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Meat liquor is a restaurant in Central London just behind Oxford street. Meat liquor sell meat... And that's about it. The restaurant itself is incredibly dark. Upon arriving, you'll wonder if it's even open such is the gloom within. They also have numerous notices on the front door that from a distance also make it look like its closed down. Once inside, you'll need to adjust your eyes because it really is that dark. It's a little like going to the cinema during the day, and the same applies when leaving. We went for a business lunch on a bright day so the contrast was all the more apparent. Decor, that you can see anyway, was fairly simple involving wooden tables and leather upholstered booths and seating. This is soundtracked by pleasantly volumed music which mostly involved country and rock tracks from 60's and 70's. It was unobtrusive and if, like me, you like that kind of thing then it was an added bonus. It was fairly busy when we arrived on a Wednesday lunchtime and we got the last table available. The menu is straight forward - burgers and sides. Burgers are mainly a variation on a beef burger but they also had a couple of chicken options. Sides are classic diner style sides ranging from fries through to coleslaw. Given the limited selection, I ordered a cheese and bacon burger with fries. This was in my opinion excellent value given the location, with the burger at £7.00 and fries at £3.00. I washed it down with a diet coke. The food arrived promptly and the portion sizes were enormous! We could just as well have had a portion of fries between 2 of us such was the quantity. i was surprised to find that it wasn't served with any crockery! You are expected to eat off the tray on which the food is provided (fries and coleslaw obviously came in a bowl) and you are only given a fork to eat with. The burger itself was big, juicy, sloppy and delicious. We weren't offered how we wanted it cooked to I assume they just cook them to one level of well done-ness. The fires were thin and very crispy and delicious. Service was fairly standard. It was efficient but with no frills... Much like the way in which the food itself is served. The restaurant, of what I could see of it, seemed relatively clean although given the dinginess has the feeling of being dirty. The lavatories were fairly basic but clean enough. In all, if you like meat and you're not out to impress, then this restaurant provides good value for money and good quality without frills.
We went to Hix for my birthday this year as my wife knows me to be a fan of unfussy, British food served in good portion sizes. Hix is part of a chain of restaurants in London, the one that we visited was in Mayfair and part of Brown's hotel. Hix is a smart establishment full of timeless style that seems to be very evident in this part of London with the likes of the Wolsey close by. With this it adds a touch of modernity and the decadent with works of art by contemporary British artists such as Tracy Emin adorning walls and corners. This leads to the restaurant in places having a slightly schizophrenic feel but by and large the juxtapositions work (although the neon sign at the end of the dining room was somewhat off putting). Amidst the art works you will find beautiful wooden paneling and pillars, enormous concrete fireplaces, marble hints and stylish upholstered seating. The dress code is smart casual - they don't insist on wearing a jacket but most there did so anything too casual i would think would seem out of place here. It's a very quiet restaurant with no music and little in the way of noise from fellow diners. It attracts an older crowd and businessmen so I don't think the kind of place likely to cater for large noisy parties. Conversation volume was kept by and large to a hushed whisper. We went for a weeknight dinner and the restaurant was about half full. Our reservation was for 8.30 and that seemed a popular time to dine here as most other diners arrived at a similar time. Upon arrival, we were greeted by doormen in smart attire that opened the door for us. Once inside, our coats were taken and we were shown to our seat which was in a comfortable side booth with an informal semi circular seat. We were promptly offered an aperitif and shown the menu. For our aperitif we both had champagne cocktails and both were classic and traditional but excellent. The range was largely a classic but extensive mix of cocktails and ours were made perfectly using decent dry champagne and fresh and fragrant ingredients. The menu as stated before is classically British an specializes in serving 'proper food'. There is no tiny morsel in the middle of a large white plate with a trail of sauce here. More likely are game pies, slabs of quality meat and a personal favourite of mine... Good old fish and chips. I can never resist the latter and thought the opportunity for a good posh fish and chips too good to refuse, so we both went with it (although the suckling pigs feast at £65 was tempting! As was a 3 course set menu at £32). I was surprised given the surroundings, that when my food arrived, it actually resembled fish and chips! A large golden coated filet with a healthy portion of triple cooked (what does that actually mean?) chips and mushy peas. The fish was very fresh and the batter wonderfully crispy and light. The chips were equally crisp in all their triple cooked glory - large, crispy and fluffy inside... And piping hot! The peas were not too earthy and very fresh and light. It was a wonderful fish and chips and although expensive at £18.75 (gasp!), not horrendously overpriced given where we were. To accompany it, we chose a fine Marlborough white wine from their very extensive list (numerous pages and a little too much to take in). This was pricey at around £45 but delightful and served perfectly chilled in an ice bucket. Service was generally helpful, polite and friendly. We were constantly asked if we needed help with any decision making, particularly with wine where they were only too happy to recommend - and not just the most expensive bottle on the menu! They were courteous and attentive without being too overbearing. The restaurant was immaculately clean and tidy. My only slight grumble would be that the lavatory was quite a way away from the restaurant itself, in the adjoining hotel. No big gripe but would have been nice to not have to have traveled so far. Overall though, top class and highly recommended if you like your food proper.
