- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
I recently decided to eat healthier and to avoid anything that does not have a high nutritional value - such as chocolate, fried foods or instant meals. One of the things I love the most is soup, but I feel that the instant soups available at supermarkets do not contain enough natural goodness and too many additives. A little experimenting lead me to develop my favourite vegetable soup ever.
To make the soup you will need:
- One sweet potato
- 250 grams of carrots
- 1/2 savoy cabbage
- two handfuls of chick peas
- 100 grams of Quick Soup mix (available at Holland & Barrat and contains green lentils, red lentils and barley)
- 1 Kallo organic vegetable stock cube
- some soy sauce
- some pepper
- approx 500 - 750 ml of water (but can add more if you want a more liquid soup)
If you like, you can also add some chicken breast to give the soup a higher protein boost.
HOW TO MAKE THE SOUP
The night before making the soup, soak the chick peas. These need to be boiled the next day with a little salt for approximately 1 1/2 hours. If this seems like too much work, substitute for half a tin of chick peas (but these are less nutritious).
Place the Quick Soup mix in a large pot and add the water and Kallo organic vegetable stock cube (crumbled). Dice the sweet potato and add to the mix. Cover the pot and start boiling.
In the meantime, chop the carrots. Once the soup comes to a boil, add the carrots, let boil for another 5 minutes and then lower the heat to medium.
Chop the savoy cabbage and wash thouroughly. Add to the soup mix and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Finally, add the chick peas and/or chicken, season with light soy sauce and pepper and let simmer for a further 10 minutes.
The soup will be very hot - so let it stand for a few minutes before serving.
This soup works well as either a starter or a main dish. If you prefer a smooth soup instead of chunks, simply let the soup cool down and blend it in a blender, then reheat and serve.
I am very loyal to Neutrogena. I have been using a certain product for about 10 years now, Neutrogena cleansing pads. These were the only cleansing pads that ever worked for my acne. This product does not exist in the UK, it is only available in the USA. I have tried to inquire with Neutrogena about whether they would want to market it over here, but they told me that their distributor Johnson & Johnson does not intend to distribute this product here at this time.
Since importing from the USA does not make much economic sense, I decided to try some other Neutrogena facial products. This was my first pick and I was quite impressed.
This product comes in an orange and grey tube and contains 150ml. It costs £4.99 at Sainsbury's and is also available at Boots and Superdrug, usually priced between £3.50 and £5.00.
It can be used in two ways: Either as a daily facial wash or as a weekly 5 minute mask. The daily usage is intended to prevent blemishes and the weekly mask is intended to deep cleanse and condition your skin.
*Weekly 5-minute mask*
I opted to try the first minute mask first. You wet your face, put a small amount of the product in your hands, lather it up and then disperse it evenly on your face.
After about 30 seconds, your skin starts feeling very cool and tingly. I was not sure whether I liked the tingly sensation, at times it seemed a bit strong. But the coolness was definitely nice. Almost like an air conditioning system for your face.
I left the mask on for a bit longer than 5 minutes, at which point it became a bit dry. I strongly suggest to keep to the recommended time on the packaging.
When I washed and dried my face, my skin felt very tight and exceptionally clean and smooth. It even glowed.
I was surprised to find that my skin still felt very clean in the morning. Normally I have this urge to wash and clean my face when I wake up. But it still felt very smooth.
I have to admit that I really wanted to apply the 5 minute mask again - and that the very next day. I did not want to wait for a week to have that exceptional feeling on my skin again. Consequently, I experimented a little and found that it did not harm my skin if you use the mask more than once a week. However, I would not recommend using it more than three times in any 7-day period, as it does dry out your face.
*Daily facial wash*
Since I work out a lot, I tend to get quite sweaty. this seems to cause some acne to my face. I brought this product to the gym with me to try it as a daily facial wash.
Even as a daily facial wash you get the cool and tingly feeling when using it. Just as with the mask, my skin felt very clean and tight afterwards. As an added bonus, my skin appeared to be a lot less dry than usual!
Overall, I much prefer the mask to the ordinary facial wash.
This product will easily last you a couple of months, since you do not need to apply very much to get the effect. I believe that this represents good value for your money.
Do take the warning on the bottle seriously and do not get the product into your eyes. I found that using the product in the shower made some of it run into my eyes - and that does sting. Perhaps it is better to use over the skin.
On a couple of occassions, I have had a sore spot develop under my skin that had not come to a head yet. I managed to avert the spot and reduce the pain associated with it by distributing a small amount of the product on the area on my face, leaving it on there until it dried and then scrubbing it off with a cloth.
***What this product does not do***
If you are looking for a miracle product that battles all your spots , I am afraid you are looking in the wrong place. I still get the odd spot here and there. But then again, the product only promises to fight blemishes, not spots.
I really like this product. It does make my skin look a lot healthier and I honestly cannot wait to use this product again (though I am not yet sure whether using it more than once a day might dry my skin out too much).
Tel (UK): 0845 601 5789
As we were going to spend our bank holiday weekend following Alice Cooper around the Celtic Manor golf course at the All Star Cup 2006 in Newport, South Wales, we needed to arrange for some accommodation nearby. After some debating about whether we should indeed stay in Newport or in Cardiff instead, we came across the Holiday Inn in Newport, which was described as being just opposite the venue. We were even more thrilled to hear that the prices were fairly reasonable and that the hotel allowed for late check-in,
As I am a worrier by nature, I called up the hotel several times the week before our arrival to ensure that our room would not be given away if we checked in after 11 pm. I was assured that they would keep it at least until 2 am in the morning, which left we relaxed and reassured that I would be resting my head on a nice pillow upon arrival.
The hotel is very easy to find, simply get off the M4 motorway at junction 24, follow directions to the B4237 and less than two minutes from exiting the motorway will you be able to see the large green Holiday Inn sign. It has a massive car park - and the setting look very peaceful and inviting - until I looked at some of the windows of the guestrooms from the outside and realised that this place certainly has not been renovated recently.
As we entered the hotel, an instant smell of smoke enveloped us, not too strong, yet present, coming clearly from the hotel bar, which is adjacent to the lobby and reception. An older gentleman, who was friendly and pleasant enough, helped us almost instantly. As he checked the computer I heard him mumbling, barely audible, "Two nights, smoking room". I was not sure if I heard him correctly so I said to him, "Two nights, non-smoking room." He looked up like a deer startled by headlights. "We have no more non-smoking rooms, I am afraid." And as an afterthought, "Only twin rooms."
This, for me, is a problem. I hate the smell of smoke and it is for that reason that you will rarely get me into a pub - once or twice a year at most. Whilst my other half shrugged his shoulders indicating that there was nothing we could do, I immediately started grumbling, "I called this hotel three times at least three times to ensure our non-smoking room would not be given away." Turning to my fiancé I said. "If it smells too bad, we will need to go for the twin room." The man tapped away on the computer and after a couple of minutes, provided me with a new room number. A non-smoking room - taken from another guest who had not checked in yet.
I thanked him profusely, and we started heading towards our room.
After all that hassle, I was looking forward to getting to bed - that was until we entered the room. What lay before us was little better than a student dorm. Set in pastel pinks and yellows, part of the wall had damp on it and required a serious paint job. One of the lamps hang crooked on the wall - giving it a distinct "Fawlty Towers" feel. The bed, far from looking inviting, was set very low, covered with a simple white sheet and two tiny pillows - which turned out to be simply filled with foam and not very comfortable. Equally uncomfortable was the super-soft and stone-aged mattress - lying down you could feel every single spring and every time you moved slightly, the entire bed would wobble.
There was a little tea and coffee point - offering instant tea, hot chocolate, coffee and a couple of biscuits, which of course I made use of. The kettle, however, was fairly antiquated and far from clean, leading to me having to wash the pot out thoroughly before even thinking about boiling water for a cup of tea.
The TV system was actually quite modern compared to the rest of the room- offering regular TV, a selection of movies and details about your bill and other useful information, e.g. area information. There was also high speed Internet access available, adding a touch of 21st century to the place.
The bathroom was relatively clean - but not very inviting. Every time you turned on the light, the fan would start up in a noisy and unpleasant way - and in fact the fan was so useless that guests are asked to close the bathroom door to avoid steam from escaping and setting off the fire alarm. The showerhead was also slightly annoying, affixed in such an inconvenient way that you had to remove it from the holster in order to wash, rather than being able to simply stand under the nozzle and relax. On the upside - the bathtub was rather large, making it even comfortable for a six-foot man to take a soak.
During the first night, I could not get comfortable at all - I was absolutely freezing and got less than four hours of sleep. I slept better during the second night, but that may have been due to pure exhaustion.
When booking, I was given the option to purchase breakfast at £9 per morning for two people, an option that I chose simply because I rightly suspected that there would not be much around otherwise. There is an option to order Continental or English breakfast as room service, but this comes in at a much higher price - I believe around £10 for Continental and £13.50 for English.
Breakfast is served as a buffet in the main restaurant of the hotel - usually during the hours of 6.30 a.m. and 10 a.m. While there is a decent amount of choice, the quality is beyond poor. There is fruit on display - but most of it has clearly come out of a tin, making healthy breakfast a near impossibility. Otherwise there is a selection of ham and cheese, yogurts, cereals, brown or white toast, pain au chocolat and croissants. For those who prefer warm food, there are sausages, bacon, eggs, black pudding and baked beans on display - most of it looking so unappealing that it made my stomach turn instantly.
You also have a choice of fruit juices and tea and coffee - although the service is very slow and we had to wait for a pot of tea to be delivered for 30 minutes on one of the days. The servers are also very slow to clear the tables after a meal.
*Lunch and dinner options*
For lunch and dinner you have the option to dine in the hotel restaurant or in the bar. Room service is also available - serving exclusively from the bar menu.
The restaurant menu was quite decent - offering a couple of appetizers, four or five mains and four or five desserts. The problem was that we could not get a table when we were starving. You might think that this indicates that this restaurant is rather popular, but as we arrived at 8 p.m. asking for a table for two, we were sent away and were told they did not have a table until 9 p.m. - even though half the restaurant was empty (and those tables never did fill up).
We therefore sat in the bar area, where we got tiny drinks of coke and pineapple juice (three sips in each glass) and ordered from the bar menu, which serves typical pub food: burgers, fish and chips, scampi and chips, baked potatoes and lasagna, to name a few. I had enough of unhealthy food after having spent the day at the golf course - but virtually the healthiest option was a baked potato with ham and melted Brie. My other half opted for the chicken burger.
The food was a real disappointment. My baked potato had obviously just been stuffed into the microwave - it was cold when it arrived. And the chicken burger turned out to be an unhealthy concoction of breaded chicken and a generous amount of cheese, which made my fiancé feel queasy for hours after he had finished the meal.
The vending machine on the lower level came in very handy - selling water and other drinks at decent prices and averting the need to drink tap water. There is also a mini-gym in the hotel, but we had no time or inclination to use it during our short stay.
One of the things that I had not caught onto (because I was not told) when we first checked in is that the Holiday Inn takes a £120 deposit as you check in. This is to ensure that you do not depart without checking out. You should therefore not be surprised when you are asked to settle your bill on departure. That is all fine by me, as they only took the agreed room rate, but I did feel like they should have explained why they were asking me to key in my pin number on arrival and then again on check-out.
Checkout was indeed very speedy - and there is an option for express checkout, which we did not make use of.
