Monday, 15 September 2014

REVIEW: Ca'puccino, Heathrow Terminal 2

The newly reopened terminal at Heathrow, terminal 2, is clean, fresh and quietly efficient. This is great news for travellers and even better, they have some fine new restaurants for you to kick back in. Thanks to a slightly longer journey through airside security than we were expecting (it's just big, it wasn't a hassle) we didn't get to spend as much time at the new Ca'puccino as I would have liked, but we saw enough for me to really, really like it.
 As you walk up you see the clean lines and understated, but contemporary décor that sets out this company as an Italian start up. We were particularly enamoured by the giant touchscreen menu card that greets you as you wait for a table. This is a clever little idea that allows not only one customer to browse while they wait for a table in this busy, but well run little café but also gives passers by a taste of what is on offer. We saw it encourage more than one group to enter for a morning snack.

The friendly staff really made our visit. Courteous, without being cold, they all greeted us with a genuine smile and you really got the impression that they were all dedicated to making each customers visit as pleasurable as possible. Conscious of both customers tastes and the need for often speedy service in the airport environment, the staff were efficient but also knowledgeable enough about the menu that they would readily offer menu recommendations, their own thoughts on the food and which dishes would suit your tastes and level of hunger.

The menu is compact, but varied, meaning that Ca'puccino can cater to all tastes, at any time of the day. Happily the breakfast menu was particularly tempting, perfect for our 8.30am arrival. The Prosciutto di Parma DOP con uova e pesto Genovese looked particularly tempting, however, as we had a 10 hour flight looming ahead of us, there was really only one choice to go for - the full English breakfast option. There are also a wide range of continental breakfast offerings to choose from if you fancy something lighter - delicious crespelle dolci, yoghurt and fruit selections and amazing looking croissants with a variety of flavours and fillings.

Our food order arrived within about 10 minutes and looked absolutely divine. Well presented, freshly cooked and made with quality ingredients, this was a dream start to our trip. The Focaccia Tostada that accompanied the meal was fresh, crispy, but also soft and pillowy within and well seasoned. The Italian pork sausage was by far the highlight of the dish but the bacon was also thick cut and well cooked. The croquettes had a great texture and our eggs to order were both great - I felt that the scrambled was the better choice, as they were just the right end of soft and deliciously creamy. This was an excellent portion and really helped to start our engines for the day.

The real highlight, as you would perhaps expect, was the coffee. Ca'puccino offers a range of authentic taste experiences from around the different regions of Italy and the speciality coffees are particularly excellent. I would recommend trying the Moka, if you have the time to wait for it to brew to order, this is an intense coffee experience. The cappuccinos are also excellent - both rich and creamy with an absolutely heavenly caffeinated bitterness to them that is usually a rare find in an airport concession!

In fact, the only downside of Ca'puccino for us was the lack of time to sit, enjoy the Italian style and fashion books, or to try the delicious looking pastries that made up a veritable rainbow in the display counters. This place truly has authentic Italian style and taste at the very heart of what it offers and it took me back to lazy mornings wandering through the square in Matera, looking in the windows of small, family run bakeries and cafes, when we visited a couple of years ago to make some giant art.

They are also kid friendly, and have a children's seating and activity area, which is particularly helpful for those travelling with the full brood. Airports are hard enough so being able to offer a quiet, playful area away from the crowds should really draw a huge amount of people. In fact the whole restaurant feels like a little oasis of calm, even though there are no walls and so it isn't really that separate from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the terminal. I would happily recommend a stop here. You'll get great food, at a decent price for an airport, and be made welcome by happy staff in pleasant surroundings. And that sort of experience is priceless just before a flight.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

REVIEW: Revolution, Leicester

Apologies for the radio silence... Is anyone still there? I've been on holiday and sometimes being away means having a break from it all - including blogging. I've been a little neglectful in my blogging duties, but now I'm back on it.
Anyway, we headed out a couple of weeks ago to the relaunch night of Revolution in Leicester. We used to visit the old Revolution quite regularly, until they stopped doing food and only opened in the evening, then it was not really on our rotation anymore. I was pleased to see them refurbishing and coming back with an improved menu as we had tried their sister bar in Loughborough and were impressed with the fresh, airy feel.
The new look in Leicester has a similar vibe. They've opened the place up a lot more, so there is several degrees more natural light in there - taking away the slight underground ambience of the old bar, which I love. Care has been taken of the detail of the décor, meaning that they have a really nice variety of well crafted accessories hanging round - lampshades made from old light bulbs, a good range of mismatched, but well thought out furniture and a giant vodka sign in aged girder style lettering above the bar. It gives a hip, boho feel to the place which is really comfortable and welcoming. For a vodka bar, it's very much in the style which is becoming increasingly popular in Leicester - not too far into hipster, but just cool enough to be relaxing.

