Friday, 28 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Miller and Carter

We celebrated our two month wedding anniversary last month and decided to visit Miller and Carter Steakhouse to celebrate. I'm determined to celebrate on the 30th of every month until we get to a year... we might be bored of celebrating anniversaries by then!

We decided to go to Miller and Carter as I discovered steak while we were on honeymoon so I was keen to try some more. I seriously can't believe I've missed out on it for so long.

New earrings for the occasion!

We decided to visit the Cardiff Bay restaurant rather than the new restaurant in the city centre as it was Halloween and I didn't want to face the horrible masked crowds in town. We booked a table in advance and arrived at 7pm in our gladrags (sort of). I loved the restaurant's décor and the tables were nicely spaced out... there's nothing worse than almost sitting on someone's lap because the tables are so close together. The main colour scheme was red and it worked very nicely, especially with the beautiful candle holders!

I'd already had a quick look at the menu online so I knew that I was definitely going for steak, even though the alternative options sounded very tasty too. I had to ask Neil for advice on which exact steak to go for... I'm definitely not an expert yet. I eventually went for a sirloin 8oz steak which came with parsley butter, chips, a slice of onion loaf and a balsamic glazed beef tomato. We could also choose a lettuce wedge (I had no idea what this would entail) so I went for bacon and honey mustard. I double checked what the steak sauces contained then settled on the chimichurri. What a feast! We also ordered a bread board to start, because that's just what we do.

Our bread board was great, as all bread boards generally are. Who doesn't love the sparkling combination of bread and balsamic vinegar? Neil happily ate all the olives as I can't stand the things. We were raring to go for our main course after polishing this off!

I was gobsmacked when my steak arrived... I really didn't expect it to come with THAT many trimmings. The onion loaf was like a giant onion bhaji and it was actually one of my favourite parts of the whole meal. I wasn't particularly fussed on the lettuce leaf, but I heartily dislike lettuce so that wasn't a big surprise. Lettuce is for rabbits! However, the honey mustard dressing was lovely. The chips were good chips which is always what you want, and the olive oil and herb chimichurri steak sauce was the perfect accompaniment. As for the steak itself, I'd asked for it to be cooked medium rare and the consistency was just right. There was more fat on this steak than on the ones I'd had in Italy, but that could just have been as a result of this specific cut. The parsley butter was a great enhancement to the flavour and made the steak taste exceptional... I'd actually considered scooping the butter off entirely so I'm very glad I didn't!

We decided to go all out and order dessert too, just to complete our decadent evening in style. We both had vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate sauce and a triple chocolate cookie, and it was delightful. There is seriously nothing better than good quality vanilla ice cream, and the cookie was just a super chocolatey bonus.

This was the most expensive meal we've ever had together in the UK (£63), but it was well worth it for a special occasion. It was certainly more upmarket than the restaurants we usually visit and the food was exquisite. We wouldn't usually go for the full three courses (believe it or not), but we wanted to make the most of it as we probably won't visit Miller and Carter very often due to the price. It's worth bearing in mind that we didn't drink any alcohol between us so obviously any alcoholic drinks would bump up the price quite significantly.

It was a shame that lots of different staff members served us at various points during the evening instead of just dealing with one member of staff, but I can't complain as everyone we dealt with was very quick and efficient. The restaurant was lovely and quiet and had a relaxing atmosphere, perfect for an anniversary meal.

Has anyone else been to Miller and Carter recently? What did you think?

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Honeymoon destination #3 - Venice

After having a fantastic time in Rome and Malcesine, we travelled to Venice for the final leg of our honeymoon. Venice is one of those places everyone one wants to visit at least once during their lifetime so I was very excited about visiting this iconic city.

Our stay in Venice started with a water taxi ride... I half knew what to expect as lots of people I know have visited Venice and told me all about it, but all the stories in the world can never prepare you for that first moment when you step out of the train station and see a canal full of boats in front of you, or that moment when you hit the Grand Canal for the first time.

