Friday, 30 December 2016

Caledonian Sleeper: Review

What do you get when you cross an Aberdonian lass with no sense of direction and an opportunity to take on the big smoke? One hell of a press trip, that's what!

It's been a while since I last visited London. In fact, apart from one press trip which involved running around London to meet journalists and that other time where I was just too young to remember anything, never mind take in the insanity of the hustle and bustle which is London, I've never actually been.

When I was contacted to try out the Caledonian Sleeper I genuinely think I was more excited by the thought of spending the evening on a sleeper train, rather than heading to London. Pouncing at the opportunity, I invited my boyfriend along and we booked the time off work. Done deal.

I wasn't too sure what to expect in all honesty. I'd never been on the Sleeper, and didn't really know that many people who had travelled using it before. Nevertheless, I was keen to find out what was in store...

Traveling first class from Aberdeen to London Euston on a Friday evening (the 9:44PM service to be exact), we made our way down to the station in plenty of time where we were then greeted by the friendly staff who showed us to our cabins for the evening. The staff informed us of the arrangements, told us where we could find the nearest lounge on the train and also took our breakfast order for the morning - full Highland breakfast it was.

The cabins were much more spacious than I had originally envisioned. I was a little nervous about the size of the cabins as I experience claustrophobia from time to time, however I felt totally relaxed on the sleeper.

The room was what I can only describe as spacious for a train cabin I guess, and had plenty of storage space for me to store my luggage/handbag. There were also plenty of mirrors so I could do my face in the morning which was ideal! A complimentary Arran Aromatics sleep pack sat invitingly on my bed and contained a number of different goodies to try out. I must confess, the socks and the eye masks were my favourite steals, although I do wish I had realised there were earplugs at the bottom of the pack - I could have seriously done with them for the journey down.
Secro, recently took over the service and are in the process of updating all of its services by introducing new on-board lounges and new berth layouts with showers and en-suite bathrooms.

The lounge carriage on the journey down was a little dated in my opinion, however was very comfortable and homely. We delved into a few gins and a couple of beers (all Scottish produce can I add), and observed the world around us whilst the train left the station. The lounge boasted quite a few tables, one with an elderly couple indulging in some delicious smelling food, and a long sofa which was a safe haven to a whisky drinking hipster. Everyone was calm and relaxed, and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many different Scottish food and drink companies available on the different menus.
I'm a cold fish so had turned my heating up before heading for drinks which meant my cabin was lovely and cosy when I retuned from the lounge. Settling down for the evening I put my eye mask on and tried to drift to sleep. I don't know if it was because I'd had a full on day, was overly excited or if the carriage at the end of the section of the train was just a little too noisy, but I hardly slept.

Arriving in London Euston around 7:45AM, I met my boyfriend for breakfast in the lounge around 6.45 AM. To say I was pretty knackered was an understatement, however it was nothing a tasty breakfast and a hot shower from the Virgin first class lounge wouldn't be able to sort out (this was inclusive in first class tickets and was a huge bonus traveling first class).
We were extremely lucky and were also provided with a hotel to stay in on the Saturday evening so we could really make the most of our trip. We stayed at the Park International Hotel in Kensington  and Chelsea on Cromwell Road and had a great time there too. I loved the fact that we had arrived in the centre of London first thing on Saturday morning, and this ensured we could get on with the day promptly. Unfortunately I'm a bit of an idiot and thought our hotel was in Canary Wharf - it was not - and as a result we ended up having breakfast at The Breakfast Club which was a must-try on our list of things to do. Every cloud has a silver lining and all...
I'm still extremely surprised how little money we sent traveling on the tube. All in all it was maybe about £13 each across the two days, and we did a lot of traveling - very impressed.

Talking about value for money, I genuinely think the Sleeper is an excellent way of traveling to London. The train gets your right into the heart of London early in the morning which ensures you can make the most of your stay, and with only one night's accommodation to cover, I see it as an excellent opportunity to splurge a little more in the shops, restaurants and bars.  The tube lines are also right at your finger tips which was great for traveling onwards to our hotel.

