Active in Lisbon

Lisbon has slipped under the travel radar of many for decades, but these days the secret is well and truly out. Perched on the River Tagus, the city is full of steep cobbled streets with houses decorated in titles of pinks, mints and indigos. The rumbling trams are the soundtrack of the city, and you’ll be enticed with the smell of char-grilled seafood which fills the lanes.

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I had originally booked this trip for myself and my ex-boyfriend… but sometimes life has a different plan, and the next thing you know, I’m heading to Lisbon solo. Armed with only my Lonely Planet pocket guide and a new-found sense of adventure and independence. I couldn’t wait to start exploring the city which has been hailed as one of Europe’s coolest hidden gems.

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The lowdown

Lisbon is Western Europe’s oldest city and it’s Portugal’s capital. It’s got a welcoming vibe and one of the sunniest skies in Europe, so it’s no surprise that the city has attracted hordes of enterprising young startups. But amid the gentrification of formerly-shabby docklands and the neighbourhood of Bairro Alto, Lisbon still retains a sense of history.

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Where to stay

Bairro Alto is a tangle of lanes which plays host to shabby-chic shops and hole-in-the-wall bars. It’s spread out on a hill above the old town as it has long been the city’s bohemian quarter. It’s not the place to come for a quiet night in, so stay on the fringes of the area.

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As I was travelling solo, I booked myself a bunk in a 4-bed dorm at The Loft, which describes itself as a boutique hostel. At around €20 a night during peak times, it’s pricier than other hostels in the area, but it has a beautiful outdoor terrace where I could have my breakfast and read in peace.

What to do whilst you’re there

I had four days in Lisbon, so I explored the city at leisure. I started my sightseeing trip by exploring the Castelo de Sao Jorge. It towers above Lisbon (so it sneaks into almost every snapshot). Get here early to avoid the crowds and gaze over the city as peacocks strut their stuff in the gardens.

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Wander down the backstreets of Alfama (or jump on the tram 28), a jumble of cobbled alleys where you can peer down across a mosaics of red rooftops complete with cafes and galleries to mooch in.

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Another favourite site of mine was the Convento do Carmo, which was almost devoured by the earthquake of 1755. It’s got wishbone-like arches which are completely exposed to the elements.

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Put a whole day aside to explore the neighbourhood of Belém. Rise early and explore the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos before the crowds descend. Hide from the midday heat in the contemporary and modern art museum and watch the sunset from the top of the Torre de Belém.

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Where to eat and drink

Portuguese cuisine is simple & seafood heavy. But whether you’ve got a sweet tooth or prefer something savoury, Lisbon is a foodie heaven.

For fresh, cheap fish, head to Pateo 13 in Alfama (near the castle), it’s full of locals and is tucked away in a small plaza. It’s loved for its outdoor cooking where you can see the chefs preparing all the food out on the street.

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The Time Out Market opened a few years ago as it’s the first permanent foodie venture for Time Out. The market itself hosts 35 kiosks selling street food, from regional specialists as well global cuisines. It’s easy to lose a few hours here eating your way around the market.

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It’s impossible to visit Lisbon and not have a custard tart, and while they’re a dime a dozen, the best ones can be found at Pasteis de Belem. Join the hoards of people queuing and get your mitts of one of the best custard tarts in the city. They’re best served a little warm so when you bite into it a little custard oozes out.

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Another place foodie place in Belem to visit is Entoca de Belem. It’s tucked down a quiet lane and it’s a wine bar with serves modern Portuguese fair (and you just have to get the octopus). It’s small and has only 10 covers, so get here early if you don’t want to be disappointed.

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Whilst Lisbon is characterised by its seafood, pasteis de natas and jugs of sangria, so most people overlook Lisbon’s beer scene. Most bars and restaurants are stocked with either Sagres or Super Bock, but I had been told about Duques before my visit and I was so glad I made the trip. It’s an unassuming venue located on a cobblestone street that requires a laborious session up a series of steps. It boasts 12 taps (and more bottles or cans in the fridge) and only Portuguese breweries are represented.

