Clearly I didn’t read the invitation properly, I thought it would be a couple of hours of standing at a buffet nibbling on lovely tapas.
Nope, nope, nope. It was four hours long and a proper posh sit down dinner of five courses. Maybe the clue was in the description ‘exclusive dinner’?! Well, I certainly wasn’t complaining.
Dish after delicious dish came out accompanied with exquisite wine. Each offering colourful and curious and obviously, tasty. In total I counted that we’d been served 14 dishes and we also got involved when the pescatarian on our table got fish dishes instead of meat.
Ibérica is a beautiful, classy and colourful venue – the staff were energetic, helpful and fun – and there was a buzz to the whole evening.
My favourite dish unexpectedy was a pear and spinach salad with feta, pine nuts and pesto. INCREDIBLE. My other top dish was the chargrilled octopus brought out for the pescatarian (he didn’t get much of a look in as we all piled in to try it). It tasted like a juicy steak.
If you get the chance do go and eat at Ibérica – it’s a glamourous fun night out and the food is awesome. And make sure you check out the ladies toilets – they are apparently the most Instagrammable in Manchester I’m still kicking myself for not taking my phone to the loo…
I am particular about how our house looks, I like to keep things minimalist and decluttered and it’s not a good idea to cross me on that.
About a month ago my boyfriend Jamie went out on plant shopping spree. I love the botanical look, so I was delighted until I realised that all of the plants were so huge and unwieldy that they made the house look messy.
I’d had a glass wine and I just couldn’t hold back on my irritation: ‘Jamie, the house doesn’t look streamlined anymore and I don’t like it – we need to do something about those plants’.
Jamie, not best pleased that his generous plant contribution was being attacked retorted with: ‘I find it ironic that someone as messy as you is so bothered about the house being streamlined’. This admittedly was a valid point.
However the tension of ‘plant-gate’ did lead to better things. It got us thinking about how we could declutter the house so the plants wouldn’t look so overwhelming.
It started with a fancy ‘string’ shelving system and a dumping of an unnecessary chest of drawers in our bedroom, which immediately lifted the room.
We loved the changes so much that we started to get high on our new interior success. What could we do next? The minimalist (and rather expensive) shelves did highlight how cheap everything else in the room looked, so an Ikea, John Lewis and garden centre trip later we had some new chic shelving blocks, a dusty pink throw and even more plants than before.
The new improved bedroom
And the decorating frenzy didn’t stop there, we took our fervour into the guest bedroom – giving it the botanical feature wall treatment we’d planned since we bought the wallpaper nine months ago. And then of course, we need a new bright blue lampshade to ‘pull the room together’.
And it’s definitely not over yet – I’ve been eyeing up macrame plant hangers in the Northern Quarter’s Form Lifestyle Store, and all of our sudden our front door looks very tatty, not to mention the mouldy wall in our living room. I’ll keep you posted!
It took me a while to reach my food peak in Sri Lanka. And to be honest our first week of eating (apart from in the capital, Colombo) I was pretty non-plussed. In that first week we were in the hill country (Kandy and Ella) and then on safari in Udawale (which is in the middle of nowhere) – and for whatever reason, they were feeding tourists pretty basic stuff in these places. Or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.
However, as soon as we hit the coastal resorts of Tangalle, Mirissa and Galle – our food experiences rocketed, and we ate an awesome array of interesting curries (including banana flower and tamarind root) and great rotis and hoppers (more on what they are below), and I came away excited for more Sri Lankan food experiences.
I’m going to talk you through the different dishes we had, starting with the hoppers:
They are a kind of crater shaped pancake made with rice flour and coconut milk. Fillings vary from savoury to sweet, but the most popular are cheese, egg and curries or if you’re going sweet there’s nutella, ice-cream of fruit fillings.
I think you’ve probably all heard of lassis – a delicious yoghurty milkshake. We had some crackers out there.
