27. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

Number 27 from my 27 list and our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. I’m so excited to tell you this story as it was so special for so many reasons. Ben and I are both total foodies and love trying out nice restaurants. Usually for our birthdays and anniversaries we book a fancy meal somewhere, it’s just not usually this fancy.

Ben and I both turned 30 this year, Ben in June and me two months later in August. A group of friends pitched in together to get us both a voucher for Umu restaurant as a gift. I had been talking about going to a fancy Japanese restaurant for years, so they were right on point with this present.

Umu restaurant in Mayfair has two Michelin stars and is led by chef Yoshinori Ishii. It’s a pretty big deal, and way far and above anything Ben and I would usually be able to afford, so we knew we had to use the voucher to mark a special occasion. It just so happens that our 10 year anniversary also coincides with our birthdays so as soon as I got the voucher I emailed Umu to see if we could possibly get a table for that evening. I wasn’t holding my breath as places like this in London can sometimes be booked out 6 months in advance, but happily on this occasion we got in with just 3 weeks notice for Friday the 18th, the exact date of our big anniversary.  Wow!

Firstly, we had to look the part. With blazers and bling at the ready we walked through the streets of Mayfair..

Ben’s jacket is his 30th birthday present from me and my earings are Ben’s 10 year anniversary present to me. 20170818_192931We were greeted and seated with a sweet sparking sake aperitif. We had the choice of two brands and one happened to be Dewazakura, made in Tendo, Yamagata, the town where we lived in Northern Honshu, Japan. Yamagata is a rural area known for producing rice, fruit and other produce. I used to walk through rice fields daily to get to my schools and when Ben was living over there with me, he actually got a job driving from farm to farm picking up cherries that were packed daily and taking them to the export depot.

The region is known for producing one of the highest grade rice in Japan, Tsuyahime literally meaning ‘lustrous princess’ and high-grade rice means high-grade sake. We were both so excited to be able to make such an instant connection to the restaurant and it started us reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had living in Tendo. Sparkling sake is delicious too, it’s made like champagne and tasted crisp and sweet. I’m on the look out to buy some more.

As we perused the menu I tuned in to the Japanese business men sitting beside us. They were speaking ridiculously formally to each other and my waning Japanese skills were not up to the task of eavesdropping on that convo.  There were a few other Japanese families, too and also a few westerners. It was humming but not busy. As you can see from the pictures, the lights were low.20170818_195730Umu is famous for kaiseke, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal usually with a number of different cooking techniques used. It turns out we were eating on the last day of the summer menu here. I’m glad we did because it was beautiful and fresh.

We also opted to go all in and do an alcohol pairing, I did wine and Ben chose a sake pairing.

So let me talk you through the menu..

We started with fresh salmon sashimi, cucumber and the most generous mound of truffle I have ever experienced. Then followed by lotus root soup. Hiding under that lotus are great chunks of lobster. Yum! Oh and we had a different drink to go with each, both fresh and light like the food.

We then got beautiful trays of paper-thin white fish sashimi and the fish of the day selection. The fish of the day selection featured lobster again, this time raw as sashimi, I’ve never had it like that before but I definitely wish I could have had more than one piece as it was that good. Ben and I lingered over the tuna chunks, too. One lean and one fatty piece, both the most tender we had ever experienced. I think this was my favourite course of the whole meal.

Next was the vegetable course. This was presented like a garden with miso sesame soil to be sprinkled on and a watering can dressing. Ben got a little too excited over the tiny radishes, bear in mind we are four drinks in by this point.  I think this was about the time when Ben came back from the bathroom (which were very swanky) saying “How does the concierge know to open the door for me?” Ah… she hears you stomping up the stairs…. 20170818_215857Next drink for Ben is warm sake served in crockery handmade by the chef himself.  Ben definitely got the more interesting vessels from the pairing.

The next course is the meat, Ben’s favourite. This course gets paired with a red wine so I’m struggling as I’m not a fan of red. I definitely wished I knew more about wine while having this meal as the waiting staff were diligently explaining each specially selected wine to me before each pairing and I was just smiling and nodding at all the words and references I didn’t understand.

This is the rice course, definitely needed to soak up the alcohol. You can see we’re quite squiffy by now. That’s Ben’s “act sober” gaze.

Dessert! I was so excited about my cherry shaved ice that I have only managed to snap a picture of the empty bowl. Oh and the amuse bouche! I was on a desert wine for this one and Ben is back on the sweet, sparkling sake. We have forgotten the flavours of the sweets now but I remember the chocolate being my favourite.

