A Feast of Ice & Fire: recipes, games, decor and ideas for your Game of Thrones Finale Party

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Like everyone else, I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan – who doesn’t love dragons, dinner and debauchery? Just like with The Hunger Games, it was partially the description of all that delicious food that hooked me in, and I’m obviously not the only one. If you have a passing interest in the food of GoT, you’ll probably have heard of the amazing recipe book A Feast of Ice & Fire, by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer. They started out with the blog Inn at the Crossroads, which is an equally amazing journey through some of the most intriguing recipes from Westeros and beyond. Many of the recipes are based on originals from Medieval cookery, which weirdly enough I also have an interest in, so this recipe book was a massive must-buy for me!

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Restaurant Review: Boulangerie Victor Hugo Southampton

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When my friend told me a new French cafe had opened in town, I had to rush down there as soon as possible to test it out! Boulangerie Victor Hugo (or BVH, if you’re going to be cool about it) is located down town, past the Bargate and just past Zen and La Lupa.

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Tralala from Penhaligon’s and Meadham Kirchhoff

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Now available directly from Penhaligon’s (previously exclusively from Harvey Nichols) comes Tralala, a fantastically heady blend created in collaboration with the fashion house Meadham Kirchhoff. I love Penhaligon’s – it’s such a traditionally British perfumery, originally founded in the 1860s and perfumer to Queen Victoria herself! The signature blends are complex and daring, and Meadham Kirchhoff has used several different blends to scent their shows before uniting to create Tralala with Master Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. When I found about about this new blend, I contacted Penhaligon’s, who were kind enough to send me this pretty little atomiser for review. The 100ml bottle is available from Harvey Nichols and Penhaligon’s for £150.

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I’m no trained oflactor myself, but the spicy, warm and complex scent of Tralala make it the perfect evening perfume. With heady, eccentric and headstrong notes, this perfume will certainly make an impression – it’s become my favourite scent since I first tried it! To get technical, the head notes include Aldehydes, Saffron, Whiskey, Ambrette Seed Butter, Galbanum, Violet Leaf Absolute, with heart notes of Carnation, Leather, Tuberose, Ylang Ylang, Orris, Incense. Base notes include Myrrh Resinoid, Opoponax Absolute, Patchouli, Vetiver, Cedarwood, Heliotrope, Musk and Vanilla. This is described as a unisex scent, and with its earthy overtones, I can definitely see why.

20140506-202310.jpgPlus, it comes in such a cute little box too! Head here to purchase from Penhaligon’s, and click here to purchase from Harvey Nichols.

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It’s a Bakewell Tart off!

You might remember me mentioning I visited the pretty little town of Bakewell back in March for some Bakewell tarts – and I liked it so much I went back for more again this month, on my way from Coventry to Manchester!

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Bakewell is, of course, the home of the Bakewell tart and Bakewell pudding, and so competition is fierce when it comes to who is the best, most authentic and original purveyor of Bakewell tarts and puddings

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Now, here is a bit of Bakewell insider knowledge for you. Most people think of the Bakewell tart when they think of Bakewells, which is commercially available from almost any bakers and supermarket in the UK and consists of short crust pastry, spread with jam, topped with a sponge and ground almond mixture, and layered with white icing. A cherry Bakewell is it’s more ubiquitous form, which just means there’s a glacé cherry on the top!

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However, some argue that the true authentic Bakewell is the Bakewell pudding, a similar but still distinctively delicious dessert which is made of flaky pastry, filled with jam, and then topped with a custard made of egg and almonds.

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In order to bring you, the reader, some added value, I decided to report from the front lines and let you know which Bakewell tart or pudding was the best in all of Bakewell…

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The Bakewell Tart and Coffee House was a great place to stop for a drink and a tart – their artery busting iced monstrosities were perfect to round off a Mother’s Day meal!

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However, I really wanted to try some puddings, because although an authentic tart is awesome, Bakewell puddings are nearly impossible to find elsewhere, especially on the south coast where I’m from!