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Best time to visit

Lisbon has long hot summers, so if you can’t hack the heat – it’s best to avoid July and August. Plus the beaches are packed with of tourists and the midday heat makes wandering around the city almost impossible. Although ‘the heat’ makes a good excuse to wander from bar to bar…

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How much does it cost?

A pint or a glass of wine will set you back €4. Being the capital of Portugal, you can either splash the cash or live like a backpacker.

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Active in Milan

From it’s Renaissance architecture of Church of Santa Maria, to its postcard-pretty canals in Navigli, to the heavenly gold hue of the Risotto Milanese, and a catwalk-highstreet scene which makes every day seem like Fashion Week – Milan has it all. Add to that a glorious climate, Prosecco on tap, and the fact that the beautiful, natural lakes of Nothern Italy are just a short train ride away – it ticks all the boxes for a weekend break.

My sister and I jumped on a 5:30am plane (ouch) last Saturday to visit my cousin, who has recently moved to Milan after spending her Erasmus year there. She was official tour guide and translator; the perfect way to visit a city is to be taken around by a local.

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The Lowdown

Located in Northern Italy, just south of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s industrial powerhouse and is at the heart of European fashion. It has been ruled by the likes of the Caesars and Napoleon, so it has a fascinating cultural history. But these days it leads the way with the largest post-war redevelopment in Italy whilst keeping most of its historical past intact.

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Where to Stay

South-west of the city centre lies the Navigli District, which plays host to bars which spill out onto the street with unmatchable aperitivo offerings, and an emerging art scene which really adds to the area’s cobbled-street charm. My sister and I booked a charming studio flat on AirBnB complete with exposed brick walls and a juliet balcony – I’d die happy if I could find a place like this in London.

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What to do whilst you’re there

If you’re visiting Milan on a weekend, spend one of your days exploring the city by foot and start your sightseeing trip by visiting Milan’s most famous landmark, The Duomo. It’s a magnificent white, Gothic cathedral, which is home to more statues than any other in the world. You can even climb the steps to the roof, where you can enjoy spectacular 360 views over the city.

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Just to North of the cathedral, lies the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centre, where you can find the likes of Prada, Gucci and Ferrari. It’s four stories tall and highly decorated in marble with glass domed ceilings.

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Castello Sforzesco is a must-see and is home to lakes and the most luscious green lawns I have ever seen in Italy. For a city that doesn’t shout about its history (unlike Rome, Florence and Venice do to excess), it’s the perfect place to visit and really gain a sense of Milan as it hosts 12 mini-museums.

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Jump on a tram and head South until you reach the Prada Foundation, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art. Make sure you get an Aperol Spritz from Bar Luce which was designed by Wes Anderson. It’s full of colour-blocked Formica tables, whimsical wallpaper and themed pinball machines and junk boxes – it could be easily be plucked from a glossy set.

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Dedicate a day and head north out of Milan to Lake Como. We visited the quaint village of Varenna which is made up of pastel-coloured houses dotted along the steep slopes that rise from the lake.

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Where to eat

Exploring Milan with an adopted Milanese meant that we were taken to places which were off the beaten track – and the locals all lunch at Luini which is just a stone throw away from The Duomo. It’s a hole-in-the-wall takeaway eatery, where they serve panzerotti – a fried dough parcel which is stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella, I’d call it Italian street food. It’s greasy and oh so bad for you, but it’s incredible.

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I had one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had at Pizza AM and it’s somewhere I would have never ventured to without my cousin and her Italian pals, where I learnt that it’s sacrilege to put meat on a pizza (whoops). But be prepared to queue for your dinner here, but as you wait, they will bring you a slice of Margarita and a glass of Prosecco! I was shocked when the whole meal came to €16 per person – and someone told me Milan was expensive.

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On the doorstep of our apartment in Navigli, was MAGs Cafe. If you’re in this area for breakfast I’d highly recommend grabbing a custard croissant and cappuccino (fun fact: the plural for cappuccinos is actually cappuccini). It’s also the perfect place to grab a cocktail in the evening and watch the sunset over the canal.