I became obsessed with juices in Sri Lanka. Every day was an opportunity to sample a new variety, favourites included:
watermelon, mint and ginger
I decided to go on a bit of a health kick in Sri Lanka. This still involved booze every night, but other than that I stuck to a light breakfast, and a modest lunch and dinner, with no snacks (unheard of for me). Fortunately the astonishing fruit we would have for breakfast every morning made ‘light breakfasts’ a breeze – I never felt I was missing out.
Kottu is a bit like egg fried rice, but instead of rice, there’s chopped up roti (flatbread) thrown in instead. You could have pretty much any variety of kottu – whether that was egg, cheese, fish, chicken, veg. I don’t think it was the most healthy thing we ate on our trip, but it was brilliant comfort food – full of spice and heat and flavour – and it was the meal that no matter how poor the options were in a restaurant, we knew it would be tasty. In fact, if you need another comparison, it was a bit like a Sri Lankan take on bubble and squek.
Rotis are basically flatbread, but we ate them in so many different versions including the kottu which I just described. I personally was a big fan of just a plain coconut roti, maybe with a spicy sauce to dip it in. Another options was a samosa type roti filled with potato curry – a cold version of this was sold at pretty much every corner shop in Sri Lanka and rightly so – it was a tasty 20p snack! Another clever adaption was a roti wrap – whatever filling you desire wrapped in a roti and fried on a griddle pan – I tried a prawn, egg and tomato number which was a winner.
We certainly had some nice curries on our travels – veg curries, seafood curries, but until we got to the colonial town of Galle, we hadn’t had anything that seemed that unusual or particular to Sri Lanka. But in Galle we had two magnificent and very local curry experiences.
First there was Coconut Sambal – a dinky little place that only seated about 10 people. They offered an all you can eat buffet of curries all served in 6 clay pots (for about £5 a head). We were given an little basket tray with a plastic sheet to put our food on and off we went. The curries were: chicken, ‘meat’, mango, dal, banana and aubergine and there was coconut sambal for sprinkling (a spicy grated coconut mix). It was a delicious meal and I loved that it was a tiny little authentic set up – it felt cosy and fun. And the mango was curry was a revelation – I’ve had mango chutney – but this was a hot juicy curry – it was beautiful and really complimented the other dishes.
The second destination was not as interactive and fun as Coconut Sambal – but Lucky Fort Restaurant served the most extraordinary food. We paid £15 between us and received ten curries to share (with rice). It was an unusual line up and I’d struggle to choose the most delicious, but I think their stewed mango may have won again. These were the curries:
Crispy aubergines like crispy onions
I would go back to Sri Lanka just to have this meal again. It was such a unique and tasty experience.
Bad Food Experiences
The stuff I was less wowed by – any food that was ‘devilled’ – menus always offered devilled chicken or beef or prawns – basically a lame version of sweet and sour.
Anything involving packaged white bread (which was quite a lot). Sri Lankans eat roti not this pap, but I guess tourists often want home comforts.
Any attempts at salad were pretty hilarious, usually involved a few tomatoes, lettuce and some rubbery meat. I mean I should have known better really – Sri Lankans don’t eat salads themselves, so why would they be good at salads?
I was very inspired by the Sri Lankan food so we will be attempting to create some of these lovely dishes by trying recipes from the brilliant Weligama cookbook by Emily Dobbs. Watch this space as I may even blog about our attempts!
I certainly thought Sri Lanka would be a nice holiday, but it was so much more than that. Sri Lanka is lush and green and teaming with life – the people are colourful and you can’t avoid the wildlife (in a good way!) – especially the monkeys and the lizards. We were there for just two weeks, and boy, did we have an adventure.
We arrived on Sunday evening in Colombo, the huge capital city. The owner of our guesthouse Dolce Casa was a super helpful and clever Italian lady called Florence. She gave us loads of practical advice on Sri Lanka and Colombo. Thanks to Florence’s ultra efficiency, along with the chilled vibes we instantly felt in Sri Lanka, I was feeling very much at home already.
The next day we were due to travel to Kandy at 3pm, and by following Florence’s very exact itinerary on the best local sights in Colombo, we fitted quite a bit into our day:
A quick visit to the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, which was kind of interesting, but if I’m honest was a bit too much of a tourist joint for me.
