Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Made in Bristol: Wildsource Apothecary

As any blogger will tell you, it is really very nice getting to trial interesting new products. One of my blogging highlights (or indeed life highlights) was receiving a box the size of a small house filled with Burts Crisps in the post. Turns out researching new crisp flavours is really rather fun...but it wouldn't be great for me to get boxes of crisps in the post too often. 

Last week a less calorific but equally exciting package turned up in the shape of a box filled with products from new Bristol-based skincare brand Wildsource Apothecary, a brand I've been following on Instagram for a while. Made in small batches, each of the products in the collection is organic, vegan and ethical, and are crafted from locally sourced botanicals and herbs. Nestling in my beautifully packaged box were some hero products from the range: a Baobab & Calendula Hot Cloth Cleanser, a Wild Flower Facial Tonic, a Radiance Pink Clay Mask and the Miracle Skin Oil with Rosehip & Thistle.

I'd had a consultation about my particular skin needs via email and was assured the products in the selection would suit my skin (sometimes reactive and hormonal, currently in need of some serious TLC.) While I'm not obsessive about choosing only organic products for my skin, I do prefer to use botanical-based cleansers and creams wherever possible - I don't like to see a huge list of ingredients in the small print and I'm a big fan of brands that take a more natural approach, such as Liz Earle and REN. That said, however, I do want things to actually work and am aware that the efficacy of certain nature-led products doesn't always win against scientific formulations. 

Basically, what I'm looking for is ease, efficiency and suitability. I want a cleanser that takes every last grain of dirt of my skin without making it dry, a serum that helps me feel several years younger, a moisturiser that plumps me up and an oil that makes my skin as soft of as a baby's while lulling me towards sleep at the end of a busy day...I know, perhaps quite a big ask.

Having got big into oils when I finally realised they won't bring you out in a mass of boils, I stared off using the Miracle Skin Oil before bed, my favourite time to apply an oil (though this can be used under make-up too.) I wish smell-o-vision was a thing because I can't do justice in writing to how gorgeous this product smells. Filled with other goodies - vitamin E, grapeseed oil and ylang ylang and rose geranium essential oils) this oil is a total pleasure to use. It goes on like a dream, absorbs easily and definitely made my skin feel softer the next day. 

Next morning I replaced my usual Liz Earle Cleanser with the collection's Baobab & Calendula Hot Cloth Cleanser, another gorgeously scented product also containing sweet almond, jojoba oil and wild neroli. Perfect for mornings when you haven't got to shift make-up from your skin, this is a really calming oil cleanser that you massage into your skin and then remove with a soft cloth. I did try it in the evening too but felt it might be a bit light for dealing with makeup, though it worked well as part of the double cleanse routine I sometimes follow if I can be bothered and have the time.

The pink clay mask was really fun - I had a friend staying for the weekend when my box arrived, so naturally we disappeared off with wine to give ourselves a pamper (we'd been looking after four rather wild and excitable boys that day, so it was pretty necessary.) The mask comes in powder form that you mix with either the Wild Flower Facial Tonic or water to create a paste that you then apply to your skin. Ideally you should use a brush to do this which perhaps would make application a bit less messy. Once on, you look a bit of a fright (it was quite fun pretending to our boys that their high jinx all day had brought us out in a stress-related skin rash) but it's well worth it - after 20 minutes we rinsed our masks off to reveal baby-soft, calm skin. My friend, who lives in London, has already been badgering me to get my hands on some more.

If you love a facial mist, the Wild Flower Facial Tonic is a nice addition to your routine - we spritzed this on after our masks and before using the oil but you can also use it post cleansing. I don't normally use facial mists but with a holiday in Ibiza coming up, I can see this being a nice little product to keep in my beach bag.

It's lovely to be able to support a local business, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't want to spend money on things purely because I feel I should - I'm on a relatively tight budget and need things to offer value for money. So it's great to stumble upon a brand that is bringing good quality, ethical products to the market that - in my opinion - do really work. The products haven't launched online yet, but if you're a fan of natural skincare and would like to support a fab new range made in Bristol, keep an eye on the Instagram and website pages. 