We paid £64 a night for our standard room. To be honest, this is overpriced for the quality of service and room that we received. A reasonable room rate would have been around the £45 mark.
We certainly would not stay here again unless we did not have any other option. The rooms simply felt too much like a student dorm and I am sure that other hotels would have offered better rooms at lower rates. We were "conned" into staying here by the promise of a three star hotel, but it is obvious that these stars have been awarded for other reasons than room standards and service. It is more likely to be due to its convenient location of the motorway, its free parking lot and the mini gym. While it would be unfair to say that the stay was nightmarish, it certainly did not make our weekend away feel like a vacation.
Hotel Front Desk: 44-1633-412777
Hotel Fax: 44-1633-413087
*Please note that the picture of the hotel is incorrect. It pictures the Holiday Inn Express rather than the Holiday Inn*
Back In January, one of my fiancé's colleagues recommended Sarastro to us as a nice restaurant for our anniversary. He said that Sarastro boasted both a romantic atmosphere and a vast selection of delicious seafood on its menu. As we approached the establishment, however, which is located just off Covent Garden in Drury Lane, we started to have our doubts. It looked a little bit too hidden. While the menu looked alright, a peak inside through the glass doors have us the impression that it was a little to "kitsch" for our liking. We walked away without entering and went elsewhere. A couple of weeks ago, however, we were in the mood for some adventure and decided to give it a try. How we wish we had followed our first instincts!
The restaurant was opened in 1996. It was created and designed by artist and international designer Richard "Salim" Sleeman who was responsible for creating a Turkish bath and art gallery in Southern Spain. It was his idea to place contemporary items and period art all around the restaurant to give it a unique and flamboyant feel.
Sarastro was named after one of the characters of Mozart's "The Magic Flute".
***Ambience and décor***
The restaurant looked a lot more inviting from the outside in the summer than it did during the grey winter months. Sarastro is decorated with lovely colourful flowers on the outside, giving it a spring-type and refreshing feel. We approached and entered the restaurant without actually checking the menu again.
The impression that Sarastro is a little "kitsch" was instantly confirmed as we entered. The place is dominated by tones of shimmering gold and red, giving it a mix of a medieval and opera house feel. We were greeted by a host who asked us how many people were in our party and then quickly waved over his colleague to lead us to a table.
In terms of the layout, Sarastro sports a "cubicle-type" setting, giving the diners a feel of intimacy - as long as the restaurant is not overcrowded. In the middle, they have a long wooden table, which is intended for large parties. Some of the little cubicles (or opera boxes) include two tables for parties of two - and in fact, the waitress initially intended to seat us next to another couple, until we looked at her with disapproval and she sat us elsewhere. This turned out to be a good move on our part, as the other couple proceeded to chain smoke throughout the meal - indicating clearly that Sarastro either has not moved into the 21st century and to segregating smokers from non-smokers or that they were too ignorant to actually ask where we would like to be seated.
Initially, we were a little impressed with the setting. Each opera box has lovely colourful satin table clothes and a funky satin napkin, which the waitresses will place over your lap. You kind of feel like you are in an ancient, stationary coach. However, the seating arrangements are not particularly comfortable and certainly are not very accessible to elderly customers. The bench is hard and set too low and the table is consequently so high that you feel that you are drowning.
As this venue is intended to be frequented by theatre and opera lovers, the music is clearly operatic in style. At first it did not really register with us, but as the evening went on, we found it too loud and too intrusive.
I was actually very impressed with the menu, which indeed sported a number of interesting seafood and fish dishes as well as some interesting pastas, salads and meats, such as lamb. I had a really difficult time deciding on what to eat. I was seriously torn between the Big Boss Seafood Selection, the Lobster Salad and the Roast Duck with Orange Sauce. In the end, being that I love seafood, I opted for the Big Boss Seafood Selection at £14.50. My other half fancied the Mediterranean Prawns at £12.50.
We also ordered a side of mixed vegetables and a side of boiled potatoes to complement our meal at a price of £3.50 each. However, to watch our waistlines and our wallets, we decided to skip the starters. Sarastro has a number of starters on its menu, ranging in prices from £4 to £8.50. Items include asparagus, humous, grilled Cyprus cheese, fried mussels, smoked salmon, grilled sardines, soup of the day and smaller versions of the Big Boss Seafood Selection or Mediterranean Prawns.
The dessert menu also looked delightful offering chocolate cake, crème di brulee, lemon tart or a cheese selection.
For wine lovers, Sarastro offers a wide selection over 50 wines.
Initially, we were quite happy at Sarastro. The menu looked good, although slightly on the expensive side. Shortly after we sat down, we were brought a basket of pita bread and a plate of carrots and olives to nibble on. On the table, there was a fancy looking dip, but we eyed this with some suspicion as it had been there before our arrival and did not look like it was freshly made. We therefore opted to eat the pita without dip - and it was cold, hard and too salty for our liking. The plate of carrot sticks, however, came in very handy and was instantly devoured by us.
The waitresses seemed to be alright and happy enough to help - until we ordered water instead of wine, at which point the friendliness, attentiveness and service went down a level. I suppose skipping the starter only made matters a little worse.
The food did not take too long to arrive. I think we probably waited under 30 minutes, but as we were distracted with nibbles, this passed rather quickly. We just instantly started feeling out of place, as we could neither appreciate the musical background nor did the décor leave a lasting impression to hold up our enjoyment levels. My fiancé commented at some stage that this was probably the type of establishment that is best enjoyed drunk - but neither one of us drinks alcohol, so we could not vouch for that.
I actually was visually delighted when the food came out. My fiancé's prawns very quite large, came with their heads on and were beautifully presented on a bed of lettuce. I instantly knew, however, that it would not be enough food for him. My Big Boss Seafood Selection, which essentially consisted of small prawns, mussels and squid, looked a little less exciting with a small portion of rice on the side and drowned in a white sauce. I had kind of been hoping for scallops in the seafood mêlée, but as the menu did not specify the types of sea creatures that would visit my plate, I could not really complain.
The side orders of vegetables did not pretend to be anything fancy - the potatoes were indeed only boiled with their skin on and the mixed vegetables consisted of carrots, beans and sugar snap peas, merely chucked into a bowl without presentation style. Indeed, the side orders turned out to be a real disappointed - the potatoes being served in a bowl that still contained water and the vegetables having been drowned in so much vinegar that they did not taste of themselves but rather very sour.
I did not dislike my seafood selection, the white sauce was very creamy and rich and the portion reasonably generous. However, there were a few too many mussels for my liking - it certainly was not well-balanced. Most mussels came without their shell, but one was served in a broken shell and tasted slightly off to me. After a while, the richness of the sauce made me feel slightly nauseous and as it was occasionally difficult to distinguish between onions and squid, I felt myself chewing on one of my most-hated vegetables from time to time.
My other half found his prawns to satisfaction, however, he said that they were mere garlic shrimp and not at all worth the steep price tag attached to them.
Originally, I had my eyes set on the crème di brulee as a dessert, but after the disappointing "free" snacks and the mediocre main courses, we decided that it certainly was not worth incurring further cost. By this time, the operatic music was also doing our heads in, so it was time to go - after a quick trip to the washrooms.
In a tacky and kitsch restaurant such as this, we thought that the restaurant would have interesting washrooms. In fact, I found that they were rather uncomfortable and dirty and that they felt like a washroom trailer at a rock concert. The walls were decorated with tasteless pornographic art, in-between which various former restaurant customers left little notes, such as undying declarations of love.
On my way back to the restaurant, I was able to sneak a peak into the kitchen. I certainly did not like what I saw. It somehow did not look hygienic to me - and especially the huge plastic tub filled with brown sauce and what appeared to be lamb pieces, really put me off ever wanting to eat here again.
The shock of the day was receiving the bill, which actually came to £47 for two main meals, a bottle of water, a coke and the service charge (which is added to the bill).
We certainly will not visit this restaurant again, as after an initial moment of awe at the kitsch décor, Sarastro has very little to offer its customers. Service was poor, smokers did not appear to be segregated from non-smokers, seating was uncomfortable and claustrophobic - and the food, frankly, a disappointment and overpriced. Unless you are a real fan of kitsch and opera, you would be better off getting front row tickets to a superb performance and spending your food budget at Loch Fyne around the corner.
126 Drury Lane
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7836 0101
Fax: +44 (0)20 7379 4666
There has been a lot of debate on whether reviews on medication should be posted on consumer review sites, including Dooyoo. It certainly is not an easy and clear-cut topic, although certain individuals feel strongly about the fact that the only place that medical advice should be obtained is from are doctors.
***Why write and read reviews on medication?***
So why do we consumers like to post reviews on medicine? I have written some, especially early on in my writing career. Through reading other writer's well-written medical reviews I quickly discovered that they are very easy to write. You start out describing the purpose of the product. You inform consumers whether it is available over the counter or by prescription. You mention the cost. You mention the recommended dosage. You list the possible side effects and dive straight into your personal opinion. And then you can post yet another review to earn you a few pennies. It's much easier than reviewing a technological gadget, as the package inlay gives you the bulk of your review.
Another reason for writing reviews on medicine is a sincere interest in helping other consumers. When I reviewed Migraleve, for example, I was keen to add my own experience and help consumers who might suffer from the same horrible migraines that I suffer from.
And why do we like to read reviews on medicine? I think when it comes to over-the-counter medication, especially drugs like cough medicine and painkillers, consumers are just overwhelmed with choice. A new product comes on the market and we wonder if it will be any good. Reading about other consumers' experiences with such products gives us a little more basic information - information that is actually rarely provided by GP's, who rather prescribe something else. And when it comes to a choice between various prescription medicines, especially something as widely taken as the contraceptive pill, it is interesting to read about the different options that are available to us. Our GPs are overworked - they will not sit there and give us a list of 10 different contraceptive pills that are available to us and tell us their pros and cons. They will simply prescribe one - and if it does not work or if there are side effects, they will simply prescribe another one.
***The pros and cons of reviews on medication on consumer review sites***
As mentioned above, I think the biggest merit of including reviews on medications on consumer review sites is information. It allows consumers to learn about different products that they may have considered buying, but knew little about. Is that really such a bad thing? Face it, if it is an over-the-counter drug, it is likely to have any highly adverse consequences on you - after all, if it would be dangerous, the British Medical Association would not make it freely available. You may buy some Sudafed cough medicine because I said in a review that it worked for my persistent cough - but if it does not work for you, you will simply be a little annoyed, perhaps write your own review on your experience to give us a balanced set of opinions - and then you will throw it away and never use it again. How is that any different to you buying a shampoo that someone claims to give your hair extreme volume, but which leaves your own hair absolutely flat?
And conversely, if I am recommending a prescription drug that worked for me, there is no real danger to your well-being, simply because you will not be able to obtain it that easily. You will still need to visit your GP and ask for him or her to prescribe it to you, at which stage it is their job to consider whether it is indeed appropriate for you. So if you like the sound of a certain contraceptive pill you never heard about before, a review posted on Dooyoo gives you the information you need to go to your GP and ask whether this may be a good option for you. It does not instantly lead to you taking a drug that may (or may not) affect you differently than it has affected the writer of the review.
