and I think everyone in the room - needed to hear.

The sun seems to be setting earlier every day. As I type this on our couch at home, it's 3:48 in the afternoon, and the sun has disappeared behind the Victorian houses across the street. I'm listening to the radiators trickle to life and lighting candles as it goes dark outside.

I went to see my friend Rebecca's new flat last week and when I walked in, it was an oasis of calm: candles flickered in the living area and the most wonderful scent filled the room. Even as the sky grew dark, the candles kept the atmosphere warm and cozy.

Sometimes, scented candles feel like an unnecessary indulgence. But right now? In this darkness? They're kind of keeping me going.

One of my favorite winter scents is the Winter candle from The White Company. It's a delicious combination of cinnamon, clove, and fresh orange. The smell of it burning instantly transports me to Christmas Day. That's what I'm choosing to focus on right now during these weeks of turmoil, confusion, sadness, and frustration: the thought of celebrating Christmas with my family, with the scent of this candle wafting through our house.

To cheer us all up, I'm giving away a Winter candle to a reader. All you have to do is leave a comment below letting me know about how you're practicing self-care this week. I'll be picking one winner at random, to be announced on Friday morning, 18th November.

Good luck!

Candles provided by The White Company, a store I've loved for years. All opinions are my own. Shop The White Company candles here - I'm a fan of their three-wick candles!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hurry to the Haché Holborn Pop-Up!

Last Friday, I found myself pacing back and forth outside the Citadines hotel in Holborn, trying to find the Haché Burgers pop-up and on the phone to John, who had arrived before me.

"Am enjoying a glass of bubbly," he texted. "So no rush."

"Where are you?" I hissed when he answered the phone. "I'm standing opposite the Rosewood Hotel, just as you said and I can't find it!"

"It's part of another restaurant," he said, sounding quite merry, despite being on his own.

I squinted and bounded a few steps forward to Hush Brasserie, before tentatively heading downstairs to the Haché Burgers pop-up.

Dimly, but beautifully lit, and wonderfully atmospheric, the pop-up is running for two months - until the 23rd of December, at 95-97 High Holborn. Its blink-and-you'll-miss-it location gives it a bit of intrigue and secrecy. The downstairs bar and dining room is reminiscent of a speakeasy, though along with the well-stocked drinks shelf, staff can whip up a mean Oreo milkshake, we discovered - the perfect, sweet and creamy accompaniment to a salty, juicy burger and fries.

John ordered the original, Haché burger, made from the finest grilled 100% prime hachéd Scotch steak with a side of Bearnaise sauce.

Feeling slightly more peckish than him, due to an unsatisfactory lunch down the road, I went for the "Steak Canadien": the haché burger topped with sweet cured bacon and melted mature cheddar cheese. Naturally, I ordered a side of frites - skinny and crispy, just the way I like them.

The pop-up currently offers a more condensed version of Haché Burgers full menu and if you can't make it during its run in Holborn, then book a table at one of its permanent locations in Camden, Chelsea, Clapham, Shoreditch and Balham.

John and I were guests of Haché Burgers. All opinions are my own. The Haché Burgers pop-up can be found at 95-97 High Holborn until December 23rd.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Expat Talk: How Living in London Has Changed My "Style"

I recently read this post on one of my favorite blogs, Cup of Jo, and the reader comments fascinated me.

Some women praised Lisa Fine for her unique, vintage and menswear-inspired style (which, in my opinion, looked amazing and enviable) but others complained that they couldn't "relate" to her style and that, if attempted in their hometowns, would translate into looking "homeless" (which I found pretty offensive, by the way, as if homelessness could be diminished or compared to a fashion choice) or "too eclectic".

"I would love to see a more traditional style featured!" one reader exclaimed. "This style, while cute, would make me look homeless in my town." (Seriously?!)

Another requested that Jo profile someone with a "not particularly fashion-y style", whatever that means.

Amused, flabbergasted, and incensed all at once, I reflected on my own style and how it's evolved and adapted to big-city living since I first moved to London.

As I write this, I have an enormous, oversized black faux fur stole draped around my shoulders - because it's cold in the office and I'm writing this after work. But I know that this stole would never fly in my small hometown. There, the dress code is casual: jeans, leggings, yoga pants, and hoodies are typically worn to run errands, to the movies, to dinner ...

And, growing up, I wasn't particularly into fashion. I loved clothes and shopping, but this was before Instagram and fashion bloggers, so I had a pretty narrow view of what "fashion" actually meant. I dressed to fit in - as most of us do. And yeah, "fitting in" involved a kind of uniform, sourced from the same five or six stores at the suburban malls.

