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Crussh are a juice and food chain, established in 1998, who operate with a goal of providing healthy and tasty options made freshly and without additives, preservatives, GM goods and other nasties.
Crussh have around 20 stores in London (mostly central) and have expanded out to Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent as the furthest afield. They are instantly recognisable from their distinctive orange and white logo design, which is pretty bright and inviting.
The stores sell a variety of food, such as salad, sandwiches, sushi and soups as well as desserts and other snack options. The food is reasonably priced, with a salad or sushi tray being around £3, which is comparative to other central London retailers such as Pret a Manger or EAT, although obviously far more expensive than making your own packed lunch!
Stores do not offer a 'sit down' service, but are purely take-away where you select your cool items from the various cold storage units (for drinks, sandwiches or salads), go to the counter to pay and place your order for any juices, smoothies, soups, toasties or hot drinks and then watch the items being freshly prepared to order.
Staff are always friendly and professional I have found and Crussh also offer a loyalty scheme (whereby you can get a free drink when you buy 10 and get a special card stamped - pretty handy for regular visitors).
The labelling of Crussh food (and drinks) is excellent - with stickers and shelf tickets advising if a product is suitable for a gluten-free or dairy-free diet or particularly low fat. I have found this to be very useful recently in a bid to watch my weight as it provides a good guide to the contents of the products.
Crussh are pretty transparent when it comes to the nutritional content of its food and drink (a trend which other retailers should emulate I feel) and all nutritional information can be found on its website (www.crussh.com) so you can check exactly what is in your meal.
In my opinion, the best thing about Crussh are its fresh juices and smoothies - they are all made fresh to order, right in front of you and come in a huge variety of flavours. The juices taste delicious and can be adapted to your individual taste - adding spinach or even other 'shots' of vitamin powders or wheatgrass.
I find the smoothies very filling and come in a myriad of combinations. The smoothies either come in 'standard' combinations (that is, fruit with a 98% fat-free probiotic yoghurt base) or 'Super' versions (being fruit, yoghurt and juice with additional 'booster' ingredients). These boosters are the special vitamin concoctions (such as a Vitamin C booster) and other ingredients (such as ginseng, aloe vera and even bee pollen!) to target specific issues such as tiredness, fat boosting or for mental sharpness. One of the most popular boosters is wheatgrass (for purifying and toxin reduction) which is freshly squeezed in-store through a special grass-juicer - great fun to watch! Smoothies vary in price from £2 - 5 and boosters are 50p each.
Although I am not sure of the medicinal proof behind the Crussh boosters and other product properties, I do feel that it does distinguish itself from the pack by having a clear selling-point and being mission-conscious in a bit to serve healthier food options. The food is tasty, wholesome and provides a speedy-option for lunch.
Crussh products are not cheap, but are comparative to other London food outlets and offer decent portion size. I will definitely continue going to Crussh for my lunches regularly and would definitely recommend them to anyone in London for a take-away breakfast or lunch.
Bic are well-known as a leading stationary manufacturer, Bic now being synonymous with the go-to biro rollerball pen, invented by the company in 1957.
The Bic 4-Colour Ballpoint is modelled on the traditional biro, utilising a rollerball tip to dispense the ink. The pen is traditional size (being around 20cm in length) but houses not one, but four, rollerball ink tubes and ball points.
The pen has a traditional ballpoint shape, with a clip to hook onto a document edge or pocket, the colours being split into white (which features the Bic logo embossed into the pen) and pale blue, separated by a thin black band. The entire pen is made of plastic and can easily be unscrewed and dissembled.
The pen contains 4 colour ballpoints being blue, black, red and green. This means the pen takes up less room in your pencil case or pocket (doing the job of 4 individual coloured pens!) and is immediately accessible, with all four colours being on-hand for use immediately.
Near the non-nib end of the pen, in each of the four colours, a sliding button system allows you to select the ink colour to be used with ease. Another small sliding button at this end also allows the current colour to be withdrawn, ready for the next colour to be selected or just to 'close' the pen.
The ink is of good quality, giving an even line and does not 'seep' or bleed into paper, drying quickly and remaining on the paper surface with little transfer.
The pen, as far as I know, does not offer a variety of ballpoint sizes and ink widths, being in a standard 0.3mm line width for each colour. The pen can be bought from most standard stationary retailers - such as WH Smiths, Rymans or Office World or other suppliers, either in individual packs or (for bulk buying) in larger quantities such as a 9 or 12-pack.
The price of an individual pen is roughly £1.45 which is a reasonable price for 4 biro colours in one handy unit.
The only drawbacks from this pen is that it is, like most biros, non-refillable and thus it is tempting to simply throw the pen away once one colour is used up. This does not make it a 'sustainable' choice. In addition, although this pen is very practical, it is not very elegant or has a particularly sophisticated design, which means it is good for everyday use, rather than a 'special occasion' pen.
The pen is also not advertised as having washable ink, therefore may not be the best choice for children (although they may love the novelty of the four-colours!) who are susceptible to getting ink on their clothes (or adults who like leaving pens in their pockets!).
All in all, this is a good, standard biro for when you need multiple ink colours and want to pay a reasonable price, however it is a 'throw-away' type pen so not for the environment or style-conscious!
This salmon curry is in Sri Lankan style - meaning it has a luscious, sweet-sour savoury South Asian flavour with a slightly thinner sauce or 'gravy' than the thicker, more heavy-set sauces typical of Indian curries.
This dish has a gorgeous flavour and is not too spicy, being of medium strength spice heat. This can be easily adapted with the addition of coconut milk for a creamier, milder flavour (described below) or through the addition of more chilli powder or even chopped fresh red/green chilli during cooking or as a garnish for added kick!
Salmon is easily one of the most popular seafood options in the UK and is famous for being high in essential omega-3 fatty acids, so makes fantastic brain food.
For this recipe, either fresh or frozen salmon can be used, the best cut being salmon fillet which can be easily diced into bite-sized pieces. This curry compliments the delicious flavour of salmon brilliantly - and gives another option when deciding how to integrate more fish into your diet.
All the ingredients can be bought from any good supermarket without too much fuss (or may already be in your store-cupboard) so shouldn't be hard to source and create for a low-effort dinner.
Preparation time: 5-10mins
Cooking time: 25mins
~*~* Ingredients: *~*~
2 tbsp olive oil
Approx 600g salmon (equivalent to 3 average fillet portions) - skinned and cut into chunks
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped or thinly sliced
200g tomato puree/tomato paste
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp tumeric
½ tsp coriander power
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ tsp fennel (seeds or powder)
5 curry leaves
Pinch of salt
(Optional: for a creamier curry and to reduce the spicy heat to a very mild version, add ½ cup coconut milk)
~*~* Method: *~*~
1. Heat 2 tbsps of olive oil in a wide pan.
2. Add the chopped garlic and onions, frying until golden.
3. Add the following: curry leaves, fennel, fenugreek and whole peppercorns into the hot oil and heat for a few moments until the spices release their aroma.
4. Add the tomato puree, turmeric, coriander, chilli powder and salt, stirring the onions until coated.
5. Add half a cup of hot water and mix all the ingredients well to form the 'gravy'. If using coconut milk to give a creamier finish, add this at this stage. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil for 10mins.
6. Add the salmon chunks, stirring gently to ensure each fish piece is coated. Be very careful not to stir the curry too vigorously once the fish is added, as it is liable to break up if treated too roughly - you want to maintain the thick, satisfying chunks of fish in their original shape without disintegration.
7. Simmer the curry for 15mins until the curry sauce has reduced and fish is cooked through.
This curry is perfect garnished with fresh coriander and served with plain boiled rice, vegetable curry and a coconut sambal for a different texture and a truly authentic Sri Lankan flavour. Enjoy!
The Glades is the central shopping centre of Bromley, based in the South East London and Kent area.
The Glades is a modern, clean and busy shopping centre, popular with families, teenagers and others of all ages. The shopping centre has just over 120 retailers, covering a wide variety of shops including men's' and women's' fashion, accessories, sports shops, bookshop, technology, jewellers and department stores (in the form of Marks and Spencer and Debenhams).
~*~* Opening Hours *~*~
The shopping centre is open 7-days a week, opening from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm.
Thursday is late-night shopping night in the Glades, where the stores shut at 9pm. Sundays and Bank Holidays offer restricted trading hours, with the shopping centre open from 10am to 5pm.
Having been to other shopping centres, I think that the weekday opening hours (and the Saturday hours in particular) are a bit limited. I would expect the shopping centre to be open later than 6pm on a Saturday to allow for longer shopping, so this is a little disappointing.
~*~* Shops *~*~
The shops in the Glades are varied and are typical of those on any other English high-street. Unlike Westfield, the Glades does not have dedicated 'high end' or premium designer stores - clothing stores are more likely to be Oasis, H&M and French Connection than Prada or DKNY. That said, for women's fashion, accessories and homewares, the stores offer a good choice, with many well-known brands operating. A full list of stores is here, on the Glades Spring 2010 store guide: http://www.theglades.uk.com/sitefiles/22Glades%20-%20Spring%20Store%20Guide.pdf.
I think the Glades is well situated by supporting shops in the surrounding 'Market Square' of the shopping area outside the Glades, which houses HMV, Monsoon, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and other stores such as BHS and a huge Primark.
