my 2012 blog review

48,000 views of my blog in 2012 – not bad going really, I think!

What IS bad however, is it was this fateful post from 2010 that brought about my busiest day…and why was that? Because there was a TV segment about bloody mantyhose back in March, and people were Googling it! More than 400 people landed on my blog that day due to that!

Sometimes I despair!  But in the meantime, thanks for sticking with me.

My blog in numbers for 2012
My blog in numbers for 2012
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hakkasan, mayfair

Hakkasan - same styling, different branch!

On Tuesday, I was completely spoiled and treated to something way out of my usual experience range.

Hakkasan, the Cantonese restaurant in Hanway Place has had a Michelin star since 2003, and the very few people I know that have been have been exceedingly complimentary.

There is another Hakkasan in Abu Dhabi and one in Miami, and last night the brand new one opened in Mayfair.

My boss is friendly with the manager, who was previously running the Hanway Place restaurant, and was lucky enough to be invited for a complimentary lunch as part of the launch celebrations – and he chose to take me.  Unfortunately, because I was with him, I was unable to take any photos, which I was really dying to do, because everything was so…perfect!

You wouldn’t know that the restaurant was there (in Bruton Street) if you didn’t know it was there.  I was physically looking for it, and almost missed it.  There is no sign, just the logo cut into the plate above the door.  all very minimalist and chic!  Our names were checked at the door, and then we were taken down the grey marble stairs to the amazing basement dining room.

I have never been in a room that just oozed sexiness.  It was all blue lighting, dark contemporary wooden fittings, ‘just-right’ music and a real chinese influenced style, and unlike anywhere that I have ever been.  It also managed to be quite open plan and yet feel very intimate.  The lighting was exactly right – you could see the person you were with, see all the food clearly, but the rest of the diners weren’t a distraction.

You can just make out the kitchen through frosted glass at one end of the dining room – a flurry of exertion and activity if you choose to watch, but no sound or vision to distract you from complete relaxation and luxury.

We were presented with far too many menus – but this was the launch, and we were allowed to have whatever we wanted – so we had a choice from the main menu, the dim sum menu, the bar/cocktails menu and the wine list.

Venison puffs

The menu is staggering really – there is so much to choose from, and it all sounds so divine.  I really really didn’t know where to start – but our waiter (Jason, if you’re interested) was fantastic and he offered to devise a menu for us, asking us a few

of our preferences, and making suggestions that all sounded fantastic!  We did manage to order our own cocktails, and I had a Pink Mao Mao (vodka, watermelon, strawberry, pink pepper and other yumness) and a Pink Mojito – I can’t remember what the boss had, but there was one with pineapple and lychee called The Hakka (or similar and that was scrummy too!)

So – this is what we ended up having to eat:

  • Venison puffs – gorgeous flaky light pastry encasing a flavourful yet light venison ‘stew’ almost.  It was the first food I put in my mouth and it was a delight.  They were big beasts too – you certainly get decent portion sizes here.
  • Scallop & prawn – a roll of minced prawn topped with a scallop with a dollop of (something beginning with ‘t’) ‘caviar’.  Gorgeous, fresh and I had never had caviar/roe/whatever before, and although I’m not a massive seafood lover, it was delightful!  Everything was plump and tasty.
  • Duck & shitake rolls – juicy, yummy, slightly sweet rolls of shredded, marinated duckwith a little spring onion and topped with a slice of shitake mushroom.  they may have been rolled with shitake too…my memory isn’t picture-perfect.
  • Pork & prawn dumplings – fried dumplings with minced pork and prawn.  My boss cracked up when I called it ‘posh surf & turf’ – but it was gorgeous.

