Yashin Sushi Restaurant Review | Kensington High St. London

The warmest welcome in London, and not at all as overpriced as everyone keeps saying….

Yashin sushi restaurant is tucked away on one of the classic, white-washed backstreets that lead off Kensington’s opulent high street. It was incredibly easy to find and required not even the slightest bit of the usual iPhone-wandering that makes you look and feel like a tourist goober.

“Remember, it’s Saturday and we haven’t booked a table,” said Sylvie, “so be prepared for them to turn us away when we get there.”

Stepping inside, we were instantly greeted by the host in Japanese – “Irasshaimase!”  Her welcome was echoed by the three sushi chefs behind the huge bar/kitchen that dominates the restaurant. It’s like a sort of Japanese-truck-stop-diner.  I put this atypical greeting down to the fact that we had turned up in a rather cool, calm and collected manner. I’m telling you, those iPhones are nothing but trouble!

There were two couples sitting on stools at the “bar”, looking both casual and wildly rich and successful all at the same time. We were offered a dining space at the bar, which I can only describe as a kind of lavish, Spanish tapas bar, only without the calamari, mustaches and beer bellies.

Yashin’s strap line is, “Without Soy Sauce”. 

The idea being that the quality of the sushi is so gosh darn good that it would be a sin to mask its flavours with such a strong a flavour. It’s the equivalent of going to Le Gavroche and asking for le ketchup! Tut, tut.

Sitting at the “sushi diner bar”, you really do get to see how much skill, passion and artistic talent goes into the creation of good sushi.

The warmth of the greeting extended through to the service, efficient and helpful, with only the slightest attempt to up-sell us on the “daily special roll”. We refused on the basis that she didn’t tell us how much it was; and you know what they say: if you have to ask how much something costs…..

I flicked through the wine menu and was a little disheartened to find that the majority of bottles were priced between £50 and £250. This is the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, though, so it’s to be somewhat expected, what?

I concealed a high-pitched yelp of relief when the waitress told me that they also served bottles of Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer, at £4.50 a pop.

After reading so many reviews about Yashin being overpriced, I was pleasantly surprised when we were brought us over a couple of vintage bone china cups of miso soup, and a very delicious green salad with a sweet, onion dressing (this was a real test on my rather subversive chopstick skills). Both were delicious, fresh and simple, and added, I thought, offered outstanding value.

I was instantly drawn to the Salmon Sushi Lunch (£12.50) - five pieces of salmon nigiri and spicy salmon roll. The salmon was light and exceptionally fresh, and meletd like butter in my mouth. Certainly, there was no need for soy sauce.

Sylvie went for the Tuna Sushi Lunch (£15.00) - five pieces of tuna nigiri and spicy tuna roll. Which I must add, looked like a work of art on her plate. Again, the tuna was wonderfully fresh and delicious. Both the salmon and tuna nigiri were topped with a variety of interesting pastes, including sun-dried tomatoes, parsnip, wasabi, ginger and sesame seeds.

Whilst eating, I watched one of the chefs spreading the sticky rice over slithers of seaweed and sprinkling it with seeds, adding fresh salmon on top and rolling it in a bamboo rolling mat, like a giant sushi cigar. You can even see how they portion each segment of the roll, rinsing the knife in a bowl of water in between each effortless carve.

In fact, it wasn’t long (about as long as it takes to drink two bottles of Kirin Ichiban) before I was planning my future as a sushi chef artist!

Verdict

Yashi sushi restaurant was a breath of fresh air. The service was exceptional – the host was on the phone as we were leaving, but I noticed her asking the caller to hold the line for a moment so that she could thank us for coming, which was again echoed by all four sushi chefs.

The sushi itself was of the highest quality and made, as you can see for yourself, with a great deal of dedication, passion and skill.

The lunch menu does seem to offer much better value than the evening menu, so I would be inclined to recommend it more as a great little place for lunch in the Borough of Chelsea and Kensington than anything else. Our total bill came to £46, which included a big bottle of mineral water and my two beers. For high-end sushi in Kensington, I think that is a fantastic price.

If, like me, you believe dining out is about the overall experience, and not exclusively about the food, then I would confidently recommend that you visit Yashin sushi. I’d also urge you to take a seat at the bar/kitchen, so you can see the chefs at work.

Yashin Sushi Address: 1A Argyll Road Kensington London W8 7DB
Nearest Tube Stop: High St. Kensington

Extra Top Tip:
After you’ve eaten, do as we did and take a stroll down Kensington High St. and into Holland Park. It’s full of blossom and perfectly-kept lawns, and has that magical Chelsea sheen that makes everything in this affluent area feel so special. The Kyoto Garden (set within the park) is also the perfect backdrop for some Zen-like contemplation.

Do you have any other sushi recommendations for London?

If so, come on over to my Facebook page and let me know! 

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The Basildon Boys

“‘Excuse me, gents, uh, I, uh, hope you don’t mind me askin’, but what’s that there that you’re drinkin’?”

Glen held up his chalice as if it contained pure liquid gold. “This is Bengali Tiger beer, and it’s good! Two for a fiver!”

“Oh right, and, uh, what is it then?”

“It’s an American beer, a sort of IPA – very hoppy!” I explained.

The man looked at me with concealed vagueness. But as he studied us, with one hand tucked under his armpit and the other stroking his clean-shaven chin, I realised that it was not vagueness, but curiosity.

“You mind if I, uh, you mind if…”

“Not at all,” I said, leaning over to pass him the empty beer can.

He wore a thick, grey woolly jumper with a big duffle button on the chest that he left undone. It was a bitterly cold and windy day but he had nothing on underneath the jumper. Only a patch of silver chest hair was visible, protruding abruptly from the point he had decided there was no need to shave beyond. I imagined that if he didn’t shave at all, those chest hairs would join up with his beard to create a sort of platinum, full-bodied hair suit.