*~*~ Information and other services *~*~
Dotted around the shopping centre (which is split along 2 floors, connected by stairs, escalators and lifts), there are information stands, containing an interactive display map of the shopping centre as well as directions on how to get to the shop of your choice. In addition, the ground floor has a manned information stand where assistants can answer queries and offer extra guidance.
The Glades does appear to offer a good level of accessibility, with automatic entrances, escalators and wheelchair accessible loos and store-fronts (though the level of accessibility does vary by store, some of which are very small and crammed retail units).
The Glades also offers crèche facilities for parents and often houses special themed events aimed at young children to keep them entertained on shopping trips.
~*~* Eating and drinking *~*~
One drawback to the Glades, in comparison to larger shopping centres such as Bluewater (also in Kent) and Westfield in central London, is the lack of serious eateries inside the centre itself, though this is due largely to size restrictions of units I expect.
The Glades does offer smaller, cafe-style shops (such as Cafe Giardino, coffee chains and houses both a Debenhams and Marks and Spencer cafe) but visitors must leave the centre to find larger restaurants. These are, however, a short walk from the shopping centre and in the busy Market Place shopping area of Bromley so not too far of a trek. Outside of the Glades, visitors can access a row of restaurants including Cafe Rouge, Pizza Express, Nandos and Zizzis.
The Glades also offers some true fast food outlets from McDonalds and also some smaller, takeaway retailers scattered throughout the centre each shopping avenue including a Millie's Cookies, Baskin Robbins and others for a quick pick-me-up.
~*~* Travelling to the Glades *~*~
The Glades can be accessed by car (with car parking spaces available), mainline rail and bus. Local buses service the shopping centre frequently, which makes travel convenient for local residents.
The Glades can also be accessed by train, either from Bromley South railway station (a 2 minute walk to the shopping centre) where trains come in from London Victoria, Blackfriars and Ashford International stations and Bromley North (a 10 minute walk, with trains from Orpington and Sevenoaks).
~*~* The Verdict *~*~
Overall, I do enjoy a trip to the Glades. The stores are well-known and exactly what you'd expect from an average high-street or shopping mall, but without the premium aspect of high-end designers. There is a wide variety of shops and so I find that my shopping needs are met.
My only criticisms would be that the opening hours are a little restricted, particularly for Saturday shopping and that there is a lack of restaurant eating areas within the shopping centre (although this is rectified by a strong restaurant presence very close to the shopping centre and quick, take away style offerings inside the centre).
Quintessentially British, the Royal Horticultural Society's annual Chelsea Flower Show is one of the highlights of the summer for fauna lovers.
Held annually in May, the 'Great Spring Show' is staged in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea and lasts 5 days. The first couple of days are reserved for Royal Horticultural Society Members to visit (anyone can join the RHS, however membership can be a little pricey - from an annual individual membership of around £70 to a lifetime membership of £1,000) and it is during the first day or two that gardens and displays are given the competition awards (gold, silver-gilt, silver and bronze). These awards are displayed on the garden or plant display stands so you know which have had the seal of approval.
~*~* TV coverage and website *~*~
If you don't fancy nipping out to Chelsea (or don't fancy stumping up the cash for a ticket, programme, lunch etc!), then never fear - the trusty BBC has annual coverage of the show on each day which is itself pretty interesting and you get a good feel for the gardens. The RHS website also has a special section for the Chelsea show which gives more insight into the gardens as well as other information - www.rhs.org.uk.
~*~* Ticket prices *~*~
My day tickets (for 8.30am to 6pm) for the final Saturday of the show cost £45 each for an adult. Tickets must be bought in advance - they sell out quickly and cannot be bought on the door.
~*~* Travel to the show *~*~
Chelsea Flower Show can be reached easily by public transport - Victoria Train/Tube Station is a 15 minute walk from the Royal Hospital (Sloane Square on the District Line is the nearest tube at 10 minutes walk), however there is a shuttle bus that runs to and from Victoria Station to the show daily between 7am and 8pm (6pm on the final Saturday). This shuttle bus is very convenient as it drops you off seconds from the Main Gate, however it is a expensive for a 5 minute bus-ride - tickets cost around £5 for a return and £3 for a single (although you will save a quid on each if you have a valid London travelcard).
There are also numerous buses that stop near the show - it's best to check the TFL website for details to plan your journey.
Car parking spaces are also available in Battersea Park but on a first come, first served basis, 20 minutes walk from the show.
~*~* Display gardens *~*~
The display gardens (large and small) are what makes Chelsea for me. Beautifully designed and executed, there is something for everyone at the show. Each garden is immaculate and has an attendant (often the designer of the garden itself) to answer any questions and provide advice. Most display gardens also have individual brochures or leaflets describing how the gardens were designed and names some of the plants used (many of the plants are named in the display so you can scribble these down or photograph them if you want to look out for varieties when you get home).
The sheer variety of gardens on offer is amazing - urban, traditional, exotic, contemporary - you will definitely leave the show feeling inspired and like you've grown green fingers! My favourite garden at the 2010 show was actually the winner of the People's Choice 'Best Large Garden' award - the M&G garden, a beautiful, tranquil and lush English country garden affair which looked breathtaking. If you're looking for inspiration on your urban garden (I have one myself), there are so many ideas of plants suitable for smaller gardens - including decorative or food-producing gardens - as well as container gardens.
Many of the show gardens are created or sponsored by different organisations such as Cancer Research UK, the Housing Association or even L'Occitane, all with interesting themes. It is possible to take photos of all gardens (and even walk around some of the display gardens where permitted), however it can get quite busy and bustling around the gardens so you may need to join in and jostle to get that perfect shot.
The Great Pavilion is the main indoor exhibition - showcasing individual plant variety stands (the fuchsia and orchid stands were amazing!), as well as more display stands. The Pavilion offers great respite from any spring showers (so gets very crowded if it's drizzly), but does allow you to get up close to many beautiful plant species and ask more targeted questions and advice from speciality growers.
A smaller 'Floral design' marquee also exists which houses a number of floral arrangements, sent in by floral societies across the UK as well as individuals and companies. These are very pretty and probably something to look out for if you like flower arranging, however the queue to get in can be quite long, so does take patience.
~*~* Eating and drinking *~*~
Visitors to the show can either bring their own food and drink for a picnic and use any seating area to eat, or buy food, snacks and drinks from the stands available. There are a couple of refreshment areas, with small covered areas under canopies, which serve hot food (such as jacket potatoes, burgers, fish and chips) or cold items such as sandwiches, salads and crisps. There are also drinks stands to buy soft drinks, coffee and tea or Pimms, as well as ice-cream stands.
I found the food stands to be quite expensive (don't expect much change out of £20 for a very small portion of fish and chips twice!). However, the quality of the food was good.
One significant gripe I have with the show is that it seemed (on the Saturday when I visited) to be completely unprepared for or not catering for the number of visitors who need a place to sit down and eat). Finding a small table and chairs in seating areas is practically impossible and can make it very awkward trying to coordinate buying your meal and then finding a place to sit and eat it. In the indoor food service area (which included a small seating area), a number of people simply gave up and sat on the floor to eat their meal - a bit of a disappointment when you've paid around £50 for your ticket! This is definitely an area that the RHS show could improve.
There are a number of premium catering facilities - such as the Rock Bank Restaurant, Seafood & Champagne Restaurant and another restaurant at Thames View Food Court, so if you want to shell out on having a guaranteed place to sit (but at a greater expense), it's worth pre-booking a table at one of these.
~*~* Other facilities *~*~
The show offers a number of other facilities - toilets are available (a slight step up from festival loos, but that sort of portaloo-esque arrangement, but are kept clean), a small number of cash points and (at the 2010 show) a small Thomas Cook bank stand. There are no baby changing facilities as the show does not permit babes-in-arms or very young children to attend.
~*~* Shopping - 'sell-off' day and stalls *~*~
The final day of the flower show is the 'sell-off', where many of the display plants are sold to visitors. This can become incredibly competitive and, if you're interested in buying any of the plants, it's worth agreeing this with the display owner or vendor before the 4pm bell, as many are quickly reserved. Also, remember you need to be able to carry the plants home - so perhaps think twice before agreeing to buy the 6ft rose-laden trellis you adored as this may be a chore to get home on the bus! Most plants on sell-off day can be reserved but not taken away until 4pm, however many vendors have seeds which can be bought any time.
Plants are not the only items on sale at Chelsea - there are numerous garden-equipment and related stands from companies selling tools, decorations, furniture and other items. It is tempting to get into a spending frenzy at Chelsea, as the items are beautifully presented in open 'huts' and mini display gardens, however I found the equipment to be generally quite expensive and from quite premium brands. The stands are great for looking around and 'window shopping' and you can get some great ideas for your own garden.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I loved visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (despite the drizzle and wilting of some plants on the final day!) - the display gardens have totally re-enthused me for garden and have given me so many ideas that I can't wait to try out in my own garden. If you like gardening, plants or just fancy a day out - I would definitely recommend Chelsea as it is a fab and extravagant event of the British spring. It is expensive and can feel a little amateur when it comes to food service and seating, however the gardens and plants are second to none - perfect for those with green fingers (and reluctant gardeners too!).
This review is about Muller Light Limited Edition Lemon Cheesecake yoghurt.
