Lush Croydon After Hours

I never expected to get invited to a Lush event but Lush Croydon asked on instagram for people to apply for their first ever blogger event and I honestly thought I would not make the list for the actual night based on how many die-hard Lush supporters there are locally and how many of them have amazing social media. 

A year ago I would never have even applied or dared to go to such an event and barely stepped inside the shop as money was tight and I needed bubbles super cheap regardless of the quality. But I made it on the list and made my way there after work and survived the entire evening.

You know how there is always that really awkward person in the room? That person was me but now I know the people that were there I would be a lot more relaxed and able to be myself. But anyway enough about me let me tell you about the amazing event!

Lush makes me so happy

It was so bizarre being inside a Lush shop after closing. Not just because people kept trying to get in and finding they could not but because it was so well stocked and yet so empty. I find going into Lush, especially around Christmas, still be one of the more stressful shops as everybody sends their hands rushing for the best looking santasauraus so to be able to see so much floor was incredible.

There were just pretty things everywhere and it still had that delightful Lush smell as you walked around the store. It really gave me a chance to see everything clearly without feeling rushed and in doing so helped me to figure what I would choose during standard open hours or via the website.

This section always looks good enough to eat!

We did a variety of activites including watching a bomb fizzle away in the water to reveal its inner magical colour and glitter. It is one of those things that I always feel real awkward about them doing in store because they are products people would pay money for and if you do not end up purchasing one it is like it went to such needless waste. But here it felt much more natural and it allowed us to just enjoy it and watch rather than pondering on whether to purchase or not.

Lush staff, especially the ones with us that evening, are incredibly friendly and will do anything to try help you out to ensure you like the products you pick up and that friendly attitude and interest in the products they work with really came through during the evening. Their knowledge on different techniques for different products and the ability to discuss individual ingredients in items showed their love for the products in a personal capacity as well as a professional one.

Such a magical colour

We were all amazed by just how many bubbles could be got from a tiny swirl of a santasauraus in some water in a jug before moving the water back and forth.

I normally break them up and put them into a sieve diretly under the running water which thanks to reasonably high water pressure produces a decent amount of bubbles but nothing quite like the jug method. There was a lot of remarks amongst us that we might have to ask for a couple of jugs for Christmas.

Working those bubbles

Everybody else had a go at moving the water around with several different products inside including two different shower gels but I decided to pass as my clumsy nature is quite well known especially when tired after a long day of work!
All of the products put to the test and mixed together smelled absolutely incredible and I would happily spend an evening in a bath surrounded by them whilst others would be just enough for a bath time. And until the event I never really rated Rose Jam but I think I might have to get some when running low on products.

Getting my hands stuck in (so much so I didn’t realise my dreadful strap situation)

If all that was not exciting and fun enough to do we got to make our own Ruby Red Slipper mix and find out about the process that goes into making some of the winter range.

It was so much messier than I expected it to be and the process was rather like making a Christmas cake where it needs a lot of work to mix everything together properly but the vibrancy and smell of the product at the end was worth it.

Making Lush products is messy business

Glittery ruby red slipper ball

We then went off to let them set a little, though this would need to be done at home overnight, and received the sweetest little knotwrap gift from the Lush Croydon team! It was such a generous and thoughtful thing for them to do and I especially loved the holly themed Christmas knotwrap (I honestly would have been happy with just that!).

Such a cute knot wrap

Because I am just getting back into Lush products and being able to treat myself I am a little out of what products are around and what the older ones even still smell like so getting this little gift was extra useful to me! The products received will help me remember which scents I like and what product style I like to use most for certain things. Lush is an art that I am looking forward to increasingly getting back into.

Gifted goodies plus my own attempt
My purchased goodies

Not only was there amazing company and the chance to explore the products better there was also cute food and drink including Lush based cake pops by Lush By Night that were flavoured to represent the scents and flavours. They tasted delightful!

Delicious cake pops

We also got to drink red grape juice out of Lush product tubs, such as that a charity pot would be made out of, and there was something about it that was very cute and enjoyable. Mind you gove me anything that is not an actual glass and a straw and I am pretty much won over. It was certainly far better than a flimsy plastic cup that is for sure!