Several days on from using my samples, my skin (previously quite stressed, suffering from PMT) feels soft, smooth and calm. The Miracle Oil in particular impressed me and I can see this becoming one of beauty staples. I can't wait to get my hands on some more...


Sunday, 6 August 2017

A Day Out On the Kennet & Avon Canal

How's your summer holiday panning out so far? Two weeks of wet weather down, we've managed to stick two fingers up to the rain with a trip to Oxford and a festival, but it ain't easy coming up with imaginative ideas for budget days out when the weather isn't on your side. It's important, I think, to capitalise on the dry days with cost-free outings so you can save the expensive stuff (trips to the trampoline park, cinema, bowling, etc) for times when there really is no alternative but to be indoors.
I find myself in a perpetual state of weather and radar app checking during the holidays, corralling the children out of the house whenever there's the merest glimmer of sunshine on the horizon. So I was up with the larks at the weekend when it looked like conditions were fair for a trip to the countryside. Not wanting to to travel too far or spend too much money, we decided to head to the Caen Hill Locks, a pretty patch of the Kennet and Avon canal located in the Wiltshire town of Devizes.

Coming in at about 40 minutes journey time from Bristol, it's a great place to visit for a morning or afternoon if you fancy hanging out canalside and watching the waterways in action. During the Industrial Revolution, the canal was a vital means of ferrying goods between Bristol and London; today, the Caen Hill Locks are the perfect place for a riverside stroll or a bike ride.
Essentially a staircase of 29 locks, it's a surprisingly photogenic spot, the locks rising up into beautiful surrounding countryside. And if you have small people who are fascinated by that kind of thing, there are plenty of opportunities to watch the locks open and close as a steady stream of canal boats wind their way along the river.

The stretches around the tow path are taken up with nature reserves, plus there's an area for pond dipping - ducks, heron and other waterfowl paddle across the water, plus you can fish in designated areas. 

It's a truly tranquil spot for a picnic, plus there's a lovely cafe with gardens overlooking the canal - strung with bunting and paper lanterns, it makes an ideal pit-stop for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. If you're on bikes you can follow the towpath up to Bradford-on-Avon (a feat best reserved for older kids or grown ups) or you could jump in the car and head down to another pretty patch of the canal towards Bath at Dundas - the aqueduct here is spectacular and is a 'Scheduled Ancient Monument' (the same status as Stonehenge.) 

A short walk along the canal path brings you to another of our recent discoveries - the idyllic Warleigh Weir. A legendary spot for wild swimming and unleashing your inner Enid Blyton, it can get busy, but if you're lucky you can spread out a blanket on the tiny patch of 'beach' by the waterfall and dip your toes in the water if you're not quite ready for the full wild swimming experience. 

If you want to do the canal in true style, you can, of course, hire your very own narrowboat for the day. Accommodating up to 12 people to make the cost more affordable, take a look at Bath Narrowboats for more information (they have bases at Sydney Wharf, Bath and Brassknocker Basin, just outside Bath.) This is an experience I've definitely got on my bucketlist - watching the boats glide by at the kind of pace I like when it comes to watersports (i.e. slow) I kind of wished we had another 8 people in tow on the day of our visit to give it a go. 
I totally wouldn't be navigating (that would be a bad idea) but I'd be perfectly happy to open a few locks now and then, in between sipping on a glass of Prosecco or two - now, THAT is my idea of water-based fun...
For more information about Caen Hill Locks, visit the Canal River Trust website here.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Eating Out in Bristol: Aluna

Remember when you used to have a job but no kids? When going to the gym BEFORE work was a thing (cause you weren't ever really tired and you had plenty of disposable income) and after work drinks were basically what happened every Friday? Or indeed Thursday and sometimes even Wednesday too (though never Tuesday or Monday - I was always pretty sensible and old before my time...)

After work drinks: they've taken on a bit of a mythical quality to me now, in my current world a million miles away from those carefree days mooching about Soho, a time when I could always do after work drinks if I wanted - there was no homework, ironing or urgent life admin to attend to back then.