The main problem lies in the quality of reviews on medication. In order to be helpful to consumers, they need to be balanced and include a lot of disclaimers. Often someone is really disappointed with a product and the next thing they will do is to log onto Dooyoo or another review site, warning consumers off the certain product wholeheartedly without giving any further details on the product. Conversely, they may post a review stating that the drug is "simply the best product on the market", failing to state the side effects that some patients may experience. This is where such reviews become dangerous. Few of us reviewers are doctors or nurses - and as such we should not write a review on medication that is unqualified. In addition, we should always include the disclaimer that consumers should obtain advice from their GP or a pharmacist.
***So how do we solve this dilemma?***
I would be a little disappointed to see medical reviews disappear from Dooyoo completely, however, I do think that unlike some other product categories, there should be some quality control. A short review with an unqualified statement on whether the product is good or bad will neither help us consumers nor will it do the drug manufacturers any favours.
Perhaps this is one category where posting should not be automatic, but where someone, for example a Dooyoo Guide, must cast an eye on it before the review can make it on the site. I am not talking about superbly strict controls here - I am just talking about avoiding those reviews that are easily recognisable as an unqualified statement of disappointment or happiness about a medication to be posted on the site. Of course, this may all be administratively difficult and not feasible.
There is an inherent danger in allowing reviews on medicines to be posted without some kind of quality control. The hypochondriac consumer that is easily convinced about the merits of certain drugs may be tempted by a review simply stating that a drug is a miracle product without listing its pros and cons. Conversely, a consumer may do a lot of damage to a drug manufacturer by merely posting a rant or anger about the effects that a certain product has had on him or her.
As much as I would like to see reviews on medication have their place on Dooyoo and other consumer review sites, I believe that if quality control is not feasible because of an excessive administrative burden, it would be best for everyone to simply shut the category down completely.
The Pickle Barrel was never really a place that appealed to me, simply because its name does not exactly convey the most enticing foods imaginable. Even though it is widely advertised in Canada, I never once set foot across their doors. On our recent visit to Toronto, however, it was my fiancé who became instantly intrigued with the place - and for days and days he kept suggesting that we should pay the branch located in the Atrium at Yonge Street and Dundas Street a visit. I was still not convinced, especially when one of my friends commented that the place served "plates full of meat" and "huge portions". But who am I to refuse those gorgeous blue eyes a wish?
***Ambience and décor***
The branch we visited is rightly termed the Pickle Barrel Grand - as it stretches across two floors of the Atrium. Diners can access the restaurant either from Yonge Street or by using the tunnels of Toronto's underground city. We happened to enter from Yonge Street and were instantly greeted by a hostess, who was more than happy to let us peak at the menu before we made a decision to ask for a table and give the food a try.
The ambience at the Pickle Barrel Grand differs a lot depending on whether you are seated upstairs or downstairs. On our first visit we were seated upstairs, an area that consists of a bar in the front and a smaller seating area in the back, consisting entirely of booths. The booths are designed with a true sense of privacy from other diners, with backrests so high that it is impossible to see what is happening at the next table. The green and blue upholstery adds to the comfort of diners, as it has an instantly calming effect and increases your sense of relaxation and "getting away from it all". If you are a sports fan, this section has an added bonus of being equipped with large TV screens on two walls, which probably means that the place will be a little loud during hockey season. When we were there, however, we only saw Wimbledon tennis on display, with the sound off, accompanied by slightly cheesy love songs as background music at an appropriate volume to still be able to have a normal conversation across the table.
By contrast, the downstairs area is a lot more spacious and has more room for diners - and at the same time the atmosphere is a lot different. There are some booths that are designed with red upholstery; others feature the same lovely green-blue sea colour from upstairs. The seating area is also a lot darker downstairs, giving it a little bit of an upscale night club atmosphere - without the people and the loud dance music. We instantly agreed that the upstairs area was a lot more pleasant than the downstairs area - even though the booths still cater for that lovely feel of privacy if you happen to be seated there.
The washrooms at the Pickle Barrel are really lovely - they are spacious and are set in a luxury design that would remind diners of washrooms in four star establishments. The washrooms are very well maintained and clean. A nice touch is the fact that they offer very sturdy hand towels to dry your hands with, although I have to admit that on one occasion they had actually run out of them.
The Pickle Barrel is yet again one of those places that prides itself on its huge menu, which makes it too difficult for the indecisive to make a quick decision. On the menu you will sometimes find pictures of the food available for ordering - and that makes the decision all the more taxing, as the dishes all look so inviting. First and foremost, you can expect to see American-style food, various burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and ribs, grill specialities, chicken dishes and salads that you may desire. However, there is also an Italian feel to the menu with a wide selection of pastas to choose from. I was mostly impressed with their selection of low carbohydrate dishes, which enables the health conscious, or those who already had a high-calorie brunch, to eat something delicious that will be good to the waistline.
The waistline may be at serious risk given the variety of desserts on offer - ranging from cheesecakes, chocolate brownies, banana split, sundaes, tiramisu, apple cake and chocolate cakes to the more health conscious option of a cup of strawberries (which can be quickly "ruined" by adding ice cream, cream or frozen yoghurt to the natural fruit).
We did not have any of their appetisers, which features soup, salad, bruschetta and mozzarella sticks, coconut shrimp, popcorn shrimp, fried chicken wings, calamari, mussels and nachos. Neither did we have the time to sample The Pickle Barrel's breakfast menu, which looks truly delightful with its selection of egg dishes, French toast, waffles and fresh fruit.
For the thirsty, it is good to know that The Pickle Barrel offers free refills on soft drinks and ice tea. They also serve various juices, smoothies and a good selection of coffees and teas.
During our first visit, it took us at least twenty minutes to decide on what to order - I was very torn between the paella and the Hoisin Beef and Baby Bak Choy, the latter being a speciality available on the low carbohydrate menu. In the end, I opted for the Hoisin Beef, whilst my other half had one of their club sandwiches.
The waitress who tended to our needs during our first visit was not exactly the most efficient young lady, which was good in the beginning, when we took ages to decide, but became a little frustrating when it came to obtaining our free refills of ice tea and coke. On the whole, however, it did not annoy us too much, as we were thoroughly enjoying the relaxing atmosphere.
My Hoisin Beef exceeded all expectations. It did not just look inviting with all the different colours of fresh greens (Bak Choy, a Chinese vegetable), vegetables julienne, fresh brown beef and a small portion of brown Basmati rice, it was cooked to perfection - tender and juicy through the addition of just the right amount of Hoisin sauce.
My fiancé's sandwich must have been to satisfaction as well, as he announced immediately that we were to return at least once more during our stay. He did comment that my friend had been incorrect to state that the amount of food served was "too much". To me it looked like he had a lot of food on his plate, a sandwich filled to the brim with fresh ingredients and served with a generous amount of fries, but he certainly still had room for a cup of strawberries.
Being a huge cheesecake fan, I had hoped to find a variety of these on the menu - but much to my disappointed I only had the option of ordering a platter with three different types of cheesecake (strawberry, rocky road and chocolate brownie - clearly intended to be shared) or an Oreo cheesecake. As my other half is not very keen on the creamy type of dessert, I selected the Oreo cheesecake. This would transpire to be the only poor choice I made in terms of food selection at the Pickle Barrel - as to call this dessert a cheesecake is somewhat of a misrepresentation. In reality, this is more of a chocolate cake, with a very thin layer of cream cheese filling in the middle. It only occurred to me retrospectively that this was probably the reason it was called an Oreo cheesecake. Just like the Oreo cookie, the outside is a little bland, but the inside filling is the treat that everyone aspires to eat. It also only occurred to be later on that The Pickle Barrel would probably have served me one of the other cheesecakes on its own. If only I had asked.
We each had a cup of Earl Grey tea to go with our dessert - and I strongly recommend you do the same if you ever decide to visit. Without doubt, this was one of the best cups of tea I ever had. The tea bags are made of a see-through linen-type material and you can clearly see the huge tea leaves in there, sense the aroma as it slowly infuses the water and makes it so tasty that you wished the cup would last forever.
Certainly, we were impressed enough to return. On our second visit, we were seated downstairs - and this time we actually were greeted by a waitress who was talkative, friendly and highly efficient. She was the type that asks you how your day was, assists you with your menu selection and places a refill of your drink on your table before you even finished the last drop of your last glass. This came in very handy on this hot summer day, when I had finished my ice tea before I even placed my order.
I had loved the Hoisin Beef so much that I was very tempted to order it again, but I felt like I should choose something else. The other section of the menu that really appealed to me was the pasta section - especially the one that had seafood pasta on offer. Despite the fact that I knew I was going to be eating at Red Lobster the following night, a recommendation from our superb waitress, "Everyone loves our pastas and nobody has ever complained about them", made me opt for the lobster and shrimp angel hair pasta in creamy Alfredo sauce. All pastas come with a salad - and so I opted for Caesar salad, to add to my calorie total for the day. My fiancé selected a burger (Mushroom and Swiss Cheese), despite his persistent vows that he should really not have any more fries with his meals.
The amount of Caesar salad that you get served in American/Canadian restaurants would in theory be enough to constitute a meal - and the Pickle Barrel certainly adheres to this tradition. The lettuce was of the freshest and crispiest variety - and much to my delight, it was not drowned in Caesar salad sauce. A generous amount of croutons was added into the mix.
The pasta arrived on an elongated dish large enough to serve two people - and the lovely pasta was sprinkled with a touch of green herbs, vegetables julienne and accompanied by a bit of garlic baguette. The baguette was fresh and crispy, not over-saturated with garlic. As for the pasta, it proved a sheer delight - unlike some pastas in cream sauce, this one was not drowning in it, and the angel hair pasta was cooked to perfection and felt almost light as an evening meal. Naturally, I could not finish my portion, but I had assistance from my other half, who was very impressed by the sauce, which he did not find too greasy and calorific. Literally my only complaint was with respect to the amount of lobster in the pasta - it was in fact, barely visible. But then what does one expect for a pasta dish that costs only around CAD$15 (approximately £7.50)? Certainly not a whole lobster tail.
My other half quite enjoyed his burger, although it still does not beat the burger that he usually gets in our favourite establishment back in the UK. No burger ever does, but this one sure came close.
This time, we ordered a cup of strawberries to share - and unlike the first waitress, this very helpful young lady asked us whether we would like frozen yoghurt, cream or ice cream to go with it. We opted for some frozen yoghurt. This was a perfect conclusion to our meal - the strawberries were firm, ripe and sweet - and dipping them into the frozen yoghurt just added that extra little something to completely satisfy our taste buds. And of course, we also had to have some of that special Earl Grey tea.
The bill for our first visit came to less than CAD$60 (approximately £30), which included two main meals, two desserts, two cold drinks and two cups of tea. Our bill for our first visit came to less than CAD$50 (approximately £25), which only included one dessert. Main courses are priced between approximately CAD$9 (approximately £4.50) for a burger and CAD$20 (approximately £10) for a more serious meaty platter, such as ribs. Starters are priced between CAD$4 and CAD$8 (between approximately £2 and £4).
I can find little fault with the Pickle Barrel, which not only has traditional American dishes down to perfection, but also manages to serve up a variety of Asian and European dishes. Despite the extensive menu, I never felt that the restaurant has to compromise on the quality of any of the dishes. I only have two regrets. My first regret is having ordered the Oreo cheesecake - but this is purely down to my dislike for most chocolate cakes and my high expectations from cheese cakes in general. My second regret is that we did not visit The Pickle Barrel sooner. I am sure we would have returned a couple of more times during our stay if we had known how good the food and atmosphere really is.
