30 December 2014

Sencha at Waterloo Tea Gardens – Cardiff

Nothing will replace my desire for a strong cup of coffee in the morning, but there are times when I am in the mood for something a bit more refreshing, clarifying... soothing. I got into herbal teas a few years ago while at university. Having never understood the hype over regular black tea, I was surprised that I actually loved all other kinds. There's something so relaxing about drinking tea, and finding a cafe that offers a whole range of flavours was lovely. There are only so many coffee shops a girl can take.

I visited Waterloo Tea Gardens in Cardiff with my brother and his girlfriend one Saturday before a day of shopping, eating and work's Christmas party. We walked into an inviting, open space with the friendliest staff, and were seated at one of the 'sharing tables'. 

I'm not sure about this style of dining, particularly when drinking tea or coffee connotes relaxation – and to me, that doesn't involve sitting with strangers. But it wasn't a huge issue – there was more than enough space and it didn't feel like the people sitting with us were actually with us.

The menu offered seemingly hundreds of options, but my eyes went straight to the Japanese greens. Having heard numerous rave reviews about matcha - the health benefits being the main appeal - I told the waiter that was what I wanted, very willing indeed to pay £5 for a single pot. But he quickly warned me that matcha tastes like crushed paracetomal. I found his honesty charming, especially when he recommended I try the slightly cheaper sencha.

While we waited, my brother, Craig, got his sketchbook out and I couldn't help but take a few photos of his bizarre drawings. He's a strange creature, but very creative, and he has a YouTube channel which you should check out if you have a few minutes. If he wasn't my brother I might find him mildly more amusing than I already do.

It wasn't long before our drinks arrived, with different coloured hourglasses for different brewing times. Of course I had to order something to eat, and toast was just what I fancied. Two thick doorstop slices of soft white bread arrived, toasted to golden perfection and served with a generous helping of unsalted butter (it's generally better, but I do prefer Lurpak slightly salted). I asked if I could have some jam to go with it, to which the waiter happily obliged (seriously, very nice staff).

Although I love my hot drinks hot, the fact that my sencha was verging on warm didn't bother me so much. The taste – and colour – more than made up for its cooler temperature. It was honestly the nicest cup of green tea I have ever tried and I'm sure I could have drank another pot immediately after I had drained the first. 

Have you ever seen such vibrant green tea? It was so delicious – sweet, and not at all bitter like many green teas are – and served in a fantastic grey teapot and cup with a cute saucer (although I'm not sure what that was for).

Visiting Waterloo Tea Gardens reignited my love for tea and gave me that warm feeling of wanting to buy lots of new infusions, tea pots, strainers and cups and hide away in a little cottage with a stack of books, with just a crackling fire and an animal – dog, cat or rabbit – to keep me company, as winter wind whips its way through the day and night outside. Isn't that what everyone dreams of once in a while?


22 December 2014

Last Minute Gift Guide: Beauty

I've noticed that working 40 hour weeks makes life go by a lot quicker, and the festive season is no exception. Christmas is only a couple of days away and it's a bittersweet feeling – it means the end of Christmas parties, Christmas films and Christmas jumpers, AND I have only managed to have one Christmas snuggle day! But let's just enjoy it all while it lasts. It is, after all, the best time of year.

Thankfully, I have all my gifts sorted, and admittedly, I did most of it online (so organised, so boring) but if you're still scrambling around for gift ideas, here are my suggestions for the lovely lady in your life (or, you know, you, because you have to get yourself a Christmas present too).

1. Lancome Hypnose Lovely Eyes Mascara Gift Set - £22.50*
I am a huge fan of Lancome, thanks to the impeccable taste of my mum who has been purchasing the original Hypnose mascara for as long as I can remember. Just last Christmas she gave me the original Hypnose mascara gift set and it soon became my every-day mascara.
The difference with this one is that it creates the look of doll eyes, and that is my absolute favourite look. For the same price of the mascara on its own you get a black kohl pencil and bottle of make up remover too, so it's a pretty neat deal.
House of Fraser currently have three different sets for dramatic eyes, glamorous eyes or lovely eyes (my fave) and any one would make a gorgeous gift for your best friend, mum or girlfriend.

2. The Body Shop Aloe Protective Restoring Mask - £13
In recent years I have fallen in love with The Body Shop products, and their face masks in particular. I have blemish-prone skin and my go-to mask is the tea tree one, but for a fail safe gift, the Aloe Protective Restoring Mask would be my go-to. As it's suitable for sensitive skin, it is, therefore, in my mind, suitable for all skin types, and all girls love a pamper.

