Bicester Village Bargains

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After my WWKD post earlier in the month, I couldn’t resist popping back to Bicester Village for a mooch and a browse. How could anyone resist bargains in the sunshine of a summer morning?!

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Try something new whenever you can: Silverstone F1 Testing

(PST – My Twitter comp ends today! Click here to enter and win some amazing BaubleBar bracelets!)

Every once in a while, it’s good to do something you never would have considered before – try something completely different. Which is why I was happy to tag along with a couple of friends who wanted to go to the F1 testing last week at Silverstone!

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Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium: A Review

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I have been waiting a long time to visit Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium – the UK’s first ever cat cafe. I’ve been waiting since February 2013, to be exact, when I joined in with hundreds of other people on indiegogo.com to help get the business off the ground. I also covered the campaign in the magazine I edit, and waited patiently for the day to roll around when I could cash in my voucher for High Tea for Two – which was a present for my husband for Valentine’s day.

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Lunch at The Ivy

It’s been my ambition for a long time to be able to eat at some of London’s most famous and established restaurants. I had my hen party at The Ritz and am plotting breakfast at The Wolseley, but before all that, I decided to cash in my Valentine’s day treat for lunch at The Ivy.

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Not as exclusive or trendy as it was in its heyday, it’s still an amazing place to eat, and if you choose wisely, not as expensive as you would think!

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The menu is full of old English and French classics – it’s not a particularly innovative menu, but then, that’s not why you go to The Ivy. You go to soak up the atmosphere and to sup in the same restaurant as countless celebrities like Noel Coward, Vivian Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, and more recently Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, the Beckhams, etc. These days, though, these celebs have migrated to The Club at The Ivy, which is a private area that requires membership to enter, leaving the main dining area relatively celeb-free.

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So, you’ll have to content yourself with the food itself – solid, unsurprising fare that is incredibly delicious and reasonably priced.

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I started with the seared foie gras – beautifully tender on top of a sheet of delicate pastry with a sugary crunch to it. The rich jus and sharp cherries were the perfect accompaniments. My husband had the leek soup, which was poured from a mini saucepan into a bowl already full of the toppings. It was delicious, smooth and creamy.

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My main course was the confit of duck – it was certainly skilfully cooked, although a bit gamier than I’m used to. The potatoes were the highlight for me – cooked with onions, butter and parsley. I also shared some green beans and bacon with my husband, who ordered sausages and mash. This, again, was an exceptional example of a much-loved classic.

Dessert was the thing I was most looking forward to – Scandinavian iced berries. They were as delicious as I expected them to be – an assortment of wild, frozen berries topped with a gorgeously decadent hot white chocolate sauce at the last moment.

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My husband opted for the creme brûlée – studded with vanilla seeds, it was rich and light at the same time!

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Despite its fearsome reputation, I didn’t dress up for my visit – I just wore a cute striped jumper from Joules that I’d bought in Cornwall and a pair of black jeans. As this was lunch time, most people were dressed casually, although a few large groups were dressed to the nines and I lost count of the number of red Louboutins I saw flashing their way across the wooden floor!

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If you’re after a meal to remember, I wouldn’t pick The Ivy as my first choice. But as far as boast factor goes, it’s pretty high up on the list, and I think the menu is very well executed. And so it should be, considering it’s full of much-loved, traditional dishes!

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You can book a visit to The Ivy online at www.the-ivy.co.uk

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Zombies 5k: initial review

In early spring, I’m going to be motoring off with a bunch of other fine folks to take part in a crazy, mud-soaked 5k obstacle course. So, I decided, as a basic minimum, that I really should at least be able to run 5k before I get there… In comes Zombies 5k, an app I had already downloaded but never used – which sits in amongst a plethora of 5k apps that I download whenever I’m supposed to be doing Race for Life. This time, though, I’m pretty serious about making sure I prepare properly. So at the end of last month, I embarked on my first week of Zombie 5k training!

The app works with your phone (and is also available on Android) to track your distance and other fancy things, but the main feature of it that made me download was the storyline that’s woven into your progress as you run. You plug in your earphones, select a playlist from your music folder, and then in between tracks, narrators tell a story of a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse, of which you are one, who are struggling to gather supplies. As Runner 5, you are put into training to venture out and gather items, and the narrators mix together plot points and training advice along the way to make each run seem like it’s building up to make you an elite, zombie-outrunning athlete.

