Friday, 16 August 2019

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A GUIDE TO WHITSTABLE – THE PERFECT SEASIDE GETAWAY FOR SEAFOOD LOVERS


This summer I made it an aim of mine to explore the country I call home a little more, leaving my East London bubble behind to see what other sights, sounds and people there are to discover in England, and proving to myself that you can achieve that holiday feeling without getting on a plane. 

After a fantastic weekend by the sea in Deal I was keen to explore more British seaside towns and Whitstable, also in Kent, immediately sprung to mind. Why? Well with its proximity to London, decent train links, and reputation for great seafood it has quickly become the du jour day tripping destination for millennials wanting to escape the city for a day or two so I had seen and heard quite a lot of good things about Whitstable.

It definitely felt a little more “discovered” by the masses than Deal, but I still had an absolutely fab time there and was particularly impressed with the fresh seafood you can get your hands on at basically every corner, whether oysters right by the shore or at one of the many restaurants and beach huts, right by the sea, that specialise in lobster and the like.

We went for the Sunday and stayed the night, getting on relatively early trains back the next day, which I think was the perfect amount of time spent in Whitstable- if you are planning on staying longer definitely venture further afield to nearby Canterbury or Herne Hill. I will for sure return and I hope you will give Whitstable a go with some of the tips below- I’m still dreaming of that fresh lobster and would go back for that standard of seafood alone!

PS: We didn’t have the best weather, well more like gale force winds, but don’t worry too much about it - yes, a beachside picnic is always fun and something we weren’t able to do on this occasion but you can still have a wonder down promenade and look at the beautiful beach huts even if it’s a bit choppy and cold outside, and still have plenty of other things to do, especially if there are as many great indoor drinking and eating venues as there are in Whitstable.


HOW TO GET THERE: 

Getting there couldn't be easier. Just jump on the 1 hour and 20 minutes train from either Victoria or St Pancras station and you will be there in no time! The return ticket is under £25 and the journey feels quick, just make sure you and your travel companions book a train from the same London station – alas we only realised a day before that we had booked trains going to Whitstable at the same BUT one of us from Victoria and one of us from St Pancras


WHERE TO STAY:

THE FRONT ROOMS – A B&B WITH PINTEREST WORTHY INTERIORS





I came across The Front Rooms, a quirky little B&B run by former art gallery owner and interior stylist Julie Thorne, while searching the web for boutique hotel style places to spend the night at in Whitstable and definitely was not let down by the beautiful space she has created, a perfect little haven away from the stresses of London that served as perfect base for exploring Whitstable.

Of course, one has to bear in mind that this is not a big scale slick hotel like operation but the more personal and homely approach to hosting made this place even more special in my eyes. Julie welcomed us herself and gave us a plethora of tips of what to do and see while in Whitstable and the three rooms she rents out to visitors clearly have been decorated with a lot of attention to detail, love and labour. Think The White Company aesthetics meets scandi simplicity and you get an idea about the style of the rooms - beautiful white wooden floors, tasteful nods to the seaside and a fabulously comfy bed with crisp white sheets – I really wish I could have taken the room back to London with me.

Our room also had a lovely balcony that would have been even better with a sea view but was still nice for an afternoon drink. Indeed, The Front Rooms isn’t right by the sea but has a great location for a Whitstable staycation, a 5 minute walk to the harbour and beach and a 5 minute walk to the high street and Harbour street with all its cute cafes, shops and pubs.

Included in your stay is also a super cute breakfast delivered to your doorstep at your chosen time in the morning, which meant I had a super leisurely and relaxed start to my Monday morning with coffee, berries and freshly squeezed orange juice, left outside my door on an adorable white wooden tray.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect place than The Front Rooms to spend the night at whilst in Whitstable- not only gorgeously decorated, you will take a million pictures the minute you walk through the door, but offering wonderful hospitality to its guests, with Julie really making you feel at home and altogether offering a great experience I can only recommend. There are only 3 rooms so make sure you get yourself booked in with plenty of time in advance.