But then, I moved to London and as my style slowly changed, I began to realize that I was dressing to stand out. Not overly so - not like Susie Bubble, for example (who is so ridiculously cute and cool) - but in my own, subtle way.

I realized this when I sat down on the tube one morning, on my way to work, wearing a metallic pleated skirt, an oversized cashmere sweater that was falling off my shoulder, and space-age silver heels. I could imagine this look attracting stares (and not in a good way) in the Pacific Northwest, where the style is far more low-key and, well, less "fashion-y".

Today, I'm influenced by Scandi style from stores like COS or & Other Stories, plus the trendy, off-the-catwalk interpretations from fast fashion giants like Zara and Topshop. I definitely pay more attention to trends than I ever did before, clocking high-end brands via magazines, blogs, and Instagram, and curating my closet to reflect a more, well, "big city" me.

In many ways, that's precisely what I've loved about living in London. It's the city that gave me the creative impetus to express myself in the way I dress (sometimes I joke to my friends that I forget that I'm not an ultra-cool fashion blogger, and that I probably shouldn't wear about 60% of the things that I do!).

Sometimes, I go home (to the States) and my mom will ask me, "Why are you dressed so nicely? You're just going to the mall. You know how people here dress. There's no one to impress." And I'll be wearing black tights, a navy sweater dress and ballet flats - something that I'd normally wear on a casual day off in London.

So, back to this post on Cup of Jo: I love trawling Pinterest and Instagram and blogs to discover styles that are different to my own. Some I find aspirational and inspiring; others, I might admire but leave. Seeing the curious responses to this post on Cup of Jo made me really grateful to live in a city like London where no one blinks an eye if your outfit is outrageous (unless you work in an industry with a strict, professional dress code - I'm quite lucky because I work in publishing and it's kind of anything goes!).

But more importantly, I'm grateful to live in a city that doesn't make me feel anxious or insecure about my style or any other personal choice, for that matter; a city that doesn't box me in for fear of being "too eclectic" or "fashion-y". I moved to London to escape that kind of entrapment.

Here, I can be me. Finally.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

End-of-the-Week Treat @ Pan Chai, Harrods

Who, what, when, where:

Pan Chai at Harrods - a pan-Asian restaurant located in Harrods' food hall in Knightsbridge, specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine and, in particular, sushi. I visited two weeks ago with Udita, my best friend, who recently moved to London and happens to live nearby. (We somehow managed to re-enact our Mango Tree experience, whereby I waited for her to leave work by killing time in the Zara adjacent to Harrods before finding my dream item and nearly being late because of the long line, and then getting subsequently lost in the maze of beautiful, sparkly rooms in Harrods - but that's a story for another time.)

What to order:

Pan Chai's signature sushi rolls. We tried the "Black Dragon" (tiger prawn tempura, cucumber and avocado roll with caviar and unagi sauce) and the "Harrods Special" (fresh snow crab, avocado and spicy mayonaise roll, topped with chopped seared scallops, orange and black caviar and spring onions). The Harrods Special gave me pause when I popped a bite into my mouth: thrilling flavors and beautifully executed. It tasted indulgent and very, very special.

Udita put in a request for salmon sashimi, which arrived artfully arranged in a rose and topped with salmon roe.

The stir-fried seafood noodle arrived a few moments later, with jumbo prawns, scallops, clams, asparagus and teriyaki sauce - all served with matcha noodles (I totally ordered this dish for the matcha noodles). Totally extravagant, but so incredibly tasty. I joked to Udita that it was the type of food I'd love to order to my room if I had a penthouse suite above Harrods - the ultimate, most luxurious takeout that could really be enjoyed with a crisp glass of white wine (which we had) in front of Netflix. 

The teriyaki sauce used for the stir-fried noodles was unlike any other I've tried. It had a flavor I couldn't quite put my finger on: slightly similar to peanut butter, but not as cloying and strong. In any case, it was so tasty, I practically hoovered every last asparagus spear in the bowl.

Though desserts aren't on the menu, we ended the evening with hot cups of jasmine tea before venturing over to the food hall for gourmet cupcakes to-go, just to satisfy our sweet tooths.

Where to sit:

Toward the middle of the bar (we sat on the end, so we'd have some peace and quiet to also catch up and plan for our exciting trip to India in a few weeks' time) so you can catch the sushi chefs in action amongst the open-plan kitchen. Swivel the other way on your stool, and it's also a great place for people-watching!