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Milan is during April to May or late September to October. Visiting during the spring and autumn months means you can avoid the summer’s scalding temperatures.

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How much does it cost?

Milan is more expensive than many other cities in Italy, purely because it’s the country’s business centre. We were however taken around Milan by locals, so managed to do it on the cheap – and actually brought Euros home with us for a change! A coffee will set you back €2 and a beer or spitz in a bar or restaurant will cost around €6.

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Active in Warsaw

Visiting Warsaw was never high on my bucket list. Before jumping on the plane, I didn’t research Poland and all I knew about the city is that it saw terrible events of WW2. So, I imagined it to be a depressing city without much character. I didn’t even look at a single travel book about Warsaw (because there actually isn’t one). There’s a part  of me that loves the feeling of travelling to a place that you have no previous impressions of!

My mum, sister and I decided to have a girly weekend away and our decision to go to Warsaw was based purely on the cost as the flights and accommodation was dirt cheap.

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The lowdown

Warsaw is the Polish capital and it’s unfortunate location has meant that it’s struggled a lot through the past centuries. For a traveller, Warsaw’s turbulent history, beautiful architecture,  abundance of green spaces, cheap eateries and quirky bars are a massive draw.

It’s further off the beaten track and Karkow appears to be the tourist hotspot of Poland, but Warsaw’s got a more local and authentic feel to it, don’t waste another second overlooking it.

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Where to stay

Stay in Praga, which is located in the east of Warsaw just over the Vistula River. It’s an incredible district which is overflowing with studios and galleries, and many hidden underground clubs and bars. Much of the post-industrial buildings in Praga survived the war and it’s here where you can find some beautiful pre-war streets and apartment blocks.

We stayed in a two bed apartment that we booked on AirBnB – it was incredibly spacious and it was complete with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. It was also next to this fab cafe, Halas, which just sold coffee, vinyls and banana bread.

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What to do whilst you’re there

One of the most remarkable things in Warsaw’s skyline is the Palace of Culture and Science, dubbed as ‘Stalin’s Penis’. It’s aggressive but is a beautiful piece of Soviet architecture. If you fancy it, you can take a lift up to the 30th  floor for a 360 view of the city.

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The Old Town of Warsaw has literally risen from the ashes and to say that it was hit badly by WW2 would be an understatement. It was completely flattened during the uprising and only two building survived! The buildings here are beautiful and it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the originals. Craft beer is something the Poles know how to do well, so after you’ve wandered around the old town, put your feet up and have a pint at Same Krafty.

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If you’re not staying in Praga seriously consider taking the tram and a day to explore this district. Make sure you head to the SoHo Factory as it’s where designer shops and incredible restaurants are located (but more on the food later), alongside the Neon Museum. It’s an overwhelming experience of colours and shapes which date back to the Soviet time and are collected from all over Poland.

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Another incredible museum to visit is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is a modern and interactive look into the story which shaped the city forever. It’s heartbreaking and expect to walk around the building with goosebumps and tears in your eyes.

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Where to eat

You can’t head to Warsaw without trying some Polish food so trying pierogi’s at Goscciniec is a must. It’s a small restaurant located in the Old Town and their traditional food is fresh, hot and delicious. We had piergois with spinach and cheese, and potato dumplings stuffed with pork.

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Wandering around Warsaw we found a lot of Italian restaurants or places serving up Italian inspired dishes. If you’re in the eastern part of the city head to Pausa Włoska and make sure you save enough room for dessert because you don’t want to miss out on their tiramisu.

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And if you find yourself in the western part of Warsaw, then hit up BYC Moze. Locals love it because you can get your hands on fresh bread, buns and cakes. We loved it for their creamy risotto and breaded turkey with the smoothest mash. It’s complete with communal tables and floor-to-ceiling windows. The perfect place to take a pit shop, rest your feet and people watch whilst you bathe in the light that comes streaming through the windows.