WHERE TO DRINK:

THE OLD NEPTUNE

This old-school boozer is located right by the beach and is the perfect spot to take in the shoreline whilst enjoying a drink. It was a bit too windy while we perched on one of their wooden outdoor benches with prime sea view but we still managed to enjoy a glass of wine out of one of their very classy plastic cup. For me The Old Neptune perfect first stop on your Whitstable exploration day and I’d be keen to go back when it’s a bit warmer and sunnier.

ROYAL NAVAL RESERVE PUB

We stumbled across this pub by accident while on the lookout for somewhere to enjoy an outside drink at. It may not look like much from the outside but the Royal Naval Reserve pub has a lovely hidden beer garden, bathed in sunlight, at the back with plenty of benches and also served a very decently priced Aperol Spritz (£6), making it the perfect spot to spend a few afternoon hours chatting away at. Staff were also super friendly and inside, including toilets newly refurbished.


WHERE TO EAT:



Once we had dropped off our bags and had a little wonder down the seafront and high street we were in need of a little lunch and immediately loved the look of this little delicatessen / wine bar that looked more like a proper Spanish tapas joint with its wooden bar, high stools and delicious cheese and charcuterie on display than a Whitstable high street fixture. 

Try and nap one of the two outside tables, we perfectly timed our visit, and make the most of the fantastic lunch menu. The menu, written on a chalk board at the entrance, may be short, 3 or 4 mains all under £12 and including steak, fresh prawns and lamb, a few starters and desserts, but is outstanding value for money and shows a real cooking flair that you would be paying triple for in London. We got a generously portioned antipasti platter for £10 to start but the real highlight was a heaping big plate of incredible crab spaghetti, shared on this occasion but one portion would fill you up for the day, which was one if not the best crab pasta dishes I have ever had. 

A ridiculous amount of fresh crab meat in a perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and all of that for a shockingly cheap £10 for this plate of perfection. We washed down this outstanding lunch, they are not open for dinner so make sure you come before 3pm, with a lovely bottle of white wine, they also have a vast and well priced selection of wines, which came recommended to us by the loveliest waitress that made sure we felt incredibly well looked after from the minute we sat down. David Brown is an utter gem, a delicatessen that showcases a real love for food and wine and I have to say I would go back to Whitstable to eat off their outstanding lunch menu any day. A must stop on your visit.


ALL THE SEAFOOD @ THE LOBSTER SHACK

Of course we had to eat some lobster while in Whitstable seeing as it is famous for exactly that (and oysters which neither me nor my travel companion Anne-Lise are too keen so apologies for the lack of recommendations in that area) and wanted to do so in a setting by the sea to make the most of the sunset at dinner time.

My lovely colleague Abi, who already made my Deal trip with her reliable list of places to eat and drink at, recommended The Lobster Shack, an unpretentious seafood restaurant with self service and no reservation, but with an unrivalled view of the beach, offering outside benches to eat at if the weather is good but also with a lovely big dining rooms that has big windows so you don’t feel like you are missing out by eating inside.

There are huge seafood platters on offer, perfect if there is a group of you (if I remember right they are about £59 for a platter of every seafood you can think of and are big enough to easily feed 4-5 people as a starter), but also a selection of other smaller seafood starters – we went for a big pot of fresh prawns with a lovely Marie Rose dip for £4, so simple but so damn good if the quality of ingredients is this good.

For mains you can get your fish and chips fix if you fancy but really the lobster is the star of the show here. You can have yours simply served with melted butter and herbs, with added chorizo or like we did ‘Thermidor’ with a bubbly cheese topping. You get a pretty big tail, served with chips and a yummy cucumber salad for £22, not cheap but so worth it for any seafood lover and worth the train journey down for me alone.

The Lobster Shack isn’t fancy dining but who needs that when you can have amazing seafood at prices we would only dream of in London RIGHT by the sea. Make sure to get a picture of you as lobster (it will make sense when you get there) before your dinner and get there early enough, it is not the most known spot YET but does fill up quickly with locals and those in the know. 

With a view and seafood like that at our dinner at The Lobster Shack was for sure one of the most memorable dining experience I have had in the UK and does prove there is some amazing food to be had outside London! 