Returning on the Sunday evening, I had to change my ticket last minute to arrive in Glasgow, luckily for me I was working with a fantastic PR who sorted everything out for me. The train wasn't until 11:30PM so we had another full day in London - amazing.

We boarded the train at about 11PM and settled in the lounge for a quick night cap before bed. This time, the lounge was very different, and the seats were much comfier. It was a little harder to have a quiet conversation with my other half, however, as a result, we ended up befriending a guy from Glasgow and started chatting to him about our experience and time in London.

We managed to bag a cabin in the middle section of the train this time, and also got cabins with an adjoining doors so we could actually speak to one another - I liked this a lot and thought it would be perfect for families using the service, or for my girlfriends if we ever fancied a weekend away.

Arriving in Glasgow around 7.20AM we headed straight for the showers and went to catch up with friends and family ahead of the Christmas madness. No breakfast for us that morning, we were keen to get as much sleep as possible so slept right up until the last minute. I'm happy to announce that I slept like a baby.
The only thing which I was a little unsure about on the Sleeper was the fact that none of the cabins had keys for them. In order to lock the door to your cabin, you had to lock it on the inside and then  get a member of staff to let you back into your room. This is great for the evening when you're going to sleep, however, not so great if you're in the lounge and need into your room and have to fetch a member of staff to let you into your room. 

I absolutely loved my first experience on the Caledonian Sleeper. It was comfortable, got me to London safely, boasted some extremely friendly staff and most importantly, ticked all the boxes for traveling. The service is quick, caters for all, and boasts a wide menu or food and refreshments too. The staff were extremely helpful and were always on hand to help. The cabins were clean, and the lounge areas were spacious and comfortable. I'll be uploading a few blogs on my weekend away in London, so be sure to keep an eye out to find out what I got up to...

   For Now...

Just Julia

Milk Train: London (review)

When whippy ice cream and candy floss meet to form one delicious dessert, you know you're in for a treat. After finding out I was heading to London on a press trip with the Caledonian Sleeper, I frantically googled all things sweet to eat in the big smoke, looking for the top must-try sweet treats. A girl on a mission, I stumbled across the infamous ice cream shop, Milk Train, on Instagram. A lover of sugary treats, I added the small, independent soft serve ice cream eatery to our must-do list.

The Japanese ice cream cafe is located at 44 Bedford Street, London, and serves three different flavours of its scandalously delicious Mr Whippy ice cream including; vanilla, matcha and hojicha.

Opting for the vanilla Mr Whippy style ice cream, it was cloudy with a chance of sprinkles. Topped with hundreds and thousands sprinkles, and rainbow puff candy it resembled what I can only imagine unicorn poop would. A chocolate lover, my boyfriend decided to get crushed Oreo pieces all over his, accompanied with a large chocolate flake, and of course, the novelty candy floss cloud. Both ice creams also came equipped with a tasty cylindrical wafer too.

We probably ended up spending about £9 - £11 on both ice creams by the time we had paid for our extra toppings and candy floss clouds by my god, it was so worth the insane sugar high which hit shortly after I devoured the whole lot.

The cafe is small, and busy, so be prepared to wait. But don't worry, if I can enjoy scoffing my face on a cold November morning and think it's totally worth it, you've got nothing to worry about.

So if you're ice cream doesn't come floating on a cloud of candy floss, covered in sprinkles and puff candy then you're doing ice cream wrong.
  For Now...

Just Julia

Filthy Gorgeous: Aberdeen (review)

When a burger bar opens in Aberdeen claiming to put some of the cities whackiest concoctions together I get a little sceptical on how well these intriguing dishes will actually taste. Frosties on hotdogs and  toasted marshmallows on sweet potato fries? Could this actually work?

Curious to see if the Filthy Gorgeous team could deliver, I headed along to their intimate bloggers brunch, boyfriend in tow, to see what all the fuss was about...

The restaurant, which is based in Netherkirkgate, is the brainchild of Darren Blackburn who has over 20 years experience in the hospitality industry, with career highlights working for BrewDog and opening Drygate Brewery. Leasing the restaurant space from food and drink empire, G1 Group, Filthy Gorgeous boasts a stripped back interior with quirky accessories like a chandelier, neon signs and a photo booth.