That's Entertainment is both an online and physical high street retailer of mostly used CDs, DVDs and video games but it also sells new titles. I have only ever shopped from them online so can only comment on this. I once tried to find their Norwich store but it appeared to have closed down. They seemingly have other stores in many major cities across the UK, but not London. That's Entertainment pride themselves on being cheap, and in this they definitely succeed as they sell cheaper than most other places on the web, and their postage is free so the price you see is the price you get. Items start in price from £1.99 upwards and their pricing seems slightly scatter-gun in approach. Alot of old Popular titles are £1.99 as you'd expect but you can usually also find more obscure items at this price that I assume they have struggled to shift. The site itself is charmingly designed with a handmade appeal and navigation around it is straightforward with simple search options by artist, title, etc... You can also browse by genre and price bracket although for me, I have found these features to never actually work properly. There are no advance search options so you are limited to simple searches which will be enough for most people. Paying is also straight forward but is outsourced so you leave the site to do it, but seems secure - I haven't to date had any issues. In all though, the site is self explanatory and well presented and laid out. All sounds too good to be true, right? Well it is. That's Entertainment are not short of a few flaws to say the least. Item quality is never listed but promised to be in good working condition but I have found this definition to be variable with some items in what I would regard as much poorer (e.g CDs with numerous marks - they don't effect play but are not in very good condition). Postage, although free, is very slow and there is no option for an express service - it can take up to 2 weeks for some orders to arrive. I also believe it's limited to the UK, USA, France and Germany customers. Then you have the orders that don't arrive at all only for you to discover they have been canceled due to lack of stock but no one bothered to tell you. Customer service is appalling at best. When you email to chase an order you get a generic response that barely, if at all, answers your questions. This is in addition to the above stated cancelling of orders without letting you know. To those familiar with purchasing second hand CDs, DVDs and games online, you may have encountered the behemoth of online variable quality and service known as Zoverstocks and these experiences may sound familiar. Well, they are... and that is because Zoverstocks seemingly are in some way affiliated with That's Entertainment. In what capacity I'm not sure but would guess they're owned by the same people (who also reportedly own Musicmagpie). Either way, it explains alot about the shoddy service on offer and condition of items. These guys are all about fast turn over and good value, with little care for much else. The Ryanair of CD/DVD/Game retail if you like. Bargains are bargains, and they have plenty here and I love a bargain... but shopping with these guys is just too frustrating and you use so much time chasing orders that never arrive. I have purchased around 20-30 CDs from That's Entertainment and about 25% of my orders have been cancelled, and on one occasion only was I notified. They claim emails have been sent but may have been caught in a junk filter, but this hasn't been the case either. If your willing to take your chances on a bargain then fine - I've never not had a refund from them - but if it's something you want and want quickly, look elsewhere and avoid disappointment.
Bishopsgate kitchen is situated just off Bishopsgate near Spitalfield Market and a few minutes walk from Liverpool Street Station. It is in the heart of the bustling city and owned by Benugo's, a chain of other eateries across London. Although serving lunch and diner i think it's main catering is for breakfast and one day after a wedding with heavy heads we decided to go there before boarding a train. It has a feel of a classic, rustic British kitchen with traditional wooden tables and chairs and classic crockery from enamel white mugs with a blue rim to mock ivory handled cutlery. It's a busy looking place with jars and cooking implements adorning the walls and surfaces. At one end is a busy open kitchen where you can see the food being prepared. In the center of the room is a long table that seats 2 rows of diners facing once another.. At the end of which is a classic toaster for toasting your own bread if wanted which was a nice touch. We were a group of 6 people so were sat in one of their individual corner tables. Service was friendly and efficient. We were politely shown to our seats and orders taken quickly as I had mentioned we were under a bit of time pressure with a train to catch. I ordered a white coffee and a full English - the latter being pretty steep in my opinion at £10.50 and the coffee wasn't even included! The food arrived in good time and was presented excellently. It arrived served in a small, black iron frying pan on a rustic wooden board and was sizzling hot. All ingredients are locally sourced and were of an excellent quality. The egg was a ducks egg and cooked perfectly with the perfect yolk, sausages were small but flavoursome classic cumberlands, bacon was incredibly crispy and moreish and the black pudding crispy and very tasty. Served with this feast also came a slice of typically rustic toast and a fried tomato, mushroom and served in a side dish, homemade baked beans. My only grumble was that no butter was provided with the bread but this aside, it was one of the best fry ups I've ever had. Everything was very fresh and not too greasy or fatty - you could really notice the quality of the ingredients over your usual greasy spoon muck. I also tasted my wife's Eggs Benedict as she couldn't finish it and this too was very good. The egg was poached and succulent and runny inside on top of a perfectly toasted muffin with tangy hollandaise sauce. The coffee was also very fresh an an excellent blend - not too potent but enough to give you a kick. As mentioned before, service was very good. It lacked an overall spark and I wouldn't say went out of their way to be friendly but did what try did efficiently and well. They cleared plates very quickly and in general the cleanliness was excellent. This was particularly apparent in the lavatory which was immaculately clean. Also here was again attention to rustic detail in their choice of wall tiling. This was one of the best breakfasts I have had and the atmosphere and environment was also very good. It was on the expensive side of things with a group of 6 people having breakfast coming in at £13 per head but I guess you pay for what you get and this was high end quality produced cooked and presented excellently. I will definitely go again when a full English is calling..