“Brooklyn craft ale,” he said in disbelief whilst looking up at me over his red-rimmed reading glasses. “Brewed in Manchester! Ahhh Haaaa! And it’s 6.4%!”

His drinking partner turned to me with a gaping, toothless smile, his long grey hair slicked back over a bald, shiny cranium. He stared straight at me but, even through inch-thick lenses, his eyes were still almost impossible to see, like slits in a white sheet. “How much is that then? Serve it in a can do they?” he said.

Glen replied, “Oh, it’s like two cans for £5; they’d be £4.50 each anywhere else!”

“Two’fa’foiver, are they? For a can? ‘ah much is that a pint then?” he said with flailing lips.

His younger drinking partner jumped in, embarrassed by the old man. “That’s the sorta beer what bring’s you in ‘ere then, is it?” His eyes were a piercing blue colour, like an arctic sea, and added an element of mystique to his otherwise average appearance.

I smiled blankly, waiting for the meaning behind his words to make sense to me. I thought perhaps he was asking if I’d smuggled them in. “Not sure I understand what you mean…”

“What I mean is, well, would you to be in ‘ere drinkin’ if they didn’t serve that sorta beer?”

Glen and I laughed nervously, suddenly feeling very much like City-chap-wusses. Basilden is only a twenty-five minute train ride out of London, but talking to these two men made it feel like a million miles away. “No, no, it’s just that they’re on offer; it’s a bit of a treat, see. But we’ll drink whatever, really. You should try one of these, though,” I said.

“Oh, a’will, yeah, but not today. It’s a bit strong. Gawd, 6.4%!”

“Yeah, you’ve gotta be careful with it – it’s rocket fuel, this!”

The old toothless fella rocked forward in his chair as a big grin pushed his eyes even deeper into his face. “It’s alright,” he said, lifting his pint up to his mouth, “I’ve been in training for quite a while now!”

We all fell back into our chairs, laughing at the old man’s impeccable sense of timing.

He took a tiny sip from his glass and said, “No, Abbot’s is my favourite beer in ‘ere. Five percent it is, strong enough for me.”

Glen and I turned away and tried to carry on talking about the meeting we’d just had. We weren’t quite deep enough in conversation with the two men that it seemed rude, but we’d talked to them enough that we now felt self-conscious and slightly uncomfortable about excluding them.

The loud sound of a pint glass smashing suddenly shot through the pub, followed by a few milliseconds of silence before the entire pub erupted into excited cheer: “Waaaa heyyyyyyy! Oooooo! Ha ha ha!” It was clearly the highlight of the day so far. Glen joined in for a moment, adding, “Oh man, I love this place.”

A few minutes later, the younger of the two men returned from the bar with two chalices of Bengali Tiger beer. The old man didn’t even flinch. He just sat there silently, now with two glasses of beer to stare at.

“Cheers!” I said, raising a glass to them. Glen did the same.

“Yeah, I thought I’d give it a go!” the younger man said. “So is this what you drink when you’re at ‘ome then, is it?” he said, looking at Glen.

“Well my home is in London, so I guess you could say that,” said Glen in his thick American accent. “But, yeah, back in the States there are so many micro-breweries. They say there’s an independent brewery for every three thousand people where I’m from in Colorado. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily drink this, but I’d drink something similar.”

“Yeah, well I’ve been to America three times. Twice we was in Florida and once we went to…well, it’s not really in America, Porto Rico. We was goin’ on a cruise, see. Yeah, me and me wife, well, me ex-wife, we was flyin’ over New York and she was takin’ pictures out the wind’ar. She’s got photos of the Twin Towers. Yeah, she tells everyone about that, reckons it’s her claim to fame.”

The older man had been staring gormlessly at his beers for a while now, but he sprang to life with surprising vigour. “So what’s your team then? I like the Redskins,” he said before slapping a hand over his mouth. “Whoops, sorry for swearing!” He chuckled to himself for a moment before taking another tiny sip of beer.

Glen replied, “Missouri Tigers.” But the old man had zoned out again, staring blankly at his beer.

“Here on business then, is it?” said the younger man.

“Yeah, we went to meet a client over in one of the industrial estates around here.”

“Oh right, Southfields Estate was it?”

“No,” I said, “something similar, but I can’t quite remember.”

“Burnt Mills?”

“No, it was….”

“Oh, Scimitar Park?”

“Yep, that was it.”

“I work over there, see. Yeah, in a factory. Did you see they’re building the new sewage works over by there?”

I looked at Glen for some kind of reassurance, “Did you, uh, notice any building works?” But he hadn’t seen it either. We took a few final swigs on our beers and sat in awkward silence for what felt like an eternity.

“Well it was nice to meet you gents,” I said whilst shaking the old man’s hand. “I’m Ben, by the way.”

His hand was silky soft and he held on for a little longer than I was comfortable with, his toothless grin taking over his entire face. “I’m Jeff,” he said, “Jeff with a J.”

The other man stood up and shook my hand, clasping my hand between both of his in a most sincere way. “Me name’s Pete, nice to meetcha both. It’s nice to hear a few different accents around these parts. If you’re ever in the area again…”

“Yes,” I said, “we’ll know where to come next time!”

I turned around and saw Glen trying to escape Jeff’s grasp.

“I won’t be here, but old Jeff’ll be here; you can count on that!”

Outside, Glen turned to me and said, “Wow, the people in Basildon are really nice! Or is it just because the people in London aren’t?”

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10 Unmissable Things to Do in Krakow, Poland | A Life Affirming Guide

Armed with a list of insider top tips from my friend Matt, who lived in Poland for over 4 years, Sylvie and I took to the magnificent streets of Krakow and soon discovered that it really is one of the most elegant and culturally-rich cities in all of Europe. Whether you’re flying in for a quick weekend break or staying for a couple of weeks, here are my essential top tips on the best things to do in Krakow!