The ethos of the business is filthy food in gorgeous surroundings. The head chef, Barry, wants to offer up something completely different and wanted to have fun with the menu, pairing random foods with other foods you wouldn't think would compliment one another. With a point of difference in the menu and looking to attract attention with it's fun outlooks, Filthy Gorgeous has already proven a real success with revellers.

On visiting, I tried out a few cocktails as I browsed the food menu. First up, Trashy Margarita - an Aqua Riva Tequila, Triple Sec, citric acid cocktail with homemade syrup, and rimmed with homemade raspberry sherbet.
The menu boasted a wide variety of fun concoctions which made it rather difficult to come to the conclusion of which dishes to delve into.

A must-try for me was the sweet potato, toasted marshmallow and bacon shrapnel fries (£5) and my boyfriend's beer cheese sauce fries (£4.50)were also delicious.

I fancied tackling the beer belly burger, however instead of beef burger patties I opted for buttermilk fried chicken which a little lighter on my stomach. The beer belly burger was topped with beer cheese sauce, maple glazed pork belly, pickled onion Monster Munch (my fav), and gorgeous sauce (£9). Supposedly (according to the menu) it was meant to come with a sparkler which seemed to be absent from my burger. Nonetheless, it was delicious. The buttermilk fried chicken was cooked perfectly and melted in  my mouth. 

My boyfriend decided to go for the cheat day - two filthy beef burger patties, filthy fried chicken, gorgeous sauce, bacon shrapnel, pretzels, and franks buffalo sauce (£12.50). It was a monster of a burger but he somehow managed to polish it off.

Back to the drinks menu, this time I chose a Courtesan - a Ketel vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur and homemade pineapple sugars cocktail. This one instantly reminded me of a French martini, but was much, much sweeter.

The Courtesan was shortly followed by a Coney Island Iced Tea - Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray, Bacardi, Aqua Riva, Triple Sec, citric acid and topped with Pepsi Max. 
For dessert, there was no chance I was missing out on having a dead unicorn sundae - Jack and chocolate ice cream, a scoop of cherry sorbet topped with cotton candy, marshmallows, sprinkles some fresh banana pieces, and an ice cream cone (£6.50). I was really, really looking forward to this super on-trend dessert, but in all honesty I was a little disheartened when I saw it. Anticipating this spectacular showcase of magical food porn, there was nothing that enchanting about this dessert. The concept is fun, but the execution maybe needs to be addressed. I know unicorns are beautiful, but being honest, this was far from it.

Luckily for my boyfriend they nailed his moopocalypse milkshake. Featuring chocolate fudge, milk, chocolate ice cream, topped with crumbles brownies on top, it was utterly divine. I ditched my dead unicorn to get a piece of the gooey brownie goodness (£4).
So if you like a filthy burger with a side of surprising, yet funky fries and the odd cocktail or milkshake which will leave you screaming 'OOH' in the photo booth, then this is the place for you. Located just off of Union Street, Filthy Gorgeous is a stones throw away from one of the cities best gig venues, and a hop, a skip and a jump away from some of the best bars. This is one burger bar which is definitely worth checking out. The buttermilk fried chicken is to die for, so I can't recommend that any more. That, topped with some childhood favourite crisp flavours, you're in for a treat.

Go on, go get filthy.

  For Now...

Just Julia


Friday, 23 December 2016

Husky Haven: Aberdeen

My obsession for dogs sparked when I was a young girl. Disney obsessed it was the usual affair to find me glue to the screen on out TV, signing along to 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp. Those were the days...

Trolling the internet recently, I somehow stumbled upon a wee place called Husky Haven. Intrigued, I did some further research and found out the sanctuary was only a short drive away from where I lived. Getting in touch with the owner of Husky Haven, Wattie McDonald, I knew straight away we were going to have a great laugh catching up. One bitter afternoon, I headed out to interview Wattie and meet his charming dogs.