It's a different life I inhabit nowadays so I felt a bit giddy at the prospect of heading to Bristol's buzzy centre for cocktails last week, an area of the city that attracts plenty of people looking for their after work drinks fix most nights of the week. With the airy Bambalan on one side and opulent drinking den Milk Thistle on the other, this is the part of the Bristol that most reminds me of my previous life in London and many a fun evening offloading the pressures of the working day over cocktails with work mates.

I was in town to visit Aluna, a cocktail bar and restaurant on Broad Quay, just moments from the harbourside. It's not a new opening and also has a branch in Birmingham so I was interested to see what it brings to Bristol's vibrant and diverse restaurant offering. The fact that Aluna has one of the longest cocktail lists I've ever seen was perhaps what really attracted me - after all, I was keen to recapture that after work drinks vibe and Aluna is very much catering to that kind of crowd. Arriving a bit late to meet a friend, I totally felt that special excitement that comes with downing tools at the end of a long day and knowing a really nice drink is waiting for you at the bar.

At Aluna, though, the drinks really are rather special. A quick scan of the cocktail menu had me immediately calling on the services of our friendly waitress to explain the weird and wonderful-sounding options, from cocktails 'from the cauldron' to 'vaccines and potions' - pretty out there, no?! 

You can get more familiar cocktails too - we played it safe first off with a classic Mojito which was delicious. But as our waitress explained some of the more unusual options on offer (a 'Colour Changing Martini', 'Demonic Delight' and 'Bubblegumtini' to name just a few) our interest was piqued and we both plumped for something in the 'molecular' range. 

A pretty normal sounding Pomegranate Cosmo turned out to be a glass of clear liquid, jumping with jellified pomegranate and bubbles - essentially like drinking a lava lamp. They're the kind of drinks you can't take too seriously as I found out when I casually gave mine a stir, whipping up a load of bubbles and spurting myself with liquid in the process. 

I would say the focus at Aluna is perhaps more on drinks than food - the menu is eclectic which is something I struggle with a bit as a diner. It's a concept that works fine in a cheap 'n' cheerful, all-you-can-eat type venue like Za Za Bazaar but when I'm eating somewhere a little more expensive I always prefer a shorter, more focused menu. That said, the food at Aluna was competent - I enjoyed my vegetable spring roll starter though my massaman curry needed a bit more kick. 

But if you like a varied menu (and it is useful if you're out with a crowd and one person fancies Asian, another a burger, someone else a curry, for example) Aluna does have pretty much all bases covered - you can choose from steaks and grills to seafood linguine and Singapore noodles. 

The service is excellent, though we did visit on a relatively calm Tuesday evening - I can imagine this place might get a lot busier on a Thursday or Friday. Our waitress was charming and was more than happy to pose for us as we videoed her setting one of our cocktails alight (the appropriately named 'Bush Fire', a very unusual concoction of rum, sloe gin, raspberry and rosemary - this one was a real highlight of our evening.) 

With a brilliantly central location and really friendly, informed staff, Aluna is definitely doing the after works drink thing right. I mean, if you've had a hard day in the office, a pretty, bubbling concoction of vodka and pomegranate can't fail to help you put all thoughts of spreadsheets and stress out of your mind and bring a smile to your face...

For more information about Aluna, visit the website here.

I enjoyed a complimentary meal and cocktails at Aluna but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Trialling glasses with Specspost

2017: the year I finally got an eye test. After months (okay, a couple of years) of self-denial regards my ability to read small print, I finally relented and went to the optician. I was unsurprised to find that I had entered a new phase in the journey towards middle age; yes, I now require reading glasses.

In all honesty, I was quite happy with this outcome. Not only was I getting a bit fed up of futile attempts to read the text on my instagram feed, but since glasses got trendy I'd started to feel I was missing out on a whole different world of accessorising. Also, who knew going to the optician could be so relaxing! I had a lovely afternoon, cocooned in a world of hushed voices and gentle eye exercises, and I thoroughly enjoyed picking out my prescription lenses.