Drinking from one of these tubs was pretty cool

Overall I had a fantastic night. I did feel a little out of place due to the levels of knowledge everybody else seemed to have on really specific things but I found the night really useful and so much fun. There are certainly more ideas going around in my head now about which Lush product to try out next.. though for the next month or so I might have to stick to online shopping rather than in store.

Most Lush stores have blogger events or similar events to what we did for birthday parties and could be a great thing to do with your friends instead of the usual trip down the pub or to some average restaurant you just go to because it pleases everybody.

Thank you to Lush Croydon for inviting me to the event and for being so lovely. a fabulous night and one I am delighted to have attended.

Travelling To And From Cardiff

Living in Croydon the methods of travel to Cardiff are fairly varied and they can be mixed and match to balance out the saving of time and the saving of money.

I do struggle with travel in general as not only do I find it stressful to be closed in with little room to move and nowhere to escape to but travel sickness is a real issue for me. My body struggles to regulate temperature and that means travelling in anything other than a car where I can ask for the temperature to be lowered is a risk especially as I need to sit on the furthest left and facing forward of a vehicle or train carriage otherwise I feel icky that way too.

If you have only travelled on a coach or a train in recent years you are probably bewildered by my statement of them being too warm. Five or six years ago you were lucky if a coach had any cool air going as the radiators were always rammed up on full and having to sit by the window meant big trouble for me. For so many years I would end up being ill at least once per journey because the old coaches were just so illogically heated.

A coach as green as they used to make me feel

Now though National Express have nuch fancier coaches. Unfortunately when the Autumn and Winter hits they still ramp the heat up which would cause me to be ill if it was not for the strong cooling air coming from the openable vents overhead. On the way to Cardiff the radiators were far too warm and a bit of thin plastic in my bag actually became so warm it was able to be bent and reshaped. The biggest issue with a coach,whilst the cheapest, is that the minute you have your handbag and your coat there is no room for your legs unless you grab the seats directly behing the disabled friendly ones right at the front.

Who knows if or when the train will turn up

Trains take less time and generally give you a little more leg room regardless of where you end up sitting but tickets are hugely expensive, at least when booked with less than a month in advance to Cardiff, and anything remotely like a direct service was rare. And whilst coaches can get stuck in traffic trains suffer much more with poor weather and strike action meaning your seat reservation is cancelled if you can even get on a train at all.

Dreaming of a road trip on sunnier days

Driving the Cardiff would have been perfect. Having some music going, being able to stop at services for a drink or pee and being able to take more off the beat diversions to avoid traffic. The small issue being neither me or my partner can drive.. one of us really needs to learn so we can go on some real UK roadtrips (though I would need a provisional driving licence first).
Our journey to and from Cardiff generally went issue-free. The way there was a little too warm and I was a little cramped but on the way back we were sitting in my favourite seats, where the radiators do not start until under the seat, and despite a little traffic we still got into London Victoria on time. The coach driver on the return journey was brilliant too and my partner said it reminded him of the coach episode in Gavin&Stacey.

But the big question is what is your favourite way to travel and how do you ensure everything goes smoothly and stress-free? I am always looking for tips to help me stay calm, cool and most importantly sick-free!

Seeing What Is On Offer In Cardiff

With not much time and my partner having his own thing to do the things we got up to were pretty limited but as well as going down to Cardiff Bay. But I thought I would share a few things with you to help provide you with a bit more information should a trip to Cardiff ever be on the cards.

The entrance is host to an apparently amazing tea room

We went for a walk around Bute Park. Located across from our hotel we decided to go walk through the trees, spot the castles moat and try to look at some stones that remained from an old friary. We seen some stones but there was no little sign and they were across some boggy mud so it those were them they were very disappointing.
There was beauty in Bute Park though and given how many people we spotted walking through it was a surprise to not see any litter on the floor. The trees were all so old and were clearly part of an impressive woodland that surrounded the castle for hunting, foraging and additional protection.