The relaunch night was really fun. They had laid on a whole programme of activity across the day to introduce the full range of their offer. When we arrived in the early evening, there was a free barbeque on the terrace and an acoustic guitarist to serenade you as you ate. They had a homemade blueberry ketchup which was awesome - that's a definite reason to visit again. The staff were really welcoming and friendly and there was a real buzz about the place, you could see that they were really excited for the new feel of the place and to part of a new venue in Leicester. They gave out tasters of mojitos as you arrive, all served with a smile and some light banter.
Later on the lights went down and a band started to play - a Cuban funk band called Latino Sound. They were really excellent and it was great that the staff handed around little toy maracas so we could all get down to the beat. I was dancing at my table and was a bit disappointed that nobody else got up to dance as it was pretty infectious stuff. If you get the chance, do look them up.

While the band were playing, the chilled out staff brought round samplers to all the tables - sweet shop cocktails with little Maoam sweet decorations, which were really delicious and pretty lethal - you cannot taste the alcohol so watch your step with these little babies! There were also menu samplers - some really delicious, crispy falafel lollipops being the stand out for me.
The new menu is looking pretty cool too. The samples of food we tried that evening was of a really good quality, it tasted fresh made and not too over-complicated. I am looking forward to getting in to the full menu, the old Revolution's flatbread pizzas were the highlight of the menu and pizzas are back on this one as well as a range of big meals and small plates. Definitely a 'something for everyone' menu with no shortage of choice on there.
And so to the drinks. As you would expect, they have an excellent range of vodkas - 16 on the menu, with Ciroc and Grey Goose being two that I would particularly recommend. They also offer a range of house flavoured vodkas - there are fruit, sugar & spice and indulgence categories for you to try, which leads to a bewildering variety of shooters available to pick from. Quite a range! On top of that, you can get an excellent variety of nicely made cocktails, a relatively good selection of beer (although we would query the categorization of the 'craft' beers and 'world' beers - it looked more like Belgian/European beers and a few more interesting world lagers generally speaking) and a really thoroughly decent set of wines including a reasonably priced, but tasty house red.
We got in to the cocktails as the band finished, the lights went down further and the flexible venue turned in to its 'nightclub' mode. The Moscow Mule in its copper mug was a definite hit with my friends, and the Tennessee Mudshake was absolutely delicious, but in retrospect perhaps a mistake for me to end quite a calorific evening! It was super thick and topped with a tonne of cream and oreo cookies. Delicious, but perhaps one to have in place of dessert!

A great start to a well refurbed old Leicester favourite. A surefire hit with students, Revolution also offers a lot more - we'll be stopping by again for laid back after work drinks or a cosy dinner stop. I hope the great service is maintained - thanks to all for looking after us so well.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Boost Juice Bars, Highcross Leicester

The quality and variety of retail outlets at Highcross Leicester has really gone up and up since it opened, particularly if, like me, the most important thing to you is the food and drink on offer. The latest offering, a Boost Juice Bar, will be opening TOMORROW (Monday 18th August 2014) and to celebrate they invited me over to have a sneaky peak at the new store. Not only that, but they will be giving away all their smoothies for free for one day only. That's right, all day, all free. Fabulous.

I was greeted in the store while the team were receiving their all important training and orientation. Everyone seemed genuinely warm, friendly and excited about the new adventure. The new shop is clean, bright and vibrant. The latest in a chain started in Australia, Boost aims to offer a healthy fast food option. They have created smoothies and juices that are free from preservatives and artificial flavourings.  There are now over 300 stores in 16 countries and it's pretty easy to see why. I tried the Strawberry Squeeze smoothie - apparently one of their biggest sellers in the UK. It is made from strawberries, bananas, apple juice, low fat yoghurt (called TD4 - To Die 4, with live cultures - for extra nommy bacteria) and ice. I found it to be flavourful and thick, creamy despite the relatively low fat content (1.3g per 100ml) with a great strawberry flavour, but not artificial or oversweet. In fact, I think the apple juice gives it just the right kick of sweetness to make this a really satisfying flavour. Luckily I hadn't had any breakfast, because it is super filling - just want you want for your healthy alternative option! It kept me going for a good number of hours, despite the cycle home from Highcross!

