Saturday, 12 July 2014

#Restaurant Review: Granger & Co, #London

If you've ever passed through Westbourne Grove on a weekend you will have seen the line to Granger & Co for breakfast/ brunch. I've always been curious but never been in the mood to stand in line.. you have to twist my arm quite a bit to get me to wait over 30 minutes to get into a restaurant.. but one must sacrifice for one's blog readers and so there I was waiting with friends for over 30 minutes to get into a restaurant...

Firstly, I was on a diet at the time and secondly, I don't do eggs.  So maybe I'm not able to give you a proper review of this as I wasn't able to try the yumminess from my friends' plates... I ordered the quinoa felafal which came with edemame hummus, roast beets, haloumi and grilled flatbreads- which was delicious. My friend had the ricotta hotcakes which come with bananas and a honeycomb butter- it looked divine, but... diet. The menu is a very interesting one, with a mix of Mediteranean, Asian and Italian flavors (according to their website, it's Australian??) with items like sweetcorn fritters, pastas, yellow fish curry with spiced butternut squash, miso charred open steak sandwich and a host of wonderful sounding apetisers and sides like courgette chips with tahini yoghurt and crispy salt and pepper squid.  

We didn't get a proper table so we chose to sit at the bar instead of waiting longer for a private table. Service for where we were sitting was a little slow- we asked for coffee and it took 2 reminders before we got it-- for a restaurant which constantly sees this many diners they should at least have a better managed service system. 

I would have loved to try a dessert too, but you know, diet and all...but honestly I would like to go back when I'm not as restricted with what I can eat and try some of the more eclectic items on the menu. Go with a group of friends so you can share food- and maybe even convince them to go earlier and stand in queue so you don't have to wait as long  :) 

The restaurant itself delivers on what its website claims as a bright, light and airy dining room, which makes it welcoming and homey. 

Information: Granger and Co is located in Notting Hill on 175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB, Tel:+44 20 7229 9111.  They also have branches in Australia, Hawaii and Japan. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

#Hotel review: The #Sheraton Hotel, #Kuwait

I hadn't considered staying at the Sheraton on my Kuwait trips because I thought it would be too institutional and old-fashioned. I'm not quite sure what swayed me this time but I didn't regret the decision. 
I booked two rooms directly through the hotel only a few days before my scheduled trip, as it was a last minute decision. I am an SPG member but hadn't used my card in around a year and didn't have the number on me when I booked. I had read numerous reviews of guests who had been upgraded and wasn't sure if my on-and-off SPG stays would qualify me for one!
We were offered complimentary airport transfer- when I booked I was given the option of shared transport (maximum 3 people per car) or private transport which is limited to your party.  I told them the shared transport was fine (it's for any 3 people arriving on same flight), and we ended up being alone for the ride so I'm glad I didn't pay extra. 
The hotel is as traditional as I expected it to be in terms of lobby and entrance, but this wasn't a bad thing. The lobby area seems to be a popular meeting spot and despite how busy the hotel was, our check in was very smooth.  We were greeted with juices and coffee as we sat at the check-in desk; I presented my SPG card and asked for a room on a higher level.  We were offered the option to upgrade ourselves to the executive rooms which we declined, and then to my pleasant surprise, we were each upgraded to junior suites!
This process was done very discreetly, and the staff were helpful and friendly. 
We were then shown to our rooms - my impression of the hotel's style was outdated yes, but very well maintained and clean.  Hallways were bright, and when we saw our rooms we were both very happy. 
The room was spacious, with a seating area seprarated by a wood partition, a great bathroom and excellent storage space- drawers and hanging space. When I travel, even it's for a short weekend trip, I always like my room to be spacious because I don't like the feeling that I'm cramped up in a small space away from home. Rooms with limited cabinet storage annoy me so luckily this room was perfectly designed and equipped. 
Tea and coffee makers with mugs and small biscuits are complimentary in the room and water bottles were replenished often.
The hotel has around 4 restaurants including Iranian (renown in Kuwait), Lebanese and Indian as well as a tea room where they serve traditional afternoon  tea. We were out all the time so unfortunately couldn't dine at the hotel, but I had their in-room dining (french toast for breakfast-- average; and shrimp biryani for dinner- quite good). You can order items from their restaurants for dining in-room which is also a nice option. 
The on-premises facilities include an ATM machine (critical for all hotels!), a salon and a newsstore. 
Service was very good, although housekeeping was a bit too keen in the morning and if you don't have your DND sign up then expect to be nagged about when you want your room cleaned. 