Pickle Barrel Atrium
312 Yonge Street (near Dundas Street)
Sunday - Thursday: 8am - 11pm
Friday - Saturday: 8am - 12 midnight
Two years ago, when the rainy and damp autumn season commenced, I all of a sudden was faced with a cold of immense impact. I had this irritating cough that would feel scratchy and uncomfortable in my chest, keep me from sleeping and make me feel groggy all day long. The days turned into weeks, the weeks into months. No cough medicine would help. Eventually I realised that this could not be an ordinary cold, it had to be something more serious. I went to see my GP, who was not of much help either. She told me that it might be a cold, in which case I could not do much about it. She also thought that I might have asthma. And she also thought I might need antibiotics.
I thought her suggestions were all rather strange and since I had been facing this cough for such a long time, I had started to do some research of my own into causes. One thing I quickly discovered was that our windows were highly subject to condensation in the winter months. As a result, a nice layer of white mould had infested the window frames. I highly suspected that it had to do partially with the difference of temperatures on the inside and the outside of the house and also with the damp laundry dispersed throughout the house (which takes about 3 days to dry in the winter months). So when I described the situation to my GP, she added another possible factor to the list a mould and house dust allergy. In addition to the prescriptions for antibiotics and an inhaler, she suggested I try out an over-the-counter allergy relief product and scribbled the word Zirtek on a piece of paper.
I am the kind of person who likes to take as little medicine as possible, so I decided to ignore the inhaler and antibiotics prescriptions and head straight for the Zirtek instead.
Zirtek is available over the counter and is available as either a 7-day supply or a 21-day supply. I bought the 21-day pack, as it ends up being a lot cheaper.
On the front of the rectangular box, you can see the word Zirtek in blue lettering. Below that is its other name , also in blue cetirizine hydrochloride. Below the name you see a dark green stripe and a yellow stripe and four little circles with pictures of common allergies that Zirtek is supposed to relieve: hayfever, pet allergies, dust allergies and skin allergies.
On the back of the box you are informed that Zirtek is supposed to relieve hayfever and allergic rhintis such as dust, pet and mould allergies by combatting symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, sneezing and runny nose. It also is supposed to relieve the skin from hives and itching that may be associated with allergies.
The 21-day pack contains three silver blister packs, each containing 7 pills. These are arranged with 3 pills on one side and 4 on the other side. The pills are white and oval. Each pill is just a little bigger than a rice corn, approximately 1 cm long. On the top of the pill you see two Y engraved and a line down the middle, which enables you to know where to cut the pill if it is intended to be given to a child.
Each pill contains 10 mg of cetirizine hyrdochloride as an active ingredient. It also contains microcyrstalline celluose (E460), lactose, colloidal anhydrous silica and magnesium stearate (E 572). The coating of the pill contains hyrdroxypropylmethyl celluose (E464), titanium dioxide (E171) and polyethylene glycol.
Zirtek is known to have hardly any side-effects, but some people might experience headaches, an upset stomach, agitation, dry mouth, fits, drowsiness or dizziness.
Pregnant women should consult their doctor before taking Zirtek. Women who are breastfeeding or people with lactose intolerance should not use Zirtek at all.
***How to use***
Adults and children over the age of 6 should take one tablet a day. Children aged 6-12 have the option of either taking half a tablet twice a day or one tablet daily. You should only take one tablet in any 24 hour period preferably at the same time. If you forget to take one of your pills, take it as soon as you remember. You should then wait at least 24 hours before taking your next pill.
***Price and availability***
Zirtek is available at all pharmacies. At Boots, the 7-day pack cost me £3.89 and the 21-day pack cost me £8.39.
For those of you who just hate swallowing pills, Zirtek is certainly good news. It is so tiny that it glides down with no problems. Just one recommendation - drink more than one sip of water with it, or else you might find it working its way up your chest again! I would recommend drinking at least ½ to 1 glass of water.
The pill is completely odourless and as you should swallow the pill rather than chew it, you should find it tasteless as well.
I found that Zirtek works almost immediately within the space of 20 minutes, the scratching in my chest disappeared and the cough subsided. The effect of the pill lasts almost 24 hours I found that after about 22-23 hours, the irritation resurfaces somewhat, but disappears once I had my next dose of Zirtek.
When I used Zirtek last year, I only used it for the four days. Immediately when I started taking it, I also made sure to remove the source of my allergy as much as possible, by scrubbing down the window sills with bleach and making sure the whole house was hoovered in every corner. When I stopped using the medication, I found that I could exist normally again, without its help.
I have been on Zirtek for about 2 weeks now, and I am happy and allergy-free. This time I also went through the scrubbing and hovering process, but I just dont dare to come off it quite yet, as my allergy seems to be resurfacing every day close to having to take the pill.
I cannot say that I have experienced any side-effects with Zirtek. There was one day where I felt very dizzy and short of breath while on a walk, but that day I had also taken four Migraleve, so I would put that effect down to a combination of the two substances. I am no doctor, though, so if you are frequently taking other medication, I would have a word with yours to see if you may experience any side-effects.
I am very happy with Zirtek, as it is just such a relief not to be having this scratchy cough all the time. I highly recommend it, especially since it seems to have few side-effects. However, if your allergy is the type that can actually be removed from your life (such as dust and mould), I strongly suggest you do that in addition to taking Zirtek. It may help you come off the pills sooner and enjoy life without any assistance.
UCB Pharma Ltd
3, George Street
Watford, Herts WD18 0UH
Tel: (01923) 211811
You would be forgiven for overlooking Eggspectation, although it is rather large and located on Yonge Street near the Eaton Centre, pretty much in the heart of downtown Toronto. With its tinted windows, a passer-by would easily think that the establishment was closed - and all the more so given its confusing display of opening times using merely the first letters of the days of the week and numbers. Someone should tell them that there are two days in the week that start with the letter "T" and two days in the week that start with the letter "S". Overlooking this lovely breakfast and lunch establishment, however, would be a grand mistake given some of the unusual and "eggciting" items on the menu.
***Ambience and décor***
The place is not exactly the most inviting - as you finally make a decision to enter the doors to have a meal, you find yourself in a space that resembles a slightly upper-class canteen. You are supposed to wait for someone to show you to a table, but as the place is rather large, you are sometimes overlooked by the waiters and it can take a little while before you are seated.
All seats are wooden benches or chairs - whether you are lucky enough to receive a place in one of their few booths or unlucky enough to be seated at one of their awkwardly designed tables, where your dining partner will be slightly too far away to have an intimate conversation.
One of the reasons we had opted to eat here was the fact that Eggspectation does have a television (although a tiny one) on display - and during World Cup season, we were hoping to catch a few glimpses of the action. However, you would have to be seated in a very specific section to be able to decipher anything on the screen.
Does not sound inviting? Then I ask you not to look at the ceiling, as this may put you off slightly more. In one of the sections, you can clearly see a large silver ventilation pipe running along the wall - and grey ugly foam decorates the ceiling to either side of the pipe. The place could really do with closing for a day or two to take care of the ambience issue.
So why am I recommending this place, you will ask.
The menu at Eggspectation resembles more of a book than a selection of meals - and as such it is not the best place to eat for the indecisive. However, if you are travelling with a large group of people that all want something else, then this is exactly the place you want to go to. It is the kind of place where Gordon Ramsay would walk in and compliment the food, but turn to the chef and recommend a reduction in the size of the menu - and probably to specialise on something that holds true to the name of the establishment: dishes containing eggs.
While it is true that most of the menu does indeed consist of eggs in every form imaginable with all side dishes your heart may desire, egg-based treats such as waffles, French toast and pancakes accompanied by both sweet and savoury side orders, Eggspectation goes one step beyond and offers the likes of sandwiches, burgers, pastas, chicken and fish dishes and salads. In other words, good American cuisine. What makes the place special, however, are some of its house dishes - all named in some funky way with the word "Egg" prefixed to it, which you can find under the "Signature Eggspectation" menu.
We went to Eggspectation twice during our stay - and in fact each of our experiences was very different in nature.
Having had mostly sweet breakfasts during our first few days, I suddenly felt like I wanted some nicely prepared eggs - and so it was of no surprise that Eggspectation came to mind. Certainly, the place can be complimented for very effective branding.
By the time we reached the establishment, I was starving. It took us a few minutes before we were seated - and despite the fact that the place was absolutely buzzing, there was still a nice booth available for us. We were handed a menu - and this is where the trouble began, we simply did not know what to choose. After much deliberation, I opted for two scrambled eggs with bacon and my other half ordered the pancakes with strawberries. I had the Tropical Teaser - a fruit juice made of mangoes, bananas, pineapple and orange juice and my fiancé had the Banango, a juice with bananas, mangoes and orange juice.
The juices arrived pretty swiftly - and where much to our satisfaction, huge. Imagine 3 bottles of Innocent fruit smoothies in one glass - only with the added bonus that it will only cost you the price of one bottle. And the fruit juice is truly freshly made.
Sadly, after the swift arrival of the fruit juices, we settled into a waiting period of approximately 45 minutes, during which time we were mostly ignored by the waiters. About ten minutes before the arrival of our brunches, a basket of toast arrived at our table, which I rightly assumed was to accompany my scrambled eggs - and I devoured almost half of it instantly, filling the massive hole in my stomach.
The meals were certainly nicely presented, although I could not say that there was much in terms of food on my plate. The eggs were delicious, warm and just of the right consistency - nor too runny to cause worries of salmonella, not to overcooked to feel like you are eating a hardboiled egg. The eggs were accompanied by sliced grilled potatoes, probably the best potatoes I had during my stay in Toronto.
By contrast, my other half's plate was bursting to the seams with three large American style pancakes, which he was absolutely pleased about and simply could not finish. The only minor complaint he had was in relation to the amount of strawberries topping the delightful amount of dough - after having experienced the mountains of fruit served at Cora's, it simply did not live up to our "eggspectations".
On our second visit to Eggspectation, we were seated much quicker and found the place to be a lot more empty. This time, I ordered a freshly squeezed orange juice and my other half had the apple juice, which arrived while we were deciding on our meals. Both juices were again served in huge glasses filled to the brim. I loved my orange juice, in texture and coldness, but did not like the presentation of my other half's apple juice, which looked grey and cloudy - but he assures me was absolutely amazing. At least the natural state of the juice confirms that it was in all likelihood freshly pressed and very natural.
This time we turned to the speciality menus, in particular the section entitled "Signature Eggspectations" to examine the various dishes on offer that were lovingly termed "Eggspectation", "Eggcitement", "Eggstreme", "Uneggspected", "Eggsilaration"and "Eggstravaganza", to name just a few.
We both opted for "Eggcitement", which essentially was described as flambé French Toast with cinnamon, brown sugar and orange liqueur - served with either bananas or strawberries. We decided on the banana version. Unlike with our previous experience, we were amazed how quickly the plates were brought out, probably a combination of having made their lives easier by ordering the same thing and by the fact that there were a lot less guests present this time.
A first reaction to Eggcitement will be misleading. First of all, although the toast slices are very large, two of them simply do not appear to be enough. Secondly, the brown gunk of sticky toast and flambéed bananas is not exactly attractive to look at - it kind of has an cinnamon apple pie colour to it, but looks a lot less well presented.