~*~* Packaging *~*~
The yoghurt is served in the traditional Muller yoghurt pots, which are squat and wider than normal yoghurt pots in shape. The lemon cheesecake variety is not one of the 'permanent' range (such as strawberry or vanilla flavours of Muller Light) and as such has more distinctive 'limited edition' branding (which is quite different to the picture used to accompany this review). This takes the form of a glamorous and eye-catching black and white monochrome design, with a luscious slice of yellow lemon cheesecake on the lid - very tempting.
~*~* Price and where to buy *~*~
This yoghurt, like most other Muller Light varieties, retails for around 50p per pot. This yoghurt is also frequently included in cheaper special offers (such as '8 for £3.00') at the usual supermarket chains, so keep your eyes peeled.
The yoghurt can be bought from all of the larger supermarkets (Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda etc).
~*~* Nutritional information *~*~
Possibly the greatest thing about this yoghurt (besides its utter deliciousness!) is the fact that it is fat free. Yes, that's right, this creamy and oh-so-naughty feeling yoghurt is fat free and contains only around 105 calories per pot.
If you're on a diet, this is good news. If you follow the Slimming World diet, this yoghurt does contain 1 naughty Syn, which is a small price to pay for such a scrummy dessert!
The yoghurt contains wheat, therefore is not suitable for people with wheat intolerances and also contains gelatine (which is not specified as suitable for vegetarians) so may be best avoided if you're vegetarian.
~*~* Taste test *~*~
The yoghurt has a gorgeous sweet (but not sickly) lemon tang, the flavour having a slight synthetic sweetness. The yoghurt has really managed to replicate a cheesecake scent - biscuit base flavour too! - so that each mouthful tastes and smells exactly like a spoonful of creamy cheesecake.
The yoghurt is also gorgeously thick and feels really indulgent for a low-fat option. This is fantastic if you're watching your weight as this feels more like a proper dessert than a boring, bland yoghurt, so feels a real treat.
The yoghurt has a smooth mouth-feel with no lumps of fruit but tiny chunks of nibbly, soft, squishy pieces of biscuit (which feel more like slightly gelatinous cake but go really well with the creamy yoghurt). Muller have created this yoghurt in a soft and pale lemon-yellow colour, in-keeping with the cheesecake theme.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I adore this yoghurt - it is creamy, sweet and feels like a real treat dessert rather than a low-fat yoghurt. It is low in calories, has a refreshing but exactly replicated lemon cheesecake flavour and is reasonably priced for a single-serving yoghurt.
It's a shame this yoghurt is not suitable for vegetarians or those with wheat intolerances so those are the only downsides, otherwise I would totally recommend this gorgeous, sumptuous yoghurt!
~*~* Introducing PURE *~*~
PURE are recognised as the leading UK digital radio producers, creating the now iconic 'Evoke' portable DABs and many others for use in the home, on the move or even outdoors and in the car.
PURE has become a household brand, holding their own alongside the 'big boys' of Sony and Phillips in the digital arena, delivering a reputation for quality, innovation and an environmental conscience (the brand's rechargeable 'Move' model becoming the first radio recommended by the Energy Saving Trust and forerunner of many other EcoPlus models to be launched).
~*~* Price and distributors *~*~
The Chronos II can be bought from a number of retailers - including Argos, Comet as well as larger suppliers such as John Lewis and Amazon - as well as smaller, independent shops. The PURE website has a handy feature which allows you to search for your nearest supplier by postcode, which can take some of the hassle out of shopping (http://www.pure.com/sales/).
My DAB radio cost £99.95 (a very expensive alarm clock you might think!) from John Lewis, however it can be purchased for less with a bit of research (Amazon is selling it as at Spring 2010 for £88). The price may be a little steep (when compared with other traditional radio alarm clocks on the market) understandably. The product comes with a free 2 year warrantly/guarantee from PURE.
~*~* So why all the fuss over DAB radio? *~*~
DAB stands for 'Digital Audio Broadcasting' - where radio signals are transmitted in digital form rather than the analogue of our usual AM/FM/MW/LW radios. Digital radio is pretty exciting as it provides many, many more stations (many stations, particularly 'internet only' ones are only receivable on DAB or via their website - such as BBC 6 Music) - not only in your region but also access to stations across the country, as more stations can be 'squeezed in' compared to analogue stations. Digital programmes via DAB also give additional data services (such as programme guides and scrolling information such as the names of tracks as they are played).
In tuning to your station, you don't need to remember any of those pesky frequencies but can search DAB lists by name of station to select rather than ages of tedious scrolling.
In addition, digital radio is designed to give a crisper, improved reception (with none of the hissing and cutting out of traditional radio).
~*~* Dimensions and description *~*~
The Pure Chronos II is designed primarily as a bedside radio but can be easily moved elsewhere in the house and used to pick up the radio and play CDs as long as it can be plugged into the mains.
The radio comes in a choice of two colours - a sleek black or a crisp minimalist white (I have the latter). The radio isn't an overbearing size (being 12.5cm tall and around 20cm across in size), so it fits perfectly onto a bedside table with room to spare.
The radio is a triangle shape, with the CD player at the top of the product (in a traditional-loading flat horizontal CD player lid) and with the main screen and controls in the central front section of the radio. The stereo speakers flank either size of the main frontage of the radio.
The product also comes with a neat, thin remote control (in matching white for the white radio). With the instruction booklet, you are also provided with two thin magnetic stickers - these are designed to have one stuck onto the back of the remote control and one onto the radio so you can keep the control magnetically attached if you wish to - very handy if you're prone to misplacing remote controls!
~*~* Setting up the DAB *~*~
One of my greatest fears with electronics is that first set up procedure - I tend to scrutinise instruction manuals in depth before I dive into the set up! However, this is one area that the Chronos really blew me away.
The quick set up was incredibly quick - a couple of minutes at most! All I had to do was unravel the thin white wire aeriel and hand this down the back of my bedside cabinet and plug in the radio to the mains. The Chronos completed an Autotune for all available DAB stations - my radio managed to pick up over 40 stations which was fantastic. And that was it - after a couple of minutes of set up (with minimal involvement from me!) - my radio was ready to go!
~*~* Settings *~*~
The Chronos has English set as the default language - however this can be changed to French, German or Italian using a simple menu navigation. Changing stations is also very easy, the large central silver navigation dial scrolling through each station with ease and the name of the station showing clearly on the display.
The display is clear, with the time being shown with clarity. One really handy feature I've appreciated is the light-sensitive display with a sensor which automatically adjusts, becoming darker and reducing in brightness as you switch the lights off in your room - perfect for when you need to go to bed and you don't want the neon glare of an alarm clock!
The Chronos has a couple of additional ports for connecting an iPod, MiniDisc (I still have my beloved 'Disc so this was useful!) or earphones. The top of the Chronos (at the CD-player lid) also has a PowerPort USB socket, allowing you to leech off the mains power of the Chronos to charge compatible accessories.
The lack of an iPod docking station (on this model) is a shame - although I understand other PURE models do incorporate this, so if you're looking for a model which can feature your iPod in a more swish and modern way than through a lead then this isn't one for you.
~*~* The DAB and FM radio *~*~
The Chronos can play both digital DAB radio stations, as well as all your favourite FM stations too which extends the variety even further. The model allows 30 stations to be preset into the memory (which I think is pretty generous, considering I only have a few favourites!).
The digital radio reception is amazing - fantastic clarity and variety of stations. I love the fact that the radio shows, on the generous display screen, the name of the track playing - no more craning to hear the presenter saying what the track is or frenzied Googling of lyrics! This textScan ability can also be paused and 'rewound' so you can catch whatever has featured on the display.
The FM stations also had clear reception with no hissing or crackling at all.
Setting a present station for FM or DAB couldn't be easier - you simply tune into the desired station (using the central navigation wheel), depress the Preset button on the frontage and then use the wheel to store the station to the menu in the position you wish.
~*~* CD Player *~*~
The lid of the Chronos houses a traditional CD player, where you depress the corner of the lid and this rises slowly, allowing you to insert a CD. The CD player quality is great and there are buttons on the lid of the Chronos allowing you to play, pause, stop and skip tracks (also featured on the remote control). The machine can play mp3 and WMA track CDs, as well as CD, CD-R and CD-RW.
My only criticism of the CD player (with some other areas of the Chronos) is that these buttons may be a little on the small side for some, who prefer easy to access (and see) larger buttons.
~*~* Alarms *~*~
This radio is intended as a bedside alarm clock radio and therefore has an integrated alarm system. You can set 4 alarms which can be set independently (that is, you can set a weekday alarm for getting you out of bed at the crack of dawn, a separate weekend alarm for lazy lie-ins and others as I do). This is an incredibly handy feature, and fits in well with my lifestyle.
You can set the alarm to ring with the radio turning on to a present DAB/FM station, playing the first track of a CD in the player or with a traditional beeping tone. Again, this is handy for the weekends where you might not want to wake to a shrill, work day alarm but gently ease into the day with your favourite radio tunes.
Setting an alarm took me a little while to get used to - my old alarm clock involved quite an archaic (but easy!) method of holding down the 'alarm set' button and then selecting the hour and minute. The Chronos has a small 'alarm' button on the frontage which you select for the alarm number you wish to set (e.g. for your first weekday alarm, press one, for the second weekend alarm, press twice). The navigation wheel can then be used to select the options for the time, alarm sound and the days you want that particular alarm to go off. You can then see the alarms you have set on the main display screen.