This hectic approach may not be the ideal way to experience Colombo – but we quite enjoyed it. And being able to get tuk tuks for £1 a journey certainly helped.
Next up was our train to Kandy – which was just 2.5 hours and a rather nice experience. By paying a bit more (all of £10) we ended up in the observation carriage which is air conditionned and reserved just for tourists.
Kandy is in Sri Lanka’s hill country – I wasn’t wowed by it but we still had a nice time there. I found it an intense, slightly overwhelming city. But our guesthouse up on the hill had pretty views.
What was good about Kandy was that it was a great base to go to Sigiriya Rock – which is about a 2 hour drive away.
Is an ancient rock fortress dating back to the 5th century. Sometimes I’m not very interested in historical ‘stuff’, but this place is magical. It’s quite a sweaty climb (it takes about an hour), but when you get to the top, you feel like you’ve entered a mystical land.
Kandy to Ella by Train
Our next destination was Ella, but this was a 7 hour train journey away, it is apparently one of the world’s most epic train journeys. Ok, we travelled through some stunning tea plantation scenery on the train, which was quite something, but if I’m honest it didn’t live up to the hype for me. 7 hours on a train is still 7 hours on a train – a bit too long.
Initially I fell in love with hill country town Ella – it seemed hippy and chilled and the surrounding hills are jaw droppingly picturesque. However my feelings soured quickly when I realised this tiny town was a backpacking mecca. Everywhere I turned there was some traveller boasting about their escapades – it was a little suffocating.
However what was spectacular about Ella, was our walk up to Ella Rock, which was a special and tingly experience. We met with our local guide at 6am (while it was still dark) and started our two hour journey up to this glorious peak. We walked along a railway line, past waterfalls and up a really steep climb at the end. And, best of all we were the only tourists up there because it was so early. The views, and the atmosphere were breathtaking. And our local guide Abi, was the sweetest guy – he really made the trip for me too.
Having identified that I don’t like long journeys on public transport, we opted for an air conditioned taxi to our next destination, Udawale, which was 2 hours way. It was gloriously easy. On arrival we booked ourselves onto a safari jeep and headed off to the wildlife park. I was trying to keep my expectations in check, as I wasn’t sure if we’d see much. But we were in luck, we must have seen about 30 elephants (and quite a few babies) and most were in spitting distance of the car. They were so graceful and elegant to watch. We also saw eagles, pretty bright green bee-eater birds, water buffallos, alligators and peacocks. Brilliant.
A quick 1.5 hours in a taxi and we were in Tangalle. When the taxi driver dumped us by a lake with a pulley boat to get accross to our guesthouse, I started to get nervous about how remote this place was. As it happens, it was pretty remote, but that didn’t matter, because the beach was like paradise, and the guesthouse served exceptional food, so we didn’t need anything else for two days. It was a lovely bit of time for relaxation and reading after all the hecticness of the previous week.
We downgraded to a tuk tuk to get to our next destination – which took a couple of hours and was a lot of fun. However when we arrived in Mirissa I was slightly horrified, it appeared we’d arrived in Sri Lanka’s version of Benidorm – the beach was rammed with burnt tourists. We were both really turned off. But, as we settled in, we started to adjust to being in a busy environment (the beach at Tangalle had been empty and vast), and actually started to totally fall in the love with the surfy, yogic hippy vibe of Mirissa.
Galle was our final destination and what a beautiful one to end at. It’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and an old trading port full of imposing Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques and churches, grand mansions and museums. Apparently it’s had a lot of money pumped into it since the 2004 tsunamai because a lot of charities based themselves in Galle. It was definitely our poshest stop off. I really enjoyed walking round the ancient city walls and looking at all the glamourous colonial buildings. And we had the BEST meal of our holiday at Lucky Galle Fort restaurant where we shared 10 curries for just £7.50. These curries were exquisite – including banana flower, crispy fried aubergine, tamarind root, mango curry (basically stewed mango) and pumpkin curry. Every mouthful was a taste sensation.