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So, we stopped off at probably the quaintest looking (and most prominent) bakery… The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop!

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The shop was touristy, which I loved, especially the little signs telling you about the history of the puddings. I love local food history like this!

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The prices for Bakewell puddings were pretty similar from shop to shop… There’s no price gouging going on in Bakewell, or so it seems!

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The second shop we went to was Bloomers, which was slightly more… aggressive in asserting its credentials as the original and authentic Bakewell experience (theirs is the sign above telling you not to ask for iced tarts!).

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So, with both our puddings purchased, we went off to our hotel to begin the taste test!

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First of all, Bloomers’, which I have to say, is not a handsome looking pudding:

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And inside (below), I fear that it doesn’t improve. The custard is dense, eggy and not very sweet at all. The sweetness is supposed to come from the jam, I think, but because of the runny consistency of the jam, a lot of it leaks out and it was difficult to get a good amount in each bite. The pastry was tough, too, although, overall it had a very strong taste of almonds. Sadly, I couldn’t give this more than 5/10 – and at this point, I was starting to think that Bakewell puddings were a horrible, horrible mistake only improved by the addition of icing.

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Luckily, we had bought the Old Original, below, an unassuming yet handsome chap with an even filling and dark brown top.

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(By the way, these puddings are not for the faint of heart or anyone watching their diet… Look at the lard on this bad boy!)

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Inside, The Old Original completely won me over. This is what a Bakewell pudding should taste like. Crisp, flaky pastry, a gooey, sweet custard with a hint of almond, and a decently thick jam. The consistency of the fillings meant every bite blended, and the contrast between the rich, silky, sweet custard and the crisp pastry was delicious. This was easily a 9/10. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I’d make another trip to Bakewell in the future, just to hunt out this gorgeous pudding once more!

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However, there’s no need for all that fuss. If you want to try the Old Original version yourself – good news! You can actually order them online here. You can even send a lucky soul (yourself, perhaps?) a Bakewell pudding every month for a year! Now, that sounds like absolute heaven. (Hint, hint?)

And, finally, where the Bakewell pudding was actually invented… The Rutland Arms!

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Find out more about the lovely town of Bakewell here. It’s located in the Peak District National Park, and is a great place to visit. However, make sure you arrive early in the tourist season if you want to get a parking space in the town centre! (I mean it… Really.)

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Restaurant Review: Annie’s, Manchester

This week I took a trip up to Manchester to visit the Corrie set, and soak in the Corrie-related sights of the city. No Corrie-fan’s visit to Manchester would be complete without a stop at Annie’s, the restaurant owned by Jennie McAlpine, who plays Fiz in the show.

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Annie’s is located in the centre of the city, within walking distance of all of Manchester’s great shopping areas, and it’s also a great place to go for a pre-theatre meal.

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We popped in on a Monday evening – it was really quiet but apparently we just missed the pre-theatre rush.

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I ordered a glass of Annie’s Fizz, which is Prosecco and cherry brandy, with a cherry at the bottom. It was so good I had another one!

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Anyway, onto the proper menu! Annie’s serves a simple selection of good, Northern fare, all presented with modern flair to give it a bit of restaurant pizazz.

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I ordered the Lancashire rarebit which came with a delicious chutney and was served on whole meal bread. A great start to the meal, and the chutney was the perfect balance to the heavy, rich cheese.

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Meanwhile, my husband had the corned beef hash cake, topped with a perfectly cooked poached egg and accompanied with another relish. Again, a great balance of flavours.

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For my main course, how could I have chosen anything other than a hotpot? Famous across the country, the Lancashire hotpot is a lamb stew topped with sliced potatoes. It’s also famous in Coronation Street thanks to Betty, a sadly departed character whose legendary hotpots are still served in the Rovers today. You can’t visit Lancashire without eating a hotpot.

