Stockholm shenanigans – part one

Happy New Year!

Yes I know I’m a little late but two weeks of gin and junk food have left me a bit poorly and rubbish so I’m only just getting round to writing this post, despite being in Sweden nearly a month ago. Also, spoiler alert: this will be quite a long post. I don’t blame you if you get bored but I’d recommend sticking it out until the end. Then read part two.

Back in mid-December I naffed off work for a few days and travelled to Stockholm with the boy for a few days of sunshine. Well. By sunshine I mean about 3 hours of daylight and temperatures around 1 degree. Take it as a given that for four days I was colder than I’ve ever been, despite wearing three pairs of tights, extra socks, long sleeved top, t-shirt, cardigan, jumper, jacket, coat AND hat AND scarf AND mittens. Dan however, survived four days with an unbuttoned coat and no hat. Freak.

So, at /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/03d/80895640/files/2015/01/img_0023.jpg5.30am we awoke ready for our adventure. Brighton to London Gatwick courtesy of National Express. Gatwick to Arlanda airport with Norweigan Air (standard bottle of Prosecco in the air was £6).

First impression of Stockholm at the airport – clean, empty and efficient. The bus to the city stops right outside the airport exit and was distinctly easier to find and get on to than when I went to Barcelona in October. The bus ride into Stockholm takes around 45 minutes and is, quite frankly, a little lacking in beautiful scenery. I’m not sure what we were expecting (the Northern Lights appearing at lunch time perhaps) but we were uninspired by the buildings and trees that lined the motorway (basically, Swedish motorways are the same as British ones). Anyway, after an easy ride we arrived at the central bus/train terminal and made our way to our hotel.

We had chosen to stay at HTL Kungsgatan after lots of positive reviews on TripAdvisor and a basic google map search of attractions seemed to put it in a good location. Their website said they were a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal which we took to mean it would be a 15 minute walk but we were wrong, this was literally two minutes around the corner. We walked into the warm and welcoming entrance and checked in easily with the iPads at the entrance and registered my iPhone app to work as a key (I was incredibly excited by the fact I could open our door with my phone). Now, all of the reviews (and their own website) say that the rooms are small but functional and are basically just a bed in a room with all storage space above and under the beds. I don’t know what kind of prize we won, but somehow we ended up in the wheelchair accessible room and it was HUGE. We had tons of space. Most excitingly (because we are basically children) was that our beds (two single beds pushed together with two single sheets and two single duvets) had remote controls so we could tilt our heads/feet up. Whether this was purely an advantage of a wheelchair accessible room or if it is in all rooms I do to know, but I do know that we enjoyed playing with them. Our TV had a few English channels (playing a mixture of Phil Spencer: Secret Agent, The Great British Bake Off series 1 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and featured AirDrop so we could stream things on my iPad and play them through the TV. Seriously – if you’re easily impressed by technology this hotel is the place to stay.

That evening, we set off to explore. By evening, I mean around 3pm but it was already dark so I’m sticking with the term ‘evening’. We wandered back towards the bus station and headed over the river onto Kungsholmen (for those that don’t know, Stockholm is made up of an archipelago of various islands) and found the city hall and a tribute to Alfred Nobel which led to a discussion about whether the Nobel Prizes are Swedish (they are, and more about that later). That night we tried to eat at Flippin’ Burger only to be told there was an hour and a half wait, so we ended up at a frankly unmemorable Italian place which served alright pizzas (I’d say where we ate but I can’t remember, and I wouldn’t recommend going). We did find some illuminated reindeer though so it wasn’t a waste of an evening.

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We ended back at our hotel and stayed in the bar for cocktails. Now this I would recommend. We might have spent £36 on four cocktails but they were lovely. The boy went for ‘Orange Vanilla’ which, unsurprisingly, contained orange juice, vanilla liqueur and rum. If you like orange, it’s the thing to go for. Mine, the ‘Lemon Elderflower’, was much more to my taste and was made up of cava, lemoncello and elderflower liqueur (the yumminess makes up for the unimaginative names). Dry but fizzy, it was exactly what I wanted after a day of travelling and exploring in the cold and dark. Bonus: you could actually taste the lemon AND the elderflower.