A crisp autmunal day in Bute Park

As well as walking around the back of the castle we also spotted the front and the main entrance tourists would use now to go and explore the internal history. Whilst an impressive stucture it did not seem as grand as many castles I have encountered over the years and the giant bauble Christmas tree outside did nothing for it (though it stood at 20ft not the promised 20metres- luckily).

A lady stopped out of shot whilst I took this photo.. awkward!

If we had more time together or I had more time alone then I would have gone in to explore the castle and learn about it and the surrounding area. If a trip to Cardiff was suggested again without other commitments visiting the castle seems like one of the main things to do as a tourist and it is always good to learn a bit more history.

Another place to learn about the history of Cardiff and Wales would have been the National Museum. This is where my partners event was taking place and I thought after going around the centre there would be a chance to pop in and walk around the section (much like the British Museum in London) but it turns out they host events every Monday and as a result close it to members of the public. The building was large with a lot of detailing around the entire building and presumably contains a lot of interesting stuff so this is somewhere I would look to visit on a return trip to the city.

A leafy park with Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland opposite the museum

So instead of doing anything typically tourist I ended up discovering the many shopping centres which merge into others and split into lots of directions causing me to come out in completely unexpected places and sitting in a park waiting for my partner to be finished.

Whilst in the park I witness a gull jumping up and down to try get worms and bugs out from the ground. This is something I have seen many times before amongst various birds but seeing this rather large gull doing it on crunchy autumnal leaves made me chuckle and took my mind off the cold as the sun moved behind a building for a few moments.

The Dr Martens I decided on

My main shopping was done in the Dr Martens store. Yes I could have done this shopping in London but local stores that sell DMs do not do the style I want and the nearest official brances are all in Central London so it made sense as I walked past to try and get some shoes to replace my four year old and quickly falling apart ones.

After trying on several sizes and discovering how the creases in the ones I had on my feet were caused by them being too big I opted for the same size (an eight) as I could not get my foot in a seven but opted for insoles which bring the shoe down about half a size anyway. As any DM wearer will appreciate I am now hobbling around and switching between the old and new ones whilst breaking in these soft leather black pascal boots.

Around 2pm my partner was done and we had three hours before we needed to be at the coach station. As we would not be getting back to our flat until about 10pm we opted to have our main meal in Cardiff and then to walk around a little bit more and around sections I had previously missed.

I was not particularly hungry after such a big breakfast and instead went for a bacon and cheese beefburger with chips whilst my partner went for a tikka masala curry. Both were tasty enough, in fact the burger had a decent quality of cheese which is a rare thing in most restaurants, and helped to warm the stomach and fill the little hole of hunger.

This water is worth the hype!

Whilst rushed we had a great time and there is clearly enough to do to fill a proper whole tourists weekend up. Where would you recommend going in the city or are you thinking about planning a visit there? 

Dinner At The Dock (Cardiff Bay)

There is a lot of history in Cardiff and not just the obvious and visible things like the castle but also the bay has a lot of immigrant history that my historian partner was keen to tell me about as he suggested we walk down to the bay from the city centre. As always walking there seemed to take far longer than walking back as we were a bit uncertain about how far it actually was but on approach to the bay we could see the National Assembly building and knew we were almost there.

View of the bay

In recent years Cardiff Bay has been “renovated” to attract more people from the city centre and to bring tourists to the area since the actual dock itself shut. Now there is a mass glass structure filled with various restaurants that overlook the water, the occasional boat and a landmass with many street and building lights turned on in the distance. If you did not know a dock ever used to be there and that several people travelled and settled in the UK via Cardiff Bay you could never have guessed from looking at the area; we were unsurprised at the transformation but saddened nonetheless.
The choice of restaurants seemed to be fairly generic and included several chains which was a bit disappointing as we were hoping that there might be something a little more ‘Welsh’ or representative of the rich history in that area. After wandering around several times and me becoming increasingly grumpy at being cold and hungry we decided to go to somewhere called The Dock which is part of a pub chain (rather like a Fullers pub in London).

