My Top Ten Things To See And Do At Exbury Gardens

Take Sensible Shoes, Wear Fabulous Sunglasses…

The New Forest is one of my favourite places on earth, and Exbury Gardens is one of the jewels in its crown. Situated on the banks of the Beaulieu River, and part of the breathtaking Exbury Estate, the gardens are open to the public from March until November. Whether you’re a local or you’re visiting the area on holiday, I’d definitely recommend you stop by to see one of the most spectacular collections of its type in the country.

You could spend all day at Exbury and not see everything (believe me, as this is from personal experience!), so I decided to put together a list of my top ten things to see and do there, so you don’t miss out on some of my favourite parts of our visit! (Please note, the gardens are ever changing, and different varieties will bloom in different months of the year.)

1. Take The Train

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Wahaca Arrives In Southampton

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to the press launch of Wahaca in Southampton. Sometimes I need to pinch myself – I really am so grateful to every restaurant kind enough to throw open their doors for me to share their delights with you all!
Wahaca Southampton (40)

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Soup and bread White Star Tavern Southampton Restaurant Review Food Fash Fit

The White Star Tavern: Modern British Cuisine In Southampton 

White Star Tavern Southampton Restaurant Review Food Fash Fit exterior

Since 2002, The White Star Tavern has been nestled in Southampton’s Oxford Street – a mecca for foodies and home to some of the best restaurants in the city. The White Star Tavern is the jewel in the crown – a gorgeous gastro pub (the first in the city!) complete with dining room, serving fantastic, modern British cuisine. In fact, it was awarded a 2 star rosette by the AA in 2010 (and is the only venue in Southampton to hold this honour). I love the fact that TWST partners with Hampshire Fare to source ingredients from the local area whenever possible. This creates a showcase for some fantastic produce, and means that menu changes with the season, too. Continue reading

Taco Time! Taco Bell Opens In Southampton

I’ve had a slight Taco Bell obsession since I watched Demolition Man as a kid and found out that every restaurant in America would soon be a branch of Taco Bell (franchise wars winners, natch!)…

Thankfully we no longer have to wait until 2032 to eat Taco Bell, because a restaurant just opened here in sunny Southampton – launching 23 November 2016! My husband and I were invited along to the launch this evening, and I’ve rushed home to write up my report about it, because I was pretty blown away!

The restaurant has a great central location, just opposite the Bargate – around the corner from where the old McDonald’s used to be, if you can remember back that far. It also boasts charging stations and free wifi, which I’m sure means it’ll be a hit with any cruise crew and travellers stopping by at the port – or people like me, who are usually running out of data and have plenty to do online…

The menu is on par with other fast food places in as far as choice and price goes – you can get most of the dishes under or just over a fiver. However, I don’t think we have many other Tex-Mex fast food places in the centre of town – the nearest is probably Mexigo on London Road, which is a fair walk if you have a sudden craving for a burrito…

There was a great atmosphere at the launch, and the drinks and food were getting everyone in a mood for a proper Mexican-style fiesta! It was interesting to learn that this branch is the only one south of London – I’m sure it won’t be for long. I have no idea why it’s taken so long for Taco Bell to get a foothold in the UK, because even with a handful of branches, it still has pretty good brand name recognisability here. If there’s one thing every Brit is prepared to concede about America, it’s that they do fast food reaaaaally well.

Speaking of which, I got to try a few of the dishes on offer, including the beef tacos, chicken burritos, and pulled pork quesadillas. They were all so delicious – I was expecting good things but I was surprised as just how tasty and addictive the food was. My absolute favourite was the pulled pork quesadillas – salty, juicy shredded pork inside a cheesy soft grilled tortilla; what a perfect combination! That’ll be my regular, please, Mr. Bell.

The burritos come with rice, too, making them a great, filling meal! And the tacos – crunchy, crispy, with great seasoning and a lovely blend of sour cream and cheese. Let’s face it, fast food doesn’t need to be fancy or difficult to be delicious and filling – Taco Bell is cheap and cheerful at its finest. And did I mention they serve beer too?!

I’m definitely going to make many more stops at Taco Bell – there’s nothing like it on the high street in Southampton right now, and the prices are half what you’d pay in Tex-Mex restaurants for the same food (dare I say, actually a little nicer here?!)