Day two we awake refreshed and ready for a day of exploring (breakfast: yogurt, muesli, croissants, bread, meat and cheese. Plus a fresh smoothie every morning. Genuinely worth staying here just for the breakfast). We originally were going to do a walking tour to get us started, but wanted a bit more of a lie in so decided to go for a walk along to Djurgarden to see the Vasa and the Abba museum. We went what can only be described as the ‘scenic route’ and what Google said would be a 45 minute walk took us nearly two hours but it was worth it. Stockholm in the (sort of) daylight is utterly lovely. It looks a bit like they decided to build a city and let one person design it all so it all matches. It is also incredibly clean and, like nothing I have experienced before, was devoid of people. I was in HEAVEN.

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After a walk past the opera house, the skating rink and the National Museum, we finally made it onto Djurgarden. We decided to get a little lost walking around the Nordic Museum before finding our way into the Vasa Museum. Long story short: One of the King Karl Gustafs decided that he needed the biggest war ship because he was at war with Poland. He wanted two gun decks. The builders said that was a stupid idea. He insisted and so the boat was built. The boat had to sit high in the water to ensure no water would come in through the cannon holes. The day came for the boat to launch, it sailed a total of 1,500m from the shore before a light wind tipped it over (remember, there’s no weight in it because it has to sit so high). As it tips, water comes in the cannon holes. It tips more in the wind. More water comes on board and so it sinks. Bye bye Vasa you lovely war ship. After 333 years under the sea, the wreck was salvaged in 1961 and now sits, pretty much as it was, in a rather lovely building. The museum itself is fairly basic, the ship stands in the middle of the building and as you walk around it you learn about the building of the ship and life in Sweden in 1628, what life was like on a warship and how the boat was built, salvaged and repaired. It’s not incredibly interactive and there were a few bored looking children, but we enjoyed it.

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Just down the road from the Vasa is the Abba Museum. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. As a Mamma Mia addict, I forced Dan to go here. He isn’t Abba’s biggest fan (as I said earlier, freak) but even he admitted by the end that it was awesome. Book your tickets in advance because they charge you a fee if you buy them on the door from a real person, but they also have a computer in the entrance which allows you to book them online and collect them from the machine next to it. As you pass through the turnstile and head downstairs, the sound of Abba reaches you. You walk into a room which shows a montage of interviews, performances and photos from Abbas humble beginnings to the peak of their fame before heading through to a mock festival with bios about each member and how they met and formed their fabulous foursome. There’s a small mention of their first single Ring-Ring before a rather large area dedicated to my favourite city: Brighton. The Swedes LOVE Brighton because it was there, in 1974, that Abba were launched to international fame with Waterloo at the Dome. My favourite part of this room is an excerpt from their diary which states their love of Brighton and how they wish they didn’t have to leave.

The museum is super interactive and designed for us crazy Abba folk. There are points throughout the museum which allow you to scan your ticket and take part in various things: test your memory skills and mix a track to the right levels, record yourself singing one of the hits, get your face scanned and dance on screen as Abba (slightly terrifying when it doesn’t recognise your face and you are a pair of floating glasses on a body) and appear on stage with them. By scanning your ticket, all of your activities are uploaded to the website so you can log in when you are home and relive the joyous moments. It has to be said, I didn’t really know a lot about Abba other than their top hits so it was fascinating learning more about their lives (they live next door to each other) and the costume gallery is something special. They also then have a general history of music part at the end with small pods with video playlists from 1920 to modern day featuring Swedish acts and a room full of instruments that you can play with.