After a bit of umming and ahhing we decided on a Welsh cider by Black Dragon. It arrived in a clear bottle with a simple label on that provided all the useful information without taking anything away from the product itself. The colour of the cider reminded me of straw and was a lot more vibrant in colour than a lot of mainstream alcoholic apple drinks with the scent reminding me much more of a traditional cider than something found in a bottle. They label the cider as medium dry and I would certainly agree with that and with it being over 6% it certainly packed an after-punch but was nice and smooth to drink.

Loving the crockery and the nachos!

We, or rather I suggested it and put on the puppy dog eyes, decided to have the blue and black nacho sharer for starter, at £9 which worked out cheaper than two standard starters, as the description sounded brilliant with a salsa that was not tomato based (anything with cheese sounds good to me) and I thought the Welsh cheddar element would appeal to my partners desire to try something Welsh.

Blue & yellow corn chips topped with melted Welsh Cheddar, crumbled Perl Lâs blue cheese and sweet roquito berries. Served with pineapple & chilli salsa, soured cream, guacamole and fresh coriander

I honestly think I could just eat these nachos for every meal. The balance of flavours and textures was perfect and both cheeses were certainly far better than the stuff that usually comes on nachos in a restaurant. The corn chips were all full of flavour as well and went really well with the salsa, guacamole and soured cream which were served in plentiful quantities. Neither of us had knowingly had sweet roquito berries before and they add a good little bit of additional heat and sweetness without being too much to handle or overpowering the other gentle ingredients.

The crate contained fish and chips

As we were beside the water and at an old dockyard, in a restaurant called The Dock, it seemed only right to have fish for the main course. I was a little unsure about what I actually wanted so opted for the fish and chips as it was comforting but also claimed to be something a little different and also one of the more reasonably priced dishes on the menu at £11.

Sustainably sourced cod in a vodka batter with a minted pea puree, our own tartare sauce and thick cut chips, served with lemon

Whilst I loved the presentation of the nachos and the plates that were provided there I was not too convinced by the presentation of the fish and chips. I liked the idea of the food coming in a mini crate but the paper they used at the bottom to stop food falling through was not very greaseproof and instead required to be removed from the fish before it could be eaten.The peas being in a little pot made it  quite difficult to get either the fork or a chip into it to get them out but again this was required because of the food being served in the little crate.

The food itself was very tasty with the chips being soft and fluffy on the inside whilst crispy but not overly so on the outside. The fish was fresh and soft to the point where it easily broke up when cutting past the crispy, but disappointingly plain although I never really expected to be able to get anything from the batter having vodka in, but not dampened down batter surrounding it. To call the peas a puree is simply a lie as they were much more like solidified mushy peas rather than how I would imagine a puree and if there was any mint in there it was incredibly well hidden and lacking in flavour. In a similar way the tartare sauce was very mild, which I personally liked as I can find it to be a little overwhelming sometimes, but I can imagine it being a disappointment to some people. Despite it not being the most perfect fish and chips in the world it was certainly tasty enough and the freshness of the fish and the cooking of it to make the skin pleasant enough to eat really helped to make the dish an enjoyable one.

The bowl I need in my life..

Whilst I was tucking into my fish and chips my partner had opted for a simple £11 fishcake and greens dish that on arrival looked absolutely stunningly simple in a large bowl that I really want to track down for my own kitchen. Seriously if anybody knows where I can get a bowl or general crockery that looks anything like this then please do let me know!

Homemade and served with wilted baby leaf spinach, samphire, a poached free range hens egg, cockles and hollandaise

The poached egg was cooked brilliantly and as my partner popped it open he joked about how I should have grabbed it on camera for instagram. Whilst it looked very smell compared to the size of the dish my partner informed me that because of all the elements it was very rich and he was hitting his limit; I would willingly have helped him out if he needed it because YUM look at it. If I was ever to go back into that specific place again this dish would be something I would strongly consider ordering to try for myself and would recommend over the fish and chips.