Last thing to do was to finish off all the drinks I had backed up and settle the bill. We were one of the last parties to leave at around 11.30pm. We spilled out into the night and sensibly made our way to the bus stop, the 390 bus was the only option home after that splurge.

A once in a lifetime experience to mark our 10 years together. Worth it in every way. Thank you to our lovely friends for making it happen and thank you to Ben for 10 awesome years together. Here’s to many more!

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I turned 30!

20170916_142111Eeeek, I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted! How did that happen? This year is absolutely flying by with so much going on and so much change, but all good stuff. Now that the days are getting cooler and things are calming down a bit, I’m hoping to catch up and get some of the very exciting stories of my summer up onto the blog. Starting with the big birthday milestone!

I tuned 30 in August and nearly a month in, I feel like I have definitely done a lot of celebrating. I feel seriously fortunate to have so many awesome people in my life, thank you to all those who made my big birthday so special!

If you can’t spend weeks celebrating your 30th when can you? Here is what I got up to…21414668_10155674625242118_687928567844152297_oMy actual birthday was a Tuesday and pretty much business as usual; I made porridge for breakfast, worked, went to the usual meetings and played netball in the evening. I squeezed some special moments in too though. I opened pressies in the morning and Skyped my family, then got spoiled with gifts from my colleagues and had a nice lunch at work. I met Ben and friends for a quick bite of pizza after work before heading off to my netball game, although a little too full. We didn’t win the game but I have to let it slide, my pizza belly didn’t help.

Ben and I usually use our birthdays to take each other out for a fancy dinner, but this year with a few fancy dinners on the horizon for us we decided to go low-key and have an Italian meal around the corner from us on the Wednesday. After hectic days at work for both of us we relaxed over a bottle of wine and discussed how we would slowly reduce our meat consumption in the coming months (I’ll write more about this soon).

On Thursday I did my birthday shout at work with another colleague who was celebrating a couple of days after me. I was obsessed with having an American Birthday Cake from Costco after discovering it a few months earlier. So we got this sugary beast to share. I enjoyed it a lot! I would love to be able to make a cake like that.

Thursday night was spent with friends at a Thai restaurant Champor-Champor. Ben surprised me with a beautiful salted caramel & chocolate cake too. Two cakes in one day? I was in heaven.. and a sugar coma.

We then headed off to Cornwall for a week and I was again surprised with a little camp celebration. We popped champagne (thanks to my workmates) out of the chilly bin and had a lamington ice cream cake by the camp fire. This was also a pretty special holiday as Ben and I got engaged! More on that to come in another post. 20170827_Cornwall_Camping_Day1_0131We also dined out on my birthday celebrations at Rick Stein’s Seafood Resturant with some complimentary after dinner treats. I wouldn’t let anyone dip their fingers in the chocolate sauce as how good is that lettering?

I booked this meal three months in advance as we’re all big fans of Rick Stein and I would highly recommend it. The seafood is, of course, on point – I had a monkfish ceviche to start and an Indonesian seafood curry which was so good I didn’t want it to end. The staff were really friendly too and well versed, everyone we spoke to wished me Happy Birthday.  All in all a really nice meal.

Just before the celebrations were over we slipped in a visit to the theatre as Ben got me tickets for my birthday. We saw Aladdin, the new West End musical, which was fantastic. The genie is amazing and it is so true to the Disney animation. I was singing “I can show you the world…” all the way home…20170908_220639

Finally, 3 weeks after my actual birthday we went out and celebrated with friends. I booked a rooftop bar called Skylight which looked relaxed and fun and had gorgeous views. Last September it had been super warm and summery and I had been banking on weather like that this year too, but you always fail when you try to predict the weather right? We were pretty cold up on the roof but Pimms kept us warm as did the many blankets we scrounged from around the bar. It was such a fun venue; they taught us how to play croquet too.

So, how does it feel to be 30? My only answer to this is “Great!”. Really, I’m excited about what my thirties has in store for me. I keep telling people that I think I suit getting older. I have always been an old soul, my age is just starting to catch up with me.  20170916_141943

The purple card at the start of this post was made by my talented friend Keryn, and this blue one comes from Ange & Paul – thanks guys.

Tough Mudder Review

Hi guys, just wanted to check in with you as a wrote about Tough Mudder as one of my goals for 2017.