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Friday, 9 August 2019

SEA SALT IN THE AIR





Sunglasses / Urban Outfitters
Dress / Zara
Earrings / Zara
Boots / Office

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

THE PERFECT SUMMER WEEKEND IN DUSSELDORF

Dusseldorf may be the closest thing I have to a conventional “hometown, having been born there, but honestly every time I visit Dusseldorf for a long weekend I cannot believe what a gem of a place it is, a city that needs to be seen by more tourists and visitors considering the amazing mix of culture, fantastic food and things to do it offers, all at prices, quality and value for money one can only dream of in London. Yes, you may think Berlin is where it is at when it comes to exploring Germany but trust me, once you’ve visiting Dusseldorf, whether it is in the winter to make the most of the amazing Christmas markets, or, like on this occasion, at the height of summer to make the most of the ample outside drinking and eating venues the city offers (and possibly the most fun wine festival one can wish for), you’ll want to return time and time again.

It may only be a 45 minute flight away from London but if you are after a weekend city break, without annoying tourist crowds and the correlating price tags that come with more obvious European destinations like Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and the like then follow this little guide below, book your flight and thank me later, I may be a one person Dusseldorf tourism board but only for the reason that its TOTALLY worth all the praise I can give.

HOW TO GET THERE:
FLYBE FROM CITY AIRPORT
Flying from City airport has been a total revelation to me and will be for anyone living in East London. Door to door it took me a mere 39 minutes to get to the airport from my flat in Hoxton which makes a huge difference when it comes to early morning flights. Usually those pre-9am flights mean one has to get up at 4am or not sleep at all to make it to Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or even worse Luton and are guaranteed to leave you in a zombie like state for much of the leftover day.

It may not have the best facilities (I am yet to find something that comes even remotely close to a decent cup of coffee in departures) but when I do get the chance I will try and fly from City from now on. After all you save money not having to get on all the stupid additional trains to get you to the actual airport (particularly the Stansted express is a ridiculous rip off), you save a lot time and hassle and actually get to have chance of enjoying the day of your early flight at your destination.

Flybe is by no means a luxury airline but their little city hopper planes, which are literally tiny and more like a private jet, will get you there in under an hour and if you book ahead you will definitely manage to get a return for under £130.

I have done train journeys within the UK that were more strenuous and once you are landed in Dusseldorf, the central station is a 15 minute train ride on the S1t train line away, with the ticket only setting you back a very reasonable 2.9 euros. All in all getting to Dusseldorf COULD NOT be easier, even if you hate flying like me so there is really no excuse to not go!


WHERE TO STAY:
MAX BROWN MIDTOWN HOTEL






I am always on the lookout for affordable yet stylish hotels where you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy boutique hotel vibes and a cool interiors, able to very much avoid a formulaic and rather sad Premier inn style room where they highlight of the your stay amounts to a badly stocked minibar.

I stumbled across Max Brown, a Dutch mini chain of boutique hotels with hotels in Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Dusseldorf on the Mr&Mrs Smihs website (FYI always a reliable source for hotel research wherever you go). There Max Brown 'Midtown' was listed as a newly opened boutique hotel in Dusseldorf where a boutique style interiors were supposedly combined with a refreshing approach of cutting unnecessary overhead costs, usually charged as part of the room rate, to offer stylish accommodation at surprisingly low prices, and I have to say that they fully succeeded in my eyes, and pleasantly surprised me with their modern way and forward thinking way of running a hotel.

But first things first let’s talk about the drool worthy 70’s inspired interiors with great attention to detail that you can find at the Max Brown Midtown. I adored the reception area - equipped with a huge vintage pool table, art books everywhere, palm print wall paper and a long wooden bar, instantly making you feel like you’ve walked into an incredibly stylish Beverly Hills villa that you are able to call your home for the weekend.

Rooms are bright and spacious, equipped with extremely comfortable beds, Crosley record players and finished off with quirky pop-art prints. There is no mini bar because, well, who really needs those anyways these days, but you do get great soaps, shampoo and shower gel at your disposal and a very cute pink kettle to make tea and coffee in the morning with. I adored the room and have stayed in a lot more expensive hotels where the design was no where near as well executed as was the case here.