Yum Yum is a Thai restaurant on Stoke Newington High Street in Stoke Newington, London. It's a very large and imposing building at the end of the high street before you enter Stamford Hill. It is housed in what looks like an old official building or mansion and is equally vast and cavernous inside. It has a welcoming courtyard at the front before you enter the restaurant. This has a few tables and chairs for when weather permits and is pleasantly lit with fairy lights during the evenings. Inside, the restaurant is enormous and seemingly never ending. They also have a large bar in the basement but this was closed when we visited. You enter into a bar area with low level seating and a long bar across the side of the room. Here is also a small reception where you are politely greeted and shown your seat. We were a group of 4 going on an August Thursday night at around 9pm. We didn't book and were lucky to get a table as the restaurant was surprisingly full, especially given the large number of covers they cater for. The restaurant is dark and attempts to be atmospheric and authentically Thai with it's dark wood tables and chairs and straw table mats. Rather than atmospheric though, I found it to be incredibly loud due to the number of diners both in close proximity and not, but also the hideous music they were playing. This was barely audible over the chatter and served to make the cacophony worse. The music was futile and pointless and personally, I could have done without it as I may have had more chance in hearing what my companions were saying. The menu is fairly extensive and ranges from traditional dishes such as Pad Thai and Green Curry though to more unusual things such as stir fried Morning Glory. Now I know what my understanding of morning glory is and I sincerely hope this is not what was stir fried! I didn't experiment to find out. I opted for a chicken dish for a main. This was a deep fried chicken in a creamy coconut and chilli sauce. We also had a mixed starter of lots of deep fried things (no morning glory I hope!). The starter was predictable and fairly plain. It involved prawns, chicken and something unidentified being put in batter and deep fried. To give it an element of health, there was also vegetarian spring rolls and a measly salad consisting largely of shredded carrot. It wasn't the best Thai starter I've had but wasn't too greasy ad tasted OK if a bit bland. The chicken also borderlined on the dry side. This dish was intended for 2 people and cost £16 - we were 4 and it served our appetites well. The main course faired better. The chicken was very crispy on the outside but not dry but succulent inside. The sauce was also very good - fresh tasting but with a chilli kick. My only grumble would be that there wasn't enough of it making the dish itself when accompanied with rice a little dry. I had egg fried rice that was decent and not oily as can sometimes be the case. My wife order the green curry which I sampled. This was also very good and flavoursome again tasting quite fresh and with a good kick. It did seem to be more liquid that chicken mind so the polar opposite to what I ate. Service was efficient if perhaps lacking friendliness. I think this was probably down to the fact that they struggled to hear over the general volume too. They were attentive and quick to clear plates... Checking a number of times during our dinner if we had finished. Food arrived quickly but not scarily quickly as if just out of the microwave and was piping hot. I was surprised at how expensive the meal turned out to be. For 4 people drinking beer, a glass of wine and one cocktail the bill came to £105 including service. The food was good but I don't think really warranted the price rag I over £25 per head. Decent but overpriced.
The Caledonian hotel in Edinburgh is located in the west end of the city, around 5 mins walk from Princes Street and a short walk to most other key attractions. Formerly owned by Hilton, it has recently undergone a makeover under it's new owners, Waldorf Astoria. The building was once a railway station but now boasts a glorious 5 star hotel. The Caledonian hotel is somewhat deceptive from the outside entrance which does not hint at the vast grandeur within. The reception area is relatively small with seemingly most of the airy station space being given to the spacious bar and adjoining grand main staircase. The hotel boasts 241 rooms of 5 star luxury at prices ranging from £129.00. Our room was bought as a gift so I don't know the exact cost but I think there was a deal on as full refurbishment of the hotel was not complete - both car park and spa were not available for use as work had not finished on them yet. As such, I can't comment on their quality. Our room was standard room on the first floor. It was well appointed and of a decent size. The view from the window was far from spectacular and consisted of air conditioning units and the dull facades of adjoining buildings. This however is where the disappointment ends as everything else was spectacular. The bed was a king size bed with a comfortable, if perhaps for some a little too firm, mattress. A small desk was located in the corner and mounted within a picture frame at the end of the bed was a large flat screen TV. Where the room really came into it's own was the bathroom though. I find usually these are squeezed into tight spaces and very cramped, particularly the shower itself where washing can be a chore. Not so here. They opted to not include a bath which for some may be an issue, but instead had a huge shower with ample room to maneuver. The shower head itself was enormous and powerful and in addition there was a second hand shower. The bathroom was all white porcelain and spotless. Toiletries were excellent and fragrant and accompanying bath robes and slippers were made from fine cotton and wonderfully soft and comfortable. Other room amenities included the expected array from mini bar, tea and coffee making, safe and an exhaustive list of room service items. The only grumble was that wi-fi was not complimentary and needed to be paid for. For a 5 star hotel and given the average standard price for a room this was surprising and disappointing. Communal areas in the hotel were clean and clearly newly refurbished. It still managed to maintain its classic charm and often felt like something from a bygone era. Corridors were often strikingly long and punctuated by the odd upright piano or display. Many walls were adorned with pictures from the hotels past including many fascinating shots of it as a railway station. The hotel had a new restaurant opened by Galvin but we didn't dine there. We did have a drink in the immaculate bar though and again, this had the feel of the distant past. The seating and tables were vintage in style and the room had an air of spaciousness owing largely to the very high ceiling. Drinks on offer ranged from a good selection of wines, spirits and cocktails through to a small but good handful of bottled beers, many of which were locally produced. Given the stature of the hotel, you would expect the bar to be overpriced but it was actually quite reasonable with a glass of wine at around £7 and beer at £4. The standout feature however was the exceptionally good service we received. We were quite peckish when we arrived late at around 9:30 but unfortunately the kitchen had closed. My wife had been ill throughout the day so had until now been unable to eat. By the evening she was hungry but limited to what she could actually stomach. I half jokingly asked our waiter if it was possible to have some toast and jam for her. He didn't respond beyond apologizing again that the kitchen was closed and left it at that, and I thought no more of it. That was until he later emerged with a plate of toast and jam... and at no cost! Nothing seemed too much for him and it was refreshing to received such excellent service. This service was mirrored throughout the hotel where we encountered continuously courteous and helpful staff. Check in and check out were smooth and friendly. We however didn't have need to ask the concierge anything so can't comment on how they were but based on the rest of the experience, I imagine nothing would be too much trouble. In all, this was an excellent 5 star hotel. We had a few minor grumbles such as no complimentary wi-fi but aside from that, everything was wonderful.
