Thursday, 26 October 2017

Restaurant Review: Restaurant James Sommerin

Last Friday, I reached an important milestone in my recovery journey - all clear for a whole year. We always eat out somewhere nice after my three monthly appointments, but we decided we needed to go somewhere extra special on this occasion. It's been an incredibly tough year for both of us so I think it's fair to say that we deserved to treat ourselves.

After much deliberation, we took the plunge and booked dinner at the Michelin-starred Restaurant James Sommerin on Penarth Esplanade. If we can't treat ourselves to an extravagant meal for this level of occasion, when can we?!

In an extremely rare burst of optimism, I bought my dress for the occasion from New Look months ago.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were shown to our table straight away. As we were visiting on a Friday evening, the tasting menu was the only option on the menu. A few people had already told us that we might as well go the whole hog and opt for the tasting menu if we did go there, so we were perfectly happy with that. We were presented with two options - the standard tasting menu or the surprise tasting menu. As there were a couple of items I didn't fancy on the standard menu, and just because it was a special occasion, we decided to go for the six-course surprise tasting menu with wine pairings. When I told the waiter that I don't like fish, he was very understanding and assured me that my menu would be planned accordingly. 

Before I get started on talking about the food, I should make a few things clear... firstly, I apologise for the terrible photo quality. The lighting wasn't very good in the restaurant (and I didn't think using the flash would be appropriate!) so my photos definitely don't do the food justice. Secondly, as I've admitted before, I'm a terrible food blogger. This means that any detailed descriptions below have either been taken from Google or just vaguely guessed at as I could never remember all those intricate ingredients myself. I also haven't gone into detail about the specific tastes and textures because I'm rubbish at doing that, quite frankly. All you need to know is that everything was amazing. 

We were served a few 'snippets' before the first of our six courses which were a pleasant surprise. These were made up of a wild garlic espuma with toasted seeds, cheese gougères, and tapioca crisps with taramasalata and hummus.

We were then shown a huge platter of different breads and asked which we wanted to try. I assumed we could only choose one but Neil chose two, so I went ahead and chose the same two - a caramelised onion wheel and a rosemary focaccia. The bread came with a dollop of unsalted butter and a seasalt and seaweed butter, served on a pebble from Penarth beach! 

Next up, it was time for our first starter and our first glass of wine. Although I was quite nervous about the prospect of drinking lots of red wine as I'm not usually a fan, I've since come to the conclusion that I must have only tried rubbish red wine in the past as I loved the varieties we had on Friday night. This course was a lovely concoction of wood pigeon, black pudding, raspberry and beetroot.

It was soon time for our next savoury course and our first glass of white wine. Neil was served trout for this course and I was given the vegetarian option as I'd asked for no fish. I can't find a detailed description of this course anywhere, but it was basically made up of mozzarella, basil, pine nuts and heritage carrots. I never thought I'd say this sentence, but they were the best carrots I've ever had in my life. 

We both had a vegetarian offering for the next savoury course - potato, garlic foam, mushroom shavings and an additional mushroom concoction (you might have guessed by now that I often use the word 'concoction' when I don't know what something is called). I don't like mushrooms so this was probably my least favourite dish, but that potato really was spectacular. 

It was time for our main course and I think this was my favourite dish of the night. I could have eaten it three times over! We had a beautifully cooked steak, shallots, roast parsnips, mushrooms, root vegetable puree and a red wine jus. It was absolutely spectacular and blended perfectly with the accompanying wine.

In the blink of an eye, we moved on to desserts. I was THRILLED to discover that there were two dessert courses, as you can imagine. The first one was the best dessert I've ever had (and I've eaten a lot of desserts). It was a deconstructed lemon tart with blueberries, shortbread, meringue and the most amazing lemon sorbet. And who doesn't love a bit of lemon-scented dry ice action? The accompanying wine was my favourite of the evening as it reminded me of the ice wine we sampled in Toronto. 

While I was still waxing lyrical about my first dessert course and the wine, out came the next one. The second dessert was a raspberry souffle with a quernell of violet ice cream, and it was absolutely exquisite. This was actually the biggest course of the evening and I struggled to finish it, but I was determined to finish every bite. It was too tasty and too expensive not to! 

We absolutely loved our experience at Restaurant James Sommerin and I wish we could eat there every weekend. All the staff members we spoke to were very attentive and every course, both food and wine, was described in great detail. We ate at our own pace and were there for a good three hours in total. 

Although it's not cheap and is by far the most expensive meal we've ever eaten together, it definitely lived up to our expectations and 100% deserves that Michelin star. 

Have you ever been to Restaurant James Sommerin? What did you think?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Disney Pandora has arrived in the UK!

As of a couple of weeks ago, you can now buy Disney Pandora charms in the UK. I've raved about this collection previously but, rather shockingly, I'm not thrilled that the range is now available a few miles down the road. Why ever not, I hear you ask?