The hotel location is also perfect for exploring Dusseldorf, a ten minute walk from the main station, and super close to the old town with all of its bars and restaurants as well as Dusseldorf’s answer to Bond Street, the Königsallee, where you can find just about any designer your heart desires plus some amazing cake shops like Konditorei Heinemann.

It is also right by the Japanese quarter of town, yes, Dusseldorf has a “Japan town” rather than a Chinatown so if you are into ramen and sushi you literally have some of the BEST spots I have ever been, way better and cheaper than any Japanese joints I’ve been to in London, literally at your front door – after all people come from out of town to eat the noodles at iconic ramen bar Na Ni Wa for a reason and happily queue for hours to experience the warming soups served up here.

We also didn’t take a single bus, tram or taxi during my weekend there which only further reiterates the ideal location of the Max Brown Midtown, perfect for exploring Dusseldorf by foot and really getting to know the city!

So considering all these major plus point WHERE do they cut the costs to make prices that little bit lower you may wonder? Well they do not have the best staffed reception / all day bar, a single staff member checking you in and mixing the drinks for all guests which can be a little manic at times but was actually totally ok here, with staff that across the board were simply wonderful and super forthcoming when it came to extra requests, storing our luggage and any other queries.

Breakfast (included in the room price) also was not life changing, very "help yourself to some bread and cold toppings and get out" but honestly the amazing room, service and interior outweighed these slight cut backs, most of them like the mini bar anyway things that are a little outdated and redundant for the modern traveller.

I felt so at home and well looked after at the Max Brown Midtown and adored the slick modern rooms that I can only recommend the hotel, especially for anyone wanting a boutique hotel experience at an exceptional price. Well done Max Brown for adopting their hotels to meet the needs of a 2019 young traveller who can as easily go for an airbnb so instead wants that extra mile when it design at a very good price, and here it is done just right!


WHAT TO DO:
ANNUAL GERMAN WEINSOMMER FESTIVAL 


Every summer the picturesque main square by Dusseldorf’s town hall, all cobbles and intricate house façades, plays host to a wonderful wine festival that me and my mother stumbled across by accident while on the look out for a pre-dinner drinking venue, and which was so utterly wonderful that I am already planning to travel back for it next year (while seeing my mum OBVIOUSLY).

Vineyards from the most prominent wine regions of Germany come to Dusseldorf every early August, built up their little stands and let you sample their different wines at ridiculously good prices, and I mean 2.5 euro for a very decently sized glass of white, red, rose or fizz.

There are so many stands that you can literally try your way across the German wine map and as they run by the families who own the vineyards you get super helpful advise on what to order and also get some real background info on the lovely vino you are about sample. There are also stands selling olives, bread, cheese and other nibbles, perfect to pair with the wine and soak up some of the booze and lots of long benches you can perch on while getting to know the very chatty and super friendly crowd also enjoying the festival.

In England you would have been charged entry for such a wonderfully organised festival while here I really felt I had gone on holiday, basking in the sun, drinking some of the best wine of my life, surrounded by people all in a great mood, wanting to make the most of a sunny day, making for a fantastic overall vibe. The festival is on every year during the first weekend of August for 4 days and especially during the weekend days try and pop by on an afternoon to make the most of the sun but also later in the night, its open until 12am and actually has free live performers in the evening that make it an even more fun experience. Would I love this festival in London? I would but I am more than aware it wouldn’t feel or cost the same and I for one can’t wait to go back next year for more German wine!


MARTIN PARR RETROSPECTIVE @ NRW FORUM

If you do happen to visit Dusseldorf before the next wine festival and need a cultural hit of some kind I can only recommend the current Martin Parr retrospective at the NRW forum, showcasing some of his most iconic work plus a series photographs where he captured local Dusseldorfers in their allotments (very funny at that). The exhibition offers a perfect hour break or two away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town and is also a real bargain with exhibition tickets only costing £8 per person. The exhibition is still on until 10thNovember so plenty of time to check it out.