There are a wealth of sites available now that offer rewards for clicking on pages, searching the web, entering contests, purchasing online, watching videos, surveys and other tasks and other ways to earn. Of the many that I have tried, far and away the best, and the least waste of time, is Swagbucks. Within a month of using the site I have genuinely already received 5 x £5 Amazon vouchers and this is through light use and not making a single online purchase. The set up is straightforward and using the site incredibly simple. You need to give basic personal details to set up an account including an email address. For this I set up a new address to use in anticipation of the huge amounts of spam I would invariably receive. To my surprise, this hasn't actually been too bad and is mostly limited to emails from sites I've signed up to. The site is fun and enjoyable to use. Other similar sites can be quite bland and usually functional and plain. Not so with Swagbucks - this is lively and entertaining and makes the site fun to use. There is a menu at the top of the screen with dropdown options for how to navigate through the pages. This includes different pages for ways to earn (which I'll come to later), setting options and other menus such as referral choices. On the home page you will find news updates and direct links to some choice new earning activities, often a link to a video to watch. Alongside this is your progress meter for how many points you've earned in a day. In Swagbucks, you don't earn money but Swagbucks that are points that can be redeemed for prizes that include goods such as video game consoles or vouchers for retailers such as Amazon or even cash through Paypal but for the latter the exchange rate of SB to $ is worse. Each Swagbuck is worth $0.01 (or £0.0059) based on the exchange rate for Amazon and many other vouchers they have on offer. These come in a minimum quantity of $5 or £5 (849 SB) depending on the territory you are in. Paypal pays slightly less at one Swagbuck being worth £0.0048 and again pay at a minimum of £5. Racking up points is easy and can quickly be done by the following methods. Searching Simply by searching the internet through their site or though their customised toolbar, you can earn Swagbucks. By using the latter, you automatically earn 1sb each day by opening your browser. The search engine is pretty good although not quite as comprehensive as Google in terms of the searching options (e.g can't search by 'shopping') but for simple word searches it works well. I have found that on occasion the search result page won't load and gives an error message. This aside, it works fine. On average you can earn from about 3 searches per day if you use the engine for genuine searches. I don't think these are necessarily based on specific search words but are more arbitrary. Earnings per search are usually 7-10sb but can on occasion reach into the 20's or even 30... on very special occasions, even higher. There seems no rhyme or reason to it so better not to try and second-guess or tactically search. Genuine searches will earn you bucks. Watching Videos This can be done 2 ways: watching TV clips on various subjects from entertainment to comedy to news items, or watching ads. The former isn't that lucrative - you need to watch in their entirety 10 clips to earn 3sb. These clips can range in length from 0:30 to a few minutes. Often they'll have a commercial before them too. It's a slow earner but can be watched in the background whilst doing something else. Be warned though, there is a limit to the number you can watch and any too frequent viewing might alert Swagbucks to become suspicious that you are a robot and your account could be closed. More lucrative is watching commercials. I have found that there is usually 10-15 per day earning 1-2sb each in most cases, occasionally more. These videos can be found on the home page but also in the special offers section (more on that to follow) so it's worth checking both. Some ads can be as short as 0:20 but others 4 mins plus. Again they need to be watched in their entirety to earn (although sometimes it can credit a little before the end). Daily Poll and NOSO These are really easy ways to earn. By giving your opinion in the single question daily poll you can earn 1sb. NOSO just requires you to click through some offers to the end and you'll earn 2sb. An easy no brainer! Special Offers This is a section where marketing companies offer various ways of making more Swagbucks. These often involve signing up for a competition or something 'free'. These can earn often 20-30sb each so a good little earner but be warned, in exchange you are giving away your personal details. I have found that I've not been swamped by junk emails, junk mail or calls as much as I would have thought but am still wary. I don't do ones requiring a mobile number but am considering getting a free SIM card and putting it in an old phone and giving that number. I have also set up a specific junk email account, which I think is worthwhile. As yet, I haven't received anything unwanted through the post. It's more the fact that you are giving away personal data that would concern me but if you're happy to do this, then you can earn considerably. Also in this section are other ways to earn that often include downloading a free bit of software or adding something to your Facebook account. Similar to the above, I have set up a specific Facebook account purely for this purpose. It generally works fine although some require you to have a minimum number of friends for it to work. Surveys are a big part of the special offers with many available through each company. These again range in length and earning but will discuss surveys more later. Finally there are purchase offers that work like most other cashback sites although rather than cash you get points you can exchange for prizes. Surveys If you like surveys, you'll love Swagbucks as there is a plethora available ranging in earnings and length - the lowest paying start at around 20sb but go to 70sb or occasionally even higher. There is also the Swagbucks daily survey that you get invited to participate in which earns a flat 70sb for each completed. Surveys I find are a blessing and a curse. When they work and are quick, they're a great earner. The main problem is the number that reject you after you've already answered a number of questions because you don't fit the criteria. I'm eternally suspicious of this and would love to see stats as to whether the answers you give before rejection get used for anything. Occasionally it feels like a scam because you get rejected from so many but if you are willing to persevere, one will eventually accept you. I take issue with it on principle, but occasionally do them and they can earn you some quick bucks! Games Swagbucks has a huge amount of games available and by playing them you can also earn nominal bucks. I've found this takes a lot of effort for little reward but if you're bored and like playing games it's probably worthwhile but you'll only accumulate a handful. Daily Goal Meter Swagbucks likes to reward loyal users and to that end they have introduced the daily meter. This offers you a bonus if you reach a certain goal of swagbucks in a day - the bonus is usually around 10% and the target is often manageable ranging from 40-100+. Swagcodes Most days, Swagbucks will publish online somewhere a code that can be redeemed for bucks. This is often through their Twitter or Facebook but there are also sites that publish them too. They usually have a time limit and can be territory restricted but get there in time and they can earn you 4-9sb each time on average. Referrals As with all these kinds of sites, you can also earn through referring friends - send them an invite and if they join and participate you can earn equal of their earnings up to 1000 SB. I have tried and tested many of these sites and this is by and far the best of the bunch for ease of earning and entertainment. As mentioned at the beginning, within the first month I cashed out 5 times with £5 Amazon vouchers each time (bare in mind they limit cash out of the same item to 5 per month). The voucher came through within a week on each occasion and I've experienced few issues. On occasion I have submitted a task and it has not registered but I have found these to be few and far between and in the majority Swagbucks get credited within minutes of completing something. As with all of these things, it will never substitute a full time job but for a little extra and for a bit of fun, it's definitely worthwhile and one I can highly recommend.
