Sally Lunn’s, Bath

‘I like big buns and I cannot lie.’

A couple of months ago I was on a hen do in Bath and someone suggested we go for afternoon tea and cake before a session of zorb-football. ‘We HAVE to go to Sally Lunn’s‘ said pretty much everyone. Horrified that a baked good shop had fallen under my radar I quickly Googled it and it turned out that the whole world except me had indeed heard of (and loved) Sally Lunn’s. Situated a short walk from the picture perfect weir in the centre of Bath, we knew we’d found Sally Lunn’s by the queue of people winding down a cobbled street. I didn’t know what to expect by the buns – hot cross? sticky? – but all the girls said they were massive. I was pretty hungry and hate to be defeated by food, but when I saw the size of these buns in the window I suddenly understood why the menu suggested having a half, or sharing a bun with a friend.

This image is from Sally Lunn’s website, my picture was accidentally deleted.

Suffice to say that Sally Lunn’s buns are the most enormous buns I have ever seen. I chose the cinnamon butter bun although it was a tough choice between that, lemon curd and chocolate butter. I was also tempted by the savoury options, especially smoked salmon, and creamy brie. If it had been lunch time I would have had one of each but I was aware that we were an hour away from bashing each other wearing inflatable ball suits.

My bun friend had the lemon curd bun, which she kindly let me try, and it was delicious. My cinnamon butter bun was lightly spiced and warming, and reminded me of my mum’s house at Christmas. The buns themselves are a bit like hot cross buns, but bigger, without the cross, or the fruit. Crispy from the toasting but soft and fluffy underneath, doused in sweet, sugary cinnamon. All I can say is that you have to try it.

Whilst demolishing our buns we belatedly read the ‘bun etiquette’ section on the menu and duly ate our ‘bottoms’ with a knife and fork, and a smile on our faces.

The buns were incredibly filling although I reckon I could have managed a top if it had been covered in a delicious topping. If I hadn’t been on a hen party I’d have bought a bun to take home for my husband, but I knew I’d have demolished it on the train journey. As we left Sally Lunn’s the queue was still pouring out the door down the street.

It later turned out that Sally Lunn’s enormous buns were excellent fuel for zorb-football, during which I realised that my strengths laid in zone defence (read: taking people out) rather than kicking the ball anywhere useful.

All in all Sally Lunn’s was a fabulous hen do activity and I fully support more baked good-based hen parties.

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!!

 

 

Half Cup, King’s Cross, London

‘Magenta hummus, hello’

I had earmarked Half Cup for brunch about 3 months ago after seeing an abundance of beautiful photographs on Instagram. I was due at London Paddington later that afternoon to catch a 3 hour train to Plymouth for a weekend of 30th birthdays with my school friends and decided that a delicious plate of food was needed to sustain me on the journey. Half Cup was bustling at 1pm when I arrived. I was welcomed with a smile and given a spot in the window to read my Harry Potter book, watching the world go by.

The menu was comprehensively tempting and I text a Whatsapp group of girls to ask what I should have. Numerous grumpy replies followed about being hungry and not there, but suggesting I go for the smashed avocado, grilled mushrooms, beetroot hummus, grilled vine tomatoes on charcoal sourdough, which I did. And added a poached egg because it’s illegal to have smashed avocado without poached egg didn’t you know?

I wondered how big it would be and if I’d be a greedy guts to get the Oreo cookie French toast as dessert. I looked around me and saw that the portions were sizable and, given that I was about to spend the weekend with a group of women turning 30, I reined myself in and stuck with one dish.

I waited about ten minutes for my food to arrive, during which I snapped a few photos of the colourful, floral décor and talked myself out of buying another branded tote bag that I really didn’t need.

My mouth watered as the plate was put in front of me. A magenta smear of beetroot hummus had two giant Portobello mushrooms stacked on top of black sourdough, with my poached egg on the side and a tower of rocket on top. I’ve never seen food so colourful so I took a series of photos, pushed aside my phone and demolished it.

The vine tomatoes could have done with a bit more grilling for my own personal taste (I prefer to grill the hell out of my tomatoes) but the hummus was divine and the poached egg poached perfectly. The charcoal sourdough was the tastiest black food I’ve ever eaten.

I need to go to Half Cup again and have the Oreo French toast. And the Banana Bread. The whole menu just sounds so good. Just take my money now.