Hello Fresh Review

Monday, October 6, 2014 0

M

ost mornings when I exit the tube station amongst a rush of other people, all of us running late for work, there is someone waiting to give us things. Some, such as Time Out, I reach out for, most I hurry past. About a month ago, I was handed a £25 off gift card for Hello Fresh, in their own words they “deliver delicious recipes and the exact ingredients to your door every week.”

With full price £36 (for 3 veggie meals for two people, meat ones are £2 more) it seemed pretty steep to me, but with the voucher I figured I’d try and then cancel it straight after. As I am writing this I just got my second (full price!) box, so it’s safe to say that I’m convinced. The premise is simple, every Monday (though you can pause if it you need to, as I did due to my awesome holiday: more on that soon) you get the recipes and ingredients for 3 to 5 surprise meals. There is a classic and a veggie box, though I wish there was a hybrid veggie plus fish option too… I think you can swap recipes with the classic box, but not with the veggie, though I personally love the element of surprise. Getting that box with all its goodies feels like Christmas! I am very lazy and I eat out way too much, but do enjoy cooking and have been trying to do more of it. More often than not that means throwing the random remains in the fridge together in the hope that something will come of it for me Hello Fresh wins in two major ways.

1) You learn new recipes, I want to add dishes to my not very long repertoire that I can make again and again and this way I can keep the recipes and get my own ingredients.

2) If I ever try to follow a new recipe, inevitably I would not buy or substitute a lot of the ingredients, because often you are required to buy particular ingredients especially herbs of which you need very little amount and are unlikely to use again. As a result it never tastes like it should. With Hello Fresh you get all the ingredients with the correct amounts and that makes a difference.

In my first box I had a mushroom risotto, something I actually make myself on a regular basis, but cooking the mushrooms separately in butter and thyme made all the difference and added a really nice flavour to the finished dish.

The highlight was the absolutely delicious courgette tart, which I can’t wait to try making again! Looking at the ingredients I was wondering where the flavour would come from and feared the end result would be rather bland, however I was proven wrong. Pan frying the courgettes, prior to cooking the tart, made them very crispy and full of flavour and with the sun-dried tomatoes it worked really well.

And my third dish were fairly simple fajitas. Yet another dish I am very familiar with, however with something to make it a little different. In this case I particularly enjoyed the addition of lime flavoured sour cream.

If anyone is interested in trying, they have great introductory offers and even if you were to immediately cancel, I really recommend giving it a go.

Open Air Theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, September 15, 2014 2

I

was very lucky to nab a last minute ticket to see the most excellent production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A first, in a couple of ways, for me. While the existence of a theatre in the great outdoors of my second favourite park in London has always intrigued me, the reality of the great British weather and needing to book tickets well in advance had preventing me from actually seeing anything there. A friend had a spare ticket for last Wednesday’s performance and knowing my inability to say no (it’s a problem, I am working on it) she asked if I wanted it. After quickly checking the weather for rain, I agreed.

It didn’t rain, but I was woefully underdressed and absolutely froze as a result, though I was so fully absorbed n the performance, I hardly noticed any discomfort.

The Venue: The Open Air theatre is a lovely venue, there is covered dining, but all the seats and the stage itself lives up to the ‘open air’ name. The setting in the heart of Regent’s Park is wonderful and though there is a grassy area in the theatre ground for a picnic, if you are not early enough to get one of the park benches, the grass outside of the venue has probably seen better days.

There is quite a range of food available there, from a BBQ to healthy looking salads, though I cannot judge on the quality of it, a we’d armed ourselves with Waitrose’s finest. But judging by the many well dressed people drinking champagne from plastic flutes on the picnic benches, the food is probably not bad. There is also a full bar, from which I had a much needed hot chocolate.

The Play: This leads to the other first, which I am a little ashamed to admit, I have somehow not read to Kill a Mockingbird. We didn’t study it at school and I never got around to reading it later, which I regret as I wish I could have experienced it for the first time at a much younger age. As it stands, I cannot comment on the play’s strength as an adaptation, but judged on its own merits, it was fantastic.