By this point we were pretty full and just chatting away whilst finishing our drinks. It is a good job though as they basically had no dessert left which part of me was gutted about because there was talk of a peanut butter cheesecake (though I honestly would have struggled to have eaten it). The meal was okay and the atmosphere was pleasant but the sun had long since disappeared and the ceilings were tall so it would have been good if the tealight on the table had actually being lit. But during our meal we did get to enjoy seeing the tiny little firework display and the Christmas tree lights just outside the restaurant getting switched on; suddenly the woman dressed in a huge bell costume and the swarm of little children suddenly made much more sense.

A good evening overall but certainly nothing extraordinary and perhaps a little more expensive than I would usually be willing to pay for that quality of fish and chips (though I was not paying so I should not complain too much).

A Night In Cardiff: Holiday Inn City Centre

I love to travel and especially around the UK. There are so many places to go and things to discover that you can end up almost anywhere and have a good time.

But this weekend my partner and I had a reason to leave gloomy grey surroundings of London, hop on a coach and travel to Cardiff; a PHD event at the National Museum of Wales that my partner wanted to attend to find out more about how to apply for funding and to meet with some representatives from certain institutions.

Due to work restraints on my part and my partner having a gig by The Damned in Brixton on the Saturday we decided to head off on the Sunday morning, have the day to ourselves and then do our own individual thing on Monday before returning to London once more. We originally looked at AirBnB places but we left booking quite late and the ones remaining had £15 cleaning fees for one night so instead we opted for the Holiday Inn by Bute Park.

The view of Bute Park from our window

Located in the centre of Cardiff it was just a short walk from the coach drop off point as well as being near to a lot of shops, restaurants and most importantly the museum my partner would be visiting.
Reviews on TripAdvisor were pretty mixed and did make me a little nervous that the room would be of poor quality or the breakfast would be a disappointment but on arrival it was okay and everything went smoothly.

The staff in reception were lovely, the lobby was clean and several people were sat in the hotel bar enjoying a drink or having a meeting. We were told all the usual information about breakfast time and how to locate our room and were free to head off in one of two working lifts to the fifth floor.

After navigating our way down the corridors we found ourselves at the front of the hotel that overlooks the main road and the park. The traffic noise was noticable but I could imagine that being better than if you were placed at the back with a match happening in the Principality stadium located right next door.

The room was not the largest but it did have all the requirements, once we had located the kettle inside the wardrobe, and was of a reasonable temperature. The bedsheets were clean and well arranged on the bed with the towels in the bathroom carefully put on the rails.

After dropping off our stuff for an evening out, more on that tomorrow, we returned to the room and watched the usual Sunday night TV (Planet Earth II) and noticed the TV had a little clock function in the bottom corner rather than leaving you without a clock as many hotel rooms do. But the TV and bed were in slightly strange locations as the TV was mounted on the wall ahead of the bed but on the right hand side meaning the person on the left struggled to see the screen without straining their neck. It looked like the bed once used to be more central in the room as it was rammed up against one bedside table, with little room to walk between the bed and the wall, and a huge gap on the other side but the current positioning was illogical for the only feature point in the room.

Trying to get to sleep and remain asleep proved a little more challenging as the pillows were rather large and even just the one left us feeling that our necks were cranked on too much of an angle and I would certainly recommend the hypo-allergenic ones as they may well be a little more managable. Neither of us woke up feeling particularly refreshed and both had slightly aching backs from our unfortunate neck positioning but the beds themselves were no worse than sleeping in our own bed.

But waking up meant it was time to try out the shower and head down for breakfast. My partner was rather unamused that instead of shower gel they provided you with a bar of soap and as a result decided to use some of the bath foam instead (in fairness to him the soap had a strong and not pleasing smell of aloe vera) but the showering process otherwise went smoothly.

The bathroom itself looked a little tired with the odd replaced tile that did not line up with existing ones, signs of wear and tear and a door that did not shut particularly well. Whilst I did not use it the bath was bigger than many in budget hotels and knowing I could at least sit in it if I wanted was good enough for me.