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On our last day we headed the SoHo Factory where we stumbled into Warszawa Wschodnia for brunch. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you’re lucky you can sit around the open kitchen and watch the chefs cook your food in front of you. I had the best eggs benedict that I’ve ever had here. It was so rich and creamy, plus it only cost £3!

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Best time to visit

We were incredibly lucky with the weather when we went in March. We were told by many people that it would be freezing but we actually didn’t need all our thick, woolly layers. To get the best out of the Polish weather, visit in the summer.

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How much does it cost?

I can’t get over how cheap Warsaw is! When we went the exchange rate was 5 Polish Zloty to every pound. A pint of craft beer costs around £1 and we were constantly dining out. We have so many 3 course dinners, bottle(s) of wine, cocktails and even some shots of vodka and the most we ever spent on dinner was £30 a head.

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Active in Edinbrugh | Falling in love with Scotland

Edinburgh is one of those places that I’ve been desperate to visit for a really long time. And for those of you who’ve been following me for a little while may remember last year Scott and I headed to Edinburgh for the new year.

The Scottish capital really out did itself with it’s many Hogmany parties, but it’s also got a whole lot more to offer at any time of the year. It’s got beautiful cobbled streets, gothic buildings and narrow alleyways, it’s the one places apart from London where I could picture myself living. And if Scott wanted to whisk me away for Valentines day… I wouldn’t complain.

The lowdown

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is nestled between two extinct volcanoes. The old town is where the tourist flock, and it stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the foot of the Royal Mile. Edinburgh is a cultural playground and it’s the perfect blend of old and new.

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Where to stay

Book yourself into a night or two at the 24 Royal Terrace, which came into being as Alan Campbell’s collection of contemporary art outgrew his house. You’ll find this boutique hotel a stone throw away from the Royal Gardens of Holyrood Palace and Calton Hill. It was built in the 1820s and the restoration has retained much of it’s architectural features. The mix of Georgian style and contemporary interior design is a fusion not to scoff at.

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What to do whilst you’re there

The best of the beaten track is definitely Edinburgh Castle which offers 360 degree views of the city. As you walk down from the castle onto the Royal Mile, pop into one of the many Scottish taverns and sink and pink or two. At the foot of the Royal Mile you’ll stumble across the Scottish Parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. After a little hike, you’ll find Arthur’s Seat. It’s the perfect place to end the day and watch the sunset. Pretty romantic too if you pack a bottle of bubbly in your bag.

The recently refurbed National Museum of Scotland is also not to be missed and is home to vast collections covering the natural world, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and of course, Scottish history.

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Where to eat

You can’t head to Edinburgh without trying some traditional Scottish food, and you must try the Haggis from The Royal McGregor. To start to can get haggis fritters with sweet chilli and honey dressing, and for mains get the Highland burger served with haggis and whisky sauce. Many people are put off by haggis as it’s made with either sheep’s of calf’s offal, but seriously, just try it, you won’t regret it.

Scott and I stumbled upon Maison Bleue by chance, we were following our stomachs and landed here. It was my favourite place that we ate in Edinburgh. It’s a perfect date spot and is full of cosy corners, and not to mention beautiful French and Scottish food.

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Another cherished foodie spot is Mums, it’s comfort food at its best. It’s basic but you’ll leave full and satisfied. Their menu consists of various pies, different types of sausages with mash, and they also make a banging fry up. If your head is feeling a bit sore after too many malts, then mums will cure you.

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Best time to visit

A trip to Edinburgh is perfect for a long weekend. Look to the summer when the Fringe is on as it has 50,000+ performances in over 300 venues. It’s also a great place to ring in the new year with its many Hogmany celebrations, get involved in the torchlight procession which will take you from Edinburgh castle to Calton Hill.

How much does it cost?

Prices are a little bit cheaper than London and a pint will set you back around £4 and a meal will start from £10+

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Active in the Isle of Man | Why the Isle of Man should be on your British travel bucket list

Scott and I have developed a little habit for getting away from London for new year’s eve – last year we headed to Edinburgh, and this year, to ring in 2017 we headed to the Isle of Man.