We ended our second day in Stockholm at the rather generically named ‘Barbeque’ restaurant which, whilst the menu isn’t the most exciting, it is cheap(ish) and was opposite our hotel. We were hungry and tired. We managed to get the last table, squeezed in next to three businessmen who seemed to drink a bottle of whiskey each over the course of the evening. I picked the salmon with chili and ginger which came with chips AND corn on the cob AND salad. It was huge. And surprisingly good. The salmon was nice and pink in the middle and cooked perfectly so the flesh fell apart when I put my fork in. The salad was a welcome fresh relief from the chips and corn on the cob, and the marinade on the salmon wasn’t too overwhelming. The boy had a burger (standard) which was about a foot high and whilst I didn’t try any, his clear plate implied a good meal. This was washed down with a double gin and tonic (obviously) and finished with a banana sundae. It was basically the least Swedish meal we could have eaten but it really hit the spot. The meal – the salmon, the burger, dessert, two gin and tonics and a beer came to around £50 which we felt wasn’t bad for the sheer amount of food we had and the surprising quality of the food. Before we went, everyone told us that Stockholm was ridiculously expensive, but we thought that it was no more expensive then you would pay in a Central London restaurant. I’m sure we could have spent a lot more, but as we were budget conscious we did some research and made sure we didn’t eat anywhere too extravagant.

That’s the first half of my trip done, second lot of rambling here.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more ramblings, and for more photos of Stockholm you can find me on Instagram.

For better photos, you can follow Dan on Instagram

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Makara, Hove – review

I don’t want to start this post with a lie so I’m going to be open and say it: I’ve had a few glasses of wine. I also forgot that I am now a ‘blogger’ so I have one photo of my food, and it’s not the food-porn Instgrammed photo you’re all hoping for. But more of that later.

So today was our work dinner. After trying and failing to get into Curry Leaf Cafe, we settled on Makara on Church Road, Hove. I walk past this place twice a day to get to and from work and every day I think “oh, that looks nice”. And that is about as far as it went.

When it got suggested in the office I did as we all do, instantly googled it and read the menu every ten minutes throughout the day trying to decide what sounded best. After a cheeky glass of wine at Blind Busker, we trekked the 10 feet across the road and entered the restaurant. The first thing that hits you is a wall of heat. Then the smell. Oh my that smell. The smell of meat and spice and everything nice. We got seated at our table at the back and ordered some wine (white) and water for the table. The water arrived in the fashionable Kilner bottles that are super trendy and everywhere yet I still want desperately for my flat. Along with the water came some hummus and hot, greasy flatbread that was beautiful on an empty stomach and a glass of wine (I realise greasy sounds like a negative review but I actually mean this in the best way, it was delicious!)

We decided that the best idea for seven people would be to get two of the cold mezze to share plus hot starters. We (I) specifically requested the vine leaves to be included in the cold mezze (6 of the cold starters) but apart from that we left it to them. We got a selection of artichoke (which sadly got nommed before it got passed down to my end of the table), vine leaves, hummus, cacik (yogurt and cucumber), kisir (bulgur with onion and tomato) and more. The vine leaves were minty and fresh as hoped, and the bread went beautifully with the various forms of hummus/yogurt dip. Looking back now as I write this, I should have asked exactly what we were eating. Alas, it is too late. For hot starters we had falafel balls (crispy on the outside and yummy in the middle and served with more hummus), grilled halloumi (which is basically the food of the gods and so can never be wrong or bad with its squeaky goodness) and prawns with garlic and chili (which had a very good spicy kick to them, which when paired with one of the yogurt dressings was a delight).

Our waitress was really nice and attentive despite it being rammed with Christmas parties and couples and groups of friends, our water was always topped up and she was quick at delivering and clearing all of our plates.

About a minute after our starters were cleared, the mains arrived. Never in my life has a main appeared so quickly. As one plate was removed another was placed in front of me. And another basket of bread arrived. This is me at my happiest. After a lot of discussion I settled on Iskander (grilled minced lamb with yogurt and tomato sauce on pita bread cubes with rice and salad) only to be told that they no longer serve that. Instead of throwing a strop I went for my second choice of Ali Nazik (sautéed lamb with smoky aubergine purée with yogurt and garlic, with rice and salad on the side).

The salad was cold and fresh and was a welcome change after the richer sauces, the rice was nice and dry and worked brilliantly at soaking up my auberginey-yogurty sauce (which was also lovely and smokey and was a good combination of spicy and creamy). My one disappointment was my lamb. Whilst it was flavoured beautifully with various spices, I seemed to get the fattiest bits of lamb. It was helpfully already cut up into small pieces, but the lamb itself was quite tough and chewy. Which was a shame as it tasted great, but gnawing on bits of fat isn’t my thing.