We paid for breakfast in advance with our room cost and it worked out at just a few pounds per person to enjoy a buffet breakfast in the hotel dining room so we just handed down, provided the room number and got shown to a seat without any hassle of adding the fee to the room card. They asked if we wanted tea or coffee and proceeded to make it for us whilst we headed off to select some juice and get breakfast.

The better looking egg

I first went to the cooked breakfast section and found the usual generic items, though I was surprised to see black pudding, and after looking I went for the slightly overcooked fried egg instead of the rather runny looking scrambled egg *gip*. There were two different types of sausage and the paler one that had herbs running through it was the better but the first one was tasty enough too. Nothing I picked up was horrible and I gobbled it all up although it could have done with some toast or sauce but they were in other sections of the buffet!

A mound of fruit under some yoghurt

To balance the unhealthy feeling of the cooled breakfast and knowing we had a long day ahead of us I opted for some fruit and yoghurt as well. This bowl consisted of a berry compote which tasted fresh and delightful and a variety of other fruits that make up a mixed salad. The orange segments were rather bitter and even the yoghurt did not soften them very well. My partner and I had a debate about whether some chunks were grapefruit or pineapple as they rather lacked flavour but the conclusion was grapefruit. Tasty enough but despite trying to drain all the fruit juice off from each section before putting it in my bowl I still ended up with a puddle of the stuff that made my yoghurt unhappy.

By this point I am pretty much full but there was pastry, cheese and ham hanging around; my weakness. So my partner got this plate for us to share and I went about nibbling on it. The croissant was good as it was buttery, soft and flaky but you could tell the cheese had been sitting outside the fridge not just whilst at the buffet but in the kitchen too as it had gone from its creamy soft state to a more rubbery and more noticeably ‘cheesy’ one.

Overall the hotel, room (with its three large mirrors dotted around) and breakfast was okay and if I was to return to Cardiff it would be amongst my considerations of where to stay (providing there was not a rugby match scheduled) but with the price being fairly average I would consider other central options as well.

Everything did feel a little dated and like it could do with a freshen up; old marks on the paint, a cracked skirting board, a wobbly desk and the previously mentioned half replaced tiles. Apparently a modernisation is planned though so I would love to know what a new look Holiday Inn appears like and if they provide any additional services to the ones on offer in Cardiff City Centre.

Have you ever stayed in this hotel or a Holiday Inn? What did you think?

Rustic Or Just Half-Hearted: Bianco43 Croydon Review

I recently brought the phrase “Helping people explore places with positivity” into my Twitter bio to explain not only my professional job but also for this blog. I love to write about things and give others the Lowedown (play on my surname klaxon) on where is worth going and where is not. Every time I step through the door of somewhere my fingers are crossed that the review will be positive as nobody likes a Debby Downer but that is not always the case. I love to write good reviews about places because generally the food, staff and concept deserve it and I appreciate the time they have taken to find me and contact me with an invite.

This is one of those unfortunate moments where I tell you a tale of woe based on my partner and I’s experience at the celebratory launch party of Bianco43 in South Croydon. Not all reviews can be positive because sadly not all places can be great and I have a responsibility to be honest to you as readers even when I am invited to an event like this one for free. The décor was questionable but perhaps just part of a rustic feeling they were going for, the staff seemed unhappy and the ambassador (the guy who pays the bills rather than being the boss) said all of the wrong things in the space of just a few sentences.

I’m not sure the plants in the branded planters were real

Whenever I meet people involved in a food venture their enthusiasm for the food and the desire to cement their location for decades and generations to come oozes out of them and fills the air. Last night was a first though when the ambassador came across and started a discussion with us, as he went on to do with every table, saying how he challenged us to find a better Italian restaurant in London with the same price point. A bold claim but looking on Tripadvisor you quickly discover their Blackheath, Greenwich and Trafalgar Square branches hardly have overwhelmingly great reviews and how Vapiano regardless of branch location come up the same, if not better, across the board.
He went on to describe how their demographic was people that could come once every month or two rather than just once or twice a year and explained how unlike Boxpark they were not aiming at a really young audience (which explains the little crèche section they have to allow parents to enjoy their meal as well). It seemed like he was keen for the restaurant to build up a loyal following from Croydon and the surrounding areas.