Krakow in a Nutshell
An incredibly beautiful and culturally-rich city that somehow managed to survive WWII, Krakow epitomises the beauty of Central Europe. The vodka is great too! Polish people are refreshingly humble and polite, there’s no huffing and puffing when you speak English to them, they welcome tourists with warmth and open arms. Their food is hearty and natural and unbelievably cheap – I’m talking three-courses, beers and desserts for less than €5 per person! It makes it very easy to have fun and really indulge in the things that you might normally reserve for special occasions.

1. Indulge in a Traditional Polish Breakfast at Krakow’s Main Square

Traditional Polish Breakfast at Krakow's Main Square

The Rynek Glowny (Main Square) is the heart of Old Town Krakow. At a whopping 10-acres squared, it’s officially Europe’s biggest market square. Surrounded by gorgeous pastel yellow and peach buildings, including the 13th-century Gothic Town Hall Tower. I’d have to say it’s one of the most beautiful European squares I have ever seen.

Traditional Polish Breakfast at Krakow

For an authentic Polish breakfast, order a plate of kielbasa sausages, sliced ham and creamy soft cheese. Everything in Krakow seems to be sprinkled with dill, providing that classic Eastern/Central European aroma. For something a little bit more hearty, do as I did and order the scrambled egg with kielbasa sausage – also sprinkled with dill, naturally!

Kielbasa and scrambled eggs for Breakfast at Krakow, Poland

There are a few places off the main square offering typical Polish breakfast, but I’d definitely recommend Loza Cafe. It’s owned by a famous Polish celebrity (I think) and decorated so that you feel as if you are on an ’80s cruise liner. It’s a great place to sit and relax and watch the scenes of daily life in Krakow unfold.

2. Ride Like a King Through the Cobbled Streets with a Guided Horse and Cart Ride

Horse and Cart Ride, Krakow, Poland

Wawel castle horse and cart ride, Krakow, Poland

the 12 apostles - Krakow's smallest church - Poland

This is exactly the kind of thing I would normally advise against, but in Krakow, it’s so insanely cheap that it’s easy to adopt a new mindset. For about €20, you can take a horse and cart ride through the city streets up to the Wawel Royal Castle. Your guide will talk you through all of the important buildings along the way and it really is a fantastic way to familiarise yourself with the city. Plus you’ll feel like Royalty!

3. Get Under the Skin of Krakow with a Free Walking Tour

Krakow Free Walking Tour

Krakow Free Walking Tour, Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

I loved how passionate the Polish people were about preserving  their culture, and how willing they were to share the stories of their arduous past. It’s one of those places that you leave feeling like a better, more rounded person.

Krakow’s free walking tour starts in the Main Square and tells the heart-wrenching story of how the Jews were forced to move around the city. Following in their footsteps, you learn how they came to establish the Jewish Quarter, which is now the city’s capital of cool, and how they helped shape the city for good.

The tour ends on a somber note as you learn how the Jews were carted off to “work at farms outside of the city,” only to end up at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. If you really want to get under the skin of Krakow, I cannot express how strongly I would recommend this two-hour tour.

4. Snack on Poland’s Famous Cheese Cake (Sernik Babci)

Poland's Famous Cheese Cake (Sernik Babci)

Poland's Famous Cheese Cake (Sernik Babci) bakery photo

It’s one of the classic dishes of Poland: a simple, rustic affair that goes down well with a strong coffee, especially when you’ve been walking in the cold for a few hours! Wander through the narrow back streets off the Main Square and it won’t take you long to find a little bakery. It’s much drier than the cheesecakes you may be used to and there’s certainly a lot less sugar involved. But, still, it’s a symbol of Poland’s wholesome country cooking – a simple Krakow must-have!

5. Take in the Views from Wawel Royal Castle

Inside Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow, Poland

Inside Wawel Royal Castle, Krakow, Poland

Krakow’s castle sits at the top of Wawel hill and is visible from almost everywhere in the city. It is to Krakow as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris: an impressive and truly worthy icon. It’s an easy walk up to the castle, where the dramatic spires and elegant fairy tale windows encourage your mind to disconnect from modern day life. But make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the dragon, which is said to live in a cave at the foot of the hill.

6. Eat Authentic Polish Food at a Traditional Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar)

Traditional Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar) - Polish dumpling, Beetroot Soup, Schnitzel

Kielbasa Sausages with fried onion in Krakow, Poland

Polish potato pancakes with beef goulash, Krakow, Poland

For authentic home-cooked Polish cuisine, you absolutely must visit a bar mleczny (milk bar). Originally set up as a kind of affordable canteen for Polish workers (meals are subsidised by the state), the format flourished after WWII when communism and the well fare state ruled Poland.

I love how they are so unpretentious and, apparently, obsessed with rock music of the late ’90s. I heard such classics as, It’s the final count down and Eye of the tiger played multiple times, as well as a number of hits from the legendary Bonny Tyler.

The informal service style is very similar to that of a school or workplace canteen: you order and pay at the till and wait for your meal to be handed to you over the counter. They traditionally serve a simple, hearty selection of dairy-based dishes, but now offer a more varied menu. Many of the milk bars don’t serve alcohol, though, so it’s worth thinking about if you enjoy a beer or a glass of wine with your meal.

Classic milk bar dishes I thought were particularly delicious include:

  • Pierogi (dumplings) – A sort of pasta shell stuffed with meat, spices and vegetables.
  • Kotlet schabowy – A tenderised pork shnitzel dipped in egg and flour and coated in breadcrumbs. Served with – you guessed it – dill and scoops of creamy mashed potato.
  • Barszcz - Beetroot soup thickened with sour cream and served with hunks of bread
  • Kielbasa – Honky sausages served with fried onions and……DILL!
  • Placki ziemniaczane – Potato pancakes served with a rich beef goulash

My recommended bar mleczny (milk bars) in Krakow

  • U Babci Maliny - 17 Ulica Slawkowska, Krakow
    My friend Matt told me about this magical little place. It’s totally hidden away in a grand old building and you would never know it was there. You’ll probably think you’re in the wrong building at first, but keep going through the corridors of this strange building (it’s a bit like an old hospital) until you see the little sign and steps down to the restaurant. Once inside, it’s fitted out to look like a country log cabin. We met some of the locals inside, who said that the food here is about as authentic as it gets – it’s cheap as hell, too!

