Deliciously Ella, London

‘The milk isn’t milk!’

Bless my friend’s mum as she was asked whether she wanted soya or oat milk in her cup of tea. The concept of a plant-based café would probably be lost on my parents too, forgetting that milk is in fact an animal product. I’m told that oat milk is the better choice – I actually don’t like tea and I’m fully aware that probably makes me not entirely British. I’ve made my peace with that.

Deliciously Ella was chosen by one of my best friends to fuel our bridesmaid dress shopping trip on Oxford Street two weekends before Christmas. Bonkers idea but it was actually great fun. We had a personal shopping appointment booked at Debenhams where we tried on a multitude of dresses in different shapes and fabrics, giggling at the awful ones, pretending to be catwalk models in the fancy ones, and eventually all agreeing on a dress that was the other end of the colour spectrum to what the bride wanted, and over budget. Woops.

At least we’d started the day in a calm environment because it inevitably finished not in one. I’ve followed Deliciously Ella on Instagram for a long time and I’m fully aware I’m about 5 years late to actually visiting her cafe. I’ve always admired how she’s managed her health issues by changing her diet and sharing her experience for people going through similar things. I don’t have the same health issues as Ella but I do care about the planet so I try and be flexitarian and responsible. I’m open to eating plant-based and have to say I’m always amazed at how good the food tastes (apart from in my work canteen where the vegan options are regularly a sludgy mess of lentils and under-cooked rice).

The counter at Deliciously Ella was incredibly tempting although I risked emptying my bank account trying everything on offer.

I was almost opted for pancakes by settled on sweetcorn fritters with spiced baked beans and avocado smash for a reasonable £6.95, which in central London is pretty good value for breakfast. It didn’t take too long to come and was a good sized portion. Everything on the plate tasted fresh and flavoursome. The only thing missing was a poached egg – I know, I know, vegan fail, sorry.

The rest of the bridal party had a selection of baked treats including banana bread and brownies, which the mums thought tasted odd but the rest of us thought were tasty and prompted a game of ‘guess the vegan alternative ingredient’. For 20 minutes we debated what kind of ground nut, date or syrup had been used instead of sugar or an animal product. Suffice to say we were the only ones having this discussion as the cafe was dotted with super cool young women in oversized pastel jumpers and Doc Martins who were cooler than any of us could ever be and clearly dedicated to the plant-based cause.

I enjoyed eating at Deliciously Ella and I’d definitely go again to try the tempting array of granola on offer. I imagine that won’t appeal to everyone but I’m a cereal fiend. The décor was delightful, there was water on tap and I liked their ‘philosophy’ board displayed by the stairs –

I agree with the last point most of all – ‘listen to your body’. I do my very best to eat lots of veg and if I am eating meat or fish I will buy organic and responsibly sourced, supporting local businesses as often as possible. But sometimes we fall off the wagon and after a heavy prosecco brunch at the weekend my body wanted a Big Mac and it solved all my problems. Sorry, Ella. I’ll do better next time.

 

The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand

I was 15 in 2004 and vividly remember watching footage of the Boxing Day tsunami on television. A friend from school was in Thailand at the time and I remember him describing the sound of the rushing water as he sheltered with his family on the top floor of their hotel. At that age my furthest trip abroad was Europe; I’d never been to Thailand and knew absolutely nothing about it. As I reached my late teens and early twenties my perceptions of Thailand were shaped by stories of friends’ gap years, photos of their sunset cartwheels and gargantuan cocktail buckets at debauched full moon parties. Finally making the trip aged 29 for two weeks (not long enough) has at last opened my eyes to what Thailand is all about: big-hearted people, colourful culture, sunsets of dreams (fewer cartwheels though, much higher risk of injury now I’m over 25) and food that I’d fly back for tomorrow.

When we booked The Sarojin we knew nothing about its story or that of Khao Lak. We chose it solely on aesthetics and the prospect of much needed beach time following a week in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I will leave you to read about The Sarojin’s origins. I won’t dwell on the hotel’s past too much because I want to talk about its present. The hotel is defined by exquisite, heart-warming hospitality; arriving there was like being welcomed home by my parents at Christmas.

Our flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket earlier that day was unremarkable apart from a mild feeling of panic when it looked like we were landing on the beach until the runway appeared seconds before we touched down. After an hour heading north on a motorway our taxi turned down a lane and meandered through groves of rubber trees until we pulled into the landscaped drive of The Sarojin. I was greeted with a leafy bouquet and we were led to some sofas where we dabbed our faces with cool, freshly scented towels and toasted our stay with a juice flavoured with the plant that grows in the hotel’s grounds. We were overwhelmed with tranquility.