Husky Haven is home to 16 husky dogs, two of which are five month old puppies, and Iditarod musher, Wattie McDonald. A lover of Siberian husky dogs and sled dog adventures, Wattie has taken part in the Great Iditarod Trail twice now, competing against many other dog sled teams to win the race which is over 1,000 miles. Throughout the race temperatures can plummet to below -55 degrees celcius. On his second expedition he was the only musher to return with all eight of his dogs (dogs can sometimes get injured so end up being taken out of the race to be looked over by a vet immediately - some dogs have even been evacuated from the race via a helicopter which is on standby throrughout the challenging race).

Located on the outskirts of Stonehaven, the small kennel of pure-breed Siberian huskies offers the ultimate husky experience. Offering a full-on hands-on dog sled tour, Husky Haven gives individuals the opportunity to lead their very own dog team on some stunning tracks across Aberdeenshire.

On arrival, we parked at the designated car park and waited for Wattie and his team to let us in the complex. Due to the safety of the dogs, these doors need to be locked at all times. We were then taken up to the hut next to the dogs kennels and introduced to the business' concept.

To begin, Wattie taught us all about how to harness the dogs, challenging us to put our new found knowledge to the test. Stepping out, the Husky Haven team had already got the dogs out of their kennels and hooked them up to their outdoor wires. Saddled up with their harnesses in hand, we made a go at putting them on the dogs. Having a border collie who wears a harness I was no stranger to this process and managed to harness up three dogs pretty quickly, lending a helping hand when needed to the others.
I couldn't believe how excited these guys got. Realising they were going for a run, the dogs gradually got even more and more hyper. It was a little overwhelming and if you're not used to hyper dogs, may have been a little nerve wracking, but knowing how much these animals love to run, I knew they just wanted to get on the road. Boys first, the team strapped them up and took them for a run, allowing them to let off some steam. On the boys departure, the ladies seemed to calm down. We fixed everyone a bowl of water, ensuring the dogs could replenish their thirst once home.

Boys back, it was time for the girls to trot off. The dogs are only able to go out for a run when temperatures drop below 11 degrees celcius. Once temperatures get below this they can then begin their training and get their fitness levels up for the Winter. On the ladies return, everyone seemed a little more relaxed - phew. With the chance to spend some quality time with these gorgeous creatures, I took full advantage, cuddling and caressing them. Wattie then invited us back inside to hear more about the dogs, his experiences and the equipment he's used throughout his trips away.

It was so insightful finding out the hardships this man has faced over the years. Not only did he lose his late wife to cancer, he also survived a heart attack earlier this year after he was brought back to life. Battling with numerous implications and heartaches, he has worked tirelessly to ensure Husky Haven is a success. The health and wellbeing of his dogs is of the highest of standards and is of great importance to Wattie. His dogs mean the world to him and their wellbeing is the only thing he cares about. With regular visits to the vets, high quality food, and outstanding exercise regimes, his dogs are fit and well cared for. The Husky Haven team are always on hand and eager to answer any questions anyone has about the dogs.
Wattie also showed us videos of his expeditions and told us stories of his incredible experiences. I would have killed to have walked, or sled a mile in this man's shoes.

Exhausted after all the excitement, we were treated to a fine cuppa and a biscuit, and allowed to browse around the hut which replicated the lodges of which Wattie stayed in when embracing the Alaskan outback. After an exhilarating afternoon, it was time to say our farewells. With a short meander through the gift shop and a few cuddles, we waved goodbye to our new four-legged friends.

A brilliant afternoon out, and perfect for birthday parties, corporate days out, or just something different to do in Aberdeen, Husky Haven was surreal.

Although we only participated in the summer experience, the winter experience is much more hands-on. With your own dog sled team hand picked to fit your personality, and physique, Wattie takes you out on a real Siberian husky adventure, showing you just how outstanding these magnificent creatures truly are.
I would like to extrend a huge thanks to Wattie for allowing me to embrace these kind-natured, remarkable dogs. These animals love to be out running, and it's great to see them be able to enjoy doing something they instinctively want to do whilst being able educating the public about Siberain huskies.

Please double check with Husky Haven when they are open and remember to book in advance as tours get booked up very quickly. Visit or call Wattie on 07752309953. The experience is suitable for all ages and tailors to those with diabilities too.

  For Now...