So, as a new glasses wearer, I was really excited to hear about SpecsPost, an online retailer offering a fuss-free way to buy your prescription glasses and sunglasses. Operating since 2009, SpecsPost offers lower than the high street prices on a great range of glasses for both men and women - you choose your frames and lenses, add in your prescription and get your glasses dispatched direct to your home. You can also try before you buy, a very useful facility for those starting out on their glasses wearing journey like myself. It's also great if you want to try some of the more fashion-forward glasses in the range and break out of your eye-wear style rut.

If the idea of navigating the technical aspect of glasses makes you feel a bit nervous about buying them online, the SpecsPost help pages has a really handy FAQ section (the first question being: "I've never bought glasses online before; how do I start?") covering everything you might be unsure of (how to make sure you get your prescription right, what to do if you just need reading glasses, etc.) plus there's a whole section dedicated to lenses.

But what about the actual glasses? The choice is impressive, with 'safe' options as well as more fashion-led choices, plus if you like the look of, say, Alexa Chung, you'll enjoy browsing the glasses in the celebrity section (covering everyone from Johnny Depp to Zooey Deschanel.)

There's also a good selection of sunglasses in the Petite range - available with prescription lenses, these had me at 'petite' as I always struggle to find sunnies that don't swamp my face and make me look weird. This option is available for both men and women, and includes some cool styles in everything from classic tortoiseshell to neon pink (perfect for festivals and starting at £24.99, not a prohibitive expense should you mislay or break them.)

With three on offer to trial, I picked a pretty broad selection: a pair of classic tortoiseshell wayfarers in a petite size, some slightly-out-of-my-comfort-zone black round sunnies and - now that I'm a fully paid-up member of the speccy crew - a pair of Alexa Chung style numbers that you can have with a prescription lens.

I loved the try before you buy aspect of this service - I was able to properly consider each option in the comfort of my own home without a sales advisor breathing down my neck. And you really don't want to make an expensive mistake with something as necessary as your glasses.

I found each pair really comfortable - the frames are light but sturdy and stay put (there's nothing worse than a pair of glasses slipping down your nose.) The petite sunglasses really were petite - for me, they were perhaps a bit too small (I'm obviously not quite as petite as I think I am) while the standard round sunglasses were perfect - a great size and style, I totally fell in love with these although they were the glasses I was least sure of initially.

I'm not sure I can carry of an Alexa look, though - given it's early days for me on the whole wearing glasses for necessity thing, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to be so experimental yet. But in terms of comfort and quality, these are fantastic options for the price. 

And that's the last part of the equation, right? Prescription glasses and sunglasses can be pretty spendy and gone are the days where I can countenance the idea of parting with £150 for a pair of designer sunnies. With the non-prescription glasses I chose coming in at just £25.99, SpecsPost are offering a really affordable alternative to the high street. 

As for me, I'm very happy with my new sunglasses, a departure from my usual eye-wear choice. And next time I need a reading glasses update, I know where I'll be looking first...

This post was written in conjunction with SpecsPost who kindly loaned me some glasses to try. 


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wine Tasting with Dunleavy Vineyards

How's this for an inspirational story: my friend Ingrid has her own vineyard, planted when she was heavily pregnant with her first child in 2008 and which she manages pretty much single-handedly, creating a Pinot Noir rose that has won a whole bunch of awards, including Silver at the UK Wine Awards 2017. She even managed to fit in having another child along the way. I mean, that's pretty impressive, no?

I've followed Ingrid's story for some time (she has children at the same school as mine and definitely wins the award for 'Mum with the Coolest Job') but the other evening I finally got to sample her wine and hear a bit more about her background, along with some other local bloggers and food writers. 

Let's start with the wine. I love rose and I'm totally down with the whole idea of eating and drinking locally sourced produce wherever possible, so I was really excited about trying a wine produced just a short distance from my own doorstep. 