The hotel's location is very central- everything seemed to be 15 minutes away.  It was quite busy over the weekend and seems to be a popular venue for weddings, but we weren't disturbed by any noise either in the lobby or in our rooms as the banquet halls are at the back of the hotel. 
Would I stay here again? Absolutely. 

Price: For a two night stay I paid KD 216.500... What you would expect to pay at the Sheraton... 
Information: The Sheraton Kuwait is located on Fahd Al Salem Street in Kuwait City.  Tel: +965 183 5555.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Rush to Rioche! - New Gourmet Chocolatier in Town!

Who doesn't love walking through the food hall at Selfridges or Harrods and zeroing in on their favorite chocolate brand for that coveted box of chocolates? Well you have one less reason to go to London now with the soft opening of Rioche Artisan Chocolates in Um Al Hassam.

Gourmet chocolate brands including L'Artisan Du Chocolat, Sugarfina, La Cure Gourmande and tea brand Kusmi Tea are some of the brands that are currently stocked at Rioche, with more brands being added.
If you haven't tried Sugarfina, I highly recommend this line- you can get the sampler box with 9 different types, or choose the individual boxes you want which come in around 18 pieces per box. Chocolate and cocoa covered nuts, fruits, superfoods... you name it, you can with it as chocolate!
Though the shop is small in size, its selection is quite good, with different types of chocolates, chocolate bars, drinking chocolate, biscuits and candy all in stock. Large orders can also be accommodated if orders are placed in advance.

Information: Rioche is located in the same area as KIMS hospital in Um Al Hassam.  Tel: +973 3844 3844.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

#Travel Review: Le Royal Tower Hotel, #Kuwait

I was in Kuwait for a jam-packed weekend and was looking for a hotel that was central and not too pricey. I was referred to the four-star Le Royal Tower Hotel and judging from the reviews on Trip Advisor it seemed quite good. I made my booking (an Executive room, as the standard room seemed too small) and gave them my arrival time so they could arrange the complimentary airport transfer.

When I landed I went to the hotel desk at the airport and asked for the driver but they told me he was stuck in traffic and needed another 15 minutes to reach.  I told them I wasn't willing to wait so they offered to pay for a taxi which was a reasonable alternative and within minutes I was on my way to the hotel. 

The hotel is in a tower building that's very central- in the same area as the Sheraton but on a one way street that's quite busy in the middle of town, and this only gets busier on weekends as it's in an area thats popular for labor workers.

When I arrived there wasn't anyone to help with my bags so my driver took everything in, and the person at reception said that they would take care of it. Check-in was very smooth; they were extremely friendly, asked if I had my Qatar Airways frequent flyer card (which I didn't since I had flown GF) and then told me I can just pass on the number to them so they can enter it in the system anyway.  
My room was on a smoking floor-- my fault since I hadn't specified that I wanted non-smoking-- and I could tell immediately that it was so. There are around 5-6 rooms per floor- the elevator landing area is small so the good thing is you don't have to walk forever to reach your room. 
The room itself was moderately spacious- although for an Executive Room I had expected a bit larger-- and came with a queen bed (and a very very comfortable one too), a canape, desk, good sized closet and a nice airy bathroom with bath tub and separate shower. 
You don't get much of a view as it's in the middle of town and my room was a bit on the dark side, but for the price I was paying I found it to be more than adequate -- very comfortable, great air conditioning, and above all, clean. 
The staff themselves are super-friendly and bend over backwards to please- something that you don't normally get in five star hotels where they're more rigid and confined to group guidelines.  

There isn't much going on in the hotel- it has a small seating area as a lobby and breakfast is served on the mezzanine in a relatively small area.. colors are red and dark wood so it's a bit dark everywhere. Also I should note that staffing levels seem a bit low- at one point we had bags we needed help with and the porter was on his lunch break so the reception attendant left his spot and brought our bags up...

But because of its location, this seems to be mostly a hotel for business guests and as a place to stay while you're out and about, this is definitely a good option. 
We wanted late check out the day we were leaving, and although we were going to get a ride to the airport with a friend, we asked them if they could arrange transporting the luggage separately to the airport for us to pick up when we got there.  They were more than happy to arrange both the late check out (4pm!) and the luggage transfer for us so when we got to the airport we just had to go the hotel desk at arrivals and they brought our luggage to the check-in area. 
In terms of dining- we weren't really home most of the time- I ordered a sandwich from in-room dining which was a no-fuss basic sandwich, and also had breakfast in the restaurant one day- more than adequate, but noisy as the area is small and there was a family with kids. 
One issue that really bothered me was the shower; everytime I showered water would leak out from the glass cubicle and the bathroom floor would be totally wet.
Would I stay here again? Not alone definitely because there aren't any spa or salon options in the hotel so if you are planning to chill out at the hotel there isn't much to do. But if I was going again with friends and planning to be out all day, in terms of location, cleanliness, service and basic necessities, Le Royal Tower is now a viable option on the list. 