No one else seemed disappointed with their meal. Indeed someone else had the same dish as me and had no complaints so I am hoping that I just sadly got the short straw with the bits I was served. I was surrounded by lamb kofte, tavuk sis (chicken breast with pepper and garlic – one complaint here. Again beautifully flavoured but was a bit dry. A spoonful of my sauce helped) and lamb chop-esque meals.

Complaints aside, I managed to scoff my whole meal so I can’t have hated it that much. And here comes the one photo that I took.

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Whilst I wasn’t 100% happy with my main meal, I enjoyed every other second of my meal and would happily go back again to try out the rest of their menu. The only reason I made a fairly quick decision about my main meal was because I had stared at the menu for most of the day. Particularly with the starters, I believe my remark was “I will happily eat every item on this menu. In fact, if you can bring me one of everything that will be great”. This is my first experience of eating Turkish food in a restaurant and it certainly won’t be my last.

I realise this is a fairly shoddy review, but I’m learning. Next time I will hold off filling my mouth just long enough to take a photo. And I will pay attention to what I am eating.

You can read Makara’s menu here and you can follow them on Twitter here.

For more of my daily witterings you can follow me on Twitter and for some slightly better photos of food and gin, I am also on Instagram.

Brighton Gin – a review

I’ve been following Brighton Gin for a while now and have been eagerly awaiting my first bottle. After glimpses and a few delays, Brighton Gin finally launched in shops. As I went to Stockholm. Cue four days of me whimpering over Twitter as the reviews trickled in, waiting to fly home to get my hands on a bottle. Yesterday, after work, I trekked for twenty minutes in the wrong direction to get my hands on a bottle. At £39.99 this is the most I’ve ever spent on gin. I was anxious. I’d heard it tasted of orange. I hate orange. The long walk home filled my head with images of me spitting gin across my kitchen, crying over the first gin I’ve ever hated.

My fears were unfounded.

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We decided that, for the launch of my blog, we should do the tasting thing properly. We went to Ginmonger for their ‘How to Taste Gin’ notes. We felt slightly like pretentious twats stood in our not-very-fancy kitchen, using my novelty reindeer shot glass from Stockholm as a measure and swirling gin around our cheap wine glasses and sniffing deeply to “carry the fragrances to the nerve ends at the top of your nose”. It smelt like gin (in a good way). Then we took a mouthful.

Tangy on the front of the tongue. Subtle and smooth from start to finish. Previous experiences of drinking straight gin haven’t gone well for me, they usually end with a coughing fit and me claiming that it tastes like a bad idea and nail varnish remover. None of this happened. It was rather delicious. To make sure we weren’t going insane we kept repeating the process. Sip, swill, let it sit on the tongue then swallow. Lovely stuff.

Once that was finished and we were a little giddy from excitement, we added tonic (Fevertree, light Indian tonic). We were worried that it would lose the citrusy tanginess that it had when straight. Our fears were once again unfounded. Mixed with tonic made it a beautiful drink that I could happily have all day long (except I wouldn’t, because apparently it’s not socially acceptable to drink gin all day). It had a very subtle flavour that made it very easy to drink, but kept enough of a tang to make it interesting.

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Overall, it is a wonderful gin that is smooth enough to drink every day. I, personally, will be saving this for slightly more special occasions but this is purely a price tag issue. If I were able to afford a £40 bottle of gin as my every day gin I would. But alas, it is back to the Gordon’s for me… until tonight when I have invited another gin lover round to try some.

And if anyone wants to buy me some, Christmas is coming up and I have a large empty stocking hanging over my radiator…

Thanks to Jenny Bernarde for tasting the gin with me and for her second opinions and yummy noises.

You can find out about Brighton Gin here:
Www.brightongin.com
@brightongin

You can also hear my daily witterings about food, drink and general life over on Twitter @jennifermclaren