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Served with a gorgeous side dish of red cabbage, the hotpot was a decent size and chock full of lamb. My only nitpick was that it was a little dry – I like mine swimming in sauce, but this had just enough to keep everything moist.

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My husband had the cottage pie – which he thoroughly enjoyed, along with the carrots which came on the side.

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We also had chips because we were on holiday. So it was basically a legal requirement. These were crispy, thick and delicious. Definitely try these if you get the chance!

Halfway through our meal, we were greeted by the lovely and (literally) fragrant Ms. McAlpine herself, who pops in from time to time to greet guests and see how everything is going.

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It was a lovely surprise as she plays one of my favourite characters! And she and her father Tom were both incredibly friendly and chatty.

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Onto the pudding – this was another no brainier. It had to be the Fizz Bomb! (This is the nickname given to Jennie’s character on the show!)

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We shared this between us as by this point we were both really full. It was very tasty indeed – chocolate ice cream coated with a shell of milk chocolate, drizzled with sauce and studded with popping candy.

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All in all, it was an enjoyable meal, great service and a lovely evening! The staff were great and the food was tasty and traditional.

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You can find Annie’s online at anniesmanchester.co.uk. The restaurant is located at 5 Old Bank Street, Mancheter, M2 7PE, and you can call them on 0161 839 4423 or book via email at bookings@anniesmanchester.co.uk.

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Favourite Things: Jo Malone Scented Candles

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I love candles – tea lights, tapered dinner candles, scented votives, the lot! I recently decided to splash out on some luxury scented candles, and since then they’ve been somewhat of an addiction…

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One of the most iconic brands is Jo Malone, whose range of fragrances can be mixed and matched for a bespoke scent. The range is amazing (one of my favourites is red roses) but the brand’s distinctively wrapped candles caught my eye.

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With their minimalist black, white and silver labelling and lid, and black ribbon, they make an amazing item just to keep on your mantelpiece.

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When you order online, they arrive gift wrapped in a beautiful box, complete with a box of matches! How’s about that for attention to detail?

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As I’m on a macaroon kick at the moment, I ordered one of the Sweet Almond and Macaroon home candles from the Just Like Sunday range. Other scents from the range include Incense and Embers, Lavender and Lovage, and another favourite of mine, Green Tomato Leaf!

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Each candle is £39 and has a burn time of 45 hours. The scent is so intense that you’ll really only need to light it for a couple of hours to fill your house with the sweet aroma of sugary vanilla and almonds.

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I can’t think of many more decadent scents than this – and the packaging makes this a fantastic present too, even if it is for yourself! Check out the range at www.jomalone.co.uk here.

What’s your favourite scented candle?

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Lust List: Mulberry Brights

Let’s play a game. The game is called ‘You Are Enviously Rich’, and the aim is to pretend you can afford anything – anything – from your favourite designer du jour. You may have already played this game, but called it by a different name. Like, ‘Heart Break Lusting’ or ‘Fury Surfing’. Or ‘Green-Eyed With Envy’. Or even ‘Who Can Afford This Stuff, Really?’. It doesn’t matter, I’m sure we all enjoy the game the same…

At the moment, I am still in the grip of my Mulberry fangirl phase – and drooling over the label’s new offerings for A/W 2013. As I am but an apprentice to the Mulberry ways, I am hesitant to make statements with any confidence, but I believe I am in love with two new additions to the Mulberry family. Or at least, I think they’re new – but who can be sure of anything in this crazy world?

Mulberry Brights

How could you pick a favourite between the two of these beauties?

First, let us consider the elegant golden clasp of the Small Suffolk – a well proportioned, comfortably English bag, adorned with no nonsense and frills, but supremely self-assured in its simplicity. Perhaps, one might say, this bag is too simple – but surely, only if one were of the lowest intellect and completely devoid of style. For what this bag lacks in gaudy panache and attention-seeking embellishments, it makes up for with its achingly sublime emerald leather – a colour that shouts more loudly than any extraneous pockets, flaps or straps ever could. The Small Suffolk need not dance for your amusement – you must dance for her, for she is a lady. And she costs £1350. But, for that, she is yours forever.