They kindly gave me a blogger pack with all kinds of interesting goodies. I got a sample of their adult bottles and kids cups, which have a cute hologram butterfly on (it's quite pink so I presume there is a 'boy' equivalent, but I shall hold back here from talking about reinforcing gender norms). I got the full menu to see the range of smoothies, fruit crushes and juices - but I was most impressed that they include the full nutritional information on the menu. You'll know about my interest in clear labelling from my earlier Campaign For Real Salad post.

Every year they use over 800 tonnes of watermelon you know.

I got a lot of information in the press pack about how much fruit they use per year, but I think that probably one fascinating fact is enough for this blog post. They use a lot of fruit.

They passed me a VIBE card - so I can be part of the Very Important Boost Enthusiasts club. This is a nice little loyalty programme which offers you your 10th drink for free as well as a special free Boost on your birthday. Can't be bad! I do like a nice loyalty scheme, because let's face it, we all like something for nothing.

Your free smoothie options for tomorrow
And as if getting your free smoothie tomorrow (yes, free, 100% no money involved, get along to Highcross on Monday 18th August!) they will also be doing their formal launch on Tuesday 19th August, where they will have some very special guests for their ribbon cutting and releasing a lot (I think 1000, but I didn't write it down - bad blogger coming out without her notebook) of balloons, and each one will have a free Boost voucher attached, so look out for dem green balloons!

So overall, I think a positive addition to Leicester. I'm hoping for friendly staff, a high quality smoothie and an extra Boost in my step. Thanks to Boost for inviting me for a sneaky peak!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

REVIEW: Walkabout Leicester

We popped down to Walkabout in Leicester on Friday as earlier in the week I'd seen that they do a stonking Happy Hour offer of 50% off food and drink between 5 and 7pm. This seemed too good not to try for size, since we had a number of errands to run after work and weren't back in town until 6.30pm.

Walkabout is an Australian theme pub. Therefore they offer kangaroo on the menu and an actually surprisingly good range of Australian, New Zealand and other bottled beers as well as the usual suspects on draught. So far, so good. The staff were really friendly and helpful, giving us a great welcome in the busy bar. However, after that, I'm afraid the experience went down hill.

The decor is tired and scruffy throughout, particularly in the corridor to the toilets. It looks like it was decorated 10 years ago and then has not been maintained since. Although generally clean, everything, including furniture, bar, right down to the little trugs for sauces, has seen better days and gives a feeling a woeful neglect once you take more than a cursory glance. This means it's not the most comfortable place to enjoy a meal.

This general feel of neglect from the management continued with the availability of items. When I had popped in earlier in the week on an unrelated matter, there had been no draught drinks at all available and no mayonnaise. When I returned on Friday the draught was happily working again, but there was still no mayonnaise and also no steak. I can understand that the 50% off deal must be popular, especially on a Friday evening, but surely since they offer this on every single week day the manager responsible for ordering could be just a smidge more on the ball?

Unfortunately, it was not discovered that they were out of steak until we had ordered and paid. The Boy ordered the kangaroo burger instead, for the novelty. Little did we realise that the novelty would be playing 'Hunt the Pattie'. The burger was miniscule, overcooked and dry. Hugely disappointing all round. When I approached one of the very helpful staff members to mention the size, but also that the dish we had ordered as a replacement was actually cheaper than the one we had paid for she not only refunded the difference, but actually refunded the whole dish - which made us feel better. However, I would warn anyone against getting this on a whim for full price - at £7.95 you will be distinctly disappointed.

It wasn't all bad though. We both had the spicy, rather than normal fries, and these were delicious. Very much 'a flavour of spice' rather than 'spicy hot', I really enjoyed the flavours in these, a nice mix of sweet paprika, some cayenne and some other spices that I couldn't identify, these were packed full of taste and a much more interesting accompaniment than plain chips. We also enjoyed the salad of lettuce, melon and pomegranate seeds which added a bit of interest, but weirdly did seem to come with absolutely every dish. I'm not sure melon goes with *everything*, but maybe the Australians would disagree.

I had the Chicken Parmigiano, which I have to say offered significantly better value for money and flavour. A breaded chicken steak was topped with tomato sauce, ham and lots of melted cheese, the chicken being well cooked and not dried out, helped also by the sweet sauce and two kinds of unctious melty cheese. As chain pub food goes, it wasn't the worst. I was 100% pleased that I hadn't ordered a burger! However, I did want some mayonnaise for my chips and I couldn't have it, so that was a bit disappointing.