I felt sadder leaving Sri Lanka than I normally do at the end of a holiday – I was treated to a slice of paradise on this island – the scenery, the gentle people, the crazy monkeys and lizards, the tasty curries and rotis – and there was always so much colour and life going on around us. I’m glad I’ve got a lovely load of cherished memories and photos to hang on to.
More Sri Lanka Blog Posts
I will be writing some more blog posts on my Sri Lanka trip if you’re interested where I’ll be going into more details on the destinations we went to. I’ll also write one on our Sri Lanka food experiences.
And for those thinkng about going to Sri Lanka you might be interested to know how much we spent in 2 weeks:
Our flights with Emirates cost about £500 each from Manchester (with a stop off in Dubai) – and our journey time in total was 14 hours.
Our accommodation in total was about £600, and each place ranged from £25 a night to £75 a night, but we mainly paid about £35 a night. And you really get a lot for your money for that. We weren’t staying in particularly posh places, but they were all clean and really nice and we were treated like royalty by the staff.
And while we were out there we spent between us about £800, so £400 each – and that included several long distance taxis, a safari, entrance to Sigiriya Rock and lots of lovely meals and cocktails! If you’re thinking of going on a budget you could easily do it cheaper and have a nice time.
What these restaurants do well is high end, interesting food at really affordable prices in simple, attractive contemporary venues.
Wreckfish is in a lovely old building in the centre of Liverpool, inside there’s lots of exposed brick and it has a cool industrial feel. It’s really classy.
I went for crispy lamb’s tongue with pear puree and roasted peanuts for starter, and I attempted to balance out my meat consumption by having a vegetarian main of roasted turnip cakes and I finished with a dark chocolate and blackberry mousse for pudding.
The crispy lamb’s tongue was spot on, deliciously cooked and I loved the peanuts and puree that went with it.
I was less keen on the turnip cakes. It was a bit of a non dish, nothing wrong with it, but it was just a bit bland and more like a side dish. To the restaurant’s credit, they were very eager to hear our thoughts on the food and relayed back to the chef that I was disappointed with my main.
Jamie’s main, which was a roast beef dinner, was absolutely glorious though (see feature photo). I got very involved in helping him eat his dinner having lost interest in mine. I can honestly say it’s one of the best roasts I’ve ever eaten.
And I ended on a high as I was very pleased with my dark chocolate and blackberry mousse – just a very fresh and tasty pud!
All in all, I think it’s a brilliant restaurant, the staff were lovely, and the food (bar the turnip cake) was exceptional and great value for money.
Last night I got to stuff my face with the most delightful vegan street food treats at Jackie Kearney’s book launch.
For those who haven’t heard of Jackie, she was one of the Masterchef finalists in 2011 and is a committed vegetarian.
Her latest book is called My Vegan Travels. Jackie has travelled a lot in South East Asia and picked up a ton of great ideas for cooking vegetarian and vegan food. Her previous book Vegan Street Food was along a similar theme, but her new book is focussed on super simple, comfort food recipes.
I got to munch my way through: shitake mushroom croquettes, bombay veg sandwiches, beetroot and watercress samosas and artichoke torta. All rather lovely. But the icing on the cake for me as a greedy sugar fiend, were the chai doughnuts with raspberry jam and soft pecan cookie ice-cream sandwiches (with a vegan malted coconut and blueberry ice-cream). Scrumptious.
The book looks absolutely superb, so if you want to buy an original Christmas gift for a cooking enthusiast, My Vegan Travels is a great shout.
It was Saturday, and we were heading into town to watch a 6pm film at Home, and fancied a light dinner out beforehand.
After a bit of a sniff about on Tripadvisor, we decided on the Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar. Partly because we’ve both been before and loved it, but also because they have a brilliant Express Menu – 2 courses for £14.95 or 3 courses for £18.95.
4.15pm is an early dinner, but it meant that it was quite a calm, quiet time in the restaurant, which is always rather nice on a busy Saturday in town.
We only went for two courses. Much as I would have liked a pudding, I was fixated on having a tub of ice-cream at the cinema, so held off.
Jamie had a pale ale rarebit with Goosnargh duck egg and I chose Brixham crab cakes. Both were delicious and the presentation was lovely too.