This is what I wrote in February when publishing that post:

I have possibly bitten off more than I can chew here but I signed up to run this 10-12 mile obstacle assault course with Ben. The website says “You can expect undulating hills, thick mud and a range of mind-bending challenges to test your mental grit.” Yikes! We started (sort of) training in New Zealand and now that we’re back in London we have committed to this in earnest. There is a lot of ab crunches and pull ups (when I can do them) in my future.

Well now it’s done! It’s been a couple of weeks since we ran it and my muscles have recovered but I am still sporting bruises and scratches all over my limbs. Although the bruises have started changing from deep purples to yellow-brown so it’s about the right time to gather my thoughts about the experience. My experience is as a first time mudder-er with reasonable fitness and very little strength.wp-image-775792269Firstly, the “undulating hills” mentioned in the website blurb was, of course, an understatement. The West London course out in Henley-on-Thames was beautiful, and on any other day a casual observer may describe the landscape as undulating. But for a runner, caked in mud, dunked in ice and still on the first mile, they were more like Everest.  All my muscles screamed at me whenever I attempted to run uphill. More than any obstacle, the uphill sections of the course were the biggest challenge for me.IMG-20170506-WA0006IMG-20170507-WA0002Tough Mudder was much more about team work than I realised. Happily for me, someone who can’t lift their own body weight, the majority of obstacles were about coming together as a team to climb a wall, wade through mud pits and scale slippery slopes. I am so grateful to the team for helping make the day so enjoyable. I can’t deny that I was the weakest link on the team but the rest of the guys were patient with me and Ben was a trooper and stuck with me while I battled up the hills to meet the others at the next obstacle. Secretly, I think he was grateful to take it easier with me.

We both did train for the three months leading up to the event but with both of us having a lot going on with work and suffering quite bad colds in the lead up, the training wasn’t what it could have been. I had to take tissues with me around the course! But sickness aside, I do think I was in a much better place than I could have been and mentally I was unapologetic. I knew I had done my best in training and did my best on the day. I fronted up to every hurdle and moved the whole time so I had little stress about being the slowest in the team, something I know I would have stressed about if I hadn’t trained. For me too, going from zero, as in having very little upper body strength, to the kind of condition you would need to be in to complete some of the tasks was unrealistic in three months. But I will keep trying, one day I will be able to complete a press-up.

The other thing that helped me a lot was having great kit, something that I was moaning about beforehand. The event is expensive enough as it is, I really didn’t want to sink any more money into kit for something that I may not even enjoy. But I must say, I had to take back all my moaning.

One of the most important things running in mud and water are your shoes. I’m no expert but I think if you really want to give this a proper go, you need some form of trail running shoe. Simply, a shoe with big ‘lugs’. Lugs are the spiky bits on the bottom of football boots for example. They allow you to run in mud without slipping over and, if they are spread far enough apart, allow the mud fall out rather than cake to the bottom of your shoe. We passed many people on the way shaking grit from their shoes, suffering blisters and slipping around on the running tracks. Of course we were all slipping in the mud pits, but I was grateful to not be slipping around while my team mates ran off ahead.

I got these Asics Gel-Fuji Runnegade for £60 and now far from resenting the cost, I am in awe of them. Firstly, how cool do they look?? Secondly, they did exactly what they needed to re: mud. They made me feel a hell of a lot more secure running downhill. They kept all grit and mud out and managed to keep me comfortable the whole time. Despite being wet in the first mile I never got a blister or even an inkling of one. All this in their first outing as I never managed to take them out of the box to train in them beforehand due to the cold. So I was impressed to say the least. I also wore ‘no blister’ socks that Ben loaned me which could have helped, but really, I like to think it was all the shoes.FB_IMG_1495387682026So there you have it, my review of Tough Mudder. Which really boils down to – get some trail running shoes and try your best to get as fit as possible to make it easier on the day, but whatever your ability it is a team race and in the end is all about having fun.

Have I convinced you to give it a go?

Photo credits to the Tough Mudder professionals and the team. The selfie was all me though.

 

Gifting Christmas Brownies

It can come as no surprise that I love baking. It is without a doubt my number one hobby. But as much as a love it, it does come with its downfalls; what is made has to be eaten and it usually doesn’t last. I know what you’re thinking – that doesn’t sound like a downfall at all..? But when people are on diets around you and you know you should be eating healthy yourself it can be very hard to justify baking so much.

So I always try to make the most of special occasions, whether that’s making Banoffee Cake for Thanks Giving, Chocolate Nut Bars as a house warming gift or a three tiered Baby Shower Cake! The best kind of baking is baking to share.