8. Gain Some Perspective with a Trip to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

In a building in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland

We spent our last day in Poland wandering around Auschwitz in disbelief that such atrocities could have ever happened. As well as putting the Holocaust fully into perspective, it also sheds light on WWII as a whole. A visit to Auschwitz will force you to consider how lucky we all are to live in the modern world, that we are free. It’s a significant and life-affirming experience.

Top Top: Save a small fortune by taking the bus and skipping the “Aushcwitz guided tour” – there are tons of really informative signs around so you don’t really need a tour guide. And if you do, you can just tag along with one of the other groups for free.

See the bus timetable here. Return tickets cost about €6. 

9. Drink Vodka at a Proper Polish Wodka Bar

Wódka Cafe Bar, Ulica Mikołajska 5, Kraków, Poland

Wódka Cafe Bar vodka selection tasting tray, Ulica Mikołajska 5, Kraków

It’s surprisingly difficult to find a vodka bar in Krakow. Eventually, however, we noticed a tiny little wodka bar called, well, Wódka. Inside we found groups of smiley people and a rather worn out looking barman.

Squeeze yourself in and ask him to recommend you a variety of his favourites. He will create a sort of vodka smorgasbord for you, which is a great way to try different flavours – and it’ll warm you up, too!

Top Wodka Tip: Make sure to try a Zubrowska bison grass vodka with apple juice – a very refreshing Polish classic!

Get Directions to Wódka Cafe Bar, Ulica Mikołajska 5, Kraków

10. Eat and Drink with the Local Hipsters in the Jewish Quarter

Restauracja Trezo, Miodowa 33, 31-052 Kraków

Krakow’s coolest bars and restaurants are in Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter). It’s vibrant and dynamic, perfect for drinks and/or a romantic meal.

For high-end Polish cuisine in an elegant setting, check out Trezo Restaurant. They serve traditional Polish cuisine with a modern twist. The service is impeccable, they have live music on most nights and the prices are still jaw-droppingly low. This was one of my favourite dining experiences in Krakow and I thoroughly recommend it.

Get Directions to Restauracja Trezo, Miodowa 33, 31-052 Kraków

 Where to Stay in Krakow, Poland

Where to Stay in Krakow, Poland Apartment in the Jewish Quarter, Poland

As with most of Europe’s iconic cities, I would thoroughly recommend renting your own apartment in Krakow. There’s nothing better than having your very own “home” in the city, where you can spread out all of your things and keep a fridge stocked with tasty essentials. It’s also a great way to save money, especially if you are travelling in a group.

Our modern, three-bedroom apartment cost us less than €80 per night. Split between the four of us – Sylvie’s mum and her partner came too – we each paid only €20 a night! You couldn’t even stay at a flea-ridden hostel for that amount!

Our apartment was set in the heart of the ultra hip Jewish Quarter, right next to the restaurants and milk bars mentioned in this post. There were supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies on the same street, which was incredibly handy – and, again, saved us a lot of money!

Please like my Facebook page to ask me your questions about Krakow – I’m always happy to help! And do let me know how your trip goes!

Posted in Eat, Europe, Krakow, Poland, Travel | Tagged | 2 Comments

Oh My Hop! 15 Craft Beer Reviews with Tasting Notes

Looking for new craft beers to try? Join me on this epic craft beer tasting adventure and discover 15 of the world’s finest brews…(from Beer Hawk)

Beer Hawk Craft Beer Gift Box as it's Delivered

Beer Hawk Craft Beer Delivery - Unpacking my 15-beer gift box from Beer Hawk

Craft Beers to Try - Recommended Craft Beers - Craft Beer Review

Turning 30 was a little different from every other birthday. It came with a sense of sophistication, style, and luxury. Sylvie surprised me with this craft beer gift box of 15 different beers from Beer Hawk. To say it was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever wished for would be quite the understatement.

I have no doubt that we’ll both discover a few new favourites along the way, so let’s dive in and crack open a few cold ones! 

1. Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer Review | Belgium

Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer Review | Belgium

Let’s kick this hoppy adventure off with a premiere Trappist beer from Chimay. Brewed at their monastery brewhouse in Belgium by Trappist monks (yes, the religious kind), these chaps have been perfecting their coppery classics since 1863.

This Red Cap Chimay is the oldest of the Chimay beers. It’s a moderately dark beer, sweet and wheaty with that peppery sweet aroma you get with so many quality Belgian beers. I liked that it was smooth and silky, with an unctuous, almost syrupy head that masks the fact that this is a powerful, 7% ABV beer.

Verdict
This is a full-flavoured Trappist beer, not too heavy and definitely one of the most drinkable Trappist beers I’ve ever tasted. However, I found the slightly sour aftertaste was enough to put me off wanting another one.

The Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer gets a 3/5 from me.

Buy Chimay Red Cap from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

 2. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Scotland

Scottish craft beer review of Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil

Scottish craft beer review of Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil

As soon as you poor this 6% bad boy, you can see why it’s called Old Engine Oil! It’s as dark as the night, with a lively butterscotch head that initially looks like Coca-Cola. The aroma is rich and malty and as the head settles down, it looks and smells like roasted coffee grounds.

The taste is surprisingly light and sweet, like sweet dark chocolate and licorice. Not at all what you’d imagine from its gothic disposition. I was waiting for the bitterness to kick in but was pleasantly surprised at how gentle it was when it did – just enough bite to keep it interesting, but not enough to overpower the sweet and toasty goodness.