If you fancy a sneaky lie-in, the Chronos has a snooze function. This takes the form of a wide, long button across the top of the unit - when the alarm goes off, give this a press to snooze the alarm for 10 minutes or - to cancel the snooze completely, the button needs to be held down to cancel. I find the snooze button easy to find when bleary-eyed which is handy.
I've not done so, but you can change the snooze time you want (reducing it to 5minutes or out to 30minutes for a proper nap!) which could be a useful feature if you've an important reason to wake up or can afford yourself a good lie-in.
~*~* A gorgeous gadget - with green credentials *~*~
Pure have become known for their 'green' advancements, as well as their digital capabilities. They have the honour of having the first radio to be a recommended product by the Energy Saving Trust (and today, many of the Pure DABs have the EST stamp of approval). The Chronos CD II is part of the Pure ECOPlus range (meaning it makes use of reduced power consumption when in standby mode as well as when in use playing music) - another reason to be impressed by this nifty gadget.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I love my Chronos II - it is a gorgeous, modern and useful unit that looks stunning on my bedside table. It means I've been able to listen to my favourite DAB stations in bed (rather than having to listen via the TV or internet) and the alarm clock has worked very effectively, with no missed alarms or problems with the settings or snooze features.
The price is relatively expensive at around £100 - far more than many would be willing to pay for a clock radio, even with DAB capabilities. In addition, the only other drawbacks of this model are the lack of iPod docking station (a pain if all your music is on your iPod rather than CDs) and the size of the buttons on the frontage and CD player lid - these may be a little small and fiddly for some, but I have found them to be ok.
Overall, I would recommend this model. It suits my needs very well and is one of the most stylish, handy gadgets I have ever bought - definitely worthy of the price tag!
Le Relais de Venise was originally founded by Paul Gineste de Saurs in 1959 in Paris and remain family-run businesses with branches in New York, Marylebone, The City and the original in Paris. Other branches, run by the same family but under different names, are also open in Geneva, Bahrain and Barcelona.
My boyfriend and I visited The City branch, based near Bank tube station on Throgmorton Street. In the heart of the City, this restaurant is popular with Londoners seeking a scrumptious taste of France and traditional steak-frites.
~*~* The restaurant *~*~
The restaurant has a French brassiere-feel with wood panelling, warm colours, beautiful flower arrangements and cosy lighting. The whole restaurant has a relaxed, welcoming ambience and looks neat and clean. The spirit of Venetian playfulness and history is also celebrated - from the large Venetian carnival paintings to glass scones and bold harlequin-theme table clothes in red, yellow and green draped over each individual table.
The City restaurant only has one floor and as a result of this limited space (and our general love for a decent steak in the UK!), the restaurant can get quite crowded. There is a system of no reservations, so in the evenings (particularly around 7-8pm), you may be in for a wait before you are seated.
The staff are friendly and attentive. On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by a member of staff and led to our table immediately, with a waitress soon on hand to take our orders. The waitresses are all dressed beautifully - in smart black dresses with white pinnies (very French maid!) giving a neat, put together look. The same waitress served us throughout our visit, which was a nice touch.
The waitresses are incredibly attentive - you will never complain of slow service at this restaurant! With hawk-eyed attention and swooping in for orders, serving courses and clearing plates, it is easy to feel a little rushed but staff are always polite and not at all intrusive I have found which compensates.
The restaurant has a relaxed, friendly and intimate ambience - quite impressive for a busy and popular restaurant. I did not notice any music playing when I visited, but the low murmer of diners could be heard.
~*~* The menu *~*~
A word of warning - if you are the sort of person that loves variety and can never quite decide over what to have on a restaurant menu, you will either love or hate Le Relais de Venise. There is no concept of menu selections - there is only one option of starter (a salad with baguette) and two options for main (steak-frites or cheese). A simple concept with limited choices, but allows the restaurant to capitalise on what it does very well - it's signature steak dish.
~*~* Starter *~*~
There is only one choice of starter - a fresh green salad scattered with walnut pieces, accompanied with a mustard, piquant dressing. The salad is not dripping in dressing, the leaves being lightly coated, which makes for a really scrummy, nice and light starter that is just the right portion size.
The salad was served very promptly after our drinks orders were taken (the salad actually appearing before all our ordered drinks were served!). This seemed to be the general trend, with the waitress zoning in on our table as soon as we placed our cutlery down. This seems to happen on every visit to this restaurant, so I would advise you take your time and don't rush as the clearing away of plates is incredibly efficient.
~*~* Main meal *~*~
All the steaks are entrecote, a cut of rib-eye or rib steak taken from above the ribs. The steak can be cooked rare (I had this and this is incredibly rare!), medium-well or very well done. My boyfriend, quite unusually for a man really, likes his steak very, very well done. He ordered his steak to be cooked well done and it was, however to cook the steak to this level it is sliced into thinner strips(like thin goujons) to ensure it is cooked all the way through quite quickly. However, my boyfriend remarked that the steak was still very tender and not at all tough to eat, but cooked through to his liking.
My rare steak was utterly delicious - very rare and delicate. All the steaks are served with a luscious liquid sauce - a 'secret sauce' with a fiercely guarded recipe! This is a sage-green colour, speckled with herbs, with a glossy buttery cream texture. The sauce is very savoury in flavour - with hints of lemongrass, mustard and thyme in the delicious blend. This is the only sauce on offer, but French mustard is offered as a condiment on each table.
You cannot have French steak-frites without the fries, and those served at le Relais are perfectly done - crisp, thin morsels that are served piping hot and are heaped generously onto your plate.
The main meal - steak with sauce and fries - are served in two portions. When the server notes that you have finished your first portion, they will offer you the second, loading the remaining steak, sauce and frites onto your plate with neat silver service. The second serving is kept warm on a small burner and is served on a neat silver platter.
For vegetarians, Le Relais does not offer the same tempting equivalent (in my opinion), with only a cheese course replacing the steak. This, to me (a non-vegetarian but with many veggie best friends and relatives) seems a somewhat meagre offering but the concept of this restaurant is based on doing limited options (i.e. steak) very well.
~*~* Dessert *~*~
If you can fit in dessert after such a savoury main, there is a large selection on the dessert menu. Options include traditional cheese option, ice creams, gateux and accompanying coffees, as well as other favourites. I chose crème brulee - topped with a satisfyingly golden and caramelised topping which shattered beautifully, this had a thick, vanilla egg-custard filling which tasted delicious.
My boyfriend went for the profiteroles - one which is definitely not for those with sensitive teeth (as he unfortunately found out!). Good quality choux pastry buns, filled with speckled vanilla ice-cream and topped with a generous topping of pooled dark chocolate sauce with a smattering of sliced almonds. The profiteroles were lovely, the ice cream filling being slightly unexpected, but fantastically sweet and generous with a heaped portion of pastry buns.
Desserts range from £4.50 to £6.50 per serving, with dessert wines and after dinner coffees priced at around £2.50 each.
~*~* Wines and drinks ~*~*
The restaurant serves a select range of wines (with only five red wines, one white and one rose). Wine ranges from £15 - £50 in price. The house red (a Cotes de Bordeaux) is served by the glass (£4.25), half bottle or whole bottle (£14.95) and is of decent value for a very nice, easy to drink red. I was pleased to see the wine being served by the half bottle (for the house red only), perfect for sharing on a school night!
The restaurant also serves a small selection of soft drinks (coke, fanta and lemonade as well as juices for around £2.50) and spirits and liqueurs. Still and sparkling mineral water is also offered (for around £3 per bottle) however you can ask for tap water with no fuss.
Visitors to the restaurant receive, on their receipt, 20% off their next meal (to be used against either lunch at the Marylebone branch or dinner at the City branch) as a little incentive.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I love this restaurant. If you're in the mood for uncomplicated but utterly delicious steak-frites and you're in the central London area, this should be a first port of call. It is reasonably priced (a starter, main and glass of wine coming to around £25 per head) and the restaurant has a relaxed, refined setting. If you are a vegetarian, this will probably not be a winner for you
~*~* Pret a Manger - an introduction *~*~
Pret a Manger (literally 'ready to eat') was founded in the UK in 1986. There are now around 200 shops in the UK (with most based in London), but the chain has expanded to New York, Washington DC and Hong Kong.
If you live or work in London, it sometimes feels like you can't get away from Pret - they are often based quite close to each other and seem to have a 'high concentration' tactic of operation (much like Starbucks).
All Pret stores have a distinctive style - with red stars and simple font and shiny silver interiors and warmly lit stores. The shops also vary in size - with smaller, City stores that hold a couple of chiller cabinets and just enough room to grab a sandwich, pay and squeeze back out, to larger stores with dedicated comfortable seating areas for dining in.
~*~* Pret's 'Passion for Food' *~*~
Pret proclaims in all of its marketing posters and publications that it has a 'passion for food'. It claims that all products are made from natural ingredients with as little use of preservatives and additives as possible to allow consumers to enjoy food in its most natural state.
One thing in favour of Pret is that it does offer a significant amount of nutritional information on its food products on its website (http://www.pret.com/) which details which products are gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians etc and calorie/nutritional information.
Another thing that Pret have become famous for is that all its sandwiches are made freshly either at that store's premises (or another store and driven/wheeled over on a mini delivery trolley) and sold on that day. Any unsold items are distributed to local charities that provide food to the homeless, which is a pretty positive action for a chain.