Last weekend we had our annual Christmas dinner gathering with what Ben and I dub the ‘Aussie Crew’. An affectionate name for the first group of friends we made when moving to London nearly five years ago. They’re mainly Aussies but of course there is us and some locals too. Every year we celebrate with a boozy pub dinner before people start flying out for summer Christmases (there is always someone in a big group of expats).

This year I took the chance to make everyone little parcels of brownies. I made the tags from Christmas themed images I have collected over the years. I struggle to throw anything remotely reusable away, so it’s always good to be able to make use of the little bits I’ve kept.20161126_friends_christmas_lunch_0040The brownie recipe I used was, of course, Edmond’s. There are two recipes for brownies in the Edmonds Cookbook; Chocolate Brownie which uses cooking chocolate and Coconut Chocolate Brownies which uses cocoa. As I didn’t have enough cooking chocolate I decided to make the coconut ones and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. The universe had other ideas though and I burned my first batch to a crisp, so I still don’t know what the Chocolate Coconut Brownies taste like. As I had used the last of my coconut, I remade the recipe without it and luckily, they still turned out well.

^^^ I asked Ben to try and capture the icing sugar dusting as I thought it would make a nice photo. I should have thought more about the background though.. oops!

Here is the recipe:

Coconut Chocolate Brownies

Ingredients

125g of butter

1/4 cup cocoa

1 cup icing sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1/2 cup coconut

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add cocoa. Stir over a low heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and coconut. Sift flour and baking powder. Stir into mixture. Pour into a greased and lined shallow 20 cm tin. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 – 35 minutes. Leave in tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Cut into bars and dust with icing sugar.

Note – It definitely did not need 30 minutes in my oven. We are slowly learning that our new oven is on the hot side though and especially on a fan bake option that is going to be a lot hotter than the oven that this recipe was written for. I would check after 15 minutes to avoid disaster – an overcooked brownie is the worst!

Oh and here is us in our festive hats and jumpers…

I can highly recommend these Racing Santa Christmas Crackers from Sainsbury’s too.

^^^ It all got quite competitive

I hope you all enjoyed your brownies guys. See you in the New Year!

My London: My Perfect Day in London

What would I do to create a perfect day in London? What would be my dream day if I was well prepared with money to burn….?

I’ve put some thought into it, so come and join me for a day to remember.

20151025_Kew_Gardens_0015Well firstly, the weather gods would need to co-operate. I don’t want any pea soup fog. My favourite days in London are early autumn. When the mornings are just starting to get cooler and the nights are drawing in, but the days are still warm and the skies are the clearest blue with white fluffy clouds. We did have a few of these this year and I relished every second on my walk to work.

So, now that the weather is sorted get ready for a full day. I said it would be perfect, but that doesn’t necessarily mean realistic. We’re going to have to teleport everywhere if we want to keep up with my itinerary, I’m also moving Wimbledon to autumn to fit my schedule. Oh and bringing someone back from the dead…

First let’s wake up and wander down to the new Granary Square development in Kings Cross and park our bums at my favourite cafe, Caravan, for some avocado on toast. Yum! You need all that fuel for your next stop, St Pauls Cathedral.

20150705_walkietalkie_lookout_london_0222We’re up with the larks so we’ve bet all the tourists. You can marvel at the splendour to your hearts content before heading up the spiral staircase to the Whispering Gallery and higher to see the views of London from what was the highest point in London until 1967.

If you’re in need of more views from a higher vantage point, we can squeeze in a sky high view of the Thames from the Sky Garden. 20150705_walkietalkie_lookout_london_012120150705_WalkieTalkie_Lookout_London_0208.jpgWhile we’re in the east, a trip to Old Spitafields Market for a cupcake from Flavourtown Bakery is a must. Seriously they cannot be beaten!flavourtown-bakery-london-marketNext we need to hop, skip (or fly?) over to Richmond Park. We’ll rent a bike for the day (these guys are great) and pack a picnic lunch. We’re cycling around the park to the lake in the middle. It’s so secluded you will forget you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world for a moment. Be sure to make friends with the deer on your way.

Next up? Some world class sport. Yes! For once I won the ballot. Tickets to centre court in our hot little hands we’re off to one of the most quintessentially British events I know of. Be quiet as you go in, you don’t want to put Serena off.