Ingrid's vineyard is located in the heart of the Chew Valley in Somerset, in the village of Wrington, though her business is based in Bishopston - it doesn't get more local than that. For those that know their viticulture (I'll admit I'm a bit hazy; I just know I like dry wines and if I'm looking for a rose I always for a Cotes du Provence - that's as technical as it gets for me) the wine is made from Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc grapes which are nurtured in Somerset's loamy soils, using low tech methods that work in harmony with nature. As well as the rose, Ingrid will be releasing her first sparkling wine towards the end of 2018. Ingrid keeps things local by working closely with a wine maker in Glastonbury to ensure her wine is made exactly as she wants it.

Supping on a glass in the garden the other evening, it fulfilled everything I want from a summer drink - crisp, dry and the perfect accompaniment to a table full of tapas. I loved it, and judging from the speed at which we sunk a few bottles, I think my guests did too. 

I can't profess to be a wine buff and I'm certainly not a wine snob - when I think back to wines I've enjoyed most, I think of my relatives in Italy and their little home production lines, making simple, uncomplicated wines to be served from a rustic carafe over lunch in the garden. So I won't pretend I can explain the top notes and complex flavours of this wine - but believe me when I tell you it's bloody lovely and I can't wait to get my hands on another bottle soon.

Dunleavy Wine surprised me in its ability to transport me to warmer climes for the evening - I'm still amazed that a gorgeous rose that more than stands up to expensive French wines can be produced just up the road from Bristol Airport. 

As we sipped and nibbled, Ingrid explained a bit more about her background. A degree in Biology was followed by a stint at the BBC, but it wasn't really Ingrid's true calling. Perhaps when you've got a science degree that focuses very much on living things, shuffling bits of paper around a desk isn't going to fulfil your life's ambitions. It was a subsequent job managing another local vineyard that sparked the idea of a career in viticulture, and after saving, researching and looking at land, Ingrid finally took the plunge in 2008.

As someone with a job that is pretty much entirely desk bound, I must say I did find myself mentally assessing the possibility of giving it all up and buying my own plot of land (some corner in Tuscany would do nicely) to follow in Ingrid's footsteps. However, it's not all skipping about picking grapes in the sunshine, of course - there's a LOT of hard work and dedication that goes into managing a vineyard, even a relatively small one like Ingrid's.

Ingrid explained that having the responsibility of a vineyard is a bit like having a child - you need to nurture and grow it with love and care, and there are all sorts of obstacles to overcome along the way, not least the issue of inclement weather. And then, of course, when you've done all that work, you have to let your wine go out into the big, wide world. I can imagine it's quite an emotional - as well as physically draining - experience. Ingrid is currently making around 3000 bottles a year and hopes to reach 5000 in the near future. 

As we talked food, wine, sustainability, as well as the ever-challenging question of how to juggle a career with raising children, I was reminded just how many brilliant women there are out there, quietly doing stuff like running vineyards, writing cookbooks, managing PR companies and launching businesses - Ingrid and my other wine tasting guests are a great example of how women are shaping our food and drink scene in Bristol and it was a real inspiration to hear about their varied and exciting projects.
So, if you like the idea of sampling a truly local wine that has won awards both at home and abroad, get yourself a bottle of Dunleavy - it's available to buy at various independent wine shops across Bristol as well as online here (the most cost-effective way to purchase it; Dunleavy try and offer free delivery in Bristol where possible.) You can also buy Dunleavy at wholesale cost from the Somerset Flower Farm.

Plus you can find out more about Dunleavy on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Some photos courtesy of Dunleavy Vineyards.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Amazing Swimwear Finds at Asda

A short rant about swimwear manufacturers incoming: why do bikinis for women with breasts have to be so bloody awful? Each year, ahead of my summer holiday, I embark on my least favourite shopping activity of the year - finding swimwear. It's always a horrible business. It doesn't matter when I choose to undertake this soul destroying but necessary task - the day I go bikini shopping will be the day I look my most hairy, most PMT-ish and most pasty. And I always seem to be wearing clothes that prove the most fiddly to get on and off which will only add to my general feeling of irritation. 

But the the thing that really annoys me? The fact that in 2017 it appears to remain an impossible task to buy a supportive, stylish, well made two-piece for under £100. Go into most high street stores and you'll be confronted with racks and racks of gaudy, poorly made items that will do absolutely nothing to boost your body confidence. It makes my heart sink. 