Just Julia

Friday, 9 December 2016

Crosstown Doughnuts: London (Soho)

I get a little bit obsessed with finding the best foodie places when visiting a new city, but what the hell do you do when you visit the biggest city in the country with a gazillion food and drink pit stops? Try find the best ones and hope to god you're happily satisfied I guess.

So when we visited the Soho/Covent Garden area we did just that, we paid a quick wee visit to Crosstown Doughnuts. An avid supporter of Glasgow's Tantrum Doughnuts, I had high expectations for these London-based circular balls of gooeyness. Specialising in creating handmade doughnuts that are made fresh daily, these guys know their stuff.

To be frank, it was a really tough decision to choose which doughnut to have. I think I must have let about three guys in front of me in the time I took to decide. So many doughnuts, so many flavours.

Eventually, after much deliberation, I decided to try out the beetroot lemon-thyme doughnut. A soft, fluffy, pink beetroot sourdough with a lemon-thyme glaze, topped with a home made vanilla crumble and fresh lemon-thyme it was the perfect choice for me - utterly divine.

My boyfriend decided on the sea salt caramel banana doughnut. A guy who loves his bananas, this was right up his street. Filled with a fresh banana custard which oozes with every bite, the light and fluffy chocolate sourdough melted in his mouth. Topped off with sea salt caramel and homemade chocolate soil, this is any chocolate lovers dream.
Freshly baked every day, the doughnuts were super soft. But what I loved was finding out that they make all of their own jams, fillings, compotes, glazes and toppings in-house using the very best ingredients they possibly can. It also looks like all their doughnuts are vegetarian which is pretty cool too!

Other indulgent flavours include black forest, chai tea, apricot and lavender, chilli chocolate, peanut butter berry, crème brûlée, matcha tea, raspberry jam, chocolate truffle and many others.

With permanent locations in Soho and Shoreditch and regular pop-up spots at Spitalfields Market, Real Food Market Kings Cross, Leather Lane Market, Broadway Market, Primrose Hill Market, and Hamstead Market there's plenty of places to pick up your doughnut fix. Did I mention they also have a heap of stockists in London city too!? These guys sure must be busy bakers!

If you're ever visiting London, or lucky enough to stay there or close by, Crosstown Doughnuts are definitely worth the visit. My boyfriend also told me the coffee was pretty sweet too!

  For Now...

Just Julia


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Orchid Aberdeen: Winter menu preview

It doesn't take a lot for me to agree to go for cocktails. Ask my friends, it really doesn't. So when I was invited along to Orchid Aberdeen's winter menu preview there was no chance I was missing out...

Heading down to the bar one chilly Thursday evening, we were greeted by the bar team, and bar manager, Nick Gordon, and welcomed into the cosy, modern bar with open arms. An avid customer of the bar, and almost boredering regular status, I immediately felt at home.

Split into three different stations, the event was goign to showcase the new menu, cocktail mixology and gin tasting. Naturally, and on cue we all formed into smaller groups and headed to our first stations. Gin tasting it was.

Brand Ambassador of Porter's Gin, Sean Moggach, talked us through the history of gin, explaining the journey of gin since the 19th century, and chatted about how the team at Porter's ended up where they are today. After two years of trial and error and a solid gin recipe featuring 12 botanicals under their belt, the trio behind the Scottish gin created what Porter's is today, a delicious, zesty London Dry gin.

With a distinct understanding and appreciate of time and taste, the team behind Porter's managed to create what they see as the ideal London Dry style of gin which can be used in any drink - liquid gold to any bartender. By using exotic fruits like Buddha's hand and pink peppercorns, Porter's offers the market something very different. Sean also told us the stories (and fables) of Old Tom and commented on the popularity, and the accessibility gin boasts.

Sampling Porter's Gin, and the type of gin people used to drink back in the 19th century, its safe to say gin has come a long way in appealing to the palette.
Moving on to the second station we were invited to have a wee chin-wig with Nick, chatting all things cocktails and the concept behind the new menu launching this month.

After an inspiring visit to New Orleans, and learning about concepts carried out in the US, Nick was keen to put his new found knowledge into practice. He wanted to remove the stigma that seems to be the opinion of many that there is nothing to do in Aberdeen.