The dim sum came with various dips obviously – but the sweet chili was definitely my favourite.  then it was time to move on to our mains.  Lovely Jason had recommended:

  • Steamed mini New Zealand lobster wrapped in glass vermicelli with Gu Yue Long Shan rice wine and chilli garlic sauce – (yes, I copied that from the menu)  Apart from a lobster and crayfish ravioli that I had on my birthday this year, that doesn’t really count as it was more of a mousse, this was my first time trying lobster, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  It was gorgeous, and the sauce was fantastic.  the only problem was that the lobster hadbeen cooked with their tails on, so they curl round and the tail is actually in the middle.  I’m not the most delicate person, but I really couldn’t work out how to get the tail off and eat it easily without butchering it.  Jason did notice this, and rushed over to us with bowls of water/lemon and hot towels, and discussed with us about whether the lobster would be better tail-off.  It will be interesting to see if they continue cooking it the same way
  • Jasmine tea smoked chicken – this was the only dish that we actually ordered ourselves (or rather *I* did).  i’d spotted it on the online menu, and when a friend suggested it on Twitter, I thought we should give it a go.  it was divine!  moist, plump chicken with a beautiful delicate smoked flavour, with the skin absorbing even more flavour, but just slipping off of the chicken.  Perfect!
  • Hakka noodles (I think that’s what they were called) – I think this must be their standard ‘house noodles’ dish – it had little bits of chicken, chili, and other yummy stuff and was an absolutely perfect accompaniment to the main dishes.
Prawn & Scallops

My only criticism would be that most ‘multiple’ dishes seemed to come in 3s or 5s, and I know this is because it’s aesthetically pleasing, but seeing as most people dine in 2s, it makes it a bot difficult to start carving things up!

We thought that we would be stuffed by the end of all this, but when they insisted on bringing us the dessert menu, we were convinced to have a coffee and share a dessert, which was a cardamon creme brulee served with chocolate mousse, orange sorbet, orange tuille, crushed biscuit of some kind and was the most delicious dessert I have had in a LONG time!  A perfect end to a perfect meal.

And then we walked out without having to pay, picked our coats up and caught the C2 bus back to the office, LOL – what a come down!

fallen idols – neil white

Fallen Idols

I recently read Lost Souls which I had picked up in a charity shop and realised part way through that it was 2nd (or maybe 3rd) in a series by Neil White.

So, I was pretty happy when I went on Amazon to order something, and saw that they were ‘selling’ Fallen Idols’, the first in the set, for the Kindle completely free of charge!  “I’ll have some of that!”, I thought…and indeed I did.

I must admit, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Lost Souls.  I’m not sure if it is because I already knew some of the story arc through having read the later book first, but the whole main killer-thriller story just seemed a bit too obvious.  And there were far too many coincidences for my liking too.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as detectiving and nasty-killer stories go, it’s easy to read, was entertaining and did what it said on the tin.  But I think Neil White has obviously become a better writer since this book.  The scene-setting was far more powerful in Lost Souls – I could almost smell the rooms described in that, whereas Fallen Idols relies a lot more on the characters themselves, who all seem to be larger than life, and therefore not as realistic.

Good beach read, probably – and definitely worth the £0 I paid for it! 🙂

tell no one – france (2006)

Tell No One

I watched this French thriller last weekend, and was really drawn in.

It seems a lot more ‘glossy’ than many French films that I have seen – a bit Hollywood in its execution and production, but the story was intriguing to say the least, and I am now plannign to read the book by Harlan Corben that it is based on.

Alex and his wife Margot are having a romantic night by the lake when she is suddenly attacked, he is knocked unconscious trying to save her, and when he comes round a few days later in hospital, he learns that she was horrifically and brutally murdered.

Eight years later, he receives an email containing CCTV footage of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblence to her, together with the message to ‘Tell noone’.

I personally didn’t guess the real story behind it all, but I’m not sure that’s because I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but that there was no way of guessing.  I don’t think there are clues throughout the film, and so it’s not altogether clever – just something to sit back, enjoy and be entertained by.

Oh yeah, and Kristin Scott-Thomas comes across far better in french than she tends to in English.

My rating – 7/10

fortitude

Fortitude - innovative?

Today I am feeling that I have achieved something.

It’s nice to start the day with that feeling – so what has been the reason for this?  Let’s start with a little background.

In my old job (left 2 1/2 years ago), I used to be responsible for internal and external communications for a major charity’s retail chain (around 600 shops across the country).  This explains my passion for the charity sector and charity shops in particular.

I have always had a passion for writing, and this is one of the reasons that I have blogged for many years, written diaries before the days of online blogs, and also have a few (probably dire) poems and short stories knocking around from many many years ago at home.