The lowdown

It’s smack bang in the middle of the Irish Sea, between the coastlines of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and if you climb to to the submit of Sneafell you can actually see all four! It’s 33 miles in length, and 13 miles in width. Make sure you walk the width of the island along the Heritage Trail from Douglas to Peel along the old railway, which can easily be done in a day. The Isle of Man is just a short flight from London, and it’s rugged coastline, medieval castles and picture perfect bays make it the an ideal spot for a weekend break.

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Where to stay

If you can’t drive, I’d highly recommend staying in Douglas which is the capital of the island and is the hub of the bus networks. The town is also home to two of the main railway lines: the steam railway to Port Erin and the electric tramway to Ramsey, these however only run in the summer months.

Scott and I used Air bnb to book our cottage, but Grenabye Estates have some beautiful properties in the south of the island. Next time I visit, I’ll definitely be staying in Sheerghlass  – a two bed contemporary cottage just outside of Castletown with a sleek open-plan set up, garden and sea views!

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What to do whilst you’re there

Lace up those walking boots and get outdoors! Stroll along the Douglas promenade and along the coastal path to Laxey. You’ll be surrounded my lush hilltops with the sea by your side. On your way through Laxey head to the Shore Hotel which is the islands only brew pub. Grab yourself a pint of Old Laxey Bosun Bitter as it can only be found here.

If you’ve taken the Heritage Trail from Douglas to Peel, have a short stroll around the town and have a dip in the sea (if it’s warm enough!). Pay Peel Caste a visit and watch the sunset over the bay.

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 Where to eat 

Queenies (giant scallops) are the local speciality, they’re dead cheap and you’ll find them on almost every menu. Try a Queenie bap at The Fish House in Port St.Mary, they pile them high on in between slices of thick white bread.

If you’re looking for somewhere to dine in the evening, then look no further than 14North. It’s located in the heart of the North Quay in Douglas (which is the islands dining destination). They aim to use seasonal and local ingredients to showcase the best of the island. Scott and I feasted on this Pork Belly which was served with a black pudding sausage roll and heritage carrots.

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Best time to visit

Visit during the summer months in order to make the most of the island’s beautiful beaches and walks. But even on a rainy weekend in December cosying up with a good book, and a log burning stove in a cottage isn’t the worst thing in the world…

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How much does it cost? 

Prices are similar to London, if not slightly cheaper – a pint will set you back around £4. Manx pound is an actual currency, but you’ll get on fine with sterling.

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The Isle of Man is a perfect place to visit if you’re had enough of long haul flights, love the outdoors and want to explore more of Great Britain.

 

Active in the Peak District

As much as I love London, sometimes it’s nice to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Last weekend my family and I hosted a reunion up in the Peak District. It’s the perfect place to host a gathering as you can stay in huge cottages (there’s no fighting for somewhere to sleep) and you can really disconnect from the strains of everyday life. And boy, did I need to – I think the last time I had a week off work was March when I headed to Copenhagen.

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I had the pleasure of staying in Valley View, which is located in the hamlet of Mill Dale. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, so it really feels like a home away from home. If you want to relax and zone out, lie in and lounge with a good book and a cup of tea, and explore the great outdoors you need to come here. If you’re thinking about a staycation in the countryside, this is the perfect place to enjoy a lazy weekend out of the city – though the WiFi connection is fab if don’t want to completely disconnect.

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The Peak District is a real gem, it’s located in the middle of England and is full of rich history to discover. It was named the first national park of the United Kingdom back in 1951. It’s just a short drive or train from London and it makes the perfect spot for a weekend break as you can be as active or as laidback as you’d like.

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to explore the Peak District – I love spending my days kicking up the leaves on a walk followed by an evening cosying up by the fire. We saw the weekend off by going to the Derbyshire Food and Drink Festival which was being hosted in Bakewell.

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I was invited by Burtree Puddings and got to try some of their delicious brownies. Scott also brought some of their sticky toffee pudding to have later that night. I haven’t got the biggest sweet tooth and I’d much rather have a cheese board for dessert, but their sticky toffee pudding really hit the spot.