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These are screenshots from my phone to show the information that you gather as you run – and how you progress, from a series of short bursts of running interspersed with walking, to an hour’s worth of longer runs and walks in the final week. Unless you are incredibly unfit, it should be easy to get stuck into, and it follows a fairly typical route for most 5k training programmes.

One of my favourite parts about this programme, though, is the way that it captures lots of extra info that can be viewed online if you link your app to the website, www.zombiesrungame.com.

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First of all, it tracks your overall distance and time, and also breaks down the total distances for each week as you go along, as well as informing you about the major plot points you’ve encountered so far. Week one workout three was especially fun for me, as I went with my parents and their mad dogs to Royal Victoria Country Park, where not only did I get dragged through the mud by an insane mutt, but I also got to experience an exciting storyline twist when I was asked to run outside the safety of the base in order to pick up some ammo for the township!

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As you can see, if you choose to share this info, the website can track your progress on a map – which is the second aspect I really like. You can see exactly where you went, and even how fast you were going at each stage – right down to your speed for each individual song!

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Royal Victoria Country Park is an amazing place to run, as it covers lots of different terrains, from a pavemented seafront, to a wooded area, and even a military cemetery. And here’s an interesting fact for you: the tower is what’s left of Royal Victoria Hospital, where the fictional Dr Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories trained as a surgeon for the army!

Somehow, my app magically synched itself to my run and had me tearing down a side route (middle left) in order to pick up the aforementioned ammo. The accompanying insane canine was very happy to pull me far beyond my normal running pace and I ended up plunging through a series of muddy puddles of varying depths… But, considering I’m training for an obstacle course, I’d say it’s all part of the programme!

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I’m definitely happy to have picked this method of training, and I’ll be sure to pick up my review at a later date in order to fill you in on my progress! Crazy as I sounds, I actually look forward to my thrice-weekly runs, and it’s a combination of a well-crafted learning curve, and an interesting storyline, that are keeping me coming back for more. Visit the app store to find Zombies 5k, or head to www.zombiesrungame.com for more info.

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Shopping Alert! French / London Sole Factory Shop Visit

Is there anything more delicious than a factory store dedicated to your favourite brand (and, of course, I must mention, a brand worn by the Duchess of Cambridge herself!)? I don’t think so! You might remember I visited the French Sole warehouse sale last October, and came away with five pairs of gorgeous shoes. So, when I heard that there was to be a permanent factory shop, I made plans to visit as soon as I possibly could. I was skeptical that it would be as cheap as the warehouse sale – because, why would it be, when it’s a permanent installation? – but it turned out to be even better than I hoped!

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The French Sole warehouse shop might look unassuming from the outside, but inside it’s a bargain boutique that looks amazing, and is full of drop dead gorgeous shoes at rock bottom prices. You can purchase a pair of metallic silver or gold fold up flats for £10, and the bargain bins are full of sample shoes priced at £20 (but these are mostly 37s, I believe). The shoes on display are just £25 each, and boots cost £40! At the warehouse sale, flats were £20 and quilted flats were £40, so I think, on balance, the shop is cheaper by far. With these crazy prices, no wonder I came away with a couple of amazing pairs! Okay, maybe more than a couple… Maybe six…

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I’ll be revealing my gorgeous purchases one by one over the following weeks – I’m calling them my ‘holiday collection’, because I came away with sequins, velvet, lush green, vibrant red, bows and jewels! Here’s a small sneak peek:

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The French Sole factory store is open every Friday from 10am to 4.30pm at Lambs Farm Business Park, Basingstoke Road, Swallowfield, RG7 1PQ. They get fresh deliveries every week, and carry end of lines, discounted styles, press samples, factory samples, and catwalk shoes. They also carry London Sole shoes, which is the company’s name in the US, so don’t be put off if you pick up a London Sole pair – they’re the same shoes, same company, just a different name! The shop takes cash or card. And, there’s a very nice farm shop just up the road where you can have lunch if the fancy takes you – or if you want to make a day of it, pop into Reading city centre, which isn’t far at all!