Be forewarned that your first few bites may be very hot - especially the flambéed bananas - but you can guarantee that the adventure is all worth it. There is simply an explosion of cinnamon, toast, banana, orange, egg, butter and sticky sweetness on your tongue, which makes you immediately aware of the fact that you are eating something very unhealthy. And one thing does remain true - the portion is not nearly enough for your tastebuds, which instantly become addicted to this fat and sugar injection.
One of the things that we did notice on both occasions is that the cooks in this place appear to be in something resembling "Hell's Kitchen". You can see them at work towards the back of the restaurant - and they constantly look stressed, flitting about, trying to bring out the meals while being pressurised by the waiters. It certainly does not make for a relaxing atmosphere - and may confirm our initial impressions that the menu would benefit from specialisation and a reduction in size.
Service at Eggspectation on the whole is okay - but certainly nothing to write home about.
I rarely recommend visiting a washroom at restaurants, but I found them rather cute at Eggspectation. Going down the stairs, customers are initially confused as to where to go - as the ladies' is merely marked with a picture of a feminine looking light pink egg with an adorable face and the men's room is marked with a masculine looking light blue egg. The door handles are probably the best thing in terms of décor - they are actually large whisks, a very appropriate design.
On each occasion, we paid around CAD$35 (approximately £17.50) for two meals and juices/smoothies, including the tip, which is indeed a reasonable price. Juices cost around CAD$4 (approximately £2) and most breakfast/ brunch dishes will not exceed CAD$12 (approximately £6). Dishes of a non-egg variety may come in slightly more expensive.
Overall, I would recommend at least one visit to Eggspectation, purely because their speciality dishes (and their ordinary breakfast dishes such as pancakes) are definitely worth a try. I think the key is not to expect too much from either ambience, décor or service - and then you are guaranteed an enjoyable experience. If you are still trying to make up your mind, why not browse their online menu? A quick look at this little "booklet" of treats tells me that I will certainly return to try some more of their specialities when next visit Toronto. The specialities are simply "eggstraordinary".
Toronto Eaton Centre
220 Yonge Street (corner Shutter)
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2H1
Eggspectation is a chain of restaurants, with branches in:
Canada (Ottawa, Toronto, Vaughan Mills)
United States (Maine, Maryland)
India (New Delhi)
During my early days as a product reviewer, I did a lot of browsing through the various product categories available both on Dooyoo and Ciao. This was one of the products that came in highly recommended - and I immediately decided to give it a try.
I have very thin blonde hair that can be very brittle and dry, not least due to the fact that I swim quite a bit. To date I have been quite loyal to my John Frieda Sheer Blonde moisturising shampoo. I love how it makes my hair look blonder and adds additional shine. But lately I have been finding that it does not add sufficient moisture to my hair. So when I read the review, I decided to give this one a go.
I will also review the accompanying conditioner, because for me (and many other people) shampoo and conditioner go hand-in-hand.
The Miracle Moist Shampoo comes in a very unattractive round beige bottle and contains 300 ml of product. The bottle has an pop-up top, which is very easy to open. Just below the top there is a circle of imprinted kangoroos. Very creative ... not. Below the kangoroos is the Aussie logo with yet another kangoroo and the name of the product. The main ingredient of the shampoo is the Australian Queensland Macadamia Nut, which apparently is very rich in moisturising oils.
When I first opened the bottle at Boots to have a quick whiff of the product, I was rather disappointed by the smell. It had a distinct bubble gum touch to it, which frankly, is not what I would want my hair to smell like. But I did not let this influence me too much, because the review had made me too curious about this product.
The Miracle Moist Conditioner comes in a smaller round white bottle and contains 250 ml of product. Like its counterpart, it comes with a pop-up top which is very easy to open. It pretty much looks the same as its partner, apart from colour and size.
Like the shampoo, the main ingredient of the conditioner is the macademia nut. The conditioner, however, smells so much better than the shampoo. It reminds me of magnolia and the Hawaiian lei flower. It is so lovely and fragrant that I wished instantly there was a shower at Boots to test out this product.
The shampoo and conditioner set me back £3.99 each at Boots.
Other products in the Aussie range include:
Mega Instant - for everyday use
Real Volume - for fine/limp hair
Colourmate - for colour-treated hair
Smooth - for fly away/static hair
3 minute miracle - conditioner for damaged hair
Skip a step - 2-in-1
Miracle hair insurance - conditioner for weak hair
I immediately tried these products after my work-out at the gym. I used a chestnut-sized amount of the shampoo and started massaging it into my hair. I found it worked up quite a rich lather. I was immediately enveloped by the bubble gum smell I had detected earlier, which is not really that pleasant. When I washed out the product, I still felt that my hair was rather dry. I applied a second round of shampoo and massaged it in, only to get the same results.
A bit disappointed, I grabbed the conditioner. I first took about a chestnut-sized amount of the product and worked it into the ends of my hair. Despite the bottle insisting that one does not need a lot of conditioner for dry hair if the conditioner used actually works, I did find that I needed to add another chestnut-sized amount of product. This time I was enveloped in the lovely magnolia/lei smell that had sold me the product in the first place.
I left the conditioner in for about 2 minutes, while continuing with my washing ritual, and then started to wash it out. When I washed it out, I felt my hair was lovely and smooth and felt like it indeed had gotten a bit of a moisture injection.
I then proceeded to comb through my hair. This normally requires me spraying some sort of detangler on before commencing the combing ritual. I was therefore pleasantluy surprised when I was able to comb through my entire hair without having to add any extra products.
Blowdrying was another pleasant experience! I started drying my hair upside down, running my fingers through it in the process. My fingers glid through it easily and the hair felt smooth and moist.
Once dried, I examined the results. Well, first of all the feel: It felt smooth like a child's first hair. Simply lovely. It felt and looked healthier, it had none of its usual dry look. And the smell... just unbelievably floral, unbelievably fresh... it makes you feel like you are on an island vacationing away from all the stresses of the hectic city. I could not resist pulling strands of my hair towards my nose for the rest of the evening.
When my partner smelled my hair, he was really impressed as well. It made him think of beaches and Hawaii.
When I went to bed, I could still smell the lovely scent enevelop me until I finally drifted off into dreamland. And it still smelled lovely in the morning!
There were a few disappointing aspects to the product. First of all, it did not give my hair the same shine as John Frieda. Apparently, however, the conditioner claims that rinsing the hair with cold water in the end will add extra shine. I will have to try this some time. Secondly, the products do not give your hair much volume, so of you have fine hair and are intending to let it down on a big night out, this Aussie is not going to be your mate!
I will definitely use this product from time to time, when I feel that my hair needs some moisture or when I feel like I just want to have gorgeous smelling hair. Since it does not provide much volume, though, I will probably not make it my regular product, especially on days where I want to let my hair down.
Everyone should have these at home, though, if they want a little treat! Using it will make you feel like you are on a mini-vacation.
0800 181 184 (UK)
1800 535 909 (Ireland)
As a seafood and fish lover, I am constantly on the look-out for good restaurants that serve a variety of these species. One of my favourite places in the United States for seafood has also been Red Lobster - and naturally I was more than excited to have the opportunity to frequent this chain of seafood restaurants on a recent trip to Toronto.
The first Red Lobster branch was established in Lakeland, Florida in 1968. The founders' ambition was simply to provide great service and delicious seafood to diners. As the concept was very successful, Red Lobster rapidly expanded in the South East of the United States during the early 1970s. Some of the dishes found on Red Lobster's menu today, such as the infamous popcorn shrimp, snow crab and key lime pie, have indeed been around since these early years of establishment. Today there are more than 350 Red Lobster restaurants across the United States and Canada.
There are three Red Lobster branches in the greater Toronto area, however, the one that tourists are most likely to visit during their time in Toronto is located in the Atrium, located at Dundas Street and Bay Street - but also accessible from Yonge Street and Bay Street. If you do not know about its existence, it is easily missed, as you are more likely to walk on Yonge Street than on Bay Street and might be distracted by another interesting restaurant, the Pickle Barrel.
***Ambience and décor***
Unlike Red Lobster in New York, this branch is rarely crowded and we never had to wait for a table. Upon arrival, a hostess will take you to your table. The restaurant contains a mix of either wooden tables and chairs or diner-style booths. The wooden tables are a little ackward, especially for couples, as they are rather large and bulky and make you feel far removed from your other half. Much more comfortable, cosy and private are the diner-style booths, which shield you nicely from other diners.
The décor of red Lobster attempts to reinforce what is on the menu by keeping the interior in brown tones and attempting to recreate the feel of being on a wooden ship, especially around the bar area and with the design of the washroom doors. The ambience is quiet - there is no annoying loud music to overpower the words of a conversation. But Red Lobster is far from a classy or a romantic establishment - it is essentially just a step above a fast food seafood restaurant. A true family-style kind of place.
On the menu, you will essentially find everything seafood that you can imagine. A lot of the seafood is fried or breaded, but there are healthier options available - and Red Lobster has introduced a "Lighthouse Menu" listing those dishes that are healthier and low fat and giving details about their nutritional value. However, even with this clear get-out clause from pigging out on popcorn and coconut shrimp, it is extremely difficult to avoid the delicious unhealthier food.
To give you an idea of the menu, for appetizers you could select from such delicacies as lobster and seafood stuffed mushrooms, jumpo shrimp cocktail, mussels, calamari, island coconut shrimp or coconut pizza. As a main you could select from crab legs (both snow and king crab), live Maine lobster, fish and chips, various seafood pastas and fish. Red Lobster is most famous for their seafood platters, where you are able to select two or three seafood treats a feast from a number of items such as fried shrimp, garlic shrimp, sea scallops, stuffed sole, shrimp pasta, crab alfredo and sometimes even crab legs. The options simply never end.
If after all that food there is still room for dessert, Red Lobster still delivers the classics, such as key lime pie, cheesecake, apple pie and chocolate cake.
Red Lobster also has an extensive beverage menu - including a vast selection of beers and Canadian wines, spirited specials and smoothies.
We visited Red Lobster three times during our stay in Toronto. Upon arrival, we were seated and shortly thereafter our waiter or waitress would approach and take our drink orders. It is useful to know that at Red Lobster soft drinks and ice tea come with free refills - so if you want your money's worth of drinks, I strongly recommend drinking quite a bit before your main arrives so you get at least a second glass.
I always found the waiters and waitresses to be extremely helpful, offering assistance in making a choice from the menu and giving you as much time as you need to select, always with a smile. Some were quicker than others - one even being so efficient to bring over the refills of ice tea the moment you finished the last drop.
Be prepared for huge amounts of food being served up. Main courses come with either soup or salad (choice of either Caesar salad or Garden salad) and with delicious cheesy biscuits. They also come with either French fries, baked potato, mashed potato or vegetables, truly filling the plates to the brim.
The Caesar salad is so large that it could almost do as a main course for those with a smaller appetite. It has just the right amount of dressing on it - they do not skimp on it, neither do they drown the lettuce in it. A generous helping of croutons, crispy refreshing cold lettuce and a good amount of grated cheese tops off the experience. But the Caesar salad simply does not compare to the delicious cheesy biscuits, a roll that tastes more like a savoury cheesy bun, which arrive at the table hot and soft and are so moreish that it is really tempting to fill up on these alone. They have a hint of mature cheddar taste to them, which is simply irresistible.