That sounds like raw enthusiasm and like somebody who is really passionate about expanding their restaurant and see it bloom and develop in front of his eyes but when asking him about what made them choose Croydon as their next location the answer broke my heart. After telling me about how “Croydon is the new Shoreditch and it’s more accessible to people who do not want to go to Central London and pay travel to get there” they chose Croydon based on council investment to make the area look prettier and how they think it is going to bring more established restaurants to the Restaurant Quarter in South Croydon to allow them to sell the restaurant for a quick profit.

The ‘rustic’ décor

An awkward laugh from me and a wry smile and he took that as his cue to leave our table and go and have a chat with another group of people. I was half tempted to get up there and then before any food had even come out and write a whole piece on the décor and the vulgar approach of the ambassador because nothing puts me in a worse mood than being told “Croydon is the new Shoreditch” because I care about how much further my rents are going to rise y’know.

The glasses of house wine with a tealight on top of a jar of broken up wax

I took a big gulp of my warm white wine, the second glass I had was much cooler despite staff complaining about a broken fridge, and took a look at my surroundings whilst my partner popped to examine the toilets. The less said about the wine the better; if the house white and red wine were not watered down or of the lowest % then I would be really interested to know what it actually was as it had a thin consistency and the flavour did not linger in the back of the throat.. it was not that it was a really good quality wine either as it was not smooth to swallow or aromatic to the smelling senses. There were thin prints of pizza and abstract art nailed onto the walls, though the nails were only half in, and it had that rustic and cool ‘half-finished’ look about it. It is usually a look that you can tell the company has paid more for it to appear half finished but after hearing about bog-standard cubicles and buckets with stones at the bottom instead of traditional sinks the feeling quickly became ‘this was done on a shoestring and my god it shows’. The kitchen was open and you could see what was happening but the kitchen staff looked incredibly uncomfortable as wine glasses dotted on the restaurant side behind what I assume is the pizza oven came close to being knocked off by people’s handbags as they passed by to the toilet.

The precariously placed wine glasses

After half an hour of sitting in there, I always like to sit at opening events like this as it gives me a good sense of how sound travels and how comfortable the seats are, I was shuffling around in my wooden and wicker seat needing a cushion or something for comfort. The chair itself was adequate but the size of the table to have four seats around it was ridiculous. My partner and I kept clashing knees and whilst the ambassador had sat next to me he had being nudging the unused chair into my kneecap because there just was not enough room to fit that many people around it comfortably. But I held out, moved my chair back from the table, and tried to convince myself it would get more manageable.
Unlike the previous openings I have gone to, such as Spiaggia, the food was just put down on one table which was not even particularly central and people had to launch themselves towards the table to get anything. Despite many attempts from my partner he managed to mainly score some mozzarella, bruschetta and two of these balls that I think contained rice, mince and tomato but I am not 100% sure as well as a small amount of tomato pasta which apparently had aubergine in but not of that found its way into my portion.

Buschetta and sort of rice ball

There were further signs of them wanting to save money in the food itself. The mozzarella was not the best I have ever had and instead had a more rubbery and less creamy texture to that I am used to and the lack of any seasoning on it did nothing to enhance the hidden flavours of such quality of mozzarella. The tomatoes were fresh and vibrant and mixed with garlic and a little seasoning the topping of the bruschetta was enjoyable, although the bread was over toasted and did not seem as fresh as you might expect from a restaurant on opening night. Those weird ball things I mentioned (looking at the menu there is no clear name for them) were tasty and pretty much the only thing that I truly enjoyed eating for the whole time we were there – a plate of those and I would have been happy.

The pasta that was rather hard to serve with only a standard sized fork..