We had arrived early and as we waited for our room to be ready we followed a winding pathway to the beach, which was already dotted with bronzed sun-seekers and happy children. I hopped about excitedly as something darting along the sand turned out to be a tiny hermit crab scurrying towards the sea. Wildlife in central London leaves a lot to be desired unless you’re a fox spotter, so a hermit crab in the wild was super exciting.

Later in our stay Murtie beckoned me out of the pool because he’d spotted a water monitor making its way stealthily across the grass. Seeing it was magical; I haven’t felt wonder like that in a long time.

Once we’d dusted the sand off our feet outside our garden room we cracked open our complimentary sparkling wine and spent half an hour admiring every spotless surface, the neatly folded towels, the luxurious waterfall shower and later, wondering how we would scoop out the pink rose petals floating in the bath tub.

I can’t say I’ve stayed in that many luxury hotels and I suppose if you’re in them all the time then you might not appreciate the luxury and little details. I can safely say that The Sarojin is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in for one distinct reason: the little details. Whether we were by the pool, eating breakfast or walking to our room, we noticed little details: grounds staff wished us good day, cold water/ juice and fruit at the pool, folded towels in the shape of animals on our bed and palm leaf sculptures on our pillows.

I’m contemplating the next sentence and I’m salivating. The food at The Sarojin is the best I’ve eaten at a hotel. Ever. It’s inclusion in the Michelin guide is deserved. I can taste the French toast with perfectly cubed fresh fruit and sweet maple syrup. Their all-day breakfast concept is one I fully got on board with. Sitting under a canopy looking out over lush green grass, listening to the bubbling water feature and twitter of birdsong, eating our way through the menu was the defining, joyful moment from our honeymoon. If you drew a Venn diagram of Murtie and I, the linking circle would be food. When I say we ate our way through the menu, we absolutely did. Even if our choices got a bit lost in translation; my request for avocado on toast with poached eggs came as a beautifully plated avocado sandwich with poached eggs. I was not complaining, sandwiches are great.

We tried everything on the Thai breakfast menu over our 7 days including mee sapam (egg noddles with shrimp and squid), phad se-eiw (wok friend rice noodles with chicken and dark soya sauce), Thai omelette and congee. Next we went onto sweets and devoured banana pancakes, French toast and waffles, finishing our ‘breakfasts’ each day with a cheese board. I can’t put into words how happy I was eating all the food. All day. For 7 days. If heaven exists, it’s the all-day breakfast at The Sarojin.

As a kind gift to us on our honeymoon we were treated to a five course tasting menu for dinner. I must apologise for the lack of photos because it was by candlelight and I didn’t want to interrupt our romantic dinner by trying to take photos for Instagram. Here is the menu:

I won’t describe each course, but each one was as delicious and intriguing as the next, and paired perfectly with the wine. Both of us winced drinking the dessert wine as the sugar hit our teeth and it was the only glass that wasn’t emptied that evening.

We spent the next few days exploring Khao Lak early in the morning, taking the hotel’s push bikes to Sai Rung waterfall, spotting Kingfishers and cicadas on telegraph wires, and along the cape to coconut beach.

Once we returned to the hotel we had leisurely breakfasts/lunches and chilled by the pool or beach, sheltering occasionally from the unpredictable but spectacular tropical storms that appeared and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

We returned to our room on our penultimate night to find a letter inviting us to a staff meet and greet that evening. It was wonderful to meet the people behind the little details, who were each introduced by name, role and how long they’d been part of the Sarojin family. The hotel manager, Mr Kade, kindly introduced me to the head chef, who told me about his career and passion for creating beautiful food. If we hadn’t book a day-long excursion for our final day I’d have stayed longer to take him up on the kind offer of a cooking lesson.

By candlelight we ate our evening meal in the hotel: fish cakes and sea food pizza, the portions so big we took our leftovers back to our room for a midnight snack.

On our final day in Khao Lak we took a longboat ride through the mangroves and rocky outcrops of the Phang Nga Bay. We’d booked the excursion through The Sarojin and it showed: a supply of cool, fresh towels to dab our faces, a cool box of drinks and a hospitable guide who shared her interminable knowledge of the area with us at every opportune moment. We kayaked around the bays, laying down to float inside the rocky caves with awe and wonder at nature. A few times we came across plastic and polystyrene in the water, which our guide responsibly gathered onto the kayak to remove. We posed like idiots on James Bond Island, Khao Phing Kan, and later stopped at Koh Panyee, a Muslim community on stilts in the middle of the bay. Here our guide set up a veritable feast of stir fry, prawn and chicken tempura, fried rice and fresh pineapple overlooking the view. We returned to dry land an hour later and were driven to the ‘monkey temple’, Wat Suwan Kuha, and watched from afar as they demolished bananas and pushed each other into a tin bath of muddy water.