THIS REVIEW IS ABOUT THE BLACK VERSION OF THIS MICROWAVE This microwave is a bottom of the range basic microwave. It has no fancy modes or functions, is fairly rudimentary in build, design and aesthetics but it works and is cheap and simple and for those reasons, I love it. The microwave shell is black, which makes a change from the usually cheap 'white' goods and despite it's basic build it actually doesn't look that cheap and plastic-y. The edges have a very slight rounding off so it's not a hard cornered box but the effort and thought that has gone into it's appearance is minimal. The door is large and takes up 3/4 of the front of the microwave. It is very partially transparent so you can see through it but only just. On the right hand side of the front are the only 3 buttons and knobs this machine has. At the bottom is a large rectangular button for opening the door. This is flush with the surface and depresses to open. It needs quite a push to get going but works well and doesn't fling the door open like I've found other models can do, it simply releases it with a gentle ping. The other two are duals that control the temperature and the time. The temperature dial goes up to 700 and is set simply by aligning the arrow on the dial with the temperature you require - it has 5 different power settings. The timer works the same way with increments of 1 minute. Annoyingly there aren't any further increments such as 10 seconds so if you want a quick blitz, you have to guess at roughly where that time marker would be. The microwave has no start or stop button. If the door is closed and you set the dial to a time, it starts automatically. To stop it, you have to open the door. It's all as simple as that. There are no defrost functions, etc... So if you want a more advanced microwave, this is not the one for you. For me though, whose needs are very basic, it works a treat. The capacity is 17 litres. Not sure how much that actually is but in reality it means the inside size is ample. I believe the size of the turntable is 25.5cm so this means you can just about fit a large plate in. To me it feels fairly average in size and weight to a standard microwave and no more bulky than other models. It also is relatively quiet when in action - not silent by any means but I have had microwaves where the noise has been alot louder. It also comes equip with satisfying 'ping' when ready. Set up was simple - plug and play from out of the box. It couldn't have been more simple to set up and then use. This was bought from Argos at in my opinion a staggeringly low £49.99. It may be basic and not wonderful to look at (but could be alot worse!) but it works well and appears to be fairly economical (depending in the setting of course). It's basic in design and in it's function, it doesn't have a thousand buttons no-one uses or knows how to use and is very simple to operate. For light use just heating things up, it does the job excellently. As such, it suits me perfectly at a very affordable price
On a typically drizzly August bank holiday we decided to drive an hour and half to visit Alnwick Castle as friends of ours had said it was an unmissable experience. This is a phrase I had heard before and it often accompanied very missable subsequent excursions, but regardless, we took them on their word and head off. Alnwick (pronounced Anik) Castle is a grade 1 listed building having been built after the Norman Conquest and resided in by the Duke of Northumberland aka the Percy family, whose presence is felt and seen at every turn from video conversations to a littering of family photographs everywhere. The castle is steeped in a rich history ranging from it's building to keep the Scots from invading through to the Wars Of The Roses and more recently hosting battles and scenes from iconic cultural icons as Harry Potters Hogwarts and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The castle lies within acres and acres of sprawling and beautiful gardens that can also be seen with the purchase of an additional ticket. It was pouring with rain so we opted to see the castle only. It seems the only way to get into the castle is via a stream of gift shops: one at the entrance of the whole complex and then another in the grounds itself (although arguably for the latter we may have taken the wrong entrance). The first noticeable thing I found upon setting eyes on the castle for the first time was thinking it was actually quite small and low lying. Once inside you appreciate that this initial view is deceptive and the gradiose becomes apparent. The castle mainly consists of the yards where events are held, the main house with stately rooms and some out buildings hosting 'museums' and the cellar dungeons. My over-riding opinion was that for all it's grandeur, as an adult, there isn't actually that much to see. Event after event is piled on to entertain children from broom stick riding (to mirror quidditch I imagine), soap making, hitting things and making a racket and dressing up and prancing in mock medieval clothing. Great if you have them as I imagine they can be easily entertained all day. However, we were a group with age ranges 30-70 and found interest slightly more difficult to find, or limited in scope and number at the least. The most interesting part was the state rooms but these were frustratingly few. Given the size of the place we expected access to more than a dozen or so rooms for the £14 entry fee (house only, it's a further £12 if you want to visit the gardens too). These were largely magnificent and fascinating, especially to see the evidence of everyday use by the residing family. The chapel was ornate and opulent although a lack of good natural light meant it was a bit gloomy. This was a theme that seemed to run throughout. Despite the fact that all rooms had large widows the rooms generally had a dark and gloomy feel, largely due to the furnishings and decor that were far from bright. Most interestingly for me was the library which seemed to be the room the family spent most time in. This was a curious mix of antique, regal furnishings, floor to ceiling cases of dusty, and I imagine seldom leafed if at all, books. I looked for Fifty Shades Of Grey but alas, not to be found amongst the journals. Most bizarre amongst the regal splendour was the 50" flat screen TV I assumed would have been wheeled away during public hours to maintain appearance, and the drinks trolley, home to an inordinate number of Red Bull cans. It was a peculiar site and I would expect was there to show that the modern family actually use the house. Elsewhere, other than an abundance of modern family photos including those of the recent daughters wedding, there was little evidence of modernity. The dining room is also still apparently used by the family for meal times but there was no sign of use. The dining table must have been 20 foot long and I could only imagine the amount of 'pass the salt' gags that must frequent dinner times. The overall feel, library aside, was that of a stuffy, regal and archaic lifestyle and house that differed minimally to other similar places I have been to. The tour ends with a very windy and laborious talk with the Duke about the history, restoration and current use of the house. You really needed to sit for it and there were surprisingly few available and all taken, so i wasn't going to wait around for too long. In the Dukes defence, he did come across as personable but from what I heard, nothing was particularly enlightening, nor information not available elsewhere in the building. So what of the other things on show? We went to see 2 of the 'museums'. These each consisted of one tightly packed room smaller than an average sized bedroom with minimal displays... Probably the most Intersting of which involved items found on the castles grounds. The displays appeared cheaply and shabbily put together (and that includes the 'talking' dummies) and information was fairly limited. It's a shame because they could have done so much more but they felt a bit like an afterthought rather than displays of excellence and value in their own right. If I were to be honest, it felt as though the owners or developers thought 'we need to give them a bit more for their money' and hastily put these together to try and appease people like me. Another problem with Alnwick is that there is very little to see that has step free access so can be tricky if elderly, disabled or not fully mobile. Most thing to see require access by step including the main house itself. These are manageable large staircases but the museums require a steep climb up narrow, winding, dark stone stairs only wide enough for one person. This makes seeing some of the attractions impossible for many people. As for unmissable? I think you probably know my thoughts on that.... I found that value for money was awful given what was available to see for adults. We didn't get involved in any of the children's activities but am sure they would be very entertaining but visiting as adults alone, there is little to recommend for the very steep entry fee. We expected to be there the best part of the day but were done in an hour and a half.