3. Bourjois Colour Boost Set - £16
I've got a couple of these colour boost lip crayons and I can't praise them enough. They're highly pigmented, glossy lip balms that are intensely hydrating and long lasting. Bourjois is a fantastic high street make up brand that I keep going back to because of the quality of their products. I actually bought this set on ASOS a while ago and used the three lip crayons as individual gifts. You can, of course, buy these individually in any Boots or Superdrug store.

4. Topshop Floral Make Up Bag - £10
I bought this make up bag for my friend Rhi's birthday back in October and I'm tempted to buy it again for someone else. It's a fantastic make up bag - roomy, waterproof (make up proof? You know what I mean) and the pattern is gorgeous.

5. Real Rechniques Core Collection - £21.99
I know it seems ridiculous that in this day and age there are some poor souls out there who don't own this make up brush set, but they do, I know – my best friend is one of them. These are undeniably the best budget make up brushes out there and I still use every single one of the brushes in this set, having owned them for the best part of two years. The quality has not faltered and for the price you really can't beat this set – it's the ultimate beauty gift this Christmas.

9 December 2014

Winter's Dreams

Do you have a favourite time of day? I'm into mornings at the moment. As hard as it is to pull myself away from my bed, eyes barely able to fully open, and constantly yawning for the first half hour, once I'm awake for the day, it's fantastic.

Cold, crisp late mornings. On each one, the sun seems to be on a long-winded rise, slowly sitting at eye level, putting drivers in danger but wanderers, like me, in a state of contemplation and appreciation.

Through skinny stalks of nearly naked trees it kisses the day awake. It's a gentle stroke of warmth on my skin, and it unsticks the frosty blades of grass on which I walk.

Do you have a favourite time of year? I am more aware in winter - when it's quiet, and clear. I have the space to take it all in. No other season feels more nostalgic, beautiful – like home.

We walked through a park in Glasgow – I don't know which one – and I felt far away from my little doll's house life in Wales. I thought, I want to be in one of those buildings. I told you these things make me feel inspired, like there's something hurting in my chest that I need to get rid of by planning my dream life.

Perhaps a house one day, or even just a flat, if I could afford to. I'd love to spend Christmas day in one of those homes, I said to Sarah, looking into the wide windows of spacious apartments, furnished with enormous armchairs and bookshelves, and blessed with the view of the green and gold park.

Why is it so hard to do these things, though? Make a decision, believe that it's right, and just do it. Step out of the moment of the winter morning and do what you wanted to do when you felt most alive. And if it's not right, then never mind. It should be that simple, shouldn't it? What is stopping us?
To live among such beauty would do wonders for the mind, I'm sure of it – I had a taste of it that day.


2 December 2014

Patty & Bun – James St, London

Back in July I tasted my first true burger. By true I mean what I have been looking for my whole life. Shake Shack had an out of this world offering – juicy beef patty, melted cheese – not too strong – fresh salad and special sauce all squished between a soft, shiny brioche bun. It was gone in minutes and my views on burgers were changed forever.

I'm not one to go to the same place more than once (you bloggers know how it is), so when Bethan and I went to London last month I suggested Patty & Bun. I had heard great things from a number of people and blogs, and although I wasn't feeling very well I couldn't say no to another one of these special burgers I had recently discovered.

We went to the James St restaurant which is just off Oxford Street, so it was quite busy and there was a short wait but we were made to feel very welcome by the server (don't think he told us his name, but he made fun of Bethan's).

Once inside we got to have a proper look around what was the tiniest burger joint I have ever seen. Patty & Bun is pretty big in the burger scene and yet it has managed to maintain its unique, independent-style feel, which I'd be happy to accept for the lack of space.

We were served promptly and we both ordered the same thing – two 'Ari Gold' cheeseburgers, two cokes and a portion of rosemary salt chips to share. Although the food came quickly, we were given an extra portion of chips which we hadn't asked for and they had left the bacon out of my burger, but this was fixed in no time – the staff were lovely.
I couldn't eat the whole thing but what I did eat was just incredible. I don't think I've ever described a burger as tender, but that's what this one was. They serve them pink which means you know it's good beef, and all the toppings made it even more special. I wish I had been feeling myself because I just know I would have enjoyed it all even more. I'll be going back for sure, but until then I'll just drool over the photos and the online menu...
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