We were inevitably sad to leave The Sarojin to catch our flight home the next morning. We were, however, gratefully surprised by our pre-ordered breakfast boxes, which were enormous and included a variety of pastries and muffins, and a scrambled egg and smoked salmon wrap with fresh orange juice. It was delightful, although we were a bit sad not to enjoy the all-day breakfast one last time.

I’m writing this a few months on and I genuinely feel a bit emotional about the experience we had at The Sarojin. Despite collecting insect bites and sunburn, I loved every moment of staying of there and would fly back tomorrow if work would let me. I’ll fondly remember the cheeky Burmese striped squirrels chasing each other at breakfast, the couples who relentlessly hogged the prime-spot day beds at the pool, and the adorable misspelling of ‘Honeymoon’ on our bed when we first arrived.

I’ll never forget the jolly voice of a Thai lady saying ‘sawasdee kah!’ to every passer-by of her bar, and the delicious pineapple shakes we drank out of coconuts sitting 10 metres in front of a derelict hotel swimming pool destroyed 15 years ago. We felt uneasy, unnerved and yet humbled. It felt important that we were there, witnesses to the visible reminders of past devastation. The twisted tree roots and broken rocks on the beach have become part of the landscape, and life in Khao Lak goes on.

 

HONESTY POLICY

The Sarojin gave me one complimentary evening meal having seen some of my Instagram photos. I have received no payment for this article and it is a 100% honest review. I bloomin’ loved the place!!

 

 

Cafe Strange Brew, Shawlands, Glasgow

‘I’m eating chocolate soil for breakfast’.

Those were the 6 words I text my husband, along with the picture below, moments before I ate probably the best breakfast of my life to date in Cafe Strange Brew. That’s quite a claim and I stand by it. Just look:

America style pancakes with Scottish strawberries, chocolate soil, whipped mascarpone, roasted almonds and dark chocolate sauce. It was all very very very very good. The pancakes were soft and light, the sauce was dark and sweet, the strawberries were fresh and juicy, the toasted almonds and chocolate soil provided crunch. All round, the happiest 20 minutes I’ve spent eating in a long time.

Caveat: I had to wait half an hour for a table. Second caveat: it was absolutely worth it. Before visiting Glasgow I’d tweeted asking for recommendations of places to visit/eat. One of my followers had suggested Cafe Strange Brew, so I put it on my itinerary for my last day as it was near where I stayed in Pollokshields.

It was glorious sunshine when I left my AirB&B with a heavily packed bag and messy hair as I didn’t take my straighteners. On Google Maps the cafe was 15 minutes walk away. I always underestimate distance and that day was no different. It took me 20 and I was sweaty and tired from carrying my giant bag. There are so many delicious looking cafes in this area of Glasgow, I filled up a Notes tab with places to visit next time.

As I approached Cafe Strange Brew I could see steamed up windows and shadows of people standing by the door. This was half the queue. The other half was sat on a wooden pew in the window. A friendly waiter welcomed me and put my name on a list – after hoofing 20 minutes there was no way I was going somewhere else. For once I had absolutely nothing to do that day so I sat and watched everyone’s food come out, which made choosing what to order all the more difficult.

I was torn between sweet and savoury – the wide and creative selection of egg dishes had me salivating but I had gone for savoury my past 3 breakfasts and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had pancakes. Dark chocolate was the clincher for me. I am addicted.

It was a bit like being a dentist waiting room but the end result was so much better. I ordered as soon as I finally sat down and my pile of pancakes came about 5 minutes later. I could see the people on the table next to me sneaking a peek at my plate and frowning, but I didn’t care one bit and made my way through mouthfuls of fluffy pancake and sweet strawberry.

I’d have licked the plate clean if I had been in a more discreet corner, so I settled for trying to scoop up my sauce with my knife and fork. I was absolutely stuffed and felt absolutely amazing.

As I paid I asked the waiter if it was always this busy and he said ‘pretty much’. For a cafe that doesn’t seem to have a website, the power of social media seems to be working for them as they have thousands of followers. I will definitely be telling anyone I know going to Glasgow to visit.

After my breakfast I walked to the nearest train station, which had such a great name I took a photo of it.

The sky was bright blue with not a cloud in sight. I took the train into Glasgow and out again to Bridgeton. I spent the rest of my day reading my way through Glasgow Women’s Library, the organisation which inspired my trip to Glasgow in the first place. It’s a wonderful, welcoming place and I implore everyone to go there. Pancakes + feminism = Katy’s perfect day.

Kember and Jones, Glasgow

‘Veggie Haggis? Yes’.