Price: I booked on, and price for two nights was KD 110 (including breakfast and two way airport transfer) +15% service charge. 

Information: Le Royal Tower is located on Fahed Al Salem Street in Kuwait City (please note there are two hotels within the group- check which one you are booking in).  Tel: +965 183 1831.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

#Restaurant Review: Pop a Loop Restaurant and Cafe, #Kuwait

You will not expect what you will see at Pop a Loop...

You walk in and there's loads of winding curving rails from the top level down, all leading to the tables. 
We were seated at a table in the far end of the restaurant, and my seat was in the corner so I had the full view of the whole restaurant with all of the rails.  Total confusion and awe was my initial impression; what was going on here!

Next to our table was a turntable counter with glasses, plates, cutlery and condiments. There was a tablet on a rail and we were relieved when the waiter came over and started to explain everything to us. 
He swiped his card on the tablet and there was the menu ... you go through the pictures and descriptions and choose what you like. When you enter your order, including drinks (all onto the screen), it tells you how much your total cost will be, how long it will take, and when you click 'enter' it sends your order directly to the kitchen. 

And then you see things racing down the rails.... Small pots strapped onto a concoction of wheels like roller skates come flying down the rails - just like a roller coaster. Bottles of Pepsi follow, again on wheels.  So the concept is based on a German roller coaster concept.  The kitchen sends the orders down- rails are linked to each table so your order will be sent down the right rail to reach you. Once your dishes make it to your table, you just unstrap, get your plates and serve yourself.  No interaction is needed with the waiter again until it's time to pay (I don't get this-- if you can do everything on a touch screen why can't you pay via the tablet too... old fashioned check system just seemed out of place). 

The menu leaves nothing to be desired.  From burgers to biryanis, all kind of American-diner type appetisers and desserts (but be warned there probably won't be any space left), there is definitely something for everyone here. 

We ordered the mozzarella balls (green cheese filling... not sure what that was?!), fried calamari (very good), Mama best shrimp (was supposed to be spicy but wasn't that hot) the Killer Chicken with rice (so-so) and the shrimp biryani.  The biryani was phenomenal and totally unexpected to be honest... it just didn't seem like the kind of restaurant that would serve this fantastic a biryani! 

Overall the food was very good.  The crowd was an interesting mix of younger people, families, and after we left, we discovered from their instagram account that our table's next seated group was celebrities (actors)!

Pop a Loop is located in the AlFintas area, in a strip mall with restaurants and a few shops. We went on a weekend when the weather was nice and it was quite crowded; traffic getting into the area was quite bad, but we didn't have a problem getting a table at the restaurant. 

Price: There were 4 of us dining and our total bill was a very reasonable KD 20.

Information: Pop a Loop is in Divonne Mall in Al Fintas area and can be reached on +965 229 15433.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

#Restaurant Review: Kensington Square Kitchen, London

Kensington Square Kitchen is a tiny neighborhood cafe with maybe 8 tables in total.  It is extremely popular amongst the local residents and everytime I've gone there's either been a wait when I started or as I was leaving. 
They have an extensive brunch menu which is a must- try on weekends. I've been for brunch as well as lunch and the brunch is by far better.  We ordered the homemade granola with Greek yoghurt which comes loaded with fresh berries.  Best. Granola. Ever. The portion is huge but the granola is delicious so you shouldn't find it too hard to polish it all off. 

We also ordered scrambled eggs on sourdough  and then topped it off with banana pancakes. Again, quite large portions so go hungry or plan to share. 
What I like about Kensington Square Kitchen is that because of its location (off High Street Kensington all the way at the end of the street before Whole Foods if coming from the station end), it's in a residential area so you always see people from the area dining here, but it's also easily accessible if you're not from the area and a stone's throw from a busy high street.  The staff know the regular clients well so it's like suburbia in the middle of London. 
Food is consistently good, staff are friendly, everything is casual.. a perfect lazy Saturday brunch spot. 