And for mains, I decided to go carb-less with a flat iron steak and a salad and Jamie chose Goan chicken, Asian slaw and chips. I’m not a massive red meat eater, but the steak was a triumph – very melty and tasty. Obviously I had to test Jamie’s chicken too, which was succulent and full of flavour.
All in all it was great value for money and a lovely way to spend a wet and windy Saturday afternoon. The venue is really chilled, unpretentious and classy and I love the large glass windows which look onto the old Smithfield fish markets. I don’t go back to many restaurants, because I always like to be finding new spots to write about, but this place is worth breaking that rule for.
I’ve been running for 12 years. And it’s been hugely important to me. And because it’s just part of my routine now, I forget what a profound effect it’s had on my life.
At school I was about as unsporty as you can get – chubby, physically unconfident and clumsy, I was never picked for teams. I was vaguely good at defending in hockey, but catching balls? Forget it!
Fast forward to my late twenties, not a brilliant period of my life. In debt, a bit overweight, a smoker and not really living the life I wanted to. I miraculously and thankfully discovered running.
My friend Regina wanted to run a Nike 10k race in Hyde Park. I wasn’t in any way fit, but I liked the idea of a challenge. We started training on Saturday mornings in the local park. We’d usually both rock up hungover, and I’d often have a fag on the way. A significant part of our training was actually ‘speed walking’ round the park and gossiping, and then reluctantly running a lap. However we committed to the process and gradually improved.
On the day of the 10k, I absolutely loved the buzz of the event and the thrill of finishing a 10k. It felt like a huge acheivement, especially at a time in my life when not a lot was going in my favour.
Next up was a half marathon, we’d enjoyed the 10k, so why not double the distance? And 5 months later we found ourselves running the Reading Half Marathon. What strikes me as hilarious now is the stuff I used to run in. I literally wore the thickest track suit trousers and just a normal cotton t-shirt to run the half marathon. I just hadn’t got my head around how hot I would get running 13 miles. But I did it!
Regina and I were now hooked on this running thing. So a year later we signed up to the London Marathon and another friend joined our running crew. I became nicknamed the ‘running Nazi’ because despite my extra pounds, fag habit and tendency to enjoy a bit too much booze, I was actually very diligent in following a strict running programme. My favourite memory is one Sunday when we planned to do our final long run before the Marathon. We were aiming to get to 16 miles. I arrived at Regina’s place to discover that she and our other pal had been clubbing for most of the night, but were in their running gear and ready to go. Miraculously, we completed the run (with a mid-run stop off at KFC).
The day of the Marathon arrived, and despite being bored out of my mind and wanting to give up for many miles of the running, it really was a glorious day. The crowd support was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life, I had loads of friends who came down to watch and the sense of achievement was just immense.
Ten years on from that Marathon, running is just a habitual part of my life. It’s keeps me trim, sane and happy. I may not love every run I do, sometimes it’s sheer endurance getting out there in the the cold and the rain, but it’s always worth it. I view it a bit like putting money in a bank, it’s not always loads of fun, but I’m investing in me. And I think the journey from chubby, unsporty, not doing very well in life Katya, to slimmer, fitter and generally happier and more confident me, is all entwined with my running journey. The running made me feel good about myself and more confident in my life, and as I became more confident in life, I became even more confident about running. A virtous circle.
If you fancy getting into running, my top tips would be – find a running buddy at a similar level of fitness, get a pair of running trainers and a good running bra, try the coach to 5k app and when you feel ready do a local 5k park run – there’ll be one near you and they are free.
In June this year I discovered podcasts. And five months in, I am a confirmed addict. So fervent is my commitment that in the past two months I’ve smashed up my phone screen twice in podcast related incidents. Not because I threw the phone on the floor in a dramatic reaction to what I was listening to, it was actually because I was so enthralled listening to my podcast that I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing with my phone and dropped it. Then did the same thing a month later. It’s been an expensive time at the phone shop.