Some small words of caution: you really need to visit this store in person to try these shoes on properly, unless you have a twin sister with the same sized feet as you – who somehow has such sisterly love for you that she’ll sacrifice up her bargains to pass along (I don’t think so… Am I right, girls? Ha!). I came away with shoes in sizes 39, 39.5, 40 and 40.5. French Sole shoe sizes vary from model to model, and with factory samples, you can never be 100% confident with your usual size until you put them on! I truly don’t think you’d save money trying to get someone to pick some up for you, as £25 is only a bargain if the shoes actually fit… Also, there are no exchanges, returns or refunds, as this is a factory store (this is very common policy for these kind of discount shops).

All of this information was correct at time of writing, but I can’t guarantee that the prices or opening hours will remain the same – if you have any doubts, contact info@frenchsole.com for help!

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Halloween at Fortnum and Mason

F&M have really knocked it out of the park with their seasonal selections this year. At the beginning of the month, I headed to London with my husband for my birthday and had a blast taking a look at both the Halloween and Christmas displays at the department store. I’ll save the Christmas pics for now, but I thought I’d share these spooky visual treats with you in celebration of Halloween tomorrow!

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There will definitely be some lucky trick or treaters in London tomorrow if these goodies are anything to go by! You can order online at http://www.fortnumandmason.com/, or pop into the store at 181 Piccadilly. If you’ve never been, you really should visit this most beautiful and historic department store – and if you’re already a regular, I hope I’ve induced you to pop in again to see their amazing seasonal displays!

Personally, I am lusting over that lollipop, those skulls, and those darling little hampers. I’ve always wanted a F&M hamper, and those ones with the orange ribbons are just too adorable!

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Autumn Pumpkin Festival at Royal Victoria Country Park

Recently, I popped along to my local pumpkin festival at Royal Victoria Country Park, and I thought I’d share some of the photos of the day!

Pumpkin montage 1Central chapel / prize-winning pumpkins / Mulberry logo scarf / matte nails with OPI top coat and Ciate’s Hopscotch / heavenly chilli / the remains of Royal Victoria Hospital

Royal Victoria Country Park is one of my favourite places to visit. Nestled on the shores of Southampton Water, the site used to be home to the Royal Victoria Hospital, which was much used during World War I and visited frequently by Queen Victoria herself, as well as Florence Nightingale. Little of the original hospital remains except for the chapel, as a fire devastated the rest of the building in 1963. However, you can still walk the grounds and even visit the patients’ graveyard on the site, which has some fascinating grave stones.

The annual pumpkin festival is an October highlight for me, but this year it was strangely devoid of pumpkins to actually buy! I usually pick up loads of munchkin pumpkins for decoration for Halloween and Thanksgiving, but they were thin on the ground. Luckily, we managed to swing by Pickwell Farm Shop on the way home to stock up!

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The light green pumpkin is one of my favourite eating varieties, called Crown Prince (my other favourite is Kabocha). Although good meaning types will tell you to save the pumpkin flesh from your carving varieties to make soup and avoid waste, I have to say, it’s a good way of making rubbish soup. Literally, soup from rubbish. If you actually want to enjoy eating pumpkin, you need to purchase culinary pumpkins, which are delicious. The carving types are generally watery, tasteless and very stringy.

So I piled up my little trolley with some delicious pumpkins in order to make some pumpkin hummus from the first Leon cookbook – along with some other tasty tapas dishes from the same book, including sesame chicken wings, flatbread, sweet potato falafels, Imam Bayildi and magic beans. I highly recommend the book if you like healthy, hearty food. I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at a Leon restaurant, but the recipes are amazing.

Pumpkin montage 3Pumpkin votive from Cox and Cox / tapas spread / inside of a Crown Prince / pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks / trying to decide between three shades of orange nail varnish / pumpkin votives, munchkins and Design Ideas black Sherwood tree from John Lewis

The rest of the month has been a pumpkin-flavoured blur – I’ve been getting loads of use out of my gorgeous pumpkin shaped candle holders from Cox and Cox (no relation – I wish!), and downing as many pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks as my stomach can handle (a lot, it turns out!). I also bought some more orange nail varnish, as my Ciate Hopscotch was actually a cheat – I nicked it out of the advent calendar ahead of time. Naughty! (I ended up with Orange Attack from Maybelline.) Finally, I picked this pretty black Sherwood tree from John Lewis, which looks awesome bare as a Halloween decoration, or can be accessorized with baubles, birds and blossoms you can buy individually!

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