Price: Brunch for two including one juice and 3 coffees (don't ask!) cost £34.25 without tip. 
Information: Kensignton Square Kitchen is located at 9 Kensignton Square, London W8 5EP. Tel: 0207 938 2598.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

#Restaurant Review: Byron's, #London, UK

Before I turned vegetarian, burgers were pretty much my key food staple.  So whenever I discover a good veggie burger you should expect to see a review...
Enter the portobello burger at Byron's in the UK. I SWEAR if you didn't know it was a veg option, you could be fooled into thinking it's the real deal... a huge mushroom topped with cheese (I ask for ementhal) with a juicy bun, red pepper, tomato and rocket..
Just a word of caution- like most veggie burgers, it's more likely to collapse while you're biting into it so kick your prestige out the door.
Bryon's is a chain and you can find branches all over London- fine dining it's not, but if you're looking for a burger you shouldn't be seeking fine dining...
Their dessert menu always looks enticing too(banoffee mess! caramel and honeycomb sundae!!) but honestly after a burger there's never any room for dessert.

Price: A meal for one costs around 12 pounds. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Battle of the Bulge! 3 day Juice Detox by Diet Delight- Part 4 of 4

Uuuuuugggggghhhhhh I think this is diet is going to kill me. 
So it's on to three days of juice!
As I was reaching a plateau in my weightloss I decided it was time to bite the bullet and try what other dumb people have tried before me.... a three day juice detox. I chose Diet Delight's detox based on recommendations from friends that the taste of the juices was good (yes... after Vida's green juice I break out in hives when someone says 'juice').
I gave myself ten days to prepare mentally and then began what I was sure would be the longest three days of my life.

 Day 1: first juice of the day is green juice and I had asked around extensively about this to make sure it was better than Vida's. General consensus was that it was good and didn't need any sweetening... Perhaps because this wasn't the first time that I'm having green juice, I was actually alright with the taste and not as turned off by the smell (The first time I tried green juice was during Vida- hence the shock). I wasn't ever a breakfast person before I started my diet, and now with regular meals I always wake up hungry expecting breakfast, so I think I got to this first thing because I was driven by hunger.  In any case, I wouldn't drink this by choice but knowing that it's not a choice I drink it without the feeling of misery I had during those first few days of Vida.
 It's a lot of juice... 500 ml- I pour it into a small glass at work at around 9:30 and refill 3 times to finish the bottle.
It's 2 hours later and I'm onto juice 2: citrus sensation. Made of green apples, peach, Kiwi and cucumber, it's not all that citrusy...tastes nice though. This is going to be really hard.. My tummy wants food.
It 2:20 pm. Feeling very tired. Want lunch. Food lunch, not juice lunch.
3pm, drinking the Red power.  Smells strong (of beetroot mainly? Radish?) which turns me off.  Doesn't taste great but still better than Vida's green juice so I will drink it. All I want is food.
The dreaded green juice: green apples, parsley, spinach, kale, ginger, celery, cucumber and lemon juice- go on, it's good for you.
 Had a friends gathering after work, and I ordered white tea. Anything to get rid of the lingering taste of the awful red juice.
Came home from work and tried to nap, feel nauseous and lightheaded. I should have drank the 4th juice, carrot zinger before I slept but I was too weak to bother.
The Red Power: tomato, carrots, beetroot, green pepper, red pepper, salt, radish, lemon and celery
 Woke up after an hour, rejuvenated to some extent.  I drink the carrot zinger and it's quite good, a bit heavy with a lot of bits in it, but still good.  I can't finish the full 500 ml, not so much because I'm full, but because I just don't want more juice. I also have some of the detox water-- this is water with lemon, cucumber, cranberries and mint leaves-- when I strain it and drink it I love it! It's tangy and refreshing and light, and is pink in color - almost pink lemonade-ish.
I do a bit of work and  then have the berry nice juice,  I've been told this is really good and it is.  It's more filling too, with a smoothie texture. I like it but I have this constant hunger that won't go away.
It's 10:15pm.  I've got one more drink to go- almond milk.  I hope this is going to fill me. I hate the thought that this is going to be my last 'meal' of the day.
Citrus Sensation: Green apples, peach, kiwi and cucumber

My energy level today has been similar to when I'm fasting. At least when you're fasting you know that food is coming at X o'clock...
I drink my almond milk and I love it.  Although it's watery, it's creamy and sweet and I pretend it's a vanilla milkshake (hey, whatever works!) I only drink half of it.. I feel like I can't swallow more liquid for the day.  I go to bed slightly less hungry than I've been throughout the day but exhausted.
So the only horrible juice on day 1 was the red power, and that was more because of the overpowering smell than the actual taste.