Taco Bell Southampton opens 23 November at 1/2 Hanover Buildings, Southampton, SO14 1JU. See the menu at www.tacobelluk.co.uk.

Live más!

Style note: T-shirt dress by ASOS, glasses by London Retro, jacket by Atmosphere, lipstick (The Queen) by Charlotte Tilbury.

Food and drink at the launch was on the house – my photos and opinions are my own.

Thai Tapas Time! Koh Thai Salisbury

Tapas style is one of my favourite ways to enjoy food with friends – everyone ordering their dishes and sharing them around, discovering new delicacies and dipping in and out of plates here and there… Cutting the final piece into two or three pieces so everyone can try, ordering ‘just one more of these please’, after a particularly delicious dish disappears in an instant.

I’ve tried Greek, Turkish, Carribbean and even Mexican-style tapas, but until this month I’d never tried Thai. But really, when you think about it, Thai tapas is a genius idea. Like the Japanese izakaya snacks or kaiten-sushi, or even Chinese dim-sum, small dishes shared in a group is definitely a concept at home in Asian cuisine. So when Koh Thai asked me to come and review their tapas menu, I was more than happy to jump in the car and head on up to Salisbury.

Entrance

Koh Salisbury is located right in the city centre, meaning that you can hit the shops and the sights and then head in for a fantastic meal, and make a day of it. It’s also a really short walk from the main city car park, making it really easy to get to.

Ambiance (1)

The interior is dark, modern and themed with wooden screens, gorgeous golden lanterns, and hand painted artwork on the walls. When I went for a midweek dinner, the place was buzzing with couples, work parties, and a hen do, so I’d imagine booking in advance is pretty sensible if you want to make sure you get a table!

Drinks 2

The ethos of Koh Thai is a completely tailored dining experience, which starts the moment you order drinks. My designated driver, also my teetotal husband, always goes for soft drinks, but there’s no menu for virgin cocktails at Koh Thai. Instead, you tell the waiter what you like and they’ll come back with a delicious cocktail themed just for you. While I had a delicious Summer Daze, with gin, lime passionfruit and Midori, he had a riff on a strawberry daiquiri, which was completely gorgeous!

Crispy shredded beef

Onto the food! We’d been invited to try the Thai Tasting Menu at £26 a head, which includes starters and main, and all the trimmings. Koh calls this a bespoke ordering style, because that’s exactly what it is – you tell them what you like, which meats you prefer, any allergies or dislikes, and how spicy you like it, and they produce dish after dish of delicious food, exactly as you like it. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that this was one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever eaten – everything was cooked to perfection and there was a fantastic balance of old favourites and new dishes that I’d not tried before. First up was the Thai sliced crispy beef: tender strips of beef with a crispy crunchy coating, served with a sweet, thick soy sauce spiked with chilli and dressed with spring onions.

24 hour beef ribs

Then came one of their signature dishes, 24 Hour Ribs. These were melt in the mouth beef ribs; so tender the meat fell off the bone. They were served with their cooking jus which tasted like a blend of soy sauce with cinnamon and star anise – although the exact recipe is a secret! I can’t decide if these or the crispy beef strips were my favourite – they were both cooked to perfection and so, so tasty!

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We also had Koh’s Own Chicken Satay. Traditional chicken skewers served with crunchy, spicy peanut sauce, this is always a firm favourite of my husband, and went down a treat.

To be honest, at this point we thought the meal was over, but it had only just begun. You’ll definitely not go home hungry… We were served cashew stir fry  – which I’d never had before, but will definitely be hankering after, and ordering, again for sure.

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It consisted of a sweet and savoury sauce coating a mixture of sliced beef, onions, peppers, spring onions, water chestnuts, pineapple pieces and dried chilli, studded with satisfying crunchy, creamy cashews. I could have eaten this all day.

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But what would a Thai meal be without at least one Thai curry? We had green chicken curry – fiercely hot, spicy, creamy curry sauce packed with bamboo shoots, green beans, peppers, and chicken.

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The dishes also came with Jasmine rice and Pad Thai: soft noodle ribbons fried with egg, carrots, spring onions and bean sprouts, served with sliced pork and peanuts on the side to add your own crunch! Sweet, rich and tangy, Pad Thai is always irresistible, and this was no different.