However, my job used to involve a lot of writing, including a hell of a lot of Press Releases.  And slowly but surely, this seemed to sap my personal creativeness.  I found that I couldn’t face going home and trying to put loads of words together into something meaningful as I’d been doing it all day, 5 days a week.  And everyone is a critic, of course.  The charity being what it was, there was so much red tape and layers of management in so many areas (as my work used to cross over so many departments) that I ended up feeling that I could never write to the best of my ability.

So I gave up any form of personal writing because even the thought of writing exhausted me.

I think it took me two years for my fingers to itch and for me to start getting my thoughts down again – hence starting this blog.  And last week, I actually started thinking about how I could start developing my writing again – should I go to a creative writing class for example – although in reality I’m a bit too poor for that.

So, I felt it was a sign when I stumbled across Fortitude as the site only started last week.

Fortitude describes itself as ‘a daily magazine for being human’ and is a really innovative idea.  For a very reasonable annual subscription of less than £17, you have the opportunity to submit articles for publishing.  This is then put to a democratic vote as once you have signed up, you can review articles that have been submitted and give them a rating of 1-10.

The articles with the highest ratings are published on the ‘Front Page’ and others that reach the minimum rating for that day are put on the ‘Inside pages’.  Inside page articles earn the writer $1 and front page pieces can earn from $10 – $100 depending various factors.  Also, every article you rate earns you $0.02 (in the few days since I have joined, I have rated about 50 articles with subjects ranging from doing up an old dresser, to internet dating to the Bloody Sunday inquiry – I have read some REALLY interesting stuff!)

I love new ideas, and I love projects that really make you feel a part of something, and the thought of a daily magazine shaped democratically by the subscribers feels like a fantastic idea to me.

And that brings me back to my sense of achievement.  Today, the first article that I submitted was chosen to be published (please do have a read of it and let me know what you think).  It’s only on the inside page, but I definitely had that little frisson of pride that I haven’t had for a while.

Reading it again, I’m not completely convinced by it, but hey – this was my first foray into public-consumption writing for 2 1/2 years, and I shot it off in half an hour just to see whether it would make the grade.

I am so excited that it did that I have put a notepad in my bag and this morning on the Tube, I started speccing out my next article, which I am hoping will be of a far higher calibre, and hopefully make the Front Page.  I have a new goal.

So, if you’re interested in writing, and want to test whether others think you’re any good, Fortitude could well be a place to start!

one day – david nicholls

One Day - David Nicholls

I’ve only just finished this book, and feel rather emotionally drained at the moment.

I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give anything away, but I think the way that David Nicholls has put this story together makes you feel really involved with characters Emma & Dexter and their lives over the course of 20 years.

Even though the chapters are designed so that you see a ‘snapshot’ of their lives on one particular day of their lives over the 20 year span (15th July), the chapters are written in a way that makes you feel like you haven’t missed a thing.

And it works – you really buy in to the characters, care about them, want to help them, want to say “You idiot! Don’t do that!!” etc etc.  And you’re rooting for them all the way through the book (even when they ARE doing the stupid things) because you know their history, and know how they’ve got to where they are.

it’s not the best written book that I have read, it certainly isn’t the most imaginative, but it is completely touching, surprising and very emotional.

hey boy…

Pretty stars

…hey girl, superstar DJs, HERE WE GO!!!!

On Saturday, me and The Man traipsed off to the Roundhouse to see the Chemical Brothers.  It was the 4th time I’ve seen them, although it’s been three years since I last saw them at the free gig they did in Trafalgar Square.

I love the Chemical Brothers – and even though they’re not ‘showmen’ (as they just sit behind loads of techy equipment) oh my GOD do they put on a show!  And the Roundhouse is probably the best place I’ve ever seen them (twice now) as the curvature of the space allows them to have a curved screen, which really immerses you in their fantastic visuals.

HUGE woman (The Chems are on stage just at the front)

The were showcasing their new album which comes out soon, and having already fallen in love with Swoon, the first single, I had high hopes.  And I was not disappointed.  it really was a show of two halves – the first was all their new album, which was amazing – a far more defined feel to it, I think – it all sat together really well and had a bit more ‘maturity’ to it.  The raw energy of some of their earlier stuff has been replaced with something more finished, deeper, more layered.