Despite that fact that, generally speaking, the modern world is more accepting of different body shapes than it used to be, a silly myth appears to persist amongst the people who make swimwear: that women are one size all over. So, if you're a size 12 in your clothes, a size 12 bikini will be adequate for your needs. This is, of course, madness. I don't know many people who have size 12 hips, boobs and bums. It's so completely illogical when it comes to breast size, as you can be the size of twiglet and still have big boobs, so a one-size-fits-all-body-parts just doesn't make sense. 

Then there are the shops that refuse to acknowledge a cup size over a C - &OtherStories, I'm looking at you (you may be under the impression that everyone who shops in your stores is a boyishly figured Scandinavian model, but that's simply not the case. I'm a 40-something lady who loves your aesthetic but your bikinis don't go anywhere near the average sized 40-something lady.) 

At the other end of the scale are the brands who actively target the more generously endowed....and they, to be honest, are equally as bad. Who said that women with a larger cup size want to be trussed up in some fussy, frilly get-up that recalls a scene from Butlins circa 1956? It seems there's an idea amongst swimwear designers that girls with boobs are a bit 'cheeky' and a bit wacky, so the swimwear that targets these customers is all loud prints on push-up tops and big pants. 

Why does no one cater to women who want a discreet alternative, in a simple style and classic colour? And the padding!!! What's with the bloody padding? I hate anything that's padded or push-up but swimwear designers seem to have decided that it's a must for the modern woman. Ugh. 

Having tried on bikinis from a range of manufacturers, and at all price points, it also baffles me that the fit can be so wrong on so many of them. Tops described as "supportive" are often unflattering and constrictive. They can often draw attention to the area of your body you least want attention drawing too. Even expensive swimwear can be made from horrible, saggy material that thins at the sight of chlorine and loses its shape with even the teeniest bit of wringing out.  

Then there are the bikinis that actually break on holiday - I spent a memorable holiday in Greece with a safety pin attachment on my back thanks to a clasp that melted in the sun. I mean, it's a bit of a no-brainer - you kind of need a bikini to withstand hot weather conditions, no?

But there's no way I'm spending £100 on something I'm going to wear approximately 6 times in a year. Trust me, I've spent a few quid on swimwear in the past, and they all go the same way - you just need something to last you for your couple of weeks in the sun, something you'll enjoy wearing and which will - if you're like me - offer at least some support for messing about the swimming pool with your kids. In my case, I don't want a loud print or cheap feeling material - I want the three Ss: Simple, Stylish, Supportive. 

So imagine my surprise when on a random trip to Asda I came across not one but TWO pretty brilliant options? I honestly can vouch for the quality and fit of these two bikinis. You can buy the tops and bottoms separately, and while the tops are sized rather than cup sized (eg 10, 12, 14 etc) they are both supportive and flattering - I sized up to a 12 and found the coverage perfect for my needs. 

Of course, the proof will kind of be in the pudding - it's hard to judge swimwear on functionality from the confines of a changing room, but I was really, really surprised how good these two options felt on. I think the price points speak for themselves too...

The zip and mesh detail give this one a sportswear vibe which I like. A really good fit on me and I love black. Available with matching bottoms. All in, £12. Buy here. 

Ignore the moaners on the reviews going on about sizing issues - just go and try this on. I found it a perfect fit and it offers the coverage I want without making me feel matronly. This top comes in at just £4. Yep, you read that right. Buy here.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Three Great Interiors Outlet Stores

There's a certain irony to writing a blog post about outlet stores when the summer sales are about to kick off, but bear with me - these three places are good to keep on your radar whenever, and can be combined with other activities if your children simply won't countenance a whole day looking at discount furniture. 

It's important to note that each of these places should be visited with an open mind - you can't go expecting to find any one specific item, but if you have more general requirements and like the idea of finding an unexpected bargain these places are worth the trip out of town (they are all within an hour of Bristol.)

 John Lewis Outlet, Swindon

If I was being mean, I might say that this place is perhaps the only reason to visit Swindon. But actually, the John Lewis outlet is right next to a rather good train museum, STEAM, which is most useful if you have children who are into that kind of thing - ie: you can shop, they can play trains for the afternoon. 