Day 2: I can't wake up this morning, I sleep in a bit and go to work late (this diet has definitely impacted my productivity, but I have prioritised my health this year).  I'm not as hungry this morning thank goodness. Today's green juice has slightly different ingredients than yesterday's, and tastes of avocado and cucumber. It's not unpleasant.
Today I'm tired of my diet in general. My body says it's had enough. I'm weak, constantly lethargic and sick of being in a bad mood.  I haven't weighed in a while..need to do that tomorrow morning.
I check the juices of the day and am so glad not to see the red power juice.  Today I get an orange juice mix and the only thing that looks a bit iffy is a purple juice, but I'll deal with that when I get to it.


Juice 2, "The OC" should be marketed to Cafe Lilou. Orange juice, carrots, cinnamon and honey, all flavors I like and taste great together. It's heavy handed on the cinnamon but I've been having cinnamon tea every night for the past three weeks or so so I've acquired the taste for it. I've also noticed that I've been craving orange juice over the past couple of weeks, so this is giving me a great dose.
It's 1:30pm. I am so, so in need of sleep.
Been cold since I started juicing- the effects of detox.
So the purple juice is less smelly than yesterday's red juice but not very enjoyable. It contains red cabbage and that's pretty much all you can smell...

Once that's done it's on to the carrot zinger again... More carrot juice which is very welcome. 
Detox water 
It's 9:30 pm and I've been looking forward to my berry nice juice. This is the only juice that I am happy to finish the whole bottle of.
I need to change my schedule a bit so I can consume these juices earlier in the day.. You're supposed to have the last juice 3 hours before you sleep and I'm definitely not doing that.
Yesterday's hunger is gone... I did get hungry right around lunch time and again in the evening, but not anything constant like it was yesterday.
The OC: orange juice, carrots, cinnamon and honey
Day 3: I feel good today! I can wake up in the morning unlike yesterday.  My brain feels clear and my energy level is by far better.
I think to myself as I drive to work that I'm not famished for breakfast... Maybe juice can actually work as food!  I'm not encouraging it, I'm just saying it can fill you.
My green juice today is too much for me, I can't finish it. I look at the juices I got and groan at the repeated red power juice from day 1. I don't know if I can do that.
Inside the detox water bottle
Juice #2 today is a beet juice, made of beetroot, Apple, carrot, ginger and Lemon. It's quite sweet, tastes like pomegranate juice. I'm hoping it will keep me full for a while so I can avoid the red juice.
I have the busiest day ever today.  I drink my red juice in passing, for some reason it doesn't smell as bad as the first time. Or maybe I'm just indifferent now.  Busy at work all afternoon into the evening so I'm grateful that my energy today is higher and my brain is clear. By the time I get home I'm so hungry I want to scream at my Carrot Zinger juice 'why can't you be food?' But I know I only have a few drinks left and I'm done.
I have the berry juice and almond milk quite close together- the berry juice fills me so I only get through half of the almond milk.
That's it! I'm done! I can't believe I survived on juice!
Before I sleep I notice a calmness in my face.  I don't know if it's my imagination- but am I glowing?? My eyes are drawn in and look very tired, but overall I feel ok.
Purple Power juice:grapes, plums, red cabbage, red apple
Verdict: not easy, first day is very difficult. But perfectly doable, if it's for 3 days.  I think if it was for longer I would have stopped doing it.  There's enough juice to keep you full during the day once you're past day one. Just make sure to drink as soon as you start to feel hungry.
They say that it's supposed to control your cravings. I didn't really feel cravings but the smell of cooking and hot food at home almost blew my brains out. Would I do this again? Yes, probably. But not too soon. To be honest, three days' worth of drinking my garden are more than enough for me. 
Juices are delivered before 7am each day. The program runs either Thursday- Saturday or Sunday - Tuesday.

Cost: 90 BD for three days of juice. 6 juices a day plus detox water.  I find the price totally outrageous to be honest... Way higher than it needs to be.
Areas for improvement: 
-they should do something about the red juice on day 1 to make the smell less overpowering.
-Price is too high- should be reduced.
- Instructions and notes must be sent to clients before starting this.  I had a friend who was on it and she hadn't received anything- without knowing there is no way to understand when to have the detox water, for example, which you are supposed to have between your drinks to help detoxify. 
- Send us more detox water! It's not enough to last between all drinks. 
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