I really liked the fact that, previously, I could only buy the Disney charms in Walt Disney World. It made them exclusive and an extra special souvenir, and I used to look forward to choosing my new Disney charm whenever we went to Florida. Now that I can buy the charms at home whenever I want, along with every other Disney fan in the UK, buying them on holiday will no longer have the same appeal. On the plus side, I've noticed that some park exclusive charms will still be sold in Walt Disney World and nowhere else, so perhaps I'll just have to limit myself to those!

Linked to the last point, I was secretly glad that I could only buy Disney charms once per year as I only wanted one Disney themed bracelet rather than multiple ones. I also don't like it when my bracelets are too full, so there was a finite number of charms I could actually buy. Now, due to this new ease of access, I feel as if the temptation will be too great and I'll end up buying more Disney charms in place of charms from Pandora's standard ranges. I proved this last weekend when I bought this Mrs Potts charm! However, in my defence, this beautiful charm was on my list last time I was in Florida and it was out of stock everywhere, so it wasn't a completely out-of-the-blue purchase.

I'm quite disappointed that the Disney Pandora collection that's launched in the UK is entirely made up of charms. In select locations in Walt Disney World, you can also buy a wide array of rings, earrings and necklaces. I'd definitely be more excited about the launch of the collection in the UK if there was a greater variety of products available.

My bank balance 
And, last but not least, my bank balance is extremely unhappy that Disney charms are now available in the UK! They've previously been carefully budgeted for as they've been bought with holiday money, but it's a little different when they're available on my doorstep. Although I've promised myself that I won't buy any in the near future (after Mrs Potts, of course!), I have a feeling that I won't have the willpower to keep that promise for very long.

What do you think of the new Disney Pandora collection? Will you be rushing straight out to buy a couple of charms? Let me know! 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

We need to talk about mental health

I always thought I was someone who took mental health seriously and didn't belittle or stigmatise the potential impact of a mental illness.

Until it happened to me.

On 13th July, I blogged about how I was struggling emotionally after my cancer diagnosis and resulting hysterectomy last year. When I wrote that post, I was feeling lower than I ever had done before - yes, even lower than I'd felt immediately after the diagnosis and surgery. I was at breaking point. By the end of July, I'd been signed off work and my doctor had confirmed that I was suffering from 'extreme low mood' and needed some time out.

As well as feeling overwhelmingly low and exhausted all day and every day, I felt guilty. Guilty about being off work, guilty about worrying my friends and family, and guilty because I wasn't able to cope. Would I have felt guilty if I'd broken my ankle or had a violent migraine? I suspect not. Would I have constantly told myself 'you need to snap out of this' if I'd broken my ankle or had a violent migraine? Definitely not!

No one was making me feel guilty and no one was pressuring me to get better any quicker, so my guilt was entirely self inflicted because I was subconsciously ranking physical pain above mental pain. Lots of people even told me I was brave after reading my blog post, but I just thought 'Me? Brave? Surely I'm weak, not brave, because I'm not coping!'

I even felt a little guilty if I went out to see a friend or went into town to do some shopping. Shouldn't I be staying at home all day if I'm unwell? When, actually, I should have felt confident in the knowledge that I needed that time out of the house for my mental recovery (and also to give me a little break from Jessie once in a while). I should have stopped belittling the impact of my mental health problems and started to acknowledge the importance of doing what I needed to do to get through the day.

I decided back in July that I didn't want to go on medication, even though the doctor offered it as a potential solution. Although I'm still managing without medication, I do sometimes wonder if I'm making the right decision. After my operation last year, I'd have laughed heartily in your face if you'd have suggested that I shouldn't take any medication and should just grin and bear it and let the pain take its course. I was literally counting down the minutes until my next painkiller. So why is it that I feel as if I need to fight my mental battles on my own? Why is it that we're so ready to seek help for all our other body parts when they break down, but not our brains?

When people asked me how I was during those very low days, I tried to sugarcoat it and didn't go into any amount of detail. I only opened up to a small handful of people about what I was going through because I convinced myself it was 'too awkward' to talk about. When random people asked me if I had a day off because I was walking my puppy in the middle of the afternoon, I'd tell them I'd booked the week off as annual leave to avoid telling them the truth. However, if I'd have been off work with a broken ankle or a migraine, I wouldn't have hesitated to tell people. So I was actually contributing to that stigma I'd always criticised so strongly and, again, hiding and therefore belittling what I was going through.

For the last few weeks, I've genuinely been feeling much better. I'm back in work and life seems a lot more manageable on the whole. So of course, when people ask me how I am, I brightly say 'I'm fine thanks, I'm feeling much better!' However, perhaps it would be more useful for me and for everyone else if I said 'I'm feeling a lot better but still have low days now and again.' Just like that broken ankle or that migraine which takes time to heal and tends to linger for a little while, my mental health isn't completely 'better' yet and it'll most likely be a very long time before I get to that point.