We always opted for one of the seafood feasts - more specifically the summer feast, because that gives seafood lovers an opportunity to experience a lot of different flavours. Without fail, we always selected the island coconut shrimp, a delicacy that can also be ordered as an appetizer. These giant shrimp are enveloped in breadcrumbs and look more like cookies - and indeed they almost taste like a macaroon with coconut and pineapple flavour which is crunchy on the outside and very moist and shrimpy on the inside. They are accompanied by a lovely pinacolada dip. This might not sound appealing to readers, as it did not sound appealing to me when I first read the menu, but I cannot give them less than ten stars!
If you are a lover of crab legs but do not want to spend all evening peeling them - a good option is to simply have ½ pound of them on your seafood feast plate. They are usually easy to crack, but the crab meat cools down quickly and is indeed very limited in volume.
The garlic shrimp skewer was simply fantastic as well and complemented the overly filling and battered shrimp nicely. Virtually the only disappointment on the menu were the sea scallops - although they tasted alright with a hint of lemon, they came on a bed of rice that was way too salty and tasted too much of stock cube.
As your choice of side I would strongly recommend the baked potato - the French fried are good, but they are not the world's greatest - and the baked potato gives diners the option of having it either plain or with sour cream and butter (depending on how much more fat you wish to add to your meal!).
Red Lobster also has a nice selection of pasta - I would generally recommend any pasta that comes in their Alfredo sauce, whether it contains shrimp, crab or lobster. The large portion is impossible to finish - but the dish is so tasty that you would simply want to try and finish it. The sauce is rich and creamy, with just the right amount of salt added to it - but it certainly is the least healthy option on the menu.
If you decide on ordering a seafood feast from the menu, I would strongly recommend skipping the appetizers. Unless you really have a bottomless stomach or skip the salad and biscuits, you will simply not be able to clear your plates.
If you are a seafood lover and your partner cannot stand the sight of it, Red Lobster does offer a steak or a chicken option. I have never tried these, however.
Prices at Red Lobster are very reasonable. We only ordered a seafood feast each and a soft drink every time we went, but as you are supplied with salad and cheesy biscuits, an appetizer would clearly have been over the top. We paid around CAD $50 (approximately £25) on each visit. To give you an idea, appetizers are all priced under CAD$10 (approximately £5) and mains are anywhere between CAD$15 and CAD$25 (£7.50 - £12.50), apart from such luxuries as the live Maine Lobster, which is priced differently throughout the year, depending on the season.
Red Lobster is one of my favourite places to eat on this planet - and whenever we travel to a place that has a branch, our first meal and our last meal is undoubtedly here. There is little on the menu that disappoints, the waiters are generally friendly and helpful, the place is welcoming - and I have yet to find a place that serves better seafood. Unless the thought of fish and seafood disgusts you, this is one experience that should not be missed.
20 Dundas Street West
Tel: (416) 348 - 8938
Choosing a hotel for our trip to Toronto certainly was not easy for me. Having lived in the city for an entire year, I was keen on having a nice location, a good deal and a clean hotel room - and naturally I did not mind a little bit of luxury in the process. I was torn between various two and three star hotel, when it suddenly occurred to me that the price for the Westin Harbour Castle, a four to five star hotel (depending which rating site you visit), would cost very little extra money. Having seen the spectacular lobby of this hotel before, I took the liberty of incurring the extra cost and booked us into this establishment, located right on Lake Ontario.
***Arrival and checking in***
There is a distinct advantage to choosing the Westin Harbour Castle over other hotels, especially when coming from overseas and choosing the downtown bus service as a mode of transportation into the city. The bus will always drop off passengers at the Westin Harbour Castle first - and by the same token, it is the last place where the driver picks up any passengers returning to the airport. This avoids an annoying 20-30 minutes of being chauffeured across downtown Toronto and waiting for other passengers to get to their destinations before reaching your own.
Although the hotel does not have a doorman or porter greeting you upon arrival, the feel of luxury becomes immediately apparent as you enter the humongous lobby with its beautiful marble floors. You'd be forgiven to feel a little lost at first - the check-in desk is definitely not the first thing you see. Instead, you will see a lot of comfortable chairs and sofas, huge glass windows which look out on some trees and, behind that part of the lake. To the right, you will find a coffee bar, the Toula bar and the concierge desk. To reach the check-in desk, you turn left. Because the hotel is rather large, consisting of almost 1000 rooms located in two towers, you will find an army of staff at the counter trying to check you in as speedily as possible. And if you are a member of the Westin "special club", you will actually be checked in per express.
We did not have to wait long to be checked in - and here is where we had our first pleasant surprise. The lady announced that we had been upgraded to one of their superior and renovated rooms, as we were staying for 12 nights. I really could not quibble with that - and was even more excited when I was told that we were staying on the 25th floor - in other words, a guaranteed avoidance of street noise.
We were given the choice of whether we wanted two double beds of a king sized bed - and we opted for the king sized bed. As we entered the room, I knew I had just struck gold. The room was bigger than our 1-bedroom flat - nicely furnished with a sofa, an armchair, a table, the king-sized bed and a huge flat-screen television located right opposite of the bed. Along with our room keys we were also given a key to access the minibar, which was impressively stocked with little bottled of alcohol and soft drinks - and less impressively with some uninteresting chocolate bars. There was also a coffee machine and complimentary Starbucks coffee and teabags on offer. That is just about the only thing that came for free in this room, however, as the small bottles of Vittel water on offer cost about CAD$ 6 (approximately £3).
Depending on where you are staying at the Westin Harbour Castle, your views will differ considerably. Some guests will have a view of the downtown Toronto city skyline, others will have views of Lake Ontario. We kind of had a mix - stretching your neck to the left, we could see Lake Ontario - and to the right we had a nice view of the CN Tower.
The king-sized bed comes with three layers of blankets and four lovely pillows and is rightly dubbed "heavenly". The mattress is very firm, but not too hard, and the pillows make you feel like you are sinking into a bed of clouds. To aid your sleeping experience, the four massive windows in the room are covered with curtains that take away any light in the room, which seriously puts you at risk of sleeping for half a day rather than exploring the city.
The bathroom was massive as well - nicely done up in black and brown marble stone and fully equipped with massive mirrors, beauty products, a hairdryer and towels of various sizes. The only real downsides to the bathroom were the size of the tub (we do like to have baths with Lush bath products on vacation) and the water temperature - which even at the hottest level merely felt lukewarm.
***Cleanliness of the room***
Upon arrival at the hotel, our room was really spotless. While the room was never really left filthy by the cleaning staff, it sometimes did look like they completed a rush job (which is probably due to the fact that we stayed 12 nights). As the Westin Harbour Castle prides itself to be environmentally friendly, your bed sheets and towels will only be changed upon request. We requested a couple of changes of the bed sheets during our stay - and on one occasion my "fresh" pillows definitely had some chocolate stains on them. Dusting and vacuum cleaning definitely did not take place on a daily basis. It should definitely be noted, though, that the cleaning staff does give you privacy and if you are in the room until noon they will not knock on the door but return for cleaning later in the afternoon.
There are plenty of dining opportunities within the Westin Harbour Castle - the Mizzen Restaurant, the coffee bar, the Toula Bar and the Toula Restaurant. We only had breakfast at the hotel, which is served from at the Mizzen Restaurant. You can either order breakfast a la carte, which is a little expensive, or you can opt for a cold breakfast buffet or a warm breakfast buffet. The cold breakfast buffet is reasonably priced at CAD$14 (approximately £7) per person and includes orange juice, tea or coffee and a huge selection of fresh fruit, pastries, toast, mini bagels, cheese, bread, porridge or cereal. For CAD$23 (approximately £11.50), you will be able to have warm food as well, which includes bacon, eggs, French toast and omelets amongst other delicious items. I only ever had the cold breakfast - and enjoyed it immensely. I strongly advise that you try all the pastries on offer, as these are definitely the best items on display.
The breakfast menu does not change from day to day, so you may need to find other breakfast eateries if you crave a bit of variety.
The Westin Harbour Castle is equipped with a reasonably sized gym, a nice indoor heated swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. For those requiring true relaxation, there is also a beauty spa, where you can have a massage and truly unwind. There is also a tennis court available for those who truly have too much time on their hands.
Although we viewed the facilities, we did not have much time to use them. While the pool is rather large and lends itself to swimming in lanes, I would strongly advise to visit early in the morning or late at night for a true workout, as the pool is dominated by children during the day time.
***The concierge desk***
The concierge at the Westin Harbour Castle is truly exceptional in terms of service. It is usually staffed by two people who can provide you with all sorts of information such as directions, places to shop and dine and with all sorts of tickets for day tours, for example, the Toronto city bus tours or the tours to Niagara Falls.
***Telephone calls and e-mail access***
One thing you should definitely be made aware of is how expensive telephone calls are from the telephone in your hotel room. Although telephone calls within Toronto are free from residential lines, the Westin Harbour will charge you CAD$2 (approximate £1) for each local call up to 60 minutes and even for toll-free 1-800 calls. Although it might be a little bit of a pain, I strongly recommend you use the payphones in the lobby from which you can make a local call for 25 cents (12.5 pence) and 1-800 calls for free. As you can imagine, international calls come even more expensive, so I would recommend getting a calling card from a corner store and using this at a public payphone instead.
There is email access in the business centre, but at CAD$5 (approximately £2.50) for 15 minutes, I strongly recommend you look for an internet café outside the hotel to check your email. Alternatively, if you have a laptop, you are able to get internet access in your room for less money.
Although the location of the hotel is lovely, right by the water, it is rather removed from the rest of downtown Toronto. The Westin Harbour Castle does provide a free shuttle service to downtown, but you are of course dependent upon their departure times. Your nearest subway station is Union Station, which is about a 10-15 minute walk. If you are looking to have breakfast outside the hotel, allow for approximately 20- 30 minutes until you reach a nice eatery.
Your walk into downtown Toronto is not the most pretty walk - you will be passing underneath the Gardiner Express Way and meet a lot of Toronto's homeless people along the way. Although they are generally harmless, they may ask you for some change - and that of course takes away from the enjoyment of Toronto.
Incidentally, the walk back to the hotel from downtown Toronto will show you that although the Westin Harbour Castle is beautiful on the inside, it is a real eyesore on the outside. It's an ugly brown brick building with two ugly brown towers and an appended conference centre, that certainly is in dire need of renovation if Toronto is ever going to lose the prize of having the ugliest waterfront in North America.
The Westin Harbour Castle offers an express checkout service, in theory avoiding the need for you to actually visit the desk again. I strongly advise you, however, to check the bill they slip underneath your door very carefully. I found a phone call that I had not made on my bill. In addition, the hotel tried to charge me for the room again - although I had prepaid everything in September of last year and had given them my Thomas Cook voucher. Luckily, we managed to sort it out - and in the end, as a little compensation, they did not charge me for the one phone call I actually had made.
If you are planning to stay in the city for a few more hours before returning to the airport, you can leave your luggage in the hotel. The porters are very helpful and will even arrange for a taxi to pick you up later in the day if you know when you will be returning.
***Downsides during our stay***
The first few days passed without complaint, however, due to renovations taking place in the hotel, we did have a few unpleasant experiences, such as drilling noises after 9 a.m. in the morning and the occasional lack of water due to "emergency repairs". We also regularly saw ropes outside our windows, which are used during window cleaning.
We also had the misfortune of the New York Mets staying at our hotel (and in our tower) for a few nights, which led to the hotel being overrun by baseball fans trying to sneak to the penthouse. On our floor we had some children who kept the television on all night at a very high volume, making it impossible to sleep. However, this is hardly the fault of the hotel.