The Brown Cow is a pub and restaurant in Chatburn, near Clitheroe in Lancashire. Given the size of the village it's surprising that it is in fact one of two pubs in the village about 50m apart. This pub for general congenial ambience and passable food is definitely the pick of the two. It's a classic looking pub and inside is relatively old fashioned still boasting a faded, patterned, bear stained carpet. The furnishings are a curious mix of old, well used tables and chairs and newer looking, brighter furniture. Some tables also have corner pew type seating that on the whole are as uncomfortable as they sound. It is largely unremarkable in appearance but is always lively with mostly locals. I've eaten there once and the menu is pretty basic and tailored for those looking for standard pub grub ranging from pies to burgers to some unappetising looking salads that look like they were fresh from the 80's. No rocket here but iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber with something on top. I skipped these despite being on a diet and stuck to things that are hat to get wrong - the beef burger with a pint of lager to wash it down. The first thing I'll note was the remarkable size of the portion. The burger itself was probably a 1/2 pounder beef patty on an equally impressive bun with onion rings inside. The chips were a meal for 2 in themselves. To add an element of health a meagre side salad limply sat beside this monstrous feast. So far so good for £6 - I'm used to London prices so for me this was exceptionally cheap for the quantity of food on offer and made me wonder how the pub stays in business. The meal wasn't the worst burger I've ever eaten... But also far from the best. The meat itself was well cooked (a little too well for me) but definitely tasted as though it was from the freezer and not the best cuts used. The chips were OK but could have done with being cooked a little longer to have been crispier. The side salad was, well, dreadful and not even dressed. Service was on the whole charming and with a typical Lancashire warmth, smile and giggle. It was also very efficient and quick in terms of bringing our meal an clearing the plates. The general ambiance of the pub mirrored the friendliness of the staff. It was filled with locals having a natter but we didn't feel as though we were outsiders coming in. It was a relaxed, comfortable environment. The pub, except for the carpet, was also very clean and tidy. Granted, the quality of the food wasn't great, but for the price I'm not sure what you can expect. Although unremarkable, it was in all a nice pub and restaurant and if in the area, one I would return to again
Leonard has never been big on upbeat so it's hardly a surprise that this, his latest offering, continues the path of maudlin songwritership making the album title, Old Ideas, apt. Little has changed with the exception of Leonard's voice getting even deeper if such a thing is possible. A handful of great songs and some dodgy production combine to make this both an intriguing and disappointing but largely good twilight album. The album is Relatively short at a mere 10 tracks ranging in length from a 2 1/2 minute standard to those 8-9 minutes in length. The overall feel is that this is a cohesive collection of songs, some better than others with Leonard in places adding an almost throw away element to his usually meticulous song craft. Melodically, most of the songs are carried by the selection of angelic backing singers countering Leonard's gravely drawl. He rarely sings, rather speaks, but you still get a sense of melody through this careful accompaniment. Instrumentation leaves space for both sets of voices and is carefully chosen in it's sparseness and never gets overindulgent or distractive. Lyrically, as one would expect, each song is fluid and poetic often unsurprisingly reflecting on the twighlight of one's life, and often failing relationships with women. Whilst tonally the songs all have a common ground, they can be a bit hit and miss. The album opens with the beautifully reflective and self deprecating 'Going Home' - 'I'd love to speak with Leonard, he's a sportsman and a shepherd, he's a lazy bastard living in a suit'. It sets the tone excellently for the rest of the album. The single from the album is 'Show Me The Place' which is probably the standout song on the album and Leonard's most poetic and vulnerable, personal moment. I would include it in my top 5 Leonard Cohen songs of all time. 'Anyhow' I found to be a little dull and meandering. Conversely, 'Crazy To Love You' is probably as impassioned as Leonard gets, also as melodic and expressive in his own voice. 'Come Healing' is a beautiful, elegant and mediative ballad where the backing singers really come into their own to carry the song. 'Banjo' is as lightweight as this album gets and almost feels throwaway and it's inclusion feels out of place. On the whole the songwriting is excellent. However, It's strange given what a meticulous songwriter Leonard Cohen is, that the production across this album doesn't follow suit and is so sloppy. The whole album has a curious production sheen to it that makes strings sound fake although the album credits would suggest they are real as it credits real players. In places it sounds as though they have almost been auto tuned making them sound cold and like samples. The biggest crime however here is the quality of the vocal recording which in places is unforgivable for it's time. Many takes have background noise which makes it hard to edit cleanly - a case in point is 'Show Me The Place' where consistently throughout you can hear the fade in and fade out of the vocal recording. Given the high profile nature of the album and artist it's bizarre this was allowed to happen. Perhaps it was intended stylistically to give the vocal an intimate feel but rather than this, it comes across as ill executed and very sloppy. You would assume a top engineer would have worked on this, which makes it's lack of finish even odder. This is most strikingly appalling on the last line where it is unforgivable and ruins the song for me completely. Listen to the last 2 words and the way the last word is cut short... It's disgraceful. It's a huge shame that these points mar what should and could have been an excellent album. In the majority, Leonard's songwriting it still on tip top form but such sloppiness on the production let's this down massively.