Outside the train station

On the water taxi!

We stayed in Hotel Savoia & Jolanda as my husband's family visit Venice a few times a year and love this hotel. The water taxi dropped us off metres from the hotel and we could already tell that we were staying in a sought-after area. We were treated like royalty from the moment we arrived and the staff continued to be friendly and helpful for the entirety of our stay. The hotel is located on the Venice Lagoon overlooking St Mark's Basin, just a short walk away from Piazza San Marco. The rooms are beautifully elegant and our suite had the most amazing view of the lagoon and San Giorgio Maggiore. We were given a fruit bowl, chocolates and a bottle of Bellini on arrival at the hotel, and our room was cleaned twice every day. This hotel provides a lovely buffet breakfast, just like the other two hotels we stayed in for our honeymoon. Can't fault it!

Fruit bowl and heart shaped chocolates

View from our balcony

And another view!

Venice is such a beautiful and unique city, and I really don't think there's anywhere that could compare to it. The narrow little streets and coloured houses reminded me of Malcesine, but of course there was a vast difference... the 'Floating City' is built on canals and is full of bridges! I was fascinated by these bridges and took hundreds of photos from various angles. Tiny bridges, huge majestic bridges like the Rialto Bridge, historic bridges like the Bridge of Sighs... I just couldn't get enough of them. The architecture in Venice is also amazing and reminded me of the grandeur of Rome, just on a smaller scale. Rome is a 100mph city whereas Venice is more relaxed and has lots of cosy cafés, bars and restaurants where you can people watch for hours at a time. 

I loved being so close to Piazza San Marco... it's safe to say that I took lots of photos in this particular area. The focal point is the amazing Campanile di San Marco, but the Basilica and Doge's Palace are also extremely impressive. Piazza San Marco was flooded with tourists and their cameras (including mine) at all hours of the day and night, and I did fleetingly wonder what places like this must have been like before the camera was invented! I loved the little coffee shops situated all the way around the Piazza, especially the violinists outside. Such a lovely touch which really added to the awe-inspiring atmosphere.

As soon as I saw the beautiful Campanile di San Marco, I knew I had to take the opportunity to see the view from the top. I absolutely love seeing the various views from high buildings so there was no way I was letting this particular view pass me by. The cramped lift journey was totally worth it... I just wish it hadn't been such a cloudy day!

We also visited Doge's Palace while we were in Venice as it was on our doorstep and I'd read so many interesting things about it. This visit took around two hours as there was so much to see, and we actually got to walk through the amazing Bridge of Sighs... I definitely didn't think I'd have the opportunity to do that. The palace was actually much bigger than I imagined, and the architecture and artefacts inside just can't be fully described in all their glory. We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the palace, but I obviously took plenty from the outside!

Taken from inside the Bridge of Sighs

The Rialto Market was another of my favourite areas in Venice. The Rialto Bridge was a constant sea of tourists, just like Piazza San Marco, but we did manage to get some great photographs whenever we could squeeze ourselves to the front of the queue. The Rialto Bridge was a great vantage point for the amazing Grand Canal... the motorway of canals! It really has to be seen to be believed. The Rialto Market became our 'go to' place for lunch as everything was so tasty and reasonable. You definitely need to visit this area if you're going to Venice any time soon... you'd be mad to miss out on it.

There was one thing I knew I absolutely had to do in Venice, particularly as it was our honeymoon... a gondola ride! It was actually raining on the evening we decided to go on the ride so we borrowed an umbrella from the hotel. Huddling underneath the umbrella actually made it even more romantic. I'm so glad we decided to do an evening ride rather than a day ride as the views were astonishing and there wasn't quite as much 'traffic'. Gondola rides aren't cheap but I would definitely recommend it as a one-off treat, particularly if you're in Venice for a special occasion. It's such a special way of seeing the sights and experiencing Venice in a different way. I loved briefly venturing on to the Grand Canal, but sailing through the little narrow streets was just as enjoyable and even more authentic.