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Then it was onto our second round of drinks – I had a Kohtini, which is their alternative to a Cosmopolitan (lemongrass syrup, lychee liqueur, vodka, lime and cranberry) and my husband had a virgin mojito (oh my goodness, even without the rum, one of the best mojitos I’ve tried!)

Me.JPG

As you can see, I had a brilliant time at Koh Thai, and I’d definitely come back. This is the perfect place for a celebration meal with mates, or a quiet romantic date with your other half. The attention to detail was excellent, presentation was perfect and our waiters were very friendly and attentive. All of this would have been for nothing if the food wasn’t good, but I was bowled over by how delicious each dish was – I’d order it all again in a heartbeat.

The good news is there are locations all over the south, with more popping up all the time. There are branches in Bath, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Bristol, Christchurch, Lilliput, Ringwood, Salisbury, Southsea and Winchester, and the new Romsey branch opens this month (July 2016)! They even have a special express light lunch menu for under £10, including a fantastic selection of grilled meats with a choice of sauces, if you’re watching your figure.

Find Koh Thai online at www.koh-thai.co.uk. The Salisbury branch I visited is located at 4A Endless Street, Salisbury, SP1 1DL.

The meal I enjoyed at Koh Thai was complimentary – the views in this review are my own. (Seriously, book yourselves in!)

Sky Ride Southampton 2016


June saw the return of GoSkyRide to Southampton, and despite the dodgy looking weather, it turned out to be another glorious day!


I decided to ride into town from my house, about four miles away – pretty much downhill but I forgot about the few uphill parts and roadworks which made things a little more difficult. Also had the customary beeping from one car – it seems like there’s always at least one person who can’t quite believe their eyes when they see a person cycling or jogging or even walking along the side of the road and they have to beep just to check they’re still awake and not dreaming… (And no, I wasn’t running a red light or cycling in their way, they weren’t even in the same lane as me!)


By the time I arrived I was already pretty knackered, but the fairly flat course was good fun and I got my wind back pretty quickly! The route was fairly congested and it took around 45 minutes to do a complete circuit, which included the Civic Centre, up to the Common, back down again and then through the parks in town to the Bargate (sadly covered in scaffolding at the moment) and back.


There were loads of cool riders, including plenty of people riding with music, and even an entire five piece percussion band who managed to cycle and play all the way around! There were also a few people in fancy dress as well – I don’t know how they do it! I was sweating in my thin cotton top as it was!

I was also sweating it slightly because I hadn’t serviced my bike since last summer, and wasn’t sure if it was up to scratch – luckily, it was still in great condition, and with a little bit of tyre pumping, I was ready to go!


Of course, after a hard day on the bike, the only way to recover on a summer’s evening was with a cool glass of Pimm’s, garnished with some gorgeous Alpine strawberries and mint from the garden!

Have you been to a Skyride in your local area? Let me know! Or, tell me about your favourite cycling route or location!

 

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Boulangerie Victor Hugo Southampton: Beaujolais Nouveau Night!

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Late last month, we were invited along to one of my favourite cafes, Boulangerie Victor Hugo, for their special French evening to celebrate the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau! The event took on a new meaning following the awful terrorist attacks in Paris, which happened just a few days before the evening. It was a fantastic chance to show our solidarity with our French brothers and sisters by doing what they do best – sharing good times and enjoying great food and drink!

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Sunday Sky Ride through the New Forest

One of my favourite summer activities is cycling with friends – especially through the New Forest! So, when I saw that there was a local Sky Ride organised for last Sunday, I jumped on the chance to sign up immediately! Sky Rides are an amazing initiative from Sky and British Cycling – local tours supported by ride leaders who lead the group on organised routes through gorgeous cycle paths and roads. Check out the site here.

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Highclere Castle: Home of Downton Abbey

Downton text

Last weekend, my folks and a couple of friends and I all piled into a car to head to Highclere Castle, home of Downton Abbey! I actually live just 40 minutes up the road from the location, but it’s so hard to get tickets – we actually booked ours in February. It’s been a loooong wait.