At 50% off, our drinks were super cheap. I had a glass of wine which I think cost about £1.60 and The Boy was drinking Fat Yak pale ale at a similar price. Absolute bargain. So all in, for the really joyously friendly staff, relatively quick service and decent drinks at bargain basement prices, I feel compelled to give Walkabout 4 out of 10 Extreme Points. I'd definitely drink there again, if I happened to be in the area during Happy Hour but I don't think we'll bother with the food or make a special effort to pop in there specifically again.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Leicester Happy Hour Directory

I love the recent rise in the Happy Hour here in Leicester. It reminds me of California, a couple of hours in the early evening when drinks and food offers about, meaning a cheeky after-work drink is easier on the pocket. And after-work drinks are my favourite kind.

This is a regularly updated list. If you know of a Happy Hour I've missed or has changed, drop me a comment below and I'll add it in. Local businesses, feel free to contact me if you'd like to be included.

Check out my 'Leicester' tab above to find reviews of some of the featured bars and restaurants.Use the calendar below to find out which Happy Hours are happening now, or scroll down for the full list with information on available offers!

Bankers Club, Friar Lane
Every day, 4.00pm-7.00pm
Pint of Kozel £3.00
House wine £3.00
2 Prosecco cocktails £8.00
2 cocktails £9.00

Cafe Bruxelles, High Street
Monday, all day
Tuesday - Friday, 4.00pm-7.00pm
Saturday, 12.00pm-6.00pm
£2 off selected cocktails
Special prices on Belgian beers, enquire at bar

Chilacas, Highcross
Monday - Friday, 5.00pm-9.00pm
2 Coronas for £5, 1/3 off cocktails

The Crown Inn, Bradgate Road, Anstey
Friday, all day
Wine £12 a bottle

Fat Cat Bar, Belvoir Street
Monday, all day
50% off food
50% off drinks from 6pm 

Firebug, Millstone Lane
Sunday - Thursday, 6.00pm - 9.00pm
Friday - Saturday, 12.00am - 2.00am
Special prices on selected cocktails and shots of Teichenne

The Globe, Silver Street
Monday - Friday, 5.00pm-7.00pm
£10 bottle of wine
Special prices on draught ale

The Lansdowne, London Road
Every day, 3.00pm-7.00pm
All day Wednesday 
Special price on cocktails

Manhatten 34, Rutland Street
Every day, 12.00pm-8.00pm

Marquis Wellington
Monday - Friday, 6.00pm-7.00pm
Tiger - £2.60
Foster's - £2.80
House wine - £10 a bottle, £3.80 a large glass, £3.00 a small glass

The O Bar, Braunstone Gate
Monday - Friday, 4.30pm-9pm
Tuesday and Sunday, all night
£1.00 off cocktails
£1.50 off jugs

The Orange Tree, High Street
Sunday -Thursday, 7pm-10pm
Special price on cocktails

Queen of Bradgate, High Street
Monday - Friday, 5pm-8pm
Get a large glass of wine for the price of a medium
£1 off draught beers
241 cocktails

Ramada Encore, Charles Street
Every day, 12pm-3pm, 5pm-8pm
25% off food OR drink

R/Bar, Granby Street 
Friday, 7.30pm-10.30pm
241 on all drinks

Slug and Lettuce, Market Street
Monday, all day
50% off food
Wednesday, all day
All wines £11.45 a bottle 

Spur Steak and Grill, Raw Dykes Road
Thursday and Sunday
Bottomless ribs and wings

Turtle Bay, Highcross
Monday - Friday, 12pm-7pm, 10pm-close
241 on cocktails

Walkabout, Granby Street
Monday - Friday, 5pm-7pm
50% off food and drink

Will's Bar, Friar Lane
All day Friday - Saturday
241 on cocktails
Selected shots from £1 upwards
Bottles starting from £1.50
House wines are £10 a bottle

REVIEW & COMPETITION: EQUIP+ Waterless Wash Products

Since we are in festival season, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to EQUIP, a great range of innovative products to help keep you clean and fresh wherever you are. I really love these products, they have great, bright and durable packaging, great ideas and a unique approach to taking the crud out of camping and the sweat out of safaris!

Basically, wherever you don't have ready access to soap and hot water, you can sleep an EQUIP product in your bag and stay feeling as a fresh as a daisy. I have been sent the whole range of products to try out and I confess that I have not tried the waterless wash shower cap, probably the most exciting of all the products, yet because I want to save it for my forthcoming holiday. I cannot imagine anything nicer than being able to wash my hair straight after a long haul flight to refresh and revive me! So you'll have to forgive me for holding off on reviewing this particular product until the optimum moment!

It's such a cool idea, a shower cap impregnated with both shampoo and conditioner. Just whack it on your bonce, massage for a few minutes and then towel dry and style. You can even pop it in the microwave for a couple of seconds if you prefer a hot wash. So simple, but brilliant, move over dry shampoo, this isn't a cover up job, this is a real wash. I love it and can think of a million occasions when having clean, freshly washed hair would make my life that much more enjoyable.