Pyrex are a brand well known for the remarkable durability and quality of their products, most notably their glassware. Starting life in the US in 1915, they began producing heat resistant glass using a German invented technology from nearly 20 years previous. Their products range from their more well known kitchenware to items for laboratory use due to the high heat durability of their products. This item is one of their kitchen products suitable for oven use. It is essentially an oval shaped glass dish with sides around 1.5 - 2 inches in height. It's overall size is around 22cm x 14cm and I believe is the medium size from a range of different size options available. On the bottom is the Pyrex logo so you know what you are dealing with is the real product. Otherwise, it's fairly standard in shape and look with no gimmick or quirk in it's design. It is with it's design that I can find my only real fault of the product. I also own the rectangular version which has small handles on either end of it that come in very handy when lifting out from the oven when extremely hot. This model doesn't have this and would benefit from it as it can be quite cumbersome and slippery when trying to hold with an oven glove. There is nothing to get any real purchase on it and I have nearly dropped it on a number of occasions. Perhaps a handle wouldn't work with the oval shape but some kind of lip or similar would have made a big difference. Aside from this, it's an excellent product. It is made from glass so transparent - depending on what you are cooking this can be a bonus so you can see whether something is cooked inside or not. It's advertised as a roasting dish and serves excellently for roasting vegetables, etc... In, but can also be used for pies and other similar things equally. As with most other Pyrex items, it's incredibly durable and long lasting. It doesn't damage or scratch easily so provide you don't drop it, it will last years. It also can withstand hot to cold well so can be chucked in the sink immediately after use without cracking. Unlike most other dishes, it can also be used in the microwave (if you're microwave is big enough!) without breaking plus can also go in the freezer so versatility really is the order of the day with this. Cleaning is very easy given it's shape. There are no awkward nooks or corners to have to get into so it's a matter of cleaning large surfaces. Things don't tend to cake on as it's stain resistant so hard scrubbing is rarely needed. You also don't get that flavour residue you can sometimes get when cooking something potent - probably because the glass isn't porous like earthenware for example might be. These usually retail between around £10 (if you get a good deal - we got ours in a discount store) to £30. Price will also depend on the size. Baring the one design fault there is little else to criticise. This is an excellent, durable product essential in my view for all kitchen use.
Sabors is a Spanish restaurant in the village of Beniali near Pego, an hour or so from Valencia. Dining options are not in short supply in this small village in the valley but Sabors, formerly La Plec in a different location, holds the mantle for fine dining and is an excellent restaurant hidden away in the mountains. People travel from Valencia to come and judging by the quality of the food and jolly, personable service, I can see why. Sabors is housed in a large building adjacent to the school yard in the village and has it's main restaurant on the ground floor that is inside, plus an outdoor roof terrace for the warmer months. The views from the latter are stunning and seating up here is a must where possible, particularly during August's fiesta where it allows for hours of people, and spectacle watching from it's superior vantage point. The restaurant is modern and stylishly decorated. The walls are white and alive with paintings from local artists and there is a gleam of stainless steal everywhere you look. The proprietors have gone for sleek and modern and in the majority it works well although can at times appear a little dated. The food at Sabors is exquisite. The best way to sample the cuisine on offer would be the set menu where dish after dish of delights arrive in timely fashion until you can't eat anymore... and then it's time for the main course! Meat tends to be in great supply - if you are looking for green vegetables you won't find many here - much like the rest of Spain. Chicken goujons follow mini burgers, then delectable meatballs, chicken wings, even home made pork scratchings... All cooked to perfection and freshly prepared. Then it's time for the main. There tend to be 2 options: slow cooked leg of lamb or steak. The former falls off the bone and is tender and flavoursome, the latter an exceptional cut of meat served with a rose petal jelly - sounds strange? Tasting is believing. Either main comes with hand cut, home cooked crisps. If you have room, this is followed by a plate of small postres (desserts) to sample. Again wonderfully delicate and never too sweet and accompanied by a complimentary carafe of their home made fruit dessert wine. It's so sweet and aromatic it feels as though no alcohol may be present - don't be fooled, it most definitely is! Their wine list is very good and includes some excellent local wines and vary in price greatly. I never saw an itemised bill but a dinner for 4 people with 2 bottles of wine and water came to a very reasonable 100 euros total. Tony and German, the proprietors are also 2 of the most congenial gentlemen you could meet. Tony is flamboyant and fun and the chef, German more reserved and a real pro and is front of house. Service is always slick and efficient and very friendly. A word of note though, if you are English and don't speak a word of Spanish, you may struggle as the native tongue is strictly all that is spoken here. Having connections with the village I am fortunate enough to have dined here several times. It really is a wonderful restaurant and experience and definitely worth the visit if at all nearby. It's a gem tucked away in a small village and should be tried if possible.