All Pret food is has minimal packaging, with sandwiches and salads packed in card or paperboard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging.
~*~* Soups *~*~
Pret offer, every day, a choice of at least two different soups (one being a vegetarian option) as well as miso soup which is an every day staple, taken from a menu of eleven seasonal soups. Many of the larger stores will also offer an additional 'soup of the week', available every day for seven days.
The soups are my favourite reason for visiting Pret - I love their chicken and mushroom, spinach and nutmeg and miso soups which are absolutely scrummy. They are also reasonably priced (for takeaway, ready made soup) at £2.99 per portion and are made with no colourings, stabilisers or additives. As with the hot drinks, Pret only serve a 'one size' portion of soup.
~*~* Sandwiches, wraps*~*~
There is a huge variety of sandwiches on offer at Pret - with fish, vegetarian and meat options available. Sandwiches can be bought in sliced bread, baguette, half-baguette and wraps also. Catering for smaller appetites (or those watching their weight, as the sandwiches can be quite calorie-laden!), Pret also produce some of their most popular sandwiches (such as the BLT) in a 'single' sandwich pack (holding the equivalent of one slice of bread with filling).
The sandwich fillings are great - from 'all day breakfast', BLT, chicken and (my favourite) prosciutto, cheese and basil - but can often be a little soggy due to the huge amount of filling in each. In addition, due to sitting in chiller cabinets once made, they can be a little on the cold side when you munch into them.
~*~* Salads and sushi *~*~
Other than the soups, my other favourite offerings from Pret are their salads and sushi. Salads include fully vegetarian, fish (such as tuna nicoise or salmon) and meat options (such as Italian chicken). The salads are sold in a rectangular cardboard box, priced at around £4.99 each, and are generously filled with salad leaves and other fillings and a separate dressing pot (useful if you're on a diet!).
The sushi is also of good quality - with smaller portions (containing around 4 pieces) of salmon or vegetarian sushi or a larger, 'deluxe' portion with prawn and sushi pieces, each accompanied by a soy sauce container, thinly sliced ginger and murky green wasabi. The sushi costs around £2.99 - £4.99 and is really well constructed and tasty.
~*~* Other nibbles *~*~
As well as savoury items, Pret also offers a variety of pastries, muffins and have branched into breakfast items (such as porridge and breakfast sandwiches). In addition, they also make a variety of desserts, fruit salad cups and cake portions. Near the counter of every shop, they stock a range of crisps (which of excellent quality - really crunchy and thick!), brownies and chocolates for impulse purchases).
One gripe I have with Pret is that their fresh fruit pieces (such as a banana or apple) are often incredibly unripe and relatively expensive (at around 70p per item). I wouldn't recommend buying fresh fruit from here if you can help it.
~*~* Drinks - hot and cold *~*~
Pret sells a variety of drinks - from cold water, juices, Pret smoothies and branded Coca Cola - to hot drinks including teas and coffees. All hot drinks, if chosen, are made with organic milk. I particularly like Pret coffee (which is gorgeously smooth, strong but with no bitterness) and hot chocolate - sweet, creamy and really delicious! Pret only serves one size of hot drink (so you cannot choose a large, medium or small) but the standard cup - which is equivalent to a good mug-full - is just the right size for me.
Pret's cold drinks can be very expensive (a can of coke being more in the region of £1 than the usual 60p or so from the supermarket) but hot drinks are comparative to Cafe Nero or Costa prices for a regular size.
~*~* Eating in at Pret *~*~
All Pret stores allow you to take away your purchases, providing you with a small paper bag or plastic bag for your food with free disposable plastic cutlery and napkins available. Some larger stores have seating areas, comprised of small tables with a couple of chairs or sofas, allowing you to eat your food in. If eating in, rather than carrying your food in a paper bag, staff will provide you with a small silver tray on which to place your food and drink to carry to a table.
~*~* Staff and service *~*~
I have always found the staff at Pret to be very friendly, professional and provide 'service with a smile'. I have never had an order messed up and they deal with orders promptly. The pace of service at Pret is pretty fast and furious - there are often a minimum of three cashiers serving customers and more staff behind making up hot drinks and soups, as the queues in Pret can be huge sometimes, so speed of service of is the essence. However, regardless of how busy the stores are, I have never had to wait more than a minute to be served.
Pret stores also accept cards and 'touch' Barclaycard payment options, so you needn't worry about only having cash on you (as with some smaller, boutique delis and cafes).
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I do like Pret - every store offers variety in its sandwiches, salads and soups for whatever mood you're in. Although the food can be a little on the expensive side (not a surprise given its central locations, often near offices and work areas for speedy lunches and its 'ready to eat' concept), it is of high quality and offers a satisfying selection of savoury and sweet items.
It would be good if the hot drinks were offered in a variety of sizes (although the standard is usually perfect for me, sometimes I fancy a huge coffee before work!) and I think some items are just too expensive, such as the fresh fruit or fruit salad pots. Other than being on the slightly expensive side, Pret is a really convenient option for lunch or anytime.
Batchelor's Beanfeast is a vegetarian food product, made from soya. It comes in dried form, to be rehydrated when cooked.
Beanfeast is sold in three varieties - plain savoury mince, Bolognese-style and Mexican chilli style. I bought and tried the Mexican Chilli variety, on which my review is based.
~*~* Ingredients and nutritional information *~*~
None of the Beanfeast varieties contain genetically modified soya ( a change made in 1999 by makers Unilever following customer criticism and the involvement of Greenpeace). Although the product is GM-free and vegetarian, it is important to note it is not a vegan product (as some varieties contain milk powder).
The ingredients in The Mexican Chilli Beanfeast are:
Non-GM Dried Soya Mince (27%), (Contains Colours (Sulphite Ammonia Caramel, Riboflavin), Ferrous Sulphate,, Flavourings, Vitamin B12), Dried Red Kidney Beans, Wheatflour, Maize Starch, Dried Onion, Dried Tomato, Yeast Extract, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Salt, Sugar, Flavour Enhancers (E621, E635), Dried Garlic, Spice Extracts, Colour (Beetroot Red), Citric Acid And Turmeric.
The Chilli variety contains 406 kcals per packet (therefore only around 200 calories per portion). This makes it a perfect low-fat choice (while being a good source of protein and fibre) and is a great convenient option for someone watching their weight.
For those on the Slimming World diet incidentally, Beanfeast contains no 'syns' and can be eaten as a free food on any plan.
~*~* Where to buy *~*~
Each Beanfeast variety costs around 90p for a 120g packet (which is enough for 2-3 servings). Beanfeast can be bought from Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda and Holland & Barratt.
~*~* Packaging *~*~
Beanfeast is packaged in a pretty distinctive, almost retro green packet with 'Beanfeast' in large white lettering. The Mexican Chilli variety has a scrummy-looking photo of a luscious baked potato topped with rich Beanfeast chilli on the front, while the back of the packet has ingredients and cooking information.
The packet is very lightweight and, being made up of dried non-perishable product, is easy to store in the cupboards before use.
~*~* How to cook *~*~
Beanfeast can be coked either on the hob or in the microwave. I cooked the Beanfeast on the hob - this seems to be a good method for keeping control of the consistency of the meal. Empty the contents of one packet into a saucepan and add one pint of fresh cold water. Stir until well mixed and bring to the boil. Once heated to a rolling boil, simmer for 15 minutes and stir.
Alternatively, the Beanfeast can be cooked in the microwave for 11 minutes on full power.
Beanfeast is, I'm told (by my little sister who loves camping) also popular as a meal for those out camping or hiking, as it can be cooked up with water on a portable gas stove or trangia with no problem! Being neither in possession of a trangia or a willingness to get that close to nature, I will leave this test to a more adventurous DooYooer!
~*~* The taste test *~*~
The product's cooking instructions were easy to follow and made for a rich, thick chilli. I added some chopped green pepper later into the cooking process which helped add some bulk. The chilli was a lovely, traditional red colour and looked much like a meat mince chilli.
The taste was very nice - savoury and with a meaty flavour with a slight bite of chilli and tomato. The kidney beans added to the soya mixture also tasted great and added a pleasant texture and traditional chilli flavour.
I was worried about the mixture being too watery and thin, however this was unfounded - simmering the mixture had reduced it down and given a thicker, substantial chilli.
I found the chilli worked well with freshly cooked rice, complementing it well and i think I will be trying it with baked potato also.
Beanfeast does appear to be quite versatile (and being vegetarian means it is suited for anyone). The plain savoury mince chilli could be used for many other dishes, such as lasagne, shepherds pie or moussaka - however I believe such variety of dishes may be limited with the Mexican Chilli version.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I have found Beanfeast to be a delicious, easy to prepare and substantial meal that offers fantastic value for money. The Mexican Chilli version can be enhanced with other ingredients (such as more kidney beans, chopped pepper or mushrooms - or just added chilli!) to create a filling and nutritious meal that is low in fat while being high in protein and fibre.
I will definitely be buying this (and trying the other varieties) again and would definitely recommend to anyone looking to try more vegetarian, soya-based or quick and healthy dishes.
If you often find yourself daydreaming that you're lying, sunkissed, on tropical white sandy beaches, palm trees all around and warmed through by equatorial heat, then Passoa may soon become a drink of choice for you!