But, don’t stop there. Observe, if you will, Primrose’s confident curves, and her daring – some might say, overly complex – postman’s lock fastening, which has a hinge. A hinge! Admire her flaming red leather, contrasting elegantly with her gold furniture, and weep. For you know that £1200 for a bag is probably too much. Is it? Is it really too much for this bag? “Yes,” says the bank manager. A tear falls down his cheek. “Yes, my child.” His eyes close, and you both take a moment to mourn… And to wonder when the next Mulberry sale will be. And to maybe do some sums, because surely that’s only £100 a month for a year, which actually sounds pretty reasonable when you’ll be using it every day. EVERY DAY.

And what do bank managers know about fashion, anyway?

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Restaurant review: Chez Lindsay, Richmond

For my husband’s birthday, we went to Chez Lindsay in Richmond for some delicious crepes at the weekend! Unfortunately, we were running very late because of motorway traffic, so by the time we arrived I was feeling pretty tense – as you can see from my strained expression!

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I was wearing my Cezanne Paintbox pleated dress in Destiny from Great Plains – I bagged it in the sale for £15, so I was pretty pleased with the purchase! We didn’t really take any better photos of this outfit, but I did pose with a dragonfly I rescued from a Starbucks!

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When we got to Chez Lindsay, we realised my great plan of finding a car park, which was ‘I saw a big car park on the map nearby, it’s fine’ was actually very flawed in reality. What we did instead of finding one, was drive around Richmond in a circular fashion until we hated each other and wanted to murder everyone. Eventually we rang the restaurant and found the car park they advised (thank you, helpful restaurant folk!), which could only be reached by driving in more circles down very unpromising residential roads. So, by the time we arrived we had driven for around two and a half hours to get there, and were on the verge of minor nervous breakdowns.

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Luckily, the food was amazing, and a real trip down memory lane for both of us! My husband lived in Cherbourg for nine months at university, so I visited him often and we had a favourite creperie we went to all the time. These crepes were not only delicious, but a real blast from the past and very comforting to boot.

First of all, though, check out this awesome butter knife:

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I ordered the super complete, which is a buckwheat pancake (or, galette) with egg, cheese, ham, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms. If you’ve never had a buckwheat pancake before, you really should try them – you can get buckwheat flour from lots of supermarkets these days, and the texture and nutty taste is so much better than plain flour pancakes – and makes a great match for savoury flavours. These galettes are very traditional in Normandy and Brittany and you can find creperies all over the place in these regions selling these delicious dishes.

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The galettes are always served like this, with the corners turned up, containing all the delicious toppings underneath.

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My husband had the same as me, except no mushrooms, because he has a challenging palette (ha – he drives me nuts!). Would you like to know how it was?

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Superb, of course! The restaurant was very pretty too – light and airy with a great atmosphere, even though it was fairly quiet when we went in.

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And the waitress and hostess (who I presume was the owner, possibly Lindsay herself!) were charming and helpful, despite our probably incredibly frazzled expressions!

If you love Bretonne cuisine and buckwheat style pancakes or French food in general, I’d definitely recommend a trip there – and visit Richmond and Kew Gardens whilst you’re there, too! On a sunny day I can’t think of many things more pleasant.

The website with menus can be found here. The restaurant is located on 11 Hill Rise, Richmond upon Thames.

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Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution: Preview

I finally ordered Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution! I’ve been hankering after this for a long time, and I’m so pleased that I finally got around to getting it. It’s very pricey compared to Jillian’s other products (at £99), but I think it’s a worthwhile investment…

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The programme lasts for 90 days, and contains 12 different weight workouts and three cardio workouts. The reason I was keen to try this particular programme is that it alternates muscle groups – something which Jillian’s other DVDs don’t do. The idea is that you work one group of muscles, and then give them time to rest so that they can rebuild stronger. As I understand it, when you lift weights, you create tiny tears in your muscles, and it’s the rebuilding process, when your body repairs itself, that actually makes your muscles stronger. With more intensive workouts like the 30 Day Shred, you don’t stop to rest between working out groups. I hope that the Body Revolution actually tones my muscles more than I’ve experienced in the past – but first of all, of course, I need to do the workouts first!