I feel so frustrated and isolated when people feel uncomfortable about talking to me about my mental health and choose to act as if nothing has happened, which they wouldn't dream of doing if someone had that broken ankle or migraine I keep harping on about. But do I really have any right to be frustrated when I always put my breezy mask on, even on my lowest days, and don't give my mental health problems the standing they deserve? When I repeatedly shy away from telling people the truth about how I'm really feeling to avoid that 'awkward' conversation and their equally awkward response? I'm in a difficult position because people find my cancer experience hard enough to talk about, let alone the resulting emotional issues, but I need to learn to speak out and normalise these discussions. If I don't, then who will?

So when I say 'we need to talk about mental health', I wholeheartedly include myself in that statement first and foremost. I hope this blog post goes some way towards starting that conversation.

Image credit: 

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Celebrating 20 years of Harry Potter

I know, I know, I'm a bit late to the party with this... I got tagged in a post on Danielle's blog a few months ago to celebrate Harry Potter's 20th anniversary and I thought it was about time I featured the post on my blog with my own answers. As I love Harry Potter and I love answering random questions, this kind of tag is dream blogging content for me. (Take note, anyone and everyone who wants to tag me in similar posts from now on.)

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

1. How did you discover Harry Potter? Did you read the books first or watch the movies?I spent a few years insisting that I wasn't interested in reading the books or watching the films because they were 'too popular'. However, I then ended up seeing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban twice with different groups of friends in the cinema and decided I couldn't ignore the books any longer (mostly because I didn't know what on earth was going on half the time but really wanted to find out). So I saw the first three films before reading the books, but read the last four books before seeing the final five films. I actually now really wish I'd read all the books first before seeing any of the films... serves me right for being a book snob!

2. Let's be honest, the Hogwarts uniform is looking a bit drab. How would you customise your uniform to show off your individuality?
I like the Hogwarts uniform! I'd add some subtle blue accessories perhaps, just to make it REALLY obvious that I'm a Ravenclaw, but I wouldn't change anything else.

3. Who would your ultimate Hogwarts Friends Gang be?
Ron, Luna, Neville and Cedric.

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

4. If you were a teacher at Hogwarts, what class would you teach?
Probably History of Magic... I think it's one of the only subjects I'd be any good at. I'd love to be as clever as Hermione but I'm definitely not on her level unfortunately, even though I'm a Ravenclaw!

5. If you could have any creature from the Harry Potter universe as a pet, what pet would you choose?
An owl, specifically Hedwig. Which is a strange choice for me, seeing as I don't like birds... I'll always make an exception for Hedwig.

6. You're Captain of the Quidditch Team, what would you name your team?
Me, captain of a sports team? What a hilarious image. I think I'd call the team 'Ravenclaw's Sage Speedsters', which doesn't sound the least bit threatening or competitive.

The Making of Harry Potter studio in Watford, August 2017

7. What magical treat have you always wanted to try?
I've always wanted to try Fizzing Whizzbees and Chocolate Frogs. There's not much I'd say no to from that Hogwarts Express trolley!

8. If you could invent a spell, what would your spell do and what word would you use to cast it?
I'd invent a spell that washed, dried and straightened my hair instantly with no effort on my part. It would save me so much time! I'd use 'Pokerstraight!' to cast the spell.

9. If your Patronus was an inanimate object, what would it be?
Why do I have to choose an inanimate object rather than an animal...? I think it would be a pink star. If my Patronus was an animal, I think I'd be a giraffe. Not because I'm tall (because I'm not), but just because I really really love giraffes.

The Making of Harry Potter studio tour in Watford, August 2017

10. If you could bring any Harry Potter character back to life, who would you resurrect?
Cedric Diggory. Probably an unpopular choice but I really like him! Oh, and poor Hedwig obviously. If we were talking purely about the books and not the films, I'd bring Dumbledore back to life. Sorry Michael Gambon, but you were a very annoying and shouty Dumbledore so I wouldn't voluntarily bring you back to life.

11. You've been given free reign of Diagon Alley and can have anything you want, what shop do you hit first?
Honeydukes, of course! I'm a sweet toothed fiend.

12. If you could send an Owl Post to anyone in the Harry Potter universe, who would you write to and why?
Neville. I always feel as if he needs a friend and some words of encouragement, along with someone to tell him that things will get better!

13. If JK Rowling were to announce a spin off series from the Harry Potter universe, which character would you love to see as the protagonist?
Hagrid. I'd love to learn more about his back story and to find out what he got up to after Harry. Ron and Hermione left Hogwarts.

Universal Islands of Adventure, Florida, September 2013

Do you agree with any of my answers, or furiously disagree? Let me know, and please feel free to take part in the tag yourself!