As a side note, I had read in numerous reviews that the Westin Harbour Castle is full of hookers that occasionally offer up their services on your way to your hotel room. I have to say that for 11 days we did not see a single hooker, but on our last night at the hotel we saw two such ladies leaving the hotel. On the whole, this is not a normal or disturbing occurrence, however.
Despite the downsides in terms of location, occasional noise and the errors made in relation to our bill, we did thoroughly enjoy our stay at the Westin Harbour Castle. It is truly a place where you can relax - especially with the comfortable beds and the dark room shielding you from the outside world and stresses. The staff is generally helpful and friendly and if you are intending to go on a number of tours, it is one of the few hotels from which all major tour companies pick up guests directly. And at the bargain price of about CAD$130 (approximately £65) per night for a room that is normally priced at CAD$449 (approximately £225) per night, I really cannot complain about anything. If you can get a room at this hotel for a bargain price, even if it is perhaps £10 per night more than the rate for a two or three star hotel in Toronto, I strongly recommend spending the extra money for a luxury pampering experience.
Westin Harbour Castle
1 Harbour Square
Tel: Phone (416) 869 1600
Fax: (416) 869 0573
Finding a decent breakfast in Toronto proved to be a much more difficult task than we had imagined. Unlike New York City, where diners of every variety are placed every couple of blocks, Toronto simply did not seem to have the same selection of eateries. Slightly bored with what was on offer at our hotel, we were keen to try Cora's, a place that was highly recommended by the tour guide that showed us around the city on our very first day.
Located in Blue Jay's Way, close to the Front Street intersection, the establishment is easily accessible to those with hotels near the CN Tower. However, it is certainly worth walking 20-30 minutes to have breakfast here. Frequented by both tourists and locals alike, there is usually a queue in front of the restaurant during peak hours - especially on weekends. This queue does move fairly quickly - and we never had to wait more than ten minutes for a table. At least its popularity vouches for the greatness of the food and menu of a place that looks slightly tacky with its bright yellow and green design and happy smiley sun trade mark.
Cora Mussely Tsouflidou, the founder of Cora's restaurants, was born in Caplan, a little village in the Gaspé peninsula. Cora always had a passion for fine art, but her father wanted her to become a secretary. Fate intervened in Cora's life. Although she enrolled in college to pursue her father's dreams rather than her own, she soon discovered that she was pregnant with her first child and quit college during her final year to take care of her family. She soon had two other children and decided to become a full-time mother.
Cora's husband left her ten years later, leaving Cora a single mother with three children to support. Cora worked extremely hard as a hostess in a well-known Montreal restaurant, learning the trade and climbing the ladder all the way to manager and junior partner. In 1986, Cora suffered a burn-out and had to resign from her position and sell all her shares.
In May 1987, Cora bought a little snack-bar in Montreal. Within only a few months, Cora transformed the snack bar into a breakfast restaurant, serving traditional foods such as pancakes, omelettes, French toast and cereal - but combining this with healthier breakfast options as well. Over the years, Cora created over 100 different breakfast dishes, which still appear on the menu today.
Cora's soon expanded with the opening of a second restaurant in 1990, which was quickly followed by five more restaurants. In 1993, Cora explored franchising options - and eversince then her breakfast restaurants have just been spreading across Canada. Today there are some 65 restaurants stretching all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast. In French Canada her restaurants are known as "Chez Cora", in English-speaking Canada simply as "Cora's".
***Ambience and decor***
During the summer months, Cora's does open up it's patio, which I personally found rather unattractive - as it is adjacent to a busy road. In addition, there was a lot of construction work going on while we were there. Even in the absence of such nuisance, the patio would make diners feel rather exposed, as for some the queue waiting to get in would line up right next to your table and the people in the queue are ultimately tempted to stare at your plates of food to make a selection for their own breakfast or lunch.
The inside of the restaurant is rather crowded - trying to cram in as many people as possible. There are mostly normal tables - only a couple of booths to the right-hand side of the diner. The walls are decorated with child-like paintings and words that describe the food on the menu - something that is apparently the signature of her restaurants.
The menu at Cora's is so colourful with all the pictures of delicious breakfast foods, that it is difficult not to find it inviting. But the mouth-watering pictures do make the process of selection a lot more difficult. The menu has everything your heart desires - both in traditional and not-so-traditional form. Waffles, pancakes, omelettes, French toast, crepes and eggs of every kind form the bulk of the menu. One of Cora's trade marks is the mix of interesting ingredients - waffles are served with custard, French toast can be made with raisin bread and crepes can be filled with delights such as cream cheese and raspberries. Healthier options include yoghurt and granola - as well as massive fruit platters. When visiting, make sure you try one of the fruit smoothies or juices - always fresh and delightful. If you cannot decide between sweet and savoury - you can always have your waffle and order a side of bacon or sausage with this.
We went to Cora's three times during our stay - and our first visit was certainly the best. We were seated almost immediately and supplied with our menus.
It was certainly not easy to select from the wealth of items on display - but the most attractive-looking item on the menu - and actually the most tasty item - was the waffle with a mountain of fruit and custard. Very helpfully, our waiter asked us whether we had been to Cora's before and when we said that this was our first visit, he explained that some people found the amount of custard on the waffle to sickening and offered to put it into a side dish instead. Much to our relief, we went with his recommendation.
We each ordered a mango and banana smoothie - which sounded delicious and indeed was. What I did not realise when I ordered it, however, was that this particular smoothie is made with yoghurt. Given its size, it actually is a meal in itself. The freshness of the ingredients really comes through in the taste - although I am certain they make the smoothie extra sweet by adding sugar to the mix. The presentation of this lovely concoction is much enhanced by a piece of pineapple lovingly placed on the rim, making you forget for a moment that you are actually on a city break - not a tropical island.
When Cora's promises a mountain of fruit - this is indeed what it is. A mountain, not a hill. The variety is plentiful - cantaloupe, melon, bananas, strawberries, grapes and pineapple are some of the delights I remember topping my waffle and making it invisible. The natural fruit juices seep right through to the waffle, making it soft and spongy rather than crispy, and averting any need for additional sweeteners, such as maple syrup or indeed the generous helping of custard that arrived at our table. I found myself picking off the fruit first - then putting three or four tiny spoons of custard on my waffle to finish off the delightful experience.
On our second visit to Cora's, my other half simply could not wait to have the mango and banana smoothie again. However, having experienced how filling this drink was, I decided to opt for a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice instead. This was sweet, delicious, with just the right amount of pulp in it and served at the right temperature. I often find that freshly squeezed orange juice is served at room temperature or warmer, which takes away from much of the enjoyment.
Although it was breakfast time, this time we opted for a "Banana Blast", a crepe with chocolate hazelnut spread, bananas and whipped cream. What arrived at our table could only rightly be described as a monstrosity - I had never seen a crepe that size in my entire life. It was served on a plate the size of a serving platter for a large turkey. For a chocoholic who also loves bananas, this is certainly a must-have, the combination of flavours simply explodes in your mouth. My fiance, however, was not to impressed with the selection. From his point of view, the amount of chocolate spread was simply too much and too sickening - and he clearly struggled with the two large bananas in the middle of the crepe. I have the feeling that my crepe had less chocolate spread on it.
To offset the sweetness of the chocolate banana crepe, we ordered a couple of cups of tea. The teabags served are of the cheapest variety, so if you are a PG Tips fan, you will be alright. As Earl Grey tea lovers, we did not find it special - and the hot water is served in an awkward carafe from which it is very difficult to pour without burning your fingers.
Sadly, our third experience at Cora's started off on a bad footing. We had to wait in the queue for a while - and the man who showed us our table looked filthy, with grease stains down his shirt. He also broke out into a real bad cough, directly facing us, which is all kind of off-putting when you are actually about to indulge in a feast.
It was only on this visit that I discovered that Cora's offers special smoothies without yoghurt, which changes from time to time. The special smoothie is made with four different types of fruit - and in my case included mangoes, bananas, oranges and raspberries - certainly right up my alley. This smoothie tasted all natural - and I did not think that there was much, if any, extra sugar added to it.
This time we opted for the French toast with a mountain of fruit. Unlike during our previous visits, we had to wait for absolutely ages for the meal to arrive. Compared to the mountain of fruit that came with the waffle we ordered on our visit, the fruit appeared more like a molehill. Maybe they ran out of fruit? In fact, the amount of food on our plates was not exactly impressive either. When we dug into our food, we realised why the food had been delayed - it probably was the waiter who forgot it at the counter. The French toast was simply dry and cold and tasted of day-old bread with a hint of cinnamon. We simply ate it because we were hungry - but really had little enjoyment. My fiance had ordered some sausage as a side - and he found this so disappointing that he let most of it return to the kitchen untouched. On the other hand, the bacon I chose was crispy and delicious - simply irresistible. This final experience also put us off having our final breakfast here - as we just did not want to leave on a disappointing note.
***Prices and payment***
At Cora's, you pay on your way out rather than paying the waiter directly, which is probably done to speed up the process. However, it makes tipping extremely difficult. We felt horrible for not tipping - but we somehow did not want to leave change on the table, being that it is a crowded establishment and during busy periods people are literally seated in your place the minute you get up and leave.
For two breakfasts and two smoothies or juices, we always came away paying less than CAD$ 35 (approximately £17.50) for two people - a real bargain, as you are unlikely to require another large meal before dinner if you filled up here.
Overall, I would strongly recommend you visit Cora's at least once. It is certainly worth having the waffle and trying one of their smoothies. The service is generally quick and efficient - and you should not hesitate to ask your waiter for advice on the menu if you are unsure about anything. They are more than happy to assist if you have to make decisions such as whether to have the custard on the side or on top of the waffle. Just steer clear from the French toast - but if you do decide to take the risk and have a better experience than we did, let me know. I'd certainly take the risk again.
Lush seems to be one of those companies that most women simply love without qualification - and consequently most products the company produce are accepted, without critique, as brilliant. One of the popular products that Lush produced is the "Rock Star Soap", a pink little treat that is supposed to make you happy and make you smell like a rock candy mountain. So maybe it does not pretend to be very rock 'n roll - but the name of the soap initially did make me think of music rather than sweets!
Unlike some other Lush soaps, this soap bar looks rather bland. It is simply pink - without much glitter or decoration to it. I am told that some pieces of the soap will have a white star on it. Lush describes the soap as softly scented and promises that it will make you smell like a creamy candy bath - a combination of vanilla fragrance and fruity sweets.
The soap is produced in one huge lump - so when you visit a Lush store you will have to specify approximately how much you would like. 100 grams will set you back £2.10
I received a piece of this soap as a sample from Lush - and I have to admit, that it looks so unappealingly boring that I never quite felt tempted to use it. On my little sample it stated that the soap would male me smell like a sweetshop - and somehow I simply could not see any reason why I would want to smell like that. A quick sniff made my brain associate the scent with a musty pink marshmallow.
Once mixed with water in the shower, the scent changed somewhat. I could predominantly smell cherry, making me think of a cherry cough drop. Sadly, the cherry smell was somewhat masked by the musty smell that accompanies many Lush products, probably a side effect of being a natural product. Contrary to what Lush claims about probably wanting to eat the product - I have to say that I really was not fussed about the smell. It neither displeased me nor excited me - it simply left me neutral.