Passoa is a gorgeous passion fruit liqueur, which can be drunk neat or with a mixer. It is produced in France and is pretty popular on the Continent - particularly in Spain and Belgium (as well as further afield - apparently it is the number one liqueur of choice in Puerto Rico!).
Although there Passoa passion fruit is the main or leading variety of Passoa, there are also coconut, pineapple and mango flavours (although these are even harder to find in the UK than the main mango flavour unfortunately.
I discovered this lovely drink as a student in NE England (which begs the question how a drink so popular with students in far flung areas of the country cannot be found elsewhere!).
~*~* Where to buy Passoa and price *~*~
Unfortunately, Passoa is pretty hard to come by on UK shores in most of the major supermarkets. It is more popular in Holland and Spain, and as such you might be able to pick up a bottle or two (or ask a generous friend visiting there!) for your return.
Some larger Asda and Tesco stores stock Passoa, however I have not seen it available in Sainsburys or Morrisons. Passoa is also available in many specialist, online drinks stores (such as The Drink Shop (www.thedrinkshop.co.uk) or The Whiskey Exchange.
A 70cl bottle of Passoa will set you back around £12-£15 when ordered from one of these UK-based online stores, so it is comparable to UK prices for a decent premium vodka and maybe even a little less than usual high-street prices for liqueurs.
~*~* Packaging *~*~
Passoa is sold in a funky matte black glass bottle which has a sleek design. The design on the front of the bottle is amazing, with a bright red-orange-yellow neon palm tree image and striking 'Passoa' name. The shape of the bottle is slightly angular and squared compared to a wine bottle (like a slightly taller, squarer and wider Advocaat or Gordon's gin bottle).
~*~* Flavour and smell *~*~
Passoa has the most beautiful, tropical sweet scent of mango and passion-fruit encapsulated in the golden orange liquid. This makes a pleasant and mouth-watering change from some of the boring, plain alcohol smell of other spirits (like scentless vodka or gin).
If you thought the scent sounds lovely - the flavour is even better! Rich in passion fruit fruity flavours, this liqueur is unbelievably sweet but smooth. When drinking neat, I find this liqueur to be a bit too much (even for me, with an incredible sweet tooth!) and has me reaching for water to wash it down!
If you like sweeter, fruiter spirits (such as Malibu or Archers) then you would probably like Passoa as it has a similar flavour theme and can be drunk with the same mixers.
Passoa, in my opinion, is best drunk when complimented with either lemonade (for a bit of fizz) or - my personal favourite - with rich, good quality pineapple juice. Passoa has 17% alcohol content, so isn't a hugely strong spirit, and as such you will probably find you need more of it to give the same alcoholic bite and flavour when compared with other spirits (such as vodka or gin). Because of this (and this is a massive warning!) - it is very easy to get drunk on Passoa as the alcoholic flavour disappears in fruit juice and you may find yourself knocking it back quite of the stuff!
Passoa can also be used in cocktails or punches (particularly those with a fruit base) or even in a tropical variant of a mojito or bellini! There are loads of ideas on the Passoa website (www.passoa.com) to inspire.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I love Passoa - I think it's a gorgeous, unusual and summery drink - perfect for punches and summer evenings. It is very sweet and has a luscious fruity flavour which I think lends itself to being more of a girly drink, but a good basis for cocktails. Because of this sweet flavour, it may be quite cloying for some (especially when drunk neat). If you do drink it (either neat or with a mixer) - be very careful of forgetting the alcohol content behind the sweet flavour as you will be sloshed before you know it!
It's a massive shame that it is not more widely available on supermarket shelves but it can be found widely in larger Tesco/Asda stores and on online drinks supplier websites for a reasonable price. I would really recommend this drink, especially for the summer (or a reminder of sunnier, tropical days on colder evenings!).
The Intercontinental Hotel (Frankfurt) is a 4-star hotel with 770 rooms and conference facilities spread over 21 floors. Primarily aimed at international business travellers, the hotel is situated close to the banks of the River Main in downtown Frankfurt, close to the centre of the city.
~*~* Transport *~*~
The hotel is a taxi-ride from Frankfurt Airport and the price of this journey is around EUR 25 - 30. The hotel is also a short walk (around 10 minutes) from the main station which is easily accessible. Alternatively, if arriving in your own car, the hotel provides car parking space at a rate of EUR 27 a day with the option of valet parking. I was impressed to see that taxis from the hotel were easily accessible (with a taxi rank directly outside and staff being very helpful in calling you one if necessary) and that the overall journey from the airport was only around 10-15 minutes.
~*~* Foyer, services and general *~*~
The foyer of the hotel is large and easily accessible. I found the staff to be very helpful and, if you do not speak German, all speak fantastic English (including the Concierge). Check-in is anytime from 3pm with checkout from 12pm (with late check-out options available). Like most hotels of this standard, there are additional services attached to the hotel (from foreign currency exchange, travel desks and a business centre) including in-room beauty treatments such as manicures, massages etc for an additional fee.
Unlike DooYooer zOOm in his 2001 review, I found the lifts to be perfectly fine - no stomach-lurching experiences (and I was staying on the 16th floor) so this has been fixed for a smooth action.
~*~* Fitness centre *~*~
The hotel does not have a swimming pool but does have a fitness centre on the ground floor, consisting of treadmills, bikes, stepper and weights. The centre is open 24-hours and was not busy when I popped in in the evening (around 7pm), meaning no competing for machines. In addition, the riverside area around the hotel is popular with runners for a morning jog.
~*~* Restaurants, bars and food *~*~
The hotel has two restaurants - the first being the main restaurant, 'Signatures', described as serving European and German haute cuisine in a veranda setting, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I feel that the description of the veranda setting is a bit overzealous (it is more of a conservatory-style arrangement overlooking the main entrance to the hotel, the main sights being the road and cars picking up and dropping off passengers!). Other than this, the restaurant was neat, clean and had pleasant décor. I tried a house special of wiener schnitzel in green sauce (a traditional Frankfurt herb sauce) with cucumber salad and sauteed potatoes which was delicious (but a huge portion!), my meal coming to EUR 23 with a glass of wine and mineral water adding another EUR 15, equating to around £33 in total. The restaurant staff were very attentive and (for non-German speakers) speak excellent English which can put you at ease.
The Signatures restaurant is also the location for breakfast in the morning - an American, buffet style affair with hot, cooked breakfast options and cold continental meats, cheeses, fruit, cereals and yoghurt, as well as the usual muffins, pastries and bread. Breakfast costs EUR 29 per person and is of a very good standard, with staff again being attentive (with plates being cleared away promptly, coffee refills etc). In addition, I noticed that the hotel breakfast offered a huge variety of foods - including curries and Japanese breakfasts - catering to the huge number of international travelers the hotel attracts, which expands your options if you fancy something a little different! Breakfast is served from 6.30am which is good for early birds.
The hotel is split into two buildings, with Signatures restaurant being the main offering and another, secondary restaurant, Leons in the other building (which I didn't venture into). This has an Italian theme and a bar if you don't want to venture into town. In addition, in the foyer of the hotel there is the DaXx bar - really just a glorified seating area with a bar attached open from 10am to 2am that serves coffee and alcoholic drinks with seemingly 'Cheers'-inspired décor!
~*~* Hotel room ~*~*
The hotel has 21 floors, with a total of 770 rooms. Most are single-bed rooms (around 490) however there are many double-bed rooms (250) and some additional suites. Most rooms are non-smoking also and pets are allowed at an additional cost if you advise in advance. I stayed in a double-bed room on the 16th floor, overlooking the River Main. Room prices start at EUR 167 per night for such a standard room to EUR 327 for panoramic suites with an additional lounge area. The view was gorgeous, overlooking the river with views of lush woodland area in the distance.
I found the room to be of a decent size for one person (or even a couple) at 29 sqm with adequate wardrobe and drawer space, as well as comfortable chairs in a seating area and a table.
As another reviewer found, the bathroom is a little on the small size, with compact sink area, toilet and bath. I found this arrangement fine, although I did have to reshuffle and re-arrange my towels around the area to avoid them being splashed as I used the loo or took a shower. In addition, the bathroom contains a standard-sized bath and internal power-shower with a slightly annoying plastic shower-curtain (the type that billows slightly and gets stuck on you as you shower) which was a pain. The bathroom was, however, very clean and well-kept. In addition, if you like hotel freebies and 'extras', the hotel provides Elemis toiletries which were pleasant to use.
The bathroom also contains a small hairdryer (which was surprisingly effective and useful for someone like myself with long hair which takes ages to dry) and a socket for a 230v shaver. The hotel provides adaptors on request from Reception so you don't need to bring your own. I found my hair straighteners would not work in this plug in the bathroom but did work in an additional socket at the room's writing desk opposite a mirror so this was fine.
The room also had a television with decent reception (and cable-style channels, meaning access to CNN and other channels), most being in German of course. If you usually use your TV to set your wake-up alarm, I would advise against it if staying here (as that function on my TV wasn't working for my stay, nor was my ability to check my bill). In addition, each room has a high-speed internet access point (which I believe is free) which was good for picking up emails.
I found that the windows of my 16th floor room were not possible to open (accompanied by a small note from management requesting that visitors use the air-conditioning system instead to cool the room). This wasn't a problem as the air conditioning system was very effective (if a little noisy) and is adjustable using an easy-to-use wall dial. The bedding was clean and the bed very comfortable - I had no problems sleeping.