With a menu consisting of eight different spirits and drinks, the concept is simple...order a drink which is associated with an Aberdeen landmark, visit that place, take a selfie, post the photo on social media, return to the bar to collect your special badge and repeat again for the seven other drinks/locations. Once you've collected all the badges (and all the selfies), return to the bar and you will receive the honour of having your name printed on the next cocktail menu - pretty cool huh!? Not only is there the chance to have your name printed on a cocktail menu, you're also visiting a number of the cities landmarks and expriencing places you may have never been before.

The locations include;
  •  Porter's Lock-in. You guessed it, it features Porter's gin. (Religious Robbery)
  • 13 King Street. This drink has whisky in it due to the location being the old headquarters for whisky giants Chivas Regal back in the day.
  • Fittie.  Due to its connections with the sea, Fittie is the perfect place to associate this drink which features rum with...(Honey Rider)
  • Aberdeen Beach. A cocktail with a twist on a daiquiri - white rum features.
  • Duthie Park. The Beerlini - perfect on a summers day...
  • Music Hall. £1 from every cocktail made in association with this cocktail is donated to Meningitis UK
  • Secret Location. Grab the infamous Pink Orchid right there in the bar. They couldn't make it any more obvious if they tried...
  • A local bartender who cannot be named for the purposes of fun and mischievous games, is also on the list of selfies to gain - I cannot wait for this person to find out who they are, and I'm delighted I guessed it right! My lips are sealed for now though...
The bar will also offer six bottled cocktails that are non-perishable on its new menu. These cocktails will also be available for delivery straight to your door through food delivery company, Deliveroo.
 Grapefruit cordial, salted Campari and topped with lager - a twist on a traditional bellini, but with beer instead of prosecco

Religious Robbery
Porter's Gin, a spiced pineapple syrup, coconut juice and a dash of Dr Adam Elmegirab's Teapot Bitters.

Honey Rider 
Mango infused rum, grapefruit oleo saccharum and Dr Adam Elmegirab's Orinoco Bitters. 
Fun fact: This is an Old Fashioned style drink which was named after the first ever Bond girl.

Last but not least, we were treated to a mini cocktail masterclass with Matt. To begin with, he fixed us up a refreshing daiquiri and talked us through the history behind the infamous drink and sours. Educating us on sours and how they are the most accessible drink, we learned about the first bartender to write things down, Jerry Thomas, and how he began creating drinks lists - now drinks menus. We then learned about Jennings Cox who established the daiquiri which was very interesting too.
Next, he put our cocktails skills to the test, getting us to make our very own Pink Orchid. A signature drink of the bar, and the only drink to have managed to secure a spot on every menu since the bar launched in 2009, the Pink Orchid is a must-try. Smooth, sweet and extremely delicious I can highly recommend this drink.

Pink Orchid
Vanilla Vodka, Raspberry Liqueur, Cranberry Juice, Lime Juice, Sugar Syrup and Egg White.

As a group, we were tasted to create our own sour cocktail which was extremely fun. After tasting, smelling and a lot of debating, we decided on our very own Beauregarde sours. Created with Porter's Gin, violet liqueur, lemon juice and agave, the cocktail tasted exactmly like parma violets, hence the connection with Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We got so excited by our creation that we also came up with the perfect place to associate the cocktail with - Aberdeen's very own Botanical Gardens. Sadly we didn't win the cocktail competition, but this cocktail was a winner in my eyes. I'd actually sampled something quite similar at the Butchershop in Glasgow, so was pretty impressed with the drink. (You can read my review of The Butchershop here).
To finish the evening off, we were then treated to some cheese and meat platters which went down great with everyone. A little merry to say the least, everyone was excited about the addition of food into the mix. It may have been nice to have some food whilst indulging in all the drinks to help soak up some of the alcohol, however I had no issues delving into it after the evening had finished.
A big thanks to the team at Orchid for hosting us, and giving us a sneak peak of what's to come! The new menu launches very soon (mid - end of Nov) so keep an eye out on their social media pages for when it launches.

  For Now...

Just Julia
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