Verdict
Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil was a big surprise for me, very moreish and easy to drink, whilst maintaining enough complexity to keep it interesting. You could enjoy it on a cold winter’s day with a book and a log fire, or even at the top of a mountain with a picnic after a long bike ride in the sun. This is a real find.

Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil gets 4.5/5 from me!

Buy Harviestoun’s Old English Oil from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

 3. Anchor Steam Beer Review & Tasting Notes | US

Anchor Steam Beer Review & Tasting Notes

Anchor Steam Beer Review & Tasting Notes

Anchor Steam is a fairly mainstream craft beer, one of the bread-and-butter brands for any pub/bar trying to broaden their gluggable offerings. Brewed in San Francisco, this light amber ale doesn’t look remarkably special, and I was disappointed to see the head die so quickly. It is a beautifully rich and deep amber colour, though, I’ll give it that.

There’s nothing all that special on the nose, although the hoppy, all-American aromas are enough to get you excited about tasting it.

On first taste, the zest and extremely refreshing hoppy flavours put a big smile on my face. It’s quite a viscous beer and you can really feel the texture in your mouth, which I love. There’s a very subtle bitterness to the aftertaste, which is incredibly smooth and leaves you wanting more. And more…..

Verdict
All in all this is a really high quality, barley malt beer. You could drink it all day and night and still want more. What I love most about it is the silky, creamy aftertaste that lingers in the mouth for an eternity, begging you to drink another. It may not be the most complex or interesting beer out there, but it’s safe bet and I find it strangely reassuring to think that most decent pubs/bars will have it in stock. One more please, barman!

Anchor Steam Beer gets 4/5 from me!

Buy Anchor Steam from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

 4. Ilkley Brewery Dinner Ale Review and Tasting Notes | England

Ilkley Brewery Dinner Ale Review and Tasting Notes

Victoria Pale Ale Review and Tasting Notes

The quirky Ilkley Brewery, in Yorkshire, offers a broad food-friendly array of quality beers for all occasions. This “Dinner Ale” is, as you may have guessed, the perfect pale ale to accompany food, and has that lovely, light golden translucence – the colour of spring sunshine.

The head is soft and fluffy, with light, crisp and clean aromas that encourage you to dive in and take a few big gulps.

This ultra-hoppy and zesty pale ale dances on your tongue with almost no bitterness whatsoever, and I love the citrussy bite at the end. It’s incredibly gluggable and at only 3.3% ABV, you could quite easily drink it all day without feeling too fuzzy.

Verdict
If you’re after something nice and light, with a crisp, hoppy flavour, this is the pale ale for you. It would be the perfect companion at an all-day BBQ in the sun, or with a rich and heavy five-course meal…or with curry!

It has the depth of flavour of Sierra Nevada, but is lighter and easier to drink. It’s the sort of beer I’d recommend to someone taking their first steps away from the mainstream beer brands: it’s the least intimidating pale ale I’ve tried in a while. I’m really impressed with the Ilkley’s Dinner Ale, it really is the ultimate beer to enjoy with food.

Ilkely Brewery’s Dinner Ale gets a whopping 4.5/5 from me!

Buy Dinner Ale from Ilkely Brewery’s Official Amazon Store

5. Timmermans’ Framboise Lambicus Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Timmermans' Framboise Lambicus Beer Review & Tasting Notes

Lambic beers must be brewed within a 15km radius of Brussels, and Timmermans have been doing it for over 300 years. Just by looking at the bright pink label, you can see that you’re in for a fruity surprise. And, actually, this raspberry lambic beer pours with almost the same pinkish red intensity. It doesn’t really look like beer at all.

The smell is sweet and fruity, exactly how you’d imagine, and the fizzy head gives it a cherry-cola kind of vibe. The taste is frightfully sweet but it does have a smooth aftertaste; it’s moor like a pear cider than a beer, actually.

Verdict
Well, this simply isn’t really my kind of beer, if you can even call it a beer. I can see the attraction; it would be extremely refreshing on a hot summer’s day, and a sweet little pick me up at the end of a day on the real beers. But, to me, this is to beer as Starbucks caramel coffee ice-creams are to coffee: it’s for people who don’t actually like beer.

Timmermans’ Framboise Lambicus gets a not-so-fruity 2.5/5 from me!

Buy Timmerman’s Framboise from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

6. Maredsous Benedictine Abby Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Oh my golly gosh! This deep amber Benedictine beer is gorgeous to look at, with a smooth butterscotch head that refuses to fade. It feels equally as full-bodied in the mouth with a deep, oaky-malt flavour that turns to creamy caramel on the tongue. I love the silky aftertaste that contains not a hint of bitterness and just a bite of pepper – it doesn’t stop giving.

At 10%, this is a seriously powerful beer, and, although it doesn’t taste that strong, you can feel the alcohol on your breath as you breathe. And did I mention the aftertaste? Wow!

Verdict
This is my kind of beer: rich and malty with soulfully smooth overtones of cream caramel, but not so sweet that it feels too heavy or syrupy. It’s complex and interesting to the very last drop and I’m already desperate to find a local supplier.

The Maredsous Benedictine Abby gets the holy grail of 5/5 from me!

 7. Brewdog 5am Saint Red Ale Review & Tasting Notes | Scotland

Brewdog 5am Saint Red Ale Review & Tasting Notes

Brewdog 5am Saint Red Ale Review & Tasting Notes

Godfathers of the contemporary craft beer movement, BrewDog are leading the way in the global war against bland beer. The 5am Saint is a beautiful, deep ruby-red ale that pours with a lively head. It really is magical to look at!

On the nose it’s wild and intensely hoppy – possibly the hoppiest of all 7 beers I’ve tried so far. In the mouth it’s crisp and sharp with just a little bitterness. I absolutely love the intensity of the hops and the dry, malty finish, which has subtle hints of pine.

Verdict
The 5am Saint looks and smells incredible, and there’s nothing subtle about its hoppiness. I know it’s not exactly breaking news, and I know I’m not the first to say it, but BrewDog really have set a new benchmark with this little beauty.