When we got there, it was drizzling, and surrounded by mist – which was very atmospheric, but not very good for photos. Unless you wanted photos of atmospheric drizzle…

Misty mosaic

The neat little folly was called Jackdaws Castle – basically designed to look nice from the castle rather than do anything – it didn’t even have a roof! I didn’t remember it from the show, but my friend recognised it from a scene with Lady Edith and a certain imposter who turned up as a patient at the Abbey during the war…

Misty mosaic 2

Unfortunately, photography is banned inside the castle, so I don’t have any pictures of Countess Grantham’s bedroom or the lovely foyer, but we did have a trip around the gardens I can share with you – by the time finished touring the house and the excellent Egyptian exhibit, it had definitely brightened up!

Gardens mosaic

I definitely recommend going if you’re a fan of the show – for one thing, it’s really neat to see how it all fits together in real life. And who could resist having their photo snapped at Downton Abbey? Not me, that’s for sure!

Downton outfit mosaic

Kitten Cateye sunglasses, ASOS / Blue jumper, Hush / Dog friendship bracelet, Mulberry / Black and copper friendship bracelet, Links of London / Rose gold cherry blossom sweater necklace, C/O Maqaroon

Tickets for Highclere Castle can be purchased in advance from the website here. The summer season is currently sold out, although tickets may be available on the day subject to capacity – best time to try your luck is 2pm. £18 gets you an adult ticket to see the grounds, the Egyptian exhibit, and the castle interior. Tickets for just the grounds are also available at a cheaper price.

If you’d like to see any of my photos in more detail, check out my Flickr set here!

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Sea View Ride

Another weekend, and another great Sky Ride Local! This time we cycled a sort of familiar route, although we started in a new place for me – still within cycling distance though (although we took the car as we had no idea where we were going!). This time the ride took us through Victoria Country Park and up to Hamble – we did a similar thing on our led ride from Weston Shore during the Big Bike Celebration in June.

It chucked it down for our trip to Itchen Valley Country Park, but the weather was glorious at the weekend – and even though I slathered myself in lotion, I still caught the sun a little bit. I decided to wear my ASOS cycling shorts with a skirt over the top – I love wearing skirts, but I always feel self-conscious about them being short, so whenever I cycle I get to wear cycling shorts underneath! This actually means I’m getting to wear my skirts way more than I did before, which is great news for me – shallow, I know! I also refound one of my favourite T-shirts that I bought from GAP years ago – it’s so thin and comfy, great for cycling in the sun.

I also discovered Heidi plaits are great for cycling (thanks, Minx Girl!) as they keep the hair off the back of your neck in a sweaty clump – they also look good with a helmet too.

Wearing my lovely Sawako Furuno helmet again – I wondered if the smaller ventilation holes would give me a hot head, but I’m pleased to report even in the sunshine I was fine! It’s definitely not as cool as a normal aerodynamic helmet, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

Unlike the previous two times I’ve been to a Sky Ride, I actually arrived early this time, and so I was able to laze about and watch everyone else hurriedly pull their bikes off their racks for a change!

The ride was a good mix of trails and roads – I’m still completely terrified of getting a puncture on gravel, but once I actually get one I think I’ll be fine. I really want to be able to take some kind of course in bike maintenance, but I can’t find anything nearby, which is pretty frustrating…

Anyway, I like having a mix of track and road, and the Allant manages to handle both decently. I think my favourite part is cycling down a long residential road, though, with everyone else stretched out in front. Somehow, as we all serenely glide along, it reminds me of clouds, just peacefully moving through the air.

Something about it just feels so effortless and peaceful. Until, of course, you get Omar, flipping me the bird over his shoulder.

He thought taking photos as I was cycling was hilarious. I have to admit, it’s not the safest thing you can do on a bicycle, but I wouldn’t dream of doing it if it was actually dangerous (or there was traffic on the road!). I’d love to get a camera mount for my handlebars, but I think that a set of lights is more pressing than that!

Here’s Rachel and Omar at Victoria Country Park – we stopped to watch a yacht race, but we were more interested in discussing their recent holiday to Cornwall. They got to go to the Eden Project, and a cycle ride that ended with Rick Stein’s fish and chip shop, so I’m insanely jealous!

The brief stop was great, though, and it wasn’t long before we were back on our bikes to head to the final point, which was Hamble.

There was a big group, and the leaders did a great job keeping everyone happy. Once we got to Hamble, we headed back again – it was about 75 mins of cycling all together, with about 30 mins of breaks added in.

We’ll definitely be trying out some of these routes ourselves when the Sky Rides end in August!