One thing that the hotel does drop down on is accessibility - only one out of the 770 rooms is wheelchair accessible which is rather appalling really. If you need wheelchair access or just better access/support then I would really not consider the Intercontinental in this regard for bedrooms, although the restaurant, foyer and lifts are easy to access.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I was happy with my stay the hotel - I was comfortable and felt that the surroundings were clean, well-presented and of a good 4-star standard, with courteous and helpful staff - what you would expect for a business trip. The location of the hotel was good from my perspective, being a short walk into the centre of town and close to the River Main for walks. If you like staying in places with a little more local colour (such as smaller, B&B style places) then this would not be the hotel for you, catering clearly for international and very short-term travellers. In addition, if you have any accessibility concerns then I would think twice about the Intercontinental, as it does not seem to cater for wheelchair-users or those with mobility considerations.
Overall, the Intercontinental Frankfurt met my standards and was a pleasant place to stay, so I would recommend it if you (or your company) is happy to pay the equivalent of around £150 a night (as at Spring 2010).
~*~* So what is a Wottle when its at home? *~*~
It is, according to its makers, the 'world's first designer reuseable water bottle'. Though I doubt this claim holds much water (*groan* - no pun intended!), the Wottle is a funky little solution to the plastic water bottle problem.
The Wottle is the brainchild of Brita, the water filtration experts, and Orla Kiely, the much-loved Irish-born designer and has been designed as the environmentally-conscious, water-drinking consumer's answer to having to repeatedly buy plastic mineral water bottles or refill these (not very hygienic and prone to leaking!).
~*~* Why should we care about the Wottle? *~*~
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few decades or so, you will know that awareness of environmental policy, issues and our impact on our environment has become key, particularly in the areas of recycling and the limited environmental resources we have. Globally, our consumption of plastic and plastic materials is roughly 100 million tonnes annually, with the UK using around 5 million tonnes a year alone.
Plastic itself is not naturally biodegradable - it doesn't disappear into the earth without a trace - but rather it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces through wind and water erosion and photo-degradation (being broken down by the sun). Scientists have found, in the oceans, flecks of plastic the same size as plankton - a scary thought when you consider the food chains and ecosystems that might be affected. One of the most common uses of plastics is in mineral water bottles - these, together with plastic carrier bags - are one of the main culprits in plastic pollution. Indeed, according to the UK, a terrifying four out of five plastic water bottles end up on landfill sites - not rotting away and disappearing, but remaining in the earth.
There are other water bottles and flasks on the market - the Wottle is not claiming to be the only one - but it is one example of how this problem could be tackled, through encouraging use of reusable plastic products that tackle the throw-away, 'one use' culture.
Being an advocate of the Wottle may also save you a few pennies in the long-term. The Wottle costs around £7.99 while a typical 500ml bottle of Evian (the mineral water of choice for the discerning fashionista, of course) costs around 50p. It would therefore take less than 20 uses to make your money back on the Wottle (which should, with a bit of care and attention, last you for years-worth of refills). It would also mean you've saved the use of 17 plastic water bottles in the process!
The Wottle also helps you avoid the slightly unhygienic practice of using your water bottle and refilling it (as the bottles are not designed for multiple use and, unless you're very good, there is a temptation to not give them a good wash between uses). Some plastics can, over time, leach into the water, which cannot be good for your health.
Nowadays, being environmentally savvy and actively looking for ways to save money and the environment are not only accepted but also pretty cool.
~*~* The design and use of the Wottle *~*~
The Wottle is, simply, a flask with a screw-top lid. The allegiance with Brita is a little random -don't expect some high-tech filtration system embedded into the Wottle! - it is literally a normal bottle.
The Wottle is made of thicker plastic, made of recycled HDPE plastic sourced in Suffolk, UK. The bottle is oval in shape (rather than a traditional cylindrical tube-bottle shape) which makes it quite nice to hold and also means the design on the front of the bottle is quite prominent on the face of the bottle.
The Wottle has a gorgeous distinctive Orla Kieley design on the front, in the lovely leaves and stem design, fading from dark yellow-green at the base to palest cream at the top, against the opaque colourless background of the bottle. The lid is also a bright, almost neon yellow tone to tie the whole piece together. The bottle also has a funky, rubberised strap which can be looped around the neck to create a handy carrying strap - the sparse packaging the Wottle comes in (environmentally conscious to the last!) has some suggestions of the different ways this flexible strap can be tied around the neck (or can be removed totally if you dislike it).
I think the winning feature of the Wottle is the gorgeous, bright, summery design, typical of Orla Kiely's other work. I would say the design is more feminine in nature through the curved leaf shapes, though there is no reason for a man to use the Wottle and appreciate the design too (the yellow-green colours used are definitely unisex). The Wottle would also be perfect for children to take as part of their lunchbox or for teenagers - there is something very 'cool' about the design and shape of the Wottle and would get them drinking more fluids (you don't have to use your Wottle for water of course, though hot liquids would probably not be recommended).
The Wottle weighs just under 100g when empty, so is neat and very light to carry either by hand or in your bag when going to work or elsewhere. The capacity of the Wottle is 500ml, which is comparable to the usual mineral water bottles, but may be a little to small for those people who like having the large, 1.5litre bottles with them at all times, as you will find yourself refilling the Wottle more frequently given its smaller size. However, I've not found this to be a problem and the smaller size means it is more 'handbag-friendly'.
The whole Wottle (with the exception of the plastic lid according to Amazon, although the makers Brita make no reference to this) is dishwasher safe. Alternatively, it can be added to your usual washing up and cleaned with washing up liquid and water in the usual way.
~*~* Where to buy and prices *~*~
The Wottle can be bought from a number of online sites, including Amazon and John Lewis (the latter being pioneer retailers of the product in their stores). The Wottle costs around £7.99, which is a reasonable price and actually far less than I would have expected to pay for an Orla Kiely product.
~*~* The Verdict *~*~
I love my Wottle - from a completely shallow point of view, it looks gorgeous and definitely brightens up my desk far more than a boring mineral water bottle. In addition, the strap is really handy for carrying around by one finger if I've my hands full, a great idea that can be removed if it doesn't appeal. I have found the Wottle doesn't affect the flavour of my water and has been really easy to keep clean (simply hand-washed and left to drain overnight to drip and air-dry). In addition, having such a gorgeous bottle has definitely encouraged me to drink more water, as I'm enjoying the product.
As for negatives, there aren't many at all. I would love if they released the Wottle in different coloured designs (a pink Wottle would be amazing!) and I understand that for some people it is just a silly extravagance, even at £7.99 only, when a mineral water bottle can be refilled too. The slightly elipse-oval shape of the bottle gives a wider design, which may also not appeal to those that like the long, thin style water bottles if you're limited on bag space.
If you're looking for a funky alternative to your usual mineral water bottle, with an environmental conscience, then maybe the Wottle is what you need!
Paul Mitchell pomade is a finishing styling product for your hair. Described as a 'smoothing polish', the pomade is designed to be used on clean, styled hair to add a final glossy shine and smooth down any flyaway hair. The product also claims to provide 'light hold' but I've not really found this to be the case on my thick hair, but may offer some light hold to thinner hair.
The product is suitable for all hair-types including Afro-Caribbean hair, for smoothing and providing a clean, shiny and softer finish. I only use the product on my straightened hair, however the pomade can be used on curly or permed hair also.
The pomade contains a number of natural extracts (including chamomile, aloe vera, jojoba and rosemary) and I would say the scent of chamomile and aloe vera are the key smells of this product. It does not smell overly chemical and harsh, but has a distinctive scent. This scent does not linger on the hair however, so you needn't worry if you dislike the smell.
The product is also not tested on animals, which is a positive.
~*~* Cost and where to buy *~*~
I bought a 150ml size bottle from my hairdressers, costing around £13. This does seem steep (as does every product you buy at a hairdressers!) but I think the product has really been worth it and has lasted for years, like an everlasting porridge pot of pomade.
The pomade can be bought from official Paul Mitchell-stockist salons on the high street as well as online (from places such as HQ Hair). The products tend to cost a little less online (I found a 150ml bottle for £11 but postage and packaging costs may outweigh the benefits).
~*~* Packaging and size of bottle *~*~
The pomade is sold in the white trademark, minimalist plastic bottles. The bottle has the Paul Mitchell branding and name of the product written in black and red font. The cap of the bottle is a screw-type, rather than a push-down or flip lid, which may be difficult for some people to use if you have dexterity problems, but I do think it is a good design to avoid any greasy spillages or wastage.
The product is sold in relatively small sizes (but don't let that put you off - 'concentrated' is the keyword to this product!) in 150ml and 250ml bottles.
~*~* How to use *~*~
This product is designed to be used on clean, dry hair in your chosen finished style (i.e. after your hair has been straightened if you wear it straight), rather than on clean, damp hair to reduce frizz.
I straighten my hair (which is naturally quite thick and wavy) so I use the pomade after blow-drying and straightening. The pomade is designed to give a smoother and shinier appearance to the hair - giving a final lustrous glossiness and taming any unruly flyaway hairs into submission.
To use the product, firstly make sure the bottle is given a good shake (with the lid screwed on!) before use. This is essential as the pomade liquid is a highly runny, almost creamy-oil formulation, so needs to be thoroughly mixed before use to avoid any separation of the mixture.