It starts with the cast dispersed amongst the audience, standing up one by one and reading passages from the book. They all make their way to the stage, a very spare set consisting of a rather realistic looking tree with a tyre swing, and transform it into a chalk drawn map. Props and actors remain on the side until needed, with quick on stage costume changed effectively transforming narrators to various characters and back. The reading from the book continues throughout and it’s a method that really works to add depth to the performances we see on stage. The adult cast is all great, but the real stars are the kids, which are truly fantastic. The play is brought to life by the kids playing games and running around, on a few occasions, beyond the stage itself. The limited props mean that the storytelling relies heavily on the audience’s imagination to transform you to the little town in Alabama and it works. The first half is lighter than I was expecting, with a number of laugh out loud funny moments. The courtroom scenes are excellent and the attack on the children mostly shown via a passage from the book, nevertheless frightens. Really, Scout’s ham costume alone is worth seeing this for.

In a Sentence: Really fantastic play, definitely reading the book ASAP, wish I’d brought a blanket.

Can I see it? To Kill A Mockingbird has just finished its run at Regent’s Park, but it’s starting a National Tour and will be back in London next year, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Hotel Dining Recommendations

Sunday, September 7, 2014 1

I

have tried to go to Barrafina, the ultra cool Spanish small plates no booking Soho restaurant, a few times  now, with no success. Last time I tried, it must have been about 5:45 on a Wednesday and I was told to expect a wait of about an hour. And no, I couldn’t come back in an hour, if I wanted my place in the queue, I had to stay in the queue. (the countless masses would kill for my place in the queue, was heavily implied in the waiter’s tone and arched eyebrow)

I chose not to and if I sound bitter it’s mostly because I feel they were quite rude to me, though I am still planning on getting there one day. It’s on my list. I have an ever growing list of places I’d like to try and after a quick peruse of this list, a worrying trend becomes apparent, most of these have adopted this ‘no bookings’ policy. Which is all well and good, but sometimes I just want to have a specific time and a place, where I can eat some good food with no hassle. And so if you are looking for the latest pop up that only has 3 tables, and two dishes made from the produce locally grown in the owner’ back garden, then I would advice you to stop reading right now. However, if you are looking for a nice place where you could take your parents for a good meal in lovely surroundings, then please carry on.

My secret weapon when it comes to a family visit or a last minute dinner reservations is hotel restaurants. London is full of hotels I can’t afford, with restaurants that I can. These are restaurants you could never find if you didn’t know about, which means that hotel guests aside they are rarely heaving, making them extremely convenient for a last minute booking. The surroundings are often lavish and the food can vary from pretty decent to amazing. There are often good set meals and it’s worth checking bookatable.com or opentable for any additional deals.

Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham at the Dukes Hotel

This is top of my list, it’s a three rosette restaurant that deserves it. The dining room is very light and airy, the service impeccable and the food beautifully presented and delicious. We had a three course set lunch, which included an amuse bouche between each course, which was completely unexpected and a lovely touch, not to mention very tasty. The desserts are to die for. If you want to be surrounded by hustle and bustle, this is not the place for you, as when we started our lunch we were the only people there, but if you want to take your time and enjoy your food, I would very much recommend it. We were there for a good few hours and felt welcome the entire time. It was a lovely experience and though I have an aim to go to new places as much as possible, this is a restaurant I cannot wait to repeat.

Brasserie Joel at the Park Plaza Hotel

Unlike the others on this list, the Brasserie Joel has modern even minimalist in decor and we were not the only diners there. It occupies a large space on the first floor of the Park Plaza, with a pleasantly high ceiling and round tables, nicely spaced apart. The service was excellent and the set menu included the Tuna Tartare starter, which was very good. They also offer a set lunch menu of exceptional value, that I have not yet tried, but it is on my before mentioned to do list.

Reform Social and Grill at the Mandeville Hotel

This is located just off Oxford Street, offering some peace after a hard day’s shopping. It’s got good, hearty food, very generous portions at very affordable prices. If you are looking for even more affordability, there is a bookatable deal for steak or lobster burger with chips and half a bottle of wine for £16, which I have tried and tested and would do so again. But whatever you do, you’ve got to leave some space for dessert, because all else aside, I’d recommend this place on the strength of its desert alone. It’s got great spin on childhood classics like the jam rolly polly and toffee apple cumble and everything comes with lots of custard. Real nice comfort food.

The Brasserie at the Charring Cross Hotel

I must have walked past Charring Cross station hundreds of times, not once looking up at the Charring Cross hotel. My brother found the Brasserie and yes, yet again that is where we took our parents. Trying to find the restaurant once you enter seems like an adventure and yet again it felt like we were the only guests, but the decor is lovely, the view from the terrace really very good and the food decent. After the craziness of the street below us, it felt like a retreat.