And oh, how I danced.  I danced and danced and danced.  It was a fantastic feeling, and one I haven’t had for a while.  I wish I had another gig coming up soon.  Would’ve liked to have seen Faithless, but they were on same time as The Chems.

weird green singing face

I bought The Man tickets to see The Damned next month, but it’s really not my thing, so he’s going with my mad mate 🙂  Surely that can’t be my last gig until Lovebox in mid-July!

Finally – the last part of the first half, where they finished playing the new album.  I’m afraid it’s someone else’s video as I was too busy dancing!!

mad as a milliner

Surreal? The Girl? Never!

Tonight we had to go to our ‘Parent review’ meeting.  I hate the name of that because it makes it sound like we were due to be scrutinised.

Perhaps that’s what it is – maybe they make us go into the school periodically to sit on the tiny chairs, and feel like naughty school kids to make sure that we’re decent parents, take the correct amount of interest in our children and aren’t thick as two short planks ourselves in which case it would be understandable that our kids were too!

Anyway, going to these meetings is always really embarrassing as The Girl’s teachers are always really gushy about her.  She has things the right way round – she is perfectly behaved with everyone.  Except for us.  Her teacher today said “I wish I could have a whole class of her – she’s an absolute joy to teach!”  Pah…bloody sucky goody-two-shoes teacher’s pet!

So we made the right noises, I told her some of my concerns, she put them all to rest, we discussed SATs to no avail – still don’t know yet whether she’ll be doing them in 3 weeks or not, The Girl was perfectly behaved and then we walked home.

Her ‘creativity’ that she was so applauded for certainly came out as we were walking.

The Girl:  I’m sorry that I behave at school but not at home.  i’m going to really try to change that

Me:  You said that before…in fact every time we see your teachers.  You’ve never managed to change.

The Girl:  We-ell…that could be because I’m a Mad Hatter

Me:  No, it could be because you can’t be bothered

The Girl:  No.  i’m pretty sure that it’s because I’m a Mad Hatter

Me:  Yes.  You are a mental milliner

The Girl:  What’s a mimmiler?

Me:  MILLINER

The Girl:  Ok – what’s that?

Me:  Someone who makes hats

The Girl:  Ohhhhhhhhh.  *then in a sing-song voice, prancing around*  Look at me, I make hats.  I’m a milliner.  I’m so crazy.  I make hats out of leaves. *pulls a couple of leaves off a nearby tree*  but not this one (throwing it away) – this one is no good because it only speaks Spanish.

Now.  Is it surrealism or creativity.  I’m unsure.

caponata, camden

We were out the back, living wall on the left!

Today, one of the girls at work left after 8 years with the company.  I’ve mentioned before that we’re only a tiny company, so it’s quite a big deal.

Her husband has been quite ill, and had to stop working, and so they have decided to go and live out in Ibiza where they spend a lot of time and have an apartment anyway – so she was still really upset to be leaving, as she’s put everything into her role for years.

Anyway, our Directors said they;d take us all out for lunch, and it was down to me to find somewhere suitable in Camden.  First choice was York & Albany, simply because it sounds good to have gone to a Ramsey for your leaving do (and she’d like that), but they were fully booked, so I had the chance to suggest a restaurant I have heard nothing but good things about – Caponata.

We were out in the courtyard, which has a glass roof and a ‘living wall’ of plants.  A gorgeous space – you’d never know you were just off of Camden High Street.

I didn’t get the chance to take pics (as there were so many of us), but we all had three courses (from the wonderful set menu – £21 or £15 for two courses), and there was only one person who wasn’t too keen on one of their courses (she felt her pasta dish was slightly too dry).

I had the barley ‘risotto’ with spring veg and parmesan (gorgeous and light but creamy), followed by the rump of lamb (cooked to perfection) with artichoke and a rosemary sauce, and then tiramisu which came in a ‘wall’ of thin, crisp chocolate with a little chocolate lid and a pot of espresso served with it, so you could add as much as you like.  I’m so glad I skipped breakfast – and I’m not having any dinner.

Lots of people had fish of various types (mackerel, sardines, sea bass, skate, sea bream) and they all said it was fantastic.  Make sure you check out their menu if you’re ever near Camden.

They do jazz and other live music on various nights, and so I will definitely be going again!  Can’t wait!!

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