WHERE TO EAT:
THE BEST FRIES IN TOWN @ WILMA WUNDER


Wilma Wunder is a new casual dining spot, about 4 minutes walk from the hotel and with a lovely outside seating area. It may be a little commercial for a dinner, it is part of a bit of a chain expanding across Germany, but I LOVED their selection of fries which we enjoyed as an after dinner snack to soak up some the wine enjoyed at the festival. The must order at Wilma Wunder: their truffle fries and vegetable fries. SO, so good. Not one for dinner but perfect for a carby pit stop and great for people watching.

FOOD THAT WILL WOW YOU @ WILLIAMS BAR





The absolute highlight of my trip in terms of food was hands down our Saturday night dinner at Williams Bar, a short walk away from the centre of town, towards the more trendy student area of Dusseldorf.

I have raved about the modern international food that gets served up at fellow Dusseldorf restaurant Munstermann Kontor many times, but this was next level outstanding, a dinner that would have easily cost triple in London bearing in mind the service, quality of food and flavour combinations we were able to experience. Our waiter was outstandingly attentive without being obnoxious and there was not one plate served up in front of us that didn’t wow us, including the complimentary bread at the start, which came with an exceptionally tasty yogurt beetroot dip.
My taglierini pasta with summer truffle, enjoyed as a rather extravagant starter, was flawless, but nothing could have prepared me for the utter flavour experience my main was. Indeed my sashimi tuna, a gorgeous piece of tuna fillet, seared to perfection and still raw on the inside, served with buttered greens, an incredible sweet potato mousse and apple celery chutney was simple outstanding, one of the best mains I have ever had, a picture on a plate and very decently priced at 24 euros considering the level of cooking and ingredients that had gone into the dish.

Not that it was easy to pick a main, everything on Williams Bar’s menu sounded outstanding (salmon filet with goats cheese foam, beetroot and potato puree and spring vegetables anyone or for the veggies amongst you how do you like the sound of artichoke risotto with sundried tomatoes and olives?!) and my mum also adored her Aberdeen angus steak served with spicy fries and a pitch perfect Cesar salad.

For dessert we went for Espresso martinis, the best I have had as Williams bar is also known for their cocktails and rightly so, served with some delicious brownie bites on the side, and finished off with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top that made the martinis almost too drinkable and the perfect end to a perfect meal.

A restaurant like Williams Bar would have queues Gloria style sneaking around the building every night were it in London, but here it is an unassuming corner bistro that is a well and truly a hidden gem, serving some of the best food I have ever had. Make sure you come for dinner here on any visit to Dusseldorf, you can book ahead, you can marvel at the cooking and you can dream of a return visit the minute you’ve had the last sip of your espresso martini. I cannot recommend this spot enough.


HEARTY GERMAN FOOD & GREAT SALADS @ SCHWAN

If you are after slightly more traditional German food or a quick, large and good salad check out one of Schwan’s many locations across Dusseldorf. They serve a kind of modern casual German cuisine in a nice environment, and prices are very reasonable especially if you are after quick, informal and filling dinner.

We particularly enjoyed their take on the traditional flammkuchen (thin, baked dough with various toppings not too different from a pizza stemming from the German region bordering with France) which came topped with brie, cranberry relish, sour cream and ruccola as well as their Cote d’ Azur salad – a huge salad of tomatoes, green beans, mushrooms, perfectly dressed tuna, olives and boiled eggs, a kind of fresh yet filling salad I really struggle to ever find done right in the UK, especially as a main course for dinner.

They also do Schnitzel, Currywurst and other German classics and really Schwan is a reliable spot for a good dinner that won't disappoint. We went to the old town location which is super close to Rhine, so perfect if you fancy a walk by the promenade to digest, and by plenty of bars and clubs if you fancy going out after. Avoid the tourist traps if you are after fuss free well cooked German food and go here, there is no lederhosen in sight but that is a damn good thing. 



Da Forno is my favourite gelateria in the world and it has been making their own ice cream for nearly a century. Yes, Da forno is a slightly rough around the edges and a bit of a walk away from the centre, roughly 25 minutes, but so, so worth it. Order a Spaghettieis (for those unfamiliar this is what I am talking about) and enjoy proper ice cream, a world away from your standard Magnum.