BrewDog’s 5am Saint gets 4.5/5 from me!

Buy BrewDog’s 5am Saint from NISA DEALS’ Official Amazon Store

8. Schlösser Alt Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Germany

Schlösser Alt Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Germany

Schlösser Alt Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Germany

The Schlösser Alt pours with a gorgeous ruby red colour, almost like volcanic lava. The head is impressive at first, but it didn’t take long for it to fade away – about twenty seconds all-in-all. Meh!

On the nose it’s incredibly light, almost nothing to smell at all, actually. Not sure what else to say about it.

In the mouth it’s pleasantly refreshing and smooth, although it’s ultra-light taste is dull and instantly forgettable. Its bark is certainly bigger than its bite. The finish is almost non-existent – only a slight bitter, metallic taste lingers, quietly encouraging you to move on to something else.

Verdict
The Schlösser Alt is not an offensive beer, and I can imagine it being quite a reasonable beer to enjoy with a big richly-flavoured meal. I do love the colour, but there’s just not enough complexity to it to make me want to ever try it again. Even now, with my glass still half full, I can barely remember what it tastes like…

The Schlösser Alt gets a not so volcanic 1.5/5 from me!

 9. Brooklyn Brand East India Pale Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Brooklyn Brand East India Pale Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Brooklyn Brand East India Pale Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

This is the one I was most excited about tasting. This Brooklyn Brand IPA pours with deep honey hues, like vintage Les Paul guitars from the late ’70s – my favourite of all the Gibsons! On the nose it’s moderately hoppy, zingy and fresh. Very pleasant but nothing too life changing.

In the mouth it’s ultra hoppy, far more so than you would expect from the smell. It feels super silky and creamy and leaves an incredible toffee/buttery aftertaste.

Halfway through the bottle I’m really noticing that it’s 6.9% – yowsers!

Easily the smoothest, creamiest IPA I’ve ever tasted.

Verdict
Comparable to the likes of BrewDog’s 5am, and Anchor Steam, yet considerably more elusive in its depth of flavour. It’s something to do with the aftertaste: subtle yet bold, all at the same time. It’s that perfect balance between depth of flavour and drink-ability. It’s strawberries and cream – I love it!

The Brooklyn Brand IPA gets silky smooth 5/5 from me – Oh my hop!

Buy Brooklyn Brand IPA from the Official NISA DEALS Amazon Store

 10. Goose Island IPA Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Goose Island IPA Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Goose Island IPA Review & Tasting Notes | USA

This is another one of the modern IPA classics. It pours with a gorgeous, deep amber colour, but not too dark for an IPA. Easily one of the best looking beers I’ve tasted so far. The aromas are seriously hoppy with lots of fruity overtones, slightly spicy on the tongue.

The taste is insanely hoppy and full-bodied with a welcomed citrus kick and a smooth chocolaty aftertaste. The head stayed with me right to the very end, which is always a bonus.

Verdict
There’s nothing not to like about the Goose Island IPA. It’s hoppy and fruity and smooth and seriously flavourful. That is perhaps my only problem with it: it’s almost too heavy in the mouth and it becomes a bit of a challenge to drink after a while. It’s the perfect ale to start off with, but I can’t imagine wanting to get through a whole case of these bad boys, and I wouldn’t want it with a meal. Still, it’ a very fine ale indeed.

The Goose Island IPA gets a solid 4/5 from me!

Buy the Goose Island IPA from the NISA DEALS Official Amazon Store

11. Goose Island Honker’s Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Goose Island Honker's Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Goose Island Honker's Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA

Another dark and dreamy ale from the sterling brewers at Goose Island, the Honker’s Ale looks incredible and has a sweet, hoppy aroma. I really do love the way it looks in the glass – lively and vibrant.

It’s a lot lighter than the brewery’s IPA and feels crisp and fresh in the mouth. It still has great flavour, but it’s less explosive and easier to drink. It would definitely be a better beer to go with food.

Verdict
The Goose Island Honker’s Ale is the perfect all-rounder. It’s light and refreshing, but still has some serious, hoppy flavour. I could quite happily drink this all day, everyday. I’d probably start off with a bottle of the IPA, but I’d happily move onto the Honker’s for the rest of the day/night.

The Honker’s Ale gets an rock steady 4/5 from me!

Buy Goose Island’s Honker’s Ale from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

 12. Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

This intimidating Trappist beer pours with an intense, muddy brown colour, with slight tints of orange, like syrupy cough medicine. The head is insanely wild and erupted like a volcano as soon as I popped the cap.

I wasn’t too sure of the smell: it’s sour and, for want of a better word, soapy. Cheap soap at that – not very inviting.

The taste is woody and intense, with an odd finish that tastes like eating a toffee that still has its metallic wrapper on. It’s heavy, dark and syrupy, but not in a creamy caramel kind of way – not in a way that made me want to have more. In fact, I could’t even finish it.

Verdict
If you’re a die-hard Trappist fanatic then you’ll probably really enjoy the depth and complexity of this 7% monster. But for me, it’s just too much of what I don’t enjoy. I won’t be drinking this ever again.

The Westmalle Trappist beer gets a 1.5/5 from me!

Buy Westmalle’s Dubell from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store 

13. Flat Cap Otto Pilsner Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Czech Republic

Flat Cap Otto Pilsner Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Czech Republic

A wonderful, light pilsner the colour of golden sunshine – it makes you happy just to look at it. You can smell it a mile off, with it’s fresh and vibrant aroma. It really is the quintessential Czech beer.

The taste is sharp and zesty, lemons and limes, with a bright grassy finish. I could drink this all night long!

Verdict
There’s really nothing to dislike about this little pilsner beauty. It’s the perfect warm-weather companion and I can’t ever imagine getting tired of it.

The Flat Cap Otto gets a whomping 4/5 from me!