I did take the oversized wipes out for a test drive, and boy are they big! Lightly scented, with a faint hint of aloe vera they are pleasant to use and big and strong enough to hose yourself down all over. They dealt with the accumulation of sweaty odour from my cycle home in the sun with ease and their deodorising power kept me dry and fresh. They are totally durable for a full all over wash and still really compact in the packet so you could pop them easily into a day bag or weekend carryall to take anywhere with you.

They give a lovely clean feel and are ever so slightly moisturising so you get soft, neutral smelling skin, which is really pleasant and super easy.

I think I'll spare you an image of the protective wipes. No-one wants too much information about intimate areas or a blog post filled with white squares, so here's their lovely, simple, but well designed packaging instead. They are formulated with the anti-itch Canadian Willow Herb which gives an interesting scent and the promise of gentle cleaning. I find them to be again a convenient product which will get the most use when we're out and about. It has been a busy week at work, so not much time for that right now, but I will get to make good use of these before the summer is out.

Finally, we have the super thick wash mitts, which do exactly what they say on the tin. They come in a pack of four, and are really, really great for cleaning your back - an area that is a bit tricky with just a standard wipe. They are excellent quality, we were tempted to turn them inside out so we could both use the same one. I think that would have worked fine, but was perhaps a step too far in the ick stakes for us, however if we find ourselves in desperate times, you never know!

All in all I am super impressed with these Equip products. There is genuinely nothing I could suggest to improve them, so I would have to award 10 out of 10 Extreme Points. If only we'd had these during our three day bus journeys in South America, things would have been so much better. I think their prime usefulness will be at festivals and backpacking, but I think that parents would find plenty of applications for them too!

So, do you want to win some Equip for yourself? Just enter via the widget below! Enjoy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hybrid Evelyn Off Shoulder Lace Skater Dress

Ring the bells! Sound the alarm! Lock up your significant other while you break out the debit card!

The Hybrid summer sale is on, and this means that we've all got the opportunity to buy something beautiful for a bargain price.

Hybrid are a relatively new brand, around since 2010 and they are making a real splash in the contemporary dress market. They offer some really unique designs with an emphasis on a flattering fit, a luxurious finish and still at a pocket-friendly price. And their sale makes them even more tempting.

My absolute favourite item in this year's summer sale is this Hybrid Evelyn Off Shoulder Lace Skater Dress. I have absolutely loved the rise of the skater dress, it is by far the most flattering style for my shape and has almost totally weaned me off my obsession with the maxi dress, both for day and evening wear. The Evelyn is a real triumph, taking the skater style to the next level of chic through Hybrid's signature attention to styling details. In this case, I adore the addition of the off-shoulder, additional straps, with their sweeping centre detailing. This really takes the skater style from okay to Oscar.

In the current sale it is now down to £44.00 - that's 60% off the original price. You can't turn your nose up at that. For something with so much character I cannot believe this price, I would expect something of this quality to be retailing well over the £150 mark, thinking about comparisons with brands of similar quality like Jaeger. In fact I would even go so far that this has the level of originality and quality of finish that I would expect from an Alexander McQueen dress, which well set you back well over a grand.

The fabric itself is beautiful too. Since beginning to learn to sew, I've become obsessed with finding beautiful textiles in all areas of my life and the contrast of the sand colour with the delicate, almost paisley leitmotif really appeals to me, especially with the block colour of the off-shoulder section which brings a stark contrast and will, shall we say, draw the attention away from problem areas (fat belly, fat belly) and bring the eye nicely to the decollatage. Speaking of flattering, of course we know that the skater dress is fab for highlighting a cinched waist and sweeping over any little bulges one might be wishing to hide away for a rainy day.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Painting stuff for the garden

I've had a cheeky day of leave today because it's summer and I'd rather use it now while I can be out in the garden. I've spent most of the afternoon painting a few little critters that The Boy picked up for me from the supermarket garden sale recently.

Yeah, they're cute, but the monochome look was a bit dull for me, and I thought they needed tarting up fit better into the garden of the Happy House, given its recent upcycling.

I thought it would take me an hour at most to paint them, with a dash of acrylic, but oh no, it took me nearer three. In fact I had to stop halfway through, at about 3pm and take the Boy for lunch as we hadn't eaten yet.

I definitely like the mushroom the most, simple but effective. The others are OK, but they are nice and bright and are a nice distraction hidden amongst the planties. All in all a fun afternoon, although I have no idea whether I need to varnish acrylic paint to weatherproof it. Time will tell on that one I guess.