Make sure your hands are clean and dry before dispensing the pomade into one palm (otherwise the excess water will dilute the pomade and not give the glossy effect you're after). On unscrewing the lid, the pomade is easy to dispense out of the bottle, dripping from the opening with no excess.
I have relatively long and thick hair, reaching just below my shoulders. As a guide, I use a 5pence-piece sized 'blob' of the pomade. This is probably the most you will need - using too much pomade can result in your hair automatically looking greasy (not the result you want after you've just cleaned and styled it!) - so it's worth only dispensing a small amount at first and then using your judgement to add a little more pomade if you feel its necessary.
The pomade is very runny, a thin cream substance (a substance in between milk and single cream if that makes sense) that can drip and slide over your hands. Once you've dispensed the desired amount onto your palm, rub your palms together to 'activate' the pomade for a few moments until your palms are fully coated and slippery. To give best results, expose your palms again (after the rubbing) for 5 seconds to expose the pomade to the air before rubbing your palms together again for a couple of seconds. It's this 'air exposure' that slightly changes the texture of the pomade, making it smooth and slick enough to style hair without being too liquid. Unfortunately, I think the makers were exercising a bit of artistic license with the 'foaming' description - when you rub your hands together you can see the pomade mixing and being a shiny layer, but don't expect evidence of full-on lathering and bubbling I'm afraid!
Once you've coated your palms with the pomade, it's time to apply to the hair. Gently smooth your palms onto the finished style of your hair, taking care to cover the length of the hair shaft to the tips but avoiding the roots (as the oily pomade will just make them greasy). I always find that the 5pence-sized amount is enough to smooth over my hair and into the layers with no excess. If you find you have small, flyaways hairs or frizzy bits (particularly after straightening), you can use the pomade to very lightly smooth these bits into your hair-style, but take care not to create a greasy patch!
~*~* Concentration *~*~
As I touched on earlier, the watchword with this product is 'concentration' - this product is unbelievably concentrated. Considering you use a 5pence-sized blob, at most, each time, the 150ml bottle has lasted me (and I'm not kidding) years. This is probably not too healthy (surely hair products have a use-by date too?) but hand-on-heart, the pomade is as good now as it was when I cracked open the bottle 2 years ago and looks in no danger of running out (please don't judge me for not replacing it!).
~*~* Verdict *~*~
This pomade has become a staple in my everyday hair-care routine and I use it every time I wash and straighten my hair. If I could sum this product up in a couple of words, I would say 'economical' (as it has lasted me for years and does, in my opinion, justify the price tag) and 'professional' because it gives fantastic results that delivers what it says on the tin. I always use this pomade to make sure my hair has the 'finishing touch' - a final glossy smoothness - and I would recommend this pomade to anyone looking for those results.
One of Monsoon Stores most beloved UK chains is Accessorize - as the name suggests, the accessories-led stores from the enterprise.
Launching onto the British high-street in 1984 in trendy Covent Garden and Canarby Street, there are now over 200 stores throughout the UK and even more internationally. Accessorize have become well-known for their fantastic products - notably their jewellery, bags and (some of my favourites) - their shoes, which I will focus on in my review.
~*~* Layout of stores and staff *~*~
Accessorize stores vary in size hugely - from tiny units to those which spread across two floors in a typical shopping centre. In addition, Accessorize products are also on sale in Monsoon stores with the bags and shoes usually being sold in the clothing areas, with limited amounts of jewellery. The Monsoon website has a really useful store locator which allows you to drill down, by postcode, to your nearest Accessorize store (http://www.monsoon.co.uk/Store-Locator/Store-Locator/page/storelocator) which is useful if you don't spot one in your nearest shopping centre or high street.
All Accessorize stores are set out with a similar layout, with products organised by trend or colour e.g. with metallic bags and jewellery set out in one area, blues/greens in another etc. In addition, where a particular trend is in season (such as the recent Spring 2010 neon and bold colour extravaganza) these are given an individual area on the wall sections.
There are other individual pedestal displays for other products, such as for shoes, purses, belts and hosiery or for the 925 silver jewellery range. These divide up the shops well and keep you moving around the store to look at all the products on offer (and invariably to get you buying more stuff!) but are a good way of stocking items that do not neatly 'fit' into the other ranges.
I have always found the staff at Accessorize (and Monsoon) stores incredibly friendly and helpful. They are obliged to wear Monsoon clothing and Accessorize accessories themselves while at work, so they have first-hand knowledge of the products they sell.
The staff I have spoken to have been professional but friendly and will always help you find a product or with any queries (e.g. if you've seen a particular item on the website, they will always check to see if they have it in that particularly store).
~*~* Jewellery *~*~
Accessorize have become well known (and much loved) for their huge range of jewellery which is always on trend and if immense variety.
The jewellery covers earrings (ranging from sweet and kitsch studs to gorgeous, elegant dangling chandelier affairs), bracelets and necklaces (with a real costume-jewellery feel) and rings. There is a fantastic tie-in with the jewellery - if you find a pair of earrings you like, you're sure to find a matching bracelet or necklace, which gives a fantastic tied -in look. In addition, for the fashionista's stamp of approval, Accessorize jewellery has recently won a Cosmopolitan 2010 Fashion Award for 'Best Jewellery' - pretty impressive!
The jewellery is always reasonably priced, with earrings and rings ranging from £4 for very simple stud designs to around £12 for more elaborate designs, bracelets and bangles from around £8 and necklaces for around £10 to £15.
I love Accessorize earrings - looking at the product ranges - in the myriad of designs, colours, shapaes and sizes - it's hard to limit your purchases! I have always found the earrings to be of great quality and incredibly long-lasting for the price (with none of the horrid, extremely light and flimsy feel of other 'cheap' jewellery from Topshop or Dorothy Perkins). I haven't seen any clip-on earrings on sale, so this is a drawback for those with unpierced ears. As well as the earrings, the statement jewellery (more flamboyant pieces across the earrings, bangles and necklaces range) are amazing - some I'm definitely not brave enough to wear, but some pieces really standing out as being creative, colourful and imaginative in design and shape.
For perhaps a slightly more 'grown up' or formal look, Accesorize offer a range of 925 silvery jewellery for a slightly higher price, providing a somewhat more elegant variety of silver-only products - fantastic for everyday work jewellery I find where you want something simple, elegant but don't want to be getting your special occasion jewellery box out! I've never had an adverse reaction to any Accessorize jewellery, but this range may offer an option for those who have sensitive skin (but not quite the budget for more expensive every-day jewellery).
~*~* Bags *~*~
One of my other favourite reasons for shopping in Accessorize are the bags. Always reasonably priced (from around £10 for casual, cloth shopper bags to £25 or £40 smart bags), these bags do last for absolutely ages. The colours and styles tie in with the trends of Monsoon clothing and the jewellery ranges, so you can find all the building blocks of a complete, head-to-toe Monsoon outfit if you wanted.
The bags vary from casual, every-day bags (in every shape and size) to more elegant, formal evening clutch bags. This can be very handy if you've bought eveningwear from Monsoon (say for a school prom). In addition, there is a wide range of materials - with cloth products, PVC-coated plastic and real leather items (the latter being in the more expensive £40 range).
~*~* Shoes *~*~
Accessorize has started to really expand into shoes - selling gorgeous holiday and every-day flip flops, sweet pumps and flats and heels. The shoes fit well with Monsoon clothing and would suit any taste. I love Accessorize pumps in particular - I have found these to always have adorable designs (very girly!) and to also be of high quality, not falling apart after one use. I tend to wear flats to walk to work and have found Accessorize has become a first-stop shop for neat flat shoes. Flip flops tend to cost around £10, while pumps are around £25 and heels and wedges being around £30 upwards.
~*~* Accessorize online *~*~
If you like Accessorize stores, you will adore the Monsoon Accessorize website (http://www.monsoon.co.uk/Accessorize/icat/accessorize). The website has a separate Accessorize section and stocks everything (and more) that you could find in stores. The range is huge - from bags (split by day bags, formal evenings bags and purses), jewellery, shoes, hosiery, hats, scarves and fascinators as well as beachwear (flip flops, bikinis) and belts.
Really neatly designed, with high quality photos and good detail on each product, the website has a neat purchasing system and safe payment process. As in the stores, you can use your Monsoon store card, Switch, Visa, Mastercard, AmEx, Delta or vouchers to pay for your products.
One of my favourite features on the website is the 'As Seen In' section, tying in products that have been featured in magazines and the press which makes it much easier to nab that necklace or earrings or shoes you've seen in your favourite glossy. It also gives you a good feeling of what trends are in at the moment or what's in the magazines (without having to shell out) which is really handy.
Delivery from the website is swift - with all products being neatly and securely packaged (particularly delicate jewellery which is always securely wrapped in tissue paper) and no damage to the products.
Every order I've placed on the website (for both Monsoon and Accessorize items) has been fulfilled perfectly and delivered on time which is great.
~*~* The verdict *~*~
I love Accessorize - I could sing its praises all day! Accessorize sells a myriad of products for women of all ages - it is definitely somewhere where my Mum, my little niece and I can come out with something we each love, so the products do transcend the age spectrum, taste spectrum and also budgets. The products are of a good quality for their very reasonable price and are surprisingly hardwearing (in the case of shoes particularly). All in all, I love it!