The kit comes with three cardboard sleeves, pictured above, which have the DVD collection inside. There are also various booklets that go with it, including a meal guide for her 7-day kickstart programme.

Kickstart cover

Inside are a range of meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for you to eat during a week-long period at the start. Jillian is very clear that you only do this once during the 90 days, as the diet is restrictive, and the exercise schedule is pretty intensive.

Kickstart menu

This is the diet plan I’ll be starting tomorrow, along with the exercise plan. I’m waiting for my shopping to arrive! I’ve bought items to make most of the things listed – the recipes are in the back of the book – so we’ll see how I go from tomorrow… The hardest thing will be avoiding tempting Easter treats! The recipes aren’t low in calories, but I do think they’re very low in carbohydrates. Hopefully there’s enough protein in there to keep me going!

Kickstart workouts

Here’s the workout plan for the first week – I’ve cheated a little bit and I already started yesterday, doing cardio 1 and workout 1. But I aim to start properly tomorrow and then work through until next Friday. Over the weekend I’ll perhaps do cardio again and rest on Sunday, so that I can then start Phase One as it should be on the Monday after Easter.

Here’s what the first month of work outs looks like:

Phase 1 workouts

As you can see, it follows a neat pattern which is pretty easy to understand! I really want to make sure I start it on a Monday, because having a real, set in stone schedule is very important to my ability to stick to it. I think that if I alter the schedule in some way, I’ll start making excuses as to why I can put off doing one of the work outs, so I want to eliminate that risk before I even start! Anyway, each block of exercise is approx 30 minutes, which really isn’t a lot to ask in a day!

Phase 1 discs

This is what I’ll be staring at for the next month! This is the inside of the cardboard sleeve for Phase One.

Here’s the explanation of what exercises are on each disc:

Phase 1

I’ll be back tomorrow to review the first day on the Kickstart plan!

Afternoon Tea at The Rubens

At the weekend, my friends and I went to London for afternoon tea at The Rubens At The Palace!

Afternoon Tea at The Rubens

My friend had bought some vouchers so it ended up costing us £16.50 per person, which was pretty reasonable.

The room we ate in was beautiful, and although our table was pretty low, it made it easier to take photos!

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I wore my Hush leopard print scarf, and a wine coloured skater dress from ASOS (saw it on The Lilac Pages and fell in love, it’s such a great shape!).

Afternoon tea at The Rubens

Our sandwiches were delicious – the chicken bun was particularly good, with flaked almonds giving it a great texture. There wasn’t really enough cream to go around on the scones, and the jam was weirdly runny, but to be honest, we enjoyed the scones anyway. They were light inside but slightly crisp on the outside, which was tasty indeed!

Afternoon tea at The Rubens

The cakes were slightly hit or miss – I had a try of everything except the banoffee cupcake, and some of them were very good, but the layer cake was a tiny bit stale… But, hey – there was plenty of tea! I much preferred the Assam to the English blend they had, which is uncharacteristic. Usually I’m completely the opposite of a tea connoisseur.

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The great thing about The Rubens is that it’s so close to Buckingham Palace, so we popped on over when we’d had our fill (and yes, we were stuffed at the end!).

Buckingham Palace

All in all, I wouldn’t pick The Rubens over the other places I’ve been for afternoon tea in London (hey, The Ritz is pretty darn snazzy, y’hear?) but it was lovely to try somewhere new. The voucher price (through Virgin) was decent enough for four people, although the current deal isn’t too much of a saving on their listed price!

(Psst, don’t forget, UK readers can enter my competition to win 12 share bags of Popchips here!)