You can’t spend a perfect day in London without catching some of the world class West End theatre. We have tickets to a matinee screening of my favourite musical Wicked. Enjoy!466516_10150800601007118_126440377_oPhew! You must be hungry. Time for a fancy dinner? My cuisine of choice is Japanese of course. I have always wanted to try out Roka, so guess where reservations are sorted..? We’ll be dining on sushi, prawn tempura and the Roka dessert platter tonight.p9040128-1024x745We’re finishing the day on my ultimate London high, a gig at Wembley! Because this is my perfect day, let’s see Bowie play Wembley. The gig of a lifetime, you must have sorted tickets out over a year ago for this…. You’re welcome.

It was lots of fun dreaming up ideas for this post. It’s a compilation of all the best things I have done in London, from the everyday to the fantastical, to those things that are still on my wish list. What would you do? What do you think I have missed?

The idea to talk about a perfect something came from the Travel Linkup bloggers. I’m too late to add my post to the link, but check out other bloggers ‘A perfect…’ interpretations through one of my favourite blogs Silverspoon London. Just scroll to the bottom of the post.

All pictures are my own aside from the below listed. Photo credits with thanks:

My London: My Netball Team

dani-backWhen I first arrived in London, I knew no-one. Well that’s how I tell the story at least, I did know a few people. I have extended family here, an uncle and cousins that live in and around London. There were also a few acquaintances from high school, and an Aussie couple we met while travelling in Japan. That couple turned out to be a big part of our London life, but we weren’t to know that at the time. So for all intents and purposes we had no-one but each other so I knew I had to get out there and make some friends fast. I love Ben, he’s really good company but my London life was definitely going to need some girlfriends to get me through it.

How do you make friends in a big city? How do you make friends as an adult? I had no idea really, so I just thought, let me try and fill my days. We joined expat groups, and tapped into all the contacts we had for weekend meetups. But what I now count as my best idea, was to join a netball team.

I hunted for social teams in my area and much to my luck, got placed in a cobbled together team of awesome ladies from all around the country and the world. The team was called The Venus Fly Traps and they had already played a season or two together when I joined. Little did I know that five years on these girls would form the biggest constant in my shambolic London life and we would still be sporting the bewildering name of a carnivorous plant.

The name, assigned to us by a rogue club manager, has never sat well with us, but every Tuesday rain or shine, in stifling humidity or biting cold, we turn up to the courts. We shimmy into our Lycra and pull our hair into ponytails as the sun goes down on another day at the office. We get out into the, usually brisk, air, chatting about life lately and sizing up the competition. We have been winners, losers, injured and angered on the courts, but more important to me is the memories we have made off court.

So here’s to the memories girls! Looking forward to many, many more..

Tournament days with One Netball club…

 ^^ Pink Ladies

We have travelled together, danced together, seen beautiful marriages and supported each other through painful breakups. We have celebrated so many milestones; birthdays, new jobs and study and must have collectively moved flats over 20 times. Which is great, because that means flat warmings.

My favourite times are always those drunken, messy, gossipy girls nights though!

roadie^^ Roadie

Eat your heart out Michael

So much gin ^^^

We have changed and grown so much in our five plus years together as a team. People have moved back home, or to Bermuda and others have arrived in London for new challenges and jobs and joined for new friendships fitness and fun.  I’ve been lucky to get to know such an awesome group of ladies..

Yay for The Venus Fly Traps, past present and future…!

Check out my other posts about London Life, getting a visa and where I’m living. More to follow soon.

My London Project

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I’m going to share even more about my life.. ! Yay!

There are many times while writing this blog that I have wished I had started writing earlier. I wish I had documentation on my first explorations of London when everything was new and overwhelming. It would be nice to go back even further, to when I was living in Japan and travelling in Asia. I wish I had a diary of that weird and wonderful time in my life.20160720_Primrose_hill_sunset_0471In that spirit, I have started a series on my life in London for posterity. In the next month or so I am going to share how I’m living and the ups and downs of big city life, because even though right now it is the normal and every day, I know one day I will look back wistfully, at least I hope I will.

I started with my visa story and hope to have a few more posts for you in the coming month on:

  • A day in the life
  • How I’m living
  • work work work work work work….
  • Why I love living here
  • My London Tour: Where I will take you if you come to visit
  • anything else I can think of..

Is there anything else you want to read? Let me know and I’ll add it to the mix..

I’ll leave you with some pics I took on Primrose Hill one night after work last week. Summer has finally come to London and I can’t get enough of the parks and outdoors.20160720_Primrose_hill_sunset_0464

20160720_Primrose_hill_sunset_0545

20160720_Primrose_hill_sunset_0511

Such a beautiful skyline..

Thanks for joining me, Andie xxx