The Majestic Hotel is a boutique hotel in the Unesco Heritage town Malacca, Malaysia. It is located in a rather grubby part of town in less that salubrious surroundings but is a 15 minute walk from the main attractions and is a joy once inside. It sticks out like a sore thumb in the area. Surrounded by industrial buildings this 1920's mansion has been beautifully preserved and developed into a 54 room hotel and spa filled with wonderful colonial features making it a world away from what lies outside. The reception area is bright and airy and upon arrival we were greeted by the most jolly and gregarious gentleman who was most welcoming and accommodating. Upstairs is the restaurant which we unfortunately didn't eat in (although judging by the culinary state of the rest of the city, we should have... But that's another story!). Behind the reception is a beautiful lounge where you can have tea or a drink. The floor was decorated with an ornate tiling pattern, the walls were white and wooden fixtures and shutters painted an emerald green. Dark wooden chairs with wicker backing were neatly arranged around elegant tables holding a few carefully chosen reading materials. Above were classic rotating fans to keep you cool amidst the great humidity. The lounge was majestic and a wonderful entry to the hotel as a whole that maintained this theme. The rooms themselves were located in a separate newly build building mirroring the design of the original that although modern, had been tastefully designed with glorious rooms. Our room was light and full of colonial charm. Everything was dark stained wood or light brown upholstered. Centred in the well size room was a super king 4 poster bed that was simple and elegant. It boasted a super comfortable mattress and pure cotton linen. Beside this a chez lounge and desk. All simply designed but with quality and luxury. The bathroom was remarkable. It was partitioned from the rest of the room by sliding doors and had it's own shower and very deep free standing bath - again all full of colonial charm and feeling a world away. The hotel also had a spa and small pool on site although we didn't use either. The pool looked good but the surroundings weren't the best so we were not enticed to go for a swim, despite the heat. Service at the Majestic was excellent and typical of what we found in most of Malaysia: very thorough, efficient, helpful and friendly. We were greeted by a very jolly gentleman upon entering the hotel and were offered a drink while we completed the paperwork. We were then shown around the hotel and talked through everything with all the key important information. He giggled girlishly at my worst jokes which is always a big plus for me! Without fail doors were opened for you with a smile and an acknowledgement. Helpful advise was given for restaurant suggestions and taxi bookings were always extremely prompt. We didn't eat in the restaurant but we did have high tea one day in the lounge. This epitomised the stereotypical colonial experience... And I loved every minute of it. The choice of teas were extraordinary ranging through every fruit or herbal variation imaginable in addition to more traditional drinking teas. I opted for a flavoured roibos which was fragrant, delicate and wonderful. Accompanying the tea we had scones and small savoury pastries and cakes. Again all were delicate and exceptionally good in quality. The scones were not dry and stale as can sometimes be the case, but fresh and not too sweet. The savoury pastries were slightly peculiar and fishy but the cakes more than made up for it! We only stayed 2 nights due to availability (although in Malacca for 4 nights) and wished we could have stayed on longer. Rooms were a steel at just under £80.00 per night (we went in April) so excellent value. The other hotel we stayed in was atrocious (Avillion Malacca - see my review for that debacle) and it seemed quality accommodation in this town are at a minimum. The combination of the great rooms, interior and fuss made of us more than made up for it's less than salubrious location. In the unlikely event I ever return to Malacca, this would unquestionably be my first choice of place to stay.
This free app is a weight losers dream. I have recently embarked on a light diet and have found this tool invaluable for helping me keep track of what I eat and how many calories it contains. It's a very easy app to use and navigation is largely intuitive. The main function is to be able to keep a diary of what you eat and keep track of calories. As a starting point, it asks you various questions about yourself (age, height, etc...), your lifestyle (exercise , sedentary work, etc...) and what you hope to achieve in terms of weight loss ad over what period of time. It then works out what your daily calorie intake should be to reach that goal based on the info provided. Once you've received this horrifying info, the 'fun' really begins as the realisation you'll be eating like a rabbit over the course of the next few months dawns. The app has an easily set out diary split into 4 sections - breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. There is an exhaustive library of different foods in an easily manageable search engine. You simply type in what you've eaten and it finds it, or the nearest thing and how many calories it contains. The range includes most popular shop bought items and often includes the exact calorie count for that brand (e.g Saunsbury's steak pie). It also has estimates for home made items (e.g sausage and mash) so pretty much everything is covered. Rather niftily, there is also the option to scan the barcode of your food to get the exact calorie count. This also works excellently and has a wealth of products again in the database. Simply hold the barcode within the box shown on your camera screen and it will automatically read it. Once you have selected your item, you simply click 'add' in the top left hand corner and it automatically adds it to your day. It calculates each item added and tells you your remaining calorie count for the day. ...and that's just eating. You can also include any excercise you've done that day as well. The interface is very similar to the eating and a simple matter of searching what you've done and adding it. This is then set against your food intake automatically and recalculates your calorie allowance again. You can select the exercise done by either cardiovascular (such as running or walking) or strength (gym work). Once added to the diary you can get a daily or weekly overview of your intake and excersize which can be a useful snapshot at progress. This also includes a detailed look at the calorie breakdown - how much I what you eat is fat, protein or carbohydrate. These are the basic functions. There are also numerous diagnostic screens that can show you charts of your progress, etc... That range from quite useful to only any use to the fitness freak. I don't really tend to use them too much but I'm sure for some they can offer hours of entertainment. I find the progress chart quite handy. Here you can record your weight at various intervals to keep track of what you are actually losing per week and hence assessing whether the diet is actually doing any good. If you are into communal dieting then there is also an option add friends. I've not used this function as most of my friends are healthy and fit, but I'm sure the competitive element would be fun. The interface really couldn't be more straightforward to use and user friendly. There are instructions but really no need to use them such is the intuitive and self explanatory nature of this app. You really can install and start right away. I can't think of anything it doesn't cover that you might need. Given it's free as well I think it's an excellent fitness device for anyone trying lose weight, or just interested in knowing what they eat.