I’m sure for most Scottish people veggie haggis is sacrilege, but for this southerner I was lured in by golden flakey pastry and the novelty of veggie haggis. I walked into Kember and Jones and straight past the ‘please wait to be seated’ sign to gawp at the array of baked goods on display. The veggie haggis roll got me and after breakfast I bought one for lunch later.

I’d travelled across the city to get to Kember and Jones, and took another 10 minutes to finally sit down as I had to find a cash point because their card reader wasn’t working. I helped myself to a menu (I had rudely just sat myself down after being distracted by pastry) and plugged my phone charger in next to me. I was delighted that the Kember and Jones’ menu had my initials on, so I had to photograph it. Simple things.

The menu was varied but strangely egg-free. I opted for avocado on sourdough and griddled halloumi. After ordering, everything seemed to get a bit frantic. The waiting staff were dashing about and clattering noises were coming from the kitchen. A waitress told the table next to me that there had been a power cut and they’d lost power – that’s what took out their card reader that morning. I wanted to give her a hug. None of the customers seemed to mind though as food kept coming.

My food arrived after a few minutes, tasty fresh avocado, rocket and a lemon slice – something you don’t tend to get with your avo smash in London. The only issue was the halloumi, which I think was ‘griddled’ with a whole load of butter because it was rather greasy. The sourdough however was deliciously rich and nutty. I could see their breads lined up behind the counter and if I’d been in Glasgow longer I’d have got one. As I paid up I once again succumbed to the treats on display and bought a lemon poppyseed muffin.

It was absolutely divine and lasted about 4 minutes whilst I walked to the Hunterian Museum round the corner. It was moist and delicately flavoured, with a tang of lemon in the soft white icing. I recycled the paper bag, licked my fingers and (after properly washing my hands) explored the weird and gross bits of body on display. I spent the afternoon at the Riverside Museum, stunningly designed by Zaha Hadid, a must for anyone who likes museums, architecture and taking photos.

I made the most of the glorious weather and sat out in the sun listening to small children run around the deck of the Tall Ship, clanging it’s bell and launching into fits of giggles. The water of the River Clyde was so still and serene it acted like a mirror perfectly reflecting the clouds in the sky. Here I enjoyed my veggie haggis roll, constantly on the look out for lurking sea gulls. I ate it before they got a look in.

The Willow Tea Rooms, Buchanan Street, Glasgow

‘Bit rainy out there isn’t it love?’

Google Maps took me completely the wrong way when I was looking for the Willow Tea Rooms, and it hammered with rain. I had pre-empted the weather so I had my red umbrella and an unattractive but practical grey rain coat. As I walked further down a backstreet with more bins than people I ditched Google Maps and headed towards a street showing more signs of life. I didn’t know it but I was in fact on Buchanan Street, and I almost walked straight past the tea rooms which were tucked between Carphone Warehouse and ironically, Whittard of Chelsea. The Art Deco frontage, inspired by Charles Rennie Macintosh, was fabulously inviting.

Relieved to be in the dry I walked hastily up the stairs past some boards explaining the history of the tea rooms and their decor, which I took time to read after I’d eaten. On entering the tea room I saw a sign for the Chinese tea room upstairs – I was too hungry, soggy and shy to go wandering so it’s on my list of things to do next time I’m in Glasgow. To be honest it would probably be a bit lost on my anyway since I don’t actually like tea…

I was shown to a table for two, the high backed chairs were stunning but not particularly practical although they did wonders for my posture over breakfast. I loved the aesthetic of the tea room, the chairs being a talking point for everyone on each table.

I ordered poached eggs on sourdough with avocado, which was handed over within about 7 minutes by a smartly dressed waitress with a big smile. A hunk of sourdough was generously slathered in fresh avocado and my two poached eggs wobbled, almost twerked, on top.

I squeezed the slice of lemon all over and dived in. It was immensely filling and for once I took my time over eating breakfast. When I was done the waitress asked me in her thick Scottish accent if I wanted anything else. I said no but after a few minutes my sweet tooth persuaded me to order a hot chocolate, which came so fast I wondered if the waiting staff were actually clairvoyant. It was rich and creamy and just what was required on a very wet day in Glasgow.

20 minutes later I donned my wet weather gear and splashed through the streets to the Gallery of Modern Art. It was too wet to take a picture so this one is from 2 days later.

Note the traffic cone on top of the Duke of Wellington’s head, which my Scottish friend tells me it’s now a thing and she was right as I kept seeing postcards with it on. In July this year it hit the headlines for having 10 traffic cones placed on it. I think it’s great and I hope more cities adopt the traffic cone atop their statues. And hey, if it makes someone Google ‘the Duke of Wellington’ and learn about who he was then I’m all for it.