There are some serious bargains to be had at this outlet, from discounted white goods to end of line home accessories. Again, you can't come expecting to find a Miele dishwasher on display, but if you're thinking of updating your washing machine, TV or bed there's usually plenty on offer to tempt you.

Items are returned goods, end of lines or ex shop display and as such they may have the odd scratch or mark. When our washing machine conked out we rang the shop ahead and found that there was and identical one on sale - it just had a slight dent on one side. We took a chance on it and got it delivered by John Lewis without having to visit in person. 

The highlight of our shopping adventures at the outlet has to be our Halo Groucho leather sofa which to buy new comes in at a hefty £1299. The slightly scratched (but all the better for it) sofa we picked up cost just £600 and is a perfect addition to our compact living room.

The store is part of the larger Swindon Designer Outlet where you'll also find bargains from the likes of M&S, Next and Reiss.

Find out more here

Kilver Court Designer Village

I hadn't expected to find so many nice things for the home at Kilver Court, an upmarket retail village in Shepton Mallet. Synonymous with discounted Mulberry goods, we visited on a recommendation from a friend who'd had a lovely afternoon at the adjoining secret gardens. While not free to enjoy, the gardens here are absolutely stunning and a good place for shopping weary kids to let off some steam. They're tranquil and beautifully framed by an aqueduct, with a central lake and pretty rockery to complete the picture. 

Quite a different experience to other designer outlets, Kilver is a much more relaxed shopping experience, with a selection of old mill buildings housing a variety of different departments. One side is dedicated to clothing with high-end brands such as Toast, Joseph and Whistles on offer.

But the highlight for me was the charming three storey section filled with homeware, next to the Harlequin Cafe. This isn't the place to come looking for big-ticket items, but if you're after accessories, towels or kitchen ware, it's a real treasure trove of lovely stuff. 

On my visit I picked up an amazing bargain - a glass cabinet identical to one I'd seen in Graham & Green - that weekend it was reduced from £100 to £50 (the Graham & Green version costs £300.) It's a little bit scratched and a tad flimsy but it makes an ideal TV stand and receptacle for the kids' playstation and Wii games. 

Kilver is also brilliant for bargain buys for your garden. As well as stunning flowers and plants to buy, the brilliantly-named Wiggly Shed shop is a cornucopia of pretty things for your garden - pots, vases, bee houses and much more. 

Find out more here

Graham & Green Outlet Store

Located in a non-descript trading estate on the outskirts of Chippenham, this place is worth a detour if you happen to be spending a day in Wiltshire. You could combine a visit with a morning at the lovely Castle Combe or Lacock - both are within easy distances of the store. 

Very much a factory space filled with discounted and damaged stock, this is a place for people who like to rummage and can see the potential in pieces that might need a bit of TLC. We spotted a lovely large size copper floor lamp, normally £175. But it had been used for a photo shoot and was, rather inconveniently, missing its springs. 

After negotiating the price down from £100 to £80, we decided to take a punt on it (the sales assistant assured us we could find the right springs online; in actual fact, we contacted a Graham & Green store in London who very kindly sent us replacement springs free of charge - major customer service brownie points!)

I also spotted some gorgeous chandeliers, cushions and bedding - items I've often lusted over when their catalogue pops through my door, but which I didn't - on this occasion - have a requirement for. I did buy some cute pineapple candle holders (a couple of quid each instead of £8, slightly damaged), though. Bigger furniture items are available too - I spotted some lovely sofas and those stunning mother of pearl pieces that make my heart beat a bit faster every time I see them. 

Find out more here

Top photo courtesy of Kilver Court. 


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Eating Out in Bath: Tapas Revolution

There is a lovely tapas restaurant in the coastal town of Calella de Palafrugell that encapsulates everything I love about Mediterranean food. Just moments from the beach, it's a simple, unpretentious place that doesn't require you to change out of your sandy sandals or beach dress to gain entry; it's the sort of restaurant you can wander into direct from your sun-lounger when the promise of an ice-cold cerveza and plate of glistening olives can be resisted no longer.