 14. Liefmans Cuvee Brut Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Liefmans Cuvee Brut Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Liefmans Cuvee Brut Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

Liefmans Cuvee Brut Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

This was a bit of a mind bending experience for me; I really didn’t know what to expect – especially because it comes in a wrapper AND a champagne-style bottle! It looks like a sort of fruit-beer-cava-champagne, but it pours much, much darker and has a totally opaque consistency – not at all what you’d imagine. Liefmans make this by mixing aged dark beer with whole cherries, and I think just by looking at it, you can really tell that there’s a lot going on there in terms of flavour.

On the nose it’s sharp and sweet and a little bit tart, I was looking for the cherries but kept getting apples. It smells like a West Country cider to me!

In the mouth it’s incredibly crisp and refreshing, with a full bodied fruity flavour that really electrifies your tongue. It’s more apples than cherries to me, a very interesting and unique experience.

I must also add that this was probably the most balanced beer (if you can really call it beer) of the bunch, with an impressively smooth and complex finish.

Verdict
Not exactly your typical beer, but certainly one of the most surprising and interesting bottles I’ve tasted so far. You might imagine it would be too sweet and fluffy, but there’s so much finesse to it that I really found myself desperate – and I really do mean desperate – for more. This is a rare and duly noted find.

The Liefmans Cuvee Brut gets a very elegant 4/5 from me!

Buy Liefmans’ Cuvee Brut from Beer Hawk’s Official Amazon Store

 15. Poperings Hommel Bier Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium

The one I saved ’til last, this little beauty pours with a gorgeous, cloudy honey hue  that looks about as Belgian as it gets!

It smells fruity, hoppy and peppery – almost exactly how you might imagine a hoppy Belgian beer should –  it’s quite the cliche, actually!

In the mouth it’s sweet and fruity, with a refreshing hoppy wheat kick. You can really taste that it’s a hot beer (7.5%), but it remains very well-balanced from start to finish, just the right amount of bitterness gives it a toasted-wood-chip finish – incredibly drinkable.

Verdict
Easily one of my top 10 Belgian beers! It instantly takes you to the streets of Bruges and Brussels and there’s simply nothing not to like about it. My only real gripe would be that the bottle is so small!

The Poperings Hommel Bier gets a monumental 5/5 from me!

Buy Poperings’ Hommel Bier from Beers of Europe’s Official Amazon Store

Treat yourself to a box of craft beers from Beer Hawk and embark on your very own tasting adventure!

NB: This blog post took a month to write and I never drank more than two beers in one sitting. I absolutely encourage responsible drinking – little and often is my motto!

Posted in Beer Reviews & Tasting Notes, Eat | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

10 Best Things to Do in Madrid | A Loved Up Guide

Sylvie, my girlfriend, was living in Madrid when I met her. I was living in Barcelona at the time. Every weekend for a year, I’d jump on a plane and take the fifty-minute flight to Madrid to see her.

We would meet at Plaza del Sol and go for tapas and vino-fueled adventures across the city. Care-free and blissfully happy, discovering hidden bars and magical streets drenched in centuries of Spanish history and tradition. It was a wonderful way to fall in love, both with her and with the city.

So here you have it: my loved up, and possibly a little over-affectionate, guide to the best things to see and do in Madrid. Whether you’re traveling with your partner or travelling alone, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with this elegant and unimaginably romantic city. ¡Vamos!

1. Wake Up with Breakfast on a Terrace in the Sunshinela-latina-gelateria-4d-madrid

Madrid comes to life at a surprisingly slow pace.  As the sun rises, men with old-fashioned suits and heavy newspapers meet to talk about business and politics. Nothing hits the spot like a strong cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Sylvie and I would always head to the same little corner cafe, Gelateria 4D, in the lively neighborhood of La Latina, where she lived. We’d sit and watch old people walk their little dogs whilst writers and poets mused away in the warmth of the early morning sun.

Nearest Metro Stop: La Latina

spanish breakfast

What to eat for breakfast in Madrid
Try a croissant with ham and cheese and grilled a la plancha, or indulge in chocolate con churros (sticks of sugary-donut-goodness dipped in melted chocolate) if you have more of a sweet tooth. For a classic taste of Spanish breakfast (actually, this is a Catalan speciality), try pan con tomate (toasted bread with garlic and tomato puree). It probably won’t fill you up for long, but that just gives you an excuse to go for a second breakfast at the next sunny terrace you find. ¡Olé!

If the weather isn’t muy bien, head over to the famous Café Comercial, which has been an important meeting spot for local madrileños since 1887. You’ll find them playing chess and drinking carajillos (coffee with brandy) with their breakfasts!

2. Take in the Views from the Roof-top Terrace of Circulo de Bellas ArtesMadrid rooftop terrace belles artes

We discovered a number of roof-top terraces in Madrid, but the one with the most arresting views has to be that of the Circulo de Bellas Artes. Perched on top of one Europe’s most important art institutions – where big names such as Picasso came to study – the views over Madrid are simply incomparable. Grab a quick bite to eat, a coffee or una caña (a small beer) and prepare for your mind to be blown.

Nearest Metro Stop: Sevilla or Gran Via

3. Delve into Madrid’s Vibrant and Colourful  Malasaña Neighborhood

Lolina Vintage Cafe Malasana Madrid

Malasaña is a bohemian neighborhood full of vintage fashion boutiques, retro cafes and bars. It attracts the city’s young creatives, who you’ll find flicking through old boxes of vinyl.

Check out our favourite little cafe-come-bar, Lolina Vintage Cafe. Decorated with psychedelic prints from the 50s and 60s, and furnished with old leather couches, it sums up everything I love so much about this quirky little barrio. Grab a coffee or sip on a mojito, this is a side of Madrid most visitors never get to see.

Nearest Metro Stop: Tribunal

4. Go to Foodie Heaven, at Mercado San Miguel

mercado san miguel Madrid food market

Possibly my all-time favourite place to hang out in Madrid, Mercado San Miguel is quite literally foodie heaven. Housed in a beautiful glass and wrought iron space, the food stalls here sell a huge selection of quality Spanish produce from all over the country.