I think this blog post and the photos say it all... Venice is amazing! I haven't even managed to cover everything we did as it wouldn't all fit into one blog post of a sensible length, but I just loved the combination of grand landmarks, beautiful views, picturesque little streets, and canals and bridges of all shapes and sizes. The 'Floating City' really is one of the most unique and fascinating places in the world, and it more than lives up to its hype. I hope we'll visit again one day.

This is the last of my blog posts on our honeymoon, just in time for my next holiday... Disneyland Paris next week!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Honeymoon destination #2 - Malcesine

After four amazing days in Rome, we moved on to the next stop of our honeymoon... Malcesine in Lake Garda. I'd eagerly done lots of research on Pinterest and stumbled across some beautiful photos so I was very excited about seeing the famous Lake Garda in all its glory.

We caught the train from Rome to Verona which went without a hitch. I can confirm that Italian trains are much cleaner, spacious and punctual than British trains, and their stations are much better organised! Our transfer driver was waiting for us as we got off the train and drove us straight to our hotel, which took just under an hour. The car journey was a great opportunity to take in the scenery... we could tell straight away that we'd decided to visit an extremely beautiful part of the world.

Hotel Casa Barca was recommended to us by a friend who got married in Malcesine a few years ago. We were expecting great things after seeing the hotel's exceptionally high ratings on Trip Advisor and we definitely weren't disappointed. You'll already have seen their amazing breakfast in my previous post... it's possibly the greatest breakfast selection I've ever seen. I just loved everything about this hotel, including the bright and airy rooms, the tranquil roof garden, the secluded poolside area and the hotel bar. There was also a health and wellbeing area with a spa, jacuzzi and half price massage treatment. The hotel was only a short walk away from the town centre, and the staff were all extremely friendly and helpful. Perfection!

View from the roof garden

Outside the hotel

View from our balcony

Malcesine is such a pretty little town and a stark contrast to the grandeur and opulence of Rome. I loved the narrow streets and the unique shops dotted around the town, and there were countless restaurants and bars hidden in all the nooks and crannies. I've never seen so many bag shops in such close proximity before... this was dangerous for a bag addict like me! I also loved the coloured buildings... a pink building here and there makes the world seem like a much better place. 

The main attraction of Malcesine has to be the beautiful lake on its doorstep. I've never seen such a clear, blue and sparkling body of water in my entire life. We spent many hours walking along the lake, eating ice cream and taking in the striking view from various angles. Apparently this is a great lake for wind surfing... we didn't do that ourselves but saw lots of other people having a go! The lake really was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. 

The focal point of Malcesine is its majestic castle. I took hundreds of photos of the castle itself and of the views from different vantage points. Hundreds of people get married in this castle every year, and you can really see why when you experience its beauty. There were amazing views from every level and the castle itself was a fascinating mix of ancient stone and refurbished sections. I couldn't choose just two or three photos of the castle and of the views from it, hence the photo fest below!

We also went on a trip to Limone during our stay in Malcesine as it had been highly recommended to us and it was just a short trip across the river. We caught the boat over to Limone which was a lovely experience and we stayed there for a few hours. We walked around the lemon grove which was very relaxing and had an ice cream (of course) at the side of the lake. Limone was a real hub of activity and I loved all the lemon merchandise. Lemon soap, lemon chocolate, lemon tea towels, lemon liqueur... for someone who loves lemon, it was like a lemony paradise!

On our last day in Malcesine, we discovered yet another beautiful walk and view of the castle. There were just hidden gems everywhere, and I honestly think you could go on a different walk every day even if you stayed in this fascinating town for a month!

Malcesine really is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, and it was the perfect honeymoon destination as it was so secluded and peaceful. I was very sad when we left Malcesine, but we did have a few days in Venice to look forward to... check back in a few days to find out what we got up to on the final leg of our honeymoon!

P.S. I apologise for the over-use of the word 'beautiful'... there are only so many superlatives in the world and there will never be enough to describe the beauty of Malcesine!