Featuring a counter top heaving with tempting morsels of deliciousness, Calau, as it's called, is my favourite kind of eating place, a restaurant where you can try a multitude of dishes and just keep on going till you're full, with a glass of rosado to wash it all down with. Forget Michelin-starred restaurants - when I imagine heaven, I imagine a limitless supply of fluffy clouds and kittens, and tapas restaurants on every corner.

As such, you won't be surprised that I was pretty excited to hear about a new tapas restaurant that has recently arrived at the thriving Southgate quarter in Bath. Having sampled a few of the other additions to this part of the city, I was interested to see Tapas Revolution adding to the mix with the promise of authentic tapas using ingredients sourced from artisan producers in Spain. 

The seventh opening in a small chain, Tapas Revolution has the rather dashing Spanish TV chef, Omar Allibhoy, as its figurehead. With fans including Gordon Ramsay (who calls the chef 'the Antonio Banderas of cooking') and a whole raft of celebs (he's made tapas for everyone from Johnny Depp to Prince William) I was curious to see if his offering would stand up to to the glitzy endorsements. 

I was also - as a bit of a gin lover - interested to hear that Tapas Revolution "honours Spain's position as the biggest consumer of Gin and Tonics in Europe." I knew there was another reason why I've always felt that Spain is my spiritual home...

Taking inspiration from the bustling tapas bars in Madrid, Barcelona and Spain, the feeling I got on entering the restaurant was certainly Iberian - despite its contemporary twist, the interior pays homage to traditional Spanish style with its wine barrel tables, Feria posters and encaustic tiles. It's always nice when the staff feel authentic too - our waitress reminded me of an actress from a Pedro Almodovar film which added an extra frisson of excitement to our experience.

But it's not just about looks, of course. Lunchtimes in the UK can't always be as unhurried and languid as they are in Spain, and we were on a tight schedule to get back to Bristol in time for school pick up. Obviously, the norm with tapas is for each dish to come as it's ready, but there were no long gaps in between and everything we ordered arrived with plenty of time for us to enjoy the merits of each dish. 

We had a pretty broad spread of tapas favourites, washed down with a 'porron' of crisp rose. With generous portions served piping hot, both me and my guest were seriously impressed with the quality and value - most dishes come in at around the £6 mark, with the most expensive tapa (a platter of jamon and chorizo Iberico) priced at £13.75. 

I took literally minutes to devour a plate of crisp calamares - some of the best I've had this side of Seville - while the boquerones served in a reduction of Asturian cider were just amazing. I tend to gravitate towards fish dishes when perusing a tapas menu, but we also had some lovely manchego with quince jelly, crispy patatas bravas, croquetas de jamon and chorizo a la parilla - this was another highlight. 

A delicious slab of grilled chorizo and pequillo pepper served on olive-oil brushed bread, this dish made we want to immediately check the price of EasyJet flights to Madrid. 

You'd think we'd be full after that line-up, but we somehow couldn't resist the lure of one of our favourite puddings - Crema Catalana. Let's just say that I made pretty good use of that "extra spoon." 

Finishing off with a restorative espresso, I could easily have meandered out into the sunshine, found a deckchair and succumbed to another favourite Spanish tradition - the siesta - for the afternoon. 

Sadly, Tuesday afternoons in term time aren't really conducive to that perfect encapsulation of Spanish languor. But I'm hoping my next visit to Tapas Revolution will be a little less hurried, with the chance to sample some of the other mouthwatering dishes - and exciting sounding gin cocktails - on the menu. 

I'm not sure Tapas Revolution is doing anything truly revolutionary but who cares - it's certainly doing Spanish classics, friendly service and warm atmosphere really, really well. And that's absolutely muy bien by me. 

You can find Tapas Revolution at 20a St Lawrence Street, Southgate, Bath. Visit the website for more info here.

With many thanks to Tapas Revolution Bath and Neil Reading PR, who kindly offered me a complimentary lunch. I have not been paid for writing this post and all opinions are my own.
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