Here are eight of my favourite listens:
S Town from the same creators of Serial. For those who haven’t heard of Serial – it’s an American true crime podcast that has been ridiculously popular on iTunes. And S Town is another cracker. Prepare to become completely anti-social as you binge listen to this. I must have polished off the entire series in about a week. It’s a true story, about a guy called John who despises his Alabama town and asks a reporter to investigate a murder of a local young man. John believes the police are corrupt and have swept the case under the carpet. But the story that unravels is about so much more.
Dirty John After finishing S Town, I needed something to fill the void. The series begins with an autopsy report of a body that has 13 stab wounds. Before we learn whose body it is, we are told a staggering tale of manipulation, deceit and abuse. This has been a great excuse for me to go for lots of walks this past week. Dirty John has been good for my fitness.
Desert Island Discs I’m sure you know the drill, each well known guest gets eight tracks, a book and a luxury to take to a desert island, which provides the prompts for each celebrity to talk about their lives. It’s deep, sad, enlightening and joyful. Some of my favourite listens were Noel Gallagher, Sue Perkins, Stella McCartney, Ed Sheeran and Keith Richards.
Courage and Spice by Sas Petherick – the podcast for humans with self doubt. What a lovely idea. Self doubt holds all of us back in some, or many areas of our lives. Sas interviews various people on the subject and looks at how to tackle it. Sas is fun, warm, down to earth and full of incredible wisdom on this topic. Listening to this podcast is like having a lovely, empowering hug.
Hashtag Authentic by Sara Tasker. I’m a big fan of Sara’s – she’s well known in the Instagram world for her gorgeous @me_and-orla account. Hashtag Authentic is a great listen for anyone running their own online/social media business. Sara interviews all sorts of people figuring their business journey out, including many big names on the Instagram scene. It’s not only an incredibly practical podcast, but it provides emotional support too. Sara herself is willing to be very vulnerable and shares the ups and downs of running her own business, as do her guests. I always come away with a load of ideas and tips, but it’s also a creative, beautiful and life enhancing listen.
CTRL ALT DELETE by Emma Gannon. I saw Emma speak at Blogtacular in June. Emma is responsible for my podcast addiction. She spoke so enthusiastically about podcasts at the conference I became convinced I needed to enter this exciting audio world. Emma was also an all round inspiration and very passionate about empowering women to build brilliant careers. In her podcast she interviews high profile guests about how the Internet and social media have changed our lives forever – and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Guests include Liz Gilbert, Lena Dunham, Zoella, Tanya Burr, Will Young, Gillian Anderson.
What She Said by Lucy Sheref. As a keen blogger and Instagrammer, this is the perfect listen for me. Lucy chats with interesting women in blogging and the online world. Lucy has a lovely open and honest style that makes for a really pleasant listen and I always learn a lot. She also always has her baby with her while doing her podcasts – the cute gurgling noises throughout are very soothing.
The High Low this is a weekly pop-culture / news podcast by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. They are extremely posh journalists in their late twenties, and whilst I was initially a bit put off by their poshness, they are just brilliant. Inspiring, open, really switched on and really willing to fight the corner for women. An energising, fun and thought-provoking listen.
Let me know how you get on with these – I’d love to hear what you think. And if you have any recommendations for me – I need them now!
I’d heard so many amazing things about Umezushi, I just thought it would be nice to pop in and have a light lunch on a Saturday. However, Jamie got giddy and decided we should get the tasting menu. I wasn’t going to argue.
This was the tasting menu:
Served with Japanese wine or sake.
We passed a lovely couple of hours munching our way through this lot. I had the Japanese white wine, which was light and appley and very nice. And all the sashimi and nigiri was sublime, really fresh and beautifully presented. The grilled fish was mackerel and again was just exquisite. And our final savoury dish was the ‘steamed fish’ which was another soup, this time with sea snail in! Very delicious. Pudding was sake infused pineapple with a dollop of ice-cream.
The whole thing was a really relaxing, intriguing experience. And I really liked the vibe in Umezushi – a tiny wooden interior that seats about 20 people, under a railway arch near Victoria – it felt quirky and cool. And I loved that the toilet has a Japanese cityscape wallpapered all over the walls. Oh yes, and the staff were very attentive and sweet too.