Do as Sylvie and I did every Sunday and grab some €1 seafood tapas treats from La Casa del Bacalo, before heading over to Pinkleton & Wine to taste some of the most incredible Spanish wines on the planet. Did someone say Rioja o’clock?

Nearest Metro Stop: Opera, La Latina or Tirso de Molina

5. Sip on a Coffee at Plaza de Oriente, with Views Over the Palace

Oriente plaza madrid

Sometimes Sylvie would have to work while I was visiting. I’d spend hours and hours hunting out cafes and seeing the sights that she’d already seen a million times. One of my favourite places to while away my day was the affluent area of Plaza de Oriente. Bordered by a horseshoe of terracotta buildings, formidable statues and elegant gardens, it’s easily one of the world’s most magical places to stop for a coffee. And with its idyllic views of the Palacio Real de Madrid, I’d strongly recommend you put this somewhere near the top of your ‘must-see’ list!

Nearest Metro Stop: Opera

6. Bask in the Sun at El Retiro Park

Lake El Retiro Park MAdrid Spain

El Parque de Buen Retiro (The Good Retirement Park) was originally used as a playground by the Spanish Royal Family. Vast and deceptively spacious, El Retiro is the perfect place to chill out and soak up the Spanish sun. Follow the leafy paths to the the boat lake, or cool yourself off in the spray of one of the fountains, it’s all about taking it easy.

Crystal Palace Madrid El Retiro

Sylvie’s friends would often come to join us with a picnic and a few cans of cold Mahou beer. We’d play guitars and throw a frisbee around whilst dodging people on rollerblades and skateboards. Our favourite spot in El Retiro, apart from the Alice in Wonderland-style hedge sculptures, has to be the Crystal Palace. One of the most beautiful buildings in Madrid, it’s a giant greenhouse built almost entirely from steel and glass, nestled away in a green city paradise.

Nearest Metro Stop: Retiro, Príncipe de Vergara, Ibiza or Atocha

7. Step Back in Time with a Walk Through Plaza Mayor

plaza-mayor-madrid

Only a stone’s throw away from Puerta del Sol, which is Madrid and Spain’s most central point, you’ll discover the mighty square of Plaza Mayor. I would stand there in awe as Sylvie told me about the momentous things that had happened there over the centuries: bullfights, public executions and religious celebrations. You can really imagine the spectators cheering and hollering from the handsome balconies that overlook the square. Incredible.

restaurante_Botín-Madrid-the-worlds-oldest-restaurant

Plaza Mayor Top Tip
There are nine entrances and exits to the square, which will lead you to a multitude of traditional shops, cafes and tapas bars. It’s on one of these streets that you’ll find Restaurante Botin, which is considered to be the oldest restaurant in the world. They serve rustic Spanish fare, such as suckling pig and roasted lamb. In reality, it’s a tourist trap – over priced and uninspiring. Take your photo and move on. There are better places to eat in Madrid!

Nearest Metro Stop: Sol

8. Go Bar Hopping and Tapas Tasting in La Latina

cava baja La Latina Madrid

La Latina is the liveliest and most electrifying barrio of Madrid, perfect for bar hopping and indulging in eternal fiestas. Sylvie lived right in the heart of it and we loved exploring the ancient little bars that line the narrow streets. Start at one end (either will do) of Cava Baja, where you can pop in and grab a drink and a quick tapa before moving on to the next place. This is the place to experience the real nightlife of Madrid – don’t forget to dress up!

El Viajero was always one of our favourite Sunday hangout spots (La Latina is busier than ever on Sundays), and has an excellent selection of tapas and affordable wines. They also have a secret roof terrace with views of the bustling streets – and mojitos!

el viajero bar and rooftop terraza in la latina madridthe rooftop terrace of el viajero bar in la latina madrid

Nearest Metro Stop: La Latina

9. Indulge in High-End, Authentic Tapas, without Blowing Your Load – at Restaurante Lateral

tapas at Lateral, Santa Ana, Madrid

If I had to choose one place to eat my last meal, it would be here at Lateral. It’s elegant and modern, yet traditional and understated all at the same time. They serve high-end tapas at insanely affordable prices and the service is impeccable.

Top Tip: Be sure to try the tortilla Española (potato and egg omelette). It may be a simple, classic dish, but the way they make it here is simply divine! I also recommend the tasting dishes with various meats and cheeses – perfect for getting a little taste of everything and discovering new flavours.

Top Tip 2: There are about six Lateral restaurants in Madrid, but my favourite is the one in the beautiful square of Santa Ana. It’ fairly small and there’s always a line out the door. Just get your name on the list and grab a drink from the bar!

Nearest Metro Stop: Sol

10. Watch an Indie Movie on the Rooftop Cinema of Cine Doré Filmoteca

Rooftop Cinema in Madrid - Cine Doré Filmoteca - open air cinema madridCine Doré Filmoteca Madrid Indie Movie Cinema with roof top cinema in the open air

One of the most romantic dates Sylvie and I have ever had was when we watched the Spanish version of Vanilla Sky on the roof of Madrid’s retro Cine Doré Filmoteca cinema. It was a warm summer’s evening and we sat with about 50 other people, all with golden suntans and glasses of wine, under a still black sky of diamonds.

I didn’t understand a word of it, of course, but I’ll never forget how magical it felt to sit there in the open air, just breathing in the good vibes. Tickets cost a mere €3-4 and you can indulge in a world of indie films from Spain and further afield. But, to be honest, you could watch the worst film in the world here and still have one of the most memorable experiences of your life.

Top Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who are rumored to own an apartment in this trendy and rustic little neighborhood.

Nearest Metro Stop: Antón Martín

Posted in Eat, Europe, Madrid, Spain, Travel | 1 Comment