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On Sunday we laced up our walking boots and headed down the River Dove and in no time at all we were at the famous Stepping Stones. We took a walk that looped us back around through Mill Dale and to Alstonfield, where we headed straight for The George for a late lunch – it’s one of my favourite gourmet pit stops. As you walk in you’re greeted timeless small rooms with old beans and crackling log fires. The food is seasonal but you’re bound to always find steak and ale pie and treacle tart on their menu.

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I can’t wait to go back to the Peak District in December. It’s the perfect place for a weekend out of the city, where you can turn off your phone and soak up the fresh air.

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A North Londoners Guide to Eating in North London

If you’re ever spent more than 5 minutes with me, you’ll know how much I love North London. I currently live in Southgate, but I’m counting all my pennies and hoping to move to Finsbury Park. It’s somewhere I’ve always dreamed on living – it’s close enough to the city so I can lace up my trainers and either run or cycle to work, or pop home for a Sunday lunch (or bbq knowing my family).

I get pretty tried of people simply describing North London as only Kings Cross, Islington and Camden. There’s so much more to see and do! Let me take you on a little adventure down the Piccadilly line through your stomach…

Kings Cross

Kings Cross is a huge transport hub for London, and it would be silly for me to ignore it in my guide. Since the development of Granary Square, Kings Cross has become a foodie’s paradise. You’ve got the likes of Granger and Co, Caravan, The Grain Store, and of course Dishoom.

I’ve been to Caravan numerous of times and it never fails to disappoint – their coffee is the perfect pick me in the morning, and their sweet potato and cumin waffle is to die for.

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Holloway

Getting my family to come to this part of London is a nightmare – they’re avid Spurs fan and my dad actually refuses to get off the tube at Arsenal (and still refers to it as Gillespie Road). Some of my highlights include Zia Lucia (a newly opened Pizza joint using black charcoal bases), Vagabond and Le Coq.

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I recently visited The Highbury Arts Club for my sister’s birthday extravaganza – it’s a cute little cafe serving up tapas with exposed brickwork, cosy corners and communal long tables. The food here was so good, I’d highly recommend their pandron peppers, tortilla, and coquettes (and whilst you’re at it.. you might as well order their whole menu). They also do amazing dessert – Scot and I devoured their cheesecake.

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Finsbury Park 

Now I could write a whole post about Finsbury Park, and narrowing down what to include in this section has been incredibility hard.

Get Brunch at Fink’s Salt and Sweet and get to their Avocado Toast. The portion is more then generous and is topped with goats cheese and comes with a harrisa spread – it’s such good value for money.

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Grab a cup of joe at Blighty Coffee. They’re got signature drinks like the Orancino, which is basically Terry’s Chocolate Orange in a cup, and the Spitfire, which is served with cinnamon and chocolate.

Hit up either Yard Sale Pizza or Petek for a spot of lunch or dinner. Petek serves up spot-on Lebanese food, their portions are generous and everything is incredibility tasty.

Finally, grab a pint at the Faltering Fullback. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s always full or the main room looks like a cross between a sixth-form common room crossed with a 1970s pool hall. It has the most stunning beer garden – it’s quite simply one big treehouse.

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Harringay 

I’ve only recently started exploring Turnpike Lane and Woodgreen since Scott moved here. You’re got to go for a spot of food at Blends, and I simply adore their eggs on sourdough with asparagus and hollandise.

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Mosaica at The Old Chocolate Factory is another one of my favourites – it’s the perfect date spot. It’s in the middle of an industrial estate in Wood Green, but I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Southgate 

You’re almost at the end of the Piccadilly line, and here’s where my foodie journey ends. But before it does, make sure you visit Green’s Steakhouse. They do week day offers, and from Monday till Thursday can grab two steak dinners and a bottle of house red for £39 – bargain.

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The Winchmore is one of my favourite local boozers, run by a brother and sister duo and boasts over 70 gins. Their bar staff are incredible as well,  simply let one of them know your favourite fruit and they will whip up a gin for your taste.

Let me know if you visit any of these places or if you have any hidden gems you’d like to share!