But eventually we moved away from the starters and onto the main courses with the first being the pasta.. a pasta that was generally al dente, which I am fine with as I know we Brits are often butchering pasta within an inch of its life, but there were bits that were rubbery and undercooked to a point of raw. The dish itself tasted strongly of tomato but it seemed to lack much in the way of seasoning, a good crack of pepper would have really given it a boost, and the distribution of everything was poor. I would have asked my partner to get a few more mouthfuls for me to see if I just had an unfortunate section but there were no serving spoons at the table so everybody was having to battle to get pasta on their plates with forks – a further sign that their method of serving was not particularly great and there seemed to be a lack of labelling as to what anything was supposed to be.
Along the way we had our shared empty plate snatched away from us which meant that when we went to get more food, when some finally arrived, there were no plates to put anything on and everybody was looking a bit bewildered by their plate being taken if there were no replacements. Some staff seemed to come along and grab empty glasses away whilst others were over cautious and nervously asked if the glass was done with and it seemed there was no balance and perhaps even a lack of training and organisation on the staff front (which is something I always blame on the management rather than the staff themselves because they can only do so much without guidance).

The above video is from the start of the night. The music that I am about to describe was approximately 3× louder than that here and until the following point I did not realise we were sitting under a speaker.

After the live singing stopped and the music started to blast out of the speaker to the point where the level of noise was making me feel sick (think being in a club where the music is vibrating through your body because you have some how found yourself next to the DJ), and given the poor quality of the majority of the food on offer, I decided that was my cue to leave. We left just after another table near us left and just before another group wandered outside and down the road too; both groups were muttering about the lack of organisation and the poor quality of food so my partner and I were not the only ones unimpressed. We had been there for two hours and not consumed that much food and I was not keen to wait on the fight for the pizzas as the crowds around the food table continued to increase as people got more hungry and faces showed impatience.. if they were to ever actually arrive. Apparently they did arrive and pictures I have seen show rather one too many burnt patches on the oven baked crusts (dark patches are expected but there were one too many blackened circles for my liking).
I feel my partner’s tweet is a good summary “would recommend @bianco_43 if you want Pizza Express with worse food, more property speculation and décor inspired by a slum landlords shed”.

I am considering giving the restaurant a go when a standard service is in full swing to see how staff act and what the quality of the food is like when they do not have people standing staring into the kitchen expectedly. If I do return I will do a follow up review to let you know if it is better, the same or worse than these first impressions. Otherwise feel free to search online for other reviews to get more perspectives as this is just my personal opinion.

Getting Back Into Using Products Up

Since starting work my self-care routine has completely gone out of the window and with that the amount of products I touch, let alone use up, has decreased massively too.

whilst new products have generally stopped coming into my life I still have a huge backlog of items to work through and the amount of stuff I have in my life at the minute is really overwhelming me.

The stuff I have in the cupboards, in the boxes and on the chest of drawers are all things that I want to use up and try out but finding the enthusiasm to pick them up or look after my skin etc has been pretty diminished recently. And that only stresses me out more as I have the things for me time but am struggling to justify the me time and I am hoping that my need to clear my mind by de-cluttering items around me will help to force me to find the time.

For me using stuff up is not just about de-cluttering the space around me and allowing me to think clearer but also because it makes each day seem like a little treat to myself and in my effort to save money that helps trick my brain into thinking I do not need to reward myself with a purchase because I have already purchased things to use. That might not make any sense to you but in my head it creams logic.

If I am not using the products up that I purchased or were given to me out of generosity and kindness then I am not doing myself justice and the whole reason of me working to have money to buy nice things for myself is pointless. I need to learn to love myself and to remember that things that are purchased are to be used and it takes barely any time at all to apply a bit of cream here and there.

I have set out some reminders to myself to help me use up products:

  • Telling myself if I have a time for a bath I have the time to apply various products, such as lotion or body butter, when I get out.
  • Putting a select few products so they are more in my eye view and not surrounded by an overwhelming stack of other items.
  • Try using the smaller products up first. This reduces the stack quicker and helps get me into the habit of specific products.
  • Putting make-up on in the morning instead of sitting in bed on social media for thirty minutes will make me far happier as I will be using products up and making real me time.

What are your top tips to using products up, especially when you are overwhelmed by product numbers, and getting into a good routine?