What I did really enjoy about the soap is the way it feels on your skin. It is very soft and glides easily across your body's surfaces, almost like a jelly sweet. It produces little bubbles and instantly makes your skin feel sleek . It's almost like applying a moisturising gel - and in fact I did find that my skin felt very moisturised and clean once I left the shower.
One of the disadvantages with this bar of soap is that it disappears very quickly - it just seems to evaporate like cotton candy would if you poured water onto it. And because it feels so nice on your skin, there is a real temptation to just keep washing and washing until the bar has virtually disappeared. My 20g sample lasted two days, which would work out slightly more expensive than using shower gel.
Another disadvantage is the staying power. After my shower I mainly smelled the musty scent on my skin, combined with a slight fruitiness, but afte,rless than an hour, the fruitiness disappeared completely, leaving just the musty smell. A couple of hours later, I did not detect any of the soap on my skin anymore.
I am quite neutral towards this soap. While I really enjoyed the way it felt on my skin, its moisturising properties and the feeling of cleanliness after a shower, I simply do not think that it is outstanding enough to justify the price tag. I personally would not buy it again - but if I was given it as a gift in a Lush package, I would be quite pleased. It's just not enough rock'n roll for me to knock me off my feet. It's more like a pop song - alright, but instantly forgettable.
If you are planning a trip to Toronto, you will encounter Toronto Pearson International Airport, also known as Lester B. Pearson International Airport or YYZ. The airport now consists of three terminals. Established in 1939, this airport is located approximately 20 miles from downtown Toronto and is ranked at number 28 amongst the worlds busiest airports, handling nearly 30 million passengers in 2005. But is the airport really equipped to please all these travellers?
***Arrival and immigration ***
Travelling with British Airways means that you will be arriving at and departing from Terminal 3, which was built in 1989 to offset traffic from Terminals 1 and 2. As you disembark from your airplane, you will be asked to have your passports ready for inspection, as immigration officers will meet you at the end of the gangway before entering the terminal.
We found the process to be very slow, as immigration officials are quite thorough in their approach, often pulling passengers aside for further questioning. While I was let through quite swiftly, my fiancé was questioned in detail about how long he was intending to stay, how many bags he was bringing into the country, where he was staying and what his profession was. These questions can be somewhat overwhelming when you are just stepping off the plane and are especially intrusive if you are in dire need to visit the washroom after a lengthy flight.
Although thorough security is to be welcomed, the initial questioning when stepping of the plane seems a little excessive, especially since passengers then proceed to face immigration officials once again before arriving at the baggage claim. We made the mistake of taking some time out to visit the washroom before going through immigration, which ultimately meant that we were facing long queues. Once again, we found immigration officials to be very thorough, often questioning visitors for several minutes before stamping their passports and allowing them into the country.
Unlike in the United States, where unmarried couples are strictly asked to enter the country individually, the immigration official who checked my passport asked my fiancé to step forward and join me once she learned that we were traveling together. We were let through with relatively few questions being asked especially when she learned that I had lived in Toronto before.
We were immediately overwhelmed with the baggage claim area, which is way too small for an airport handling so many passengers. There were too many people running around like headless chickens and once we had located the conveyor belt with for our flight, we had little chance to even reach the belt to pull of our luggage. Retrieval of the luggage was painfully slow for everyone involved the belt stopping several times in the process.
Once you have claimed your baggage, you proceed to customs. As you approach, a first customs official will ask you to hold up your white landing card, which you will have completed on the plane. Then you will have to queue up to hand in the card to another customs official, a process that is yet again painfully slow.
***Leaving the airport***
It took a good 1 ½ hours before we reached the outside of the terminal. Upon arrival, you will have to decide on your mode of transportation. As the airport is not terribly big, it is easy to find ground transportation. To reach the downtown airport bus, just exit the terminal and look for a huge pink sign reading Downtown Express. A return/roundtrip ticket is under CAD$29 per person (approximately £14.50). If you are too tired, you can take a taxi from the taxi stands but you should expect to pay around CAD$60 (approximately £30) for the trip downtown. There is also the option to travel downtown for a mere CAD$2.75 (approximately £1.50), by finding the shuttle bus to the either Kipling or St Lawrence subway station and then hopping on the subway.
I strongly recommend using the downtown bus service as it stops at most major downtown hotels and is a lot less stressful than the subway. The subway is really only a comfortable option if you arrived from elsewhere in Canada or the United States, as it takes a long time to reach downtown and involves a lot of carting of the luggage.
***Returning to the airport and checking in***
When we returned to Terminal 3, we were really overwhelmed by the amount of passengers in the terminal. Although there are screens pointing you into the direction of your airline, it does take some time to orient yourself and find your check-in counter. We found that the cheap airlines, such as Zoom and Thomas Cook, were in plain view, whereas the more reputable airlines, such as British Airways and KLM, where located around the corner.
***Shopping and dining before the security check***
As we had almost three hours to kill before our flight, I suggested we should have a look around the shops located in the check-in hall. Much to our disappointed, most of these shops actually closed right in front of our nose as it was past 9 p.m. The only stores that remained open were a bookstore and one of the stores containing tourist items.
For hungry passengers, there is an array of fast food on display: Upper Crust, Pizza Pizza and Swiss Chalet. However, I found the smell of the pizza so intense that it made me nauseous.
As there was not much to do in the ticket hall, we decided to go through security in the hope that entertainment on the other end would be a little better. There were two lines to the security check and before joining the line, your tickets were checked. The lines moved forward very slowly which is largely due to the fact that they actually merged into one line at the end, which obviously upset a number of passengers thinking they should go through the door first.
The queuing system for the security check is further complicated by the fact that there is no separate line for either disabled people or flight crew. Ultimately this means that from time to time these individuals will squeeze past you to the security check. Whilst I understand the need for them to be prioritised, I felt that it was a real failing of the airport not to provide a separate queue.
Security checks are thorough as they should be. Your tickets are checked again and you will be asked to put pretty much everything through the scanner. There is a distinct lack of security personnel and scanners, however, making the process very slow.
***Duty free and other facilities after the security check***
The shopping behind the security check is very limited. There is a duty free shop providing the usual items, such as alcohol, cigarettes, chocolates and beauty products as well as more Canadian-specific items, such as maple candy, maple leaf-shaped biscuits and chocolates. There is also another souvenir shop, which has a nice selection of T-shirts, cups, key chains and cuddly toys but of course at prices much higher than in the city of Toronto. We indeed found it impossible to find anything to spend our last CAD$45 on.
There is a book store selling magazines, candy and drinks for refreshment as well as a Starbucks and a little bar, which has a small television. Other than that, all that is left to do is to wait for your flight. You cannot roam around the terminal building, in fact, we saw some interesting stores located behind a glass door, which sadly seem to be intended for passengers flying to the United States only.
One of the upsides of YYZ airport is that it is very clean. There is no rubbish lying about, all areas look spotless. This is especially true of the washrooms, which appear to be cleaned very regularly and are certainly amongst the cleanest I have seen at airports.
On the whole, Toronto airport has very little to offer for passengers on return flights. I would therefore recommend checking in online (if possible with your airline) and arriving only 1 ½ hours before your flight departs. A general nuisance at the airport is its disorganisation and the constant need to stand in very slow-moving queues. You cannot avoid the airport if arriving from the United Kingdom, so be prepared and make the most of your hopefully short visit to YYZ.
Mariah White's dreams of a stable family life are shattered for a second time during her marriage when she catches her husband Colin with another woman. To make matters worse, Faith, her seven-year old daughter, witnesses the unhappy incident of "the other woman" exiting the bathroom in her parents' bedroom.
Things happen very quickly after the incident. Colin moves out, Mariah struggles not to break down with depression and Faith develops an imaginary friend. At first Faith's imaginary friend appears to be a normal response of a child that has just witnessed a tragic incident, however, as she begins to develop stigmata and seemingly to perform healings, Mariah and several other individuals begin to feel that the imaginary friend may be God. This goes against the beliefs of the church, that feels that it is impossible for a Jewish girl to get in touch with God. And it goes against the beliefs of influential people in the media, most notably, Ian Fletcher - to such an extent that the house of the White family is suddenly tracked down and invaded by the media.
As doubting Colin finds out about the situation, he strongly feels that Faith's stigmata and episodes are caused by Mariah - and he soon launches a custody suit that tests Mariah's strength to the limits.
This book was highly recommended to me. It therefore came as a major disappointment to me that it took me such a long time to get into the story. As someone who does not believe in miracles and sightings of God, I found it difficult to enjoy the book at first. As the story takes places in a very realistic day-to-day setting, I did not know whether to read it as a work of science fiction or non-fiction.
As I progressed through my reading, however, I managed to suspend by own beliefs and to ignore whether I believed it was possible that Faith was seeing God. I found that there was plenty going on that made the book interesting to read, even though the question of religion, faith and beliefs clearly ran through every page. I wanted to read on to see whether Mariah, a person that appears so weak at the beginning of the story, would grow stronger and would be able to deal with all the complications that were thrown at her. I wanted to know what would happen in a custody suit. I wanted to know if any of the disbelieving characters, especially Ian Fletcher, would change their minds about the existence of God. And I certainly wanted to know about Faith's fate.
One of the attractions of the story line is the fact that the reader truly does not know where the author is going to take it - and at times it almost feels like the author did not have a set plan when writing the book - and merely took it chapter by chapter - like a stream of consciousness. This makes the book incredibly addictive - there is no time to analyse what might happen, there is simply too much going on. The only way to solve the mystery is to keep reading.
While the storyline is developed well and does keep the reader on his toes, there is a slight issue with the portrayal of the characters. I found most of the main characters bland and I found it difficult to put faces and personalities to them. They were almost invisible to me. Mariah, as the mother, simply annoyed me. I wanted to sympathise with her and all the tragedies she had to go through, but I simply felt like she was a stupid spineless woman. I suppose my opinion changed slightly by the end of the book - but I simply never cared enough about what would happen to her one way or the other. In the custody battle, for example, I could not clearly side with her. Whilst I had a strong aversion to the cheating husband, I was entirely neutral as to who I thought should have custody of Faith.
Faith herself was a little bland as well. I somehow felt that Picoult should have made more of the feelings that Faith had once her parents separated - but then again, I am neither a mother nor a child psychologist. It is very well possible that a child, at age seven, would simply withdraw and develop an imaginary friend rather than throwing a tantrum. However, if only there would have been a couple of chapters which described the thoughts in Faith's head, then it would perhaps have worked a little better.
Picoult does try to get into Mariah's head by flitting between first person and third person throughout the book. However, these transitions are hardly noticeable - and Picoult might as well not have bothered, because to the reader it still comes across as a third party narrative - distant rather than intimate.
My hardcopy of the book had 468 pages, divided into 18 chapters. Even though the chapters are fairly long, it is easy to find a place to stop somewhere during each chapter, as there are subheadings in the form of dates. Each chapter is also headed with spiritual quotes - but to be quite honest, I merely skipped over these as I just wanted to know where the story was going.
The read was certainly enjoyable and lingers in my memory as something that is a little different from the mass-produced thrillers and chick lit that usually floods the bookstores. For readers who are keenly interested in spiritual issues, this will be a real find - as Picoult manages to bring questions of faith and spiritualism into every page and certainly does make one think about the existence of God. For a doubting Thomas, parts of the story may become annoying or repetitive - but on a whole the book does offer enough enjoyment for everyone.
Hodder & Stoughton
Price: £12.99 (hardcover), £6.99 paperback