My Top London Theatre Tips

Thursday, August 28, 2014 1

I

am going to New York in September and I am very excited, because I am planning on seeing something on Broadway for the first time ever! I have been to New York before and I have even been to the theatre in New York before (I was very lucky to see Zachary Quinto in Angels in America a few years back) but never Broadway, so I am really looking forward to it.

The problem is that shows on Broadway seem prohibitively expensive in a way that theatre in London does not. Now, I know London theatre and where to get my tickets from that won’t charge me extortionate booking fees and what deals there are so I very rarely pay anything more than £30 and often closer to £10. Which is good, because the amount of theatre I see would soon bankrupt me if it was to move to NYC. Maybe it’s because I don’t know my way around it, but google is certainly falling to unveil anything like what we have here in London.

So in the spirit of helpfulness for anyone that feels similarly lost in the London Theatre scene, here are my:

Top Tips for Cheaper Theatre Tickets:

  • Avoid Ticketmaster. If you can book your tickets directly from the theatre box office or the theatre website, do it! They are less likely to add fees on and more likely to have a greater seat selection. If they don’t sell the tickets themselves the ticket provider to which the theatre links you to is normally (but not always) the best one. If in doubt, shop around, often the same tickets are priced slightly differently depending on where they are being sold, so it’s worth a little research to find the best deal.
  • Bookmark Theatremonkey.  Theatremonkey will be your friend and faithful companion and guide you through some very difficult decisions. It has a detailed guide for each West End theatre that includes seats opinions and highlight seats that are especially terrible or a great value for the price. It’s really invaluable for when you are trying to decide which nosebleed seat to go for and exactly what ‘restricted view’ means. I’ve got some great bargains such as heavily discounted rare stalls seats based on it’s recommendations and always check if when going to a new theatre. It’s opinions are constantly updated based on new productions.
  • Look into day seats. Many theatres have super cheap tickets available on the day. They are often limited, and especially for sold out shows there may be a queue from very early in the morning (in some cases people have been known to camp in front of the theatre, but I do not recommend that) but if the show is not sold out, picking up a day ticket can be a pain free experience, especially on a week day. This is a great resource (I told you theatremonkey is fantastic) My favourite day seats are those is the National Theatre, because there are lots available, especially if you are willing to stand, and I have very fond memories of seeing The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Nighttime for only £5.
  • Time Out Theatre Offers: the number of plays I’ve seen with a Time Out voucher is bordering on ridiculous, these are often for fringe shows or west end shows that are not selling particularly well. So if you are looking for Book of Mormon it’s unlikely to pop up on there, but there are consistently great offers and it’s always worth having a look if you fancy seeing something but are not too fussed on what. A couple of times recently I’ve booked tickets only for Time Out to do an offer the day after I’ve booked them, so sometimes it’s worth waiting it out.
  • Special Schemes: There are so many cheap schemes out there, especially for young people that they probably deserve their own post, but these are my favourite and are available to everyone (if you are quick enough with the refresh button and unlike day seats can be purchased from the comfort of your home)
    1. Donmar’s Barclay’s Front Row Scheme: I’ve already talked about this, because I love it. Every Monday front row tickets go on sale for £10. In the last couple of years I’ve seen almost everything staged at the Donmar because of this scheme. Now I admit it can be stressful when unsuccessful, until you try again the following week. And if it looks to be sold out in 10 seconds, don’t despair, but keep refreshing for up to 10 minutes, as often tickets become available later as people release them from their baskets.
    2. Royal Court’s £10 Mondays: I’ve only done this once, as discussed here, but looking forward to trying it again soon.
    3. The National Theatre’s Travelex partnership that means that half the tickets for selected shows are only £15. I managed to get a Travelex ticket for Medea, which I am looking forward to seeing next week.
  • Bonus Tip: I asked my friend (and theatre going companion) for a tip and she was wonderful and offered slightly more than one, so you get 3 for the price of 1.
    1. Worth checking if your local theatre has a scheme for residents and those who work nearby”
    2. For Opera and Ballet fans: “Royal Opera House has 67 day tickets for various prices”
    3. if you can afford it, Young Vic’s Season Saver” where you get three top price tickets for the price of two, the biggest problem is trying to pick only 3 shows per season..

That’s it for now, please let me know if I’ve missed your favourite tip and if you can help me with my Broadway dilemma!