When to go:

Like the previously reviewed Mango Tree, Pan Chai is the perfect place to stop for a mid-shopping break - but it's an even better end-of-the-week treat. While it's definitely more upscale than your usual sushi dinner date, the luxurious ingredients and unique menu make it feel like a real experience. (Plus, you're surrounded by great shopping opportunities! How could anyone say no?! Well, maybe my bank account ...)

Udita and I were guests of Pan Chai, Harrods. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Travel Link-Up: The Perfect Place To Elope

Four years ago, John and I eloped to Llandudno, Wales - a pretty, picturesque seaside town in Conwy county, North Wales, with a beautiful 17th-century manor house nearby, Bodysgallen Hall.

It was pretty much the happiest day of my life.

Last weekend, we returned to celebrate our four-year anniversary, but to also retrace our steps and memories of that wonderful day.

Although many women - and, indeed, girls - dream of their wedding day, I did not. The thought of wearing a white dress and walking down the aisle in front of a large audience (some of whom I might not even know) and saying my vows to this audience - words that were so personal and important to me - made me recoil.

Thankfully, we had understanding parents, and aside from the casual, "So, I'm getting married this weekend" email before, we didn't make much fuss of it (though we did celebrate a few months later with receptions on both sides of the pond, in Seattle and Oxford).

But that day in Llandudno, and our subsequent stay at the beautiful Bodysgallen Hall (where we had stayed before), will remain imprinted in my memory forever. It was an unseasonably warm, October's day; I remember the sun breaking through the clouds as we emerged from the ceremony for the photos by Llandudno Pier.

And that's why I'm a little hesitant to tell you about this place. Because it's special. It's mine. I mean, it's not particularly glamorous: several of the once-grand hotels that line the pier now stand empty and derelict. But it's lively and full of character. The pier was bursting with families this weekend. Mothers shouting at children, children jumping on bouncy castles, bouncy castles constructed so that it looked like the giant slide would send you right into the sea ... it was busy.

But as I walked down the pier, hand in hand with John, the edges sort of blurred and I couldn't hear the noise as it happened around me. Instead, I remembered exact places where we had our pictures taken; the man who passed us while walking his dog and wished us the best of luck; the view of the Great Orme behind us as we climbed into spinning teacups in our formal dress for another photo opportunity.

I became obsessed with marking my memories: "This is where we ate fish and chips afterwards!" "This is where the antique fair was held, remember? When the registrar was late?" "This is where we took that photo!"

This time, we did something we didn't have time to do that day: we took the cable car (the longest cable car in Britain, apparently) to the Great Orme summit, and stared out at the misty landscape. For a few, blissful minutes, it was completely and utterly silent (until tourists gathered behind us began to chat excitedly).  

At Bodysgallen, we stayed in the sweet Garden Cottage - one of eight, secluded cottages scattered amongst the grounds.  Because we arrived late on Friday evening, we ordered room service as soon as we were shown in. Wolfing down the type of sandwiches that might be made if you snuck down to the kitchen of a grand house at 12:00 a.m., we scurried to the bar in the main house, where we had drinks by the roaring fire and laughed at the absurdity of London life when this existed.

During the walk back to the cottage, we craned our necks up to the sky and saw a blanket of stars - something we never see in London, thanks to light pollution. We spun in circles with gravel crunching under our feet, looking for Orion, while identifying the Big Dipper and, yes, even the Milky Way.

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast enjoyed with views over the grounds and a newspaper at the table, we walked to Conwy and came across a small food and crafts fair, where we left as new, unwitting members of the Woodland Trust, before returning to Bodysgallen to dress up and get ready for dinner (Bodysgallen is one of the few hotels I've stayed in that has a dress code for dinner, and I secretly love it).

I slept the best sleep I'd had in weeks last weekend; tucked up in layers of blankets in the Garden Cottage. A small porthole window above the bed gently roused us the next morning, as did the birds settling in the trees just outside our door. 

The day of our departure, we walked again and again through the impressive gardens, pointing out plants that were familiar to us after a summer full of our own garden redesign, and pausing to sit in one of the many secluded benches in total silence - holding hands, while admiring the main house. Not usually one for clichéd sentiments, I turned to John and said, "You know? I think we'll still be coming here when we're 80." There was a slight pause, before he responded wistfully with, "I wish that was my house. And that no one else lived in it. And that I had Sky Sports."

Who said romance was dead, eh?

This post was part of November's Travel Link-Up, hosted by Angie, Emma and Jamie. Head over to their blogs to read more posts about "A perfect ..."
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