world according to sam

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Month: November, 2015

Cocktail Masterclass Harvey Nichols 5th Floor


So my #FortyTen celebrations entered their fifth month (spoilt, moi?)  and what with holidays etc this celebration had been scheduled as a post-holiday-blues-pick-me-up.

When I was 18, my first legal drink was a sweet, creamy Pina Colada at Peppermint Park in Covent Garden. I feverishly knocked back the delicious and intoxicating nectar without one care for sophistication nor that this had cost someone other than me a small fortune …. And so began a love of cocktails. There is something decadent about cocktails, studying the menu, choosing which creation it will be, watching the artful performance of the mixologist as they add the spirits and mixers, with the brave twirling bottles and slamming them back onto neatly lined shelves. The rattle of ice cubes as your barman flamboyantly shakes the cobbler* (not a tawdry euphemism – but the professional name for a shaker) and the final flourish as your concoction is poured into the appropriate glass, whether the retro styling of a martini glass, a tall hi-ball or a champagne flute …
Cocktails fell out of fashion for a while, seeing a brief resurgence when Carrie Bradshaw and the SATC girls drank Cosmopolitans at the Carlyle in NY but now they are back, with not only the traditional but new flavours and infusions. Mixology has become an art form and to learn about it is fascinating.  We are not talking the syrupy happy hour version of cocktails here. This is an altogether more refined drinking practice.

The choice of victual you drink from is almost as important as what goes into the mix. Teapots, teacups, copper beaker, crystal stubby, jam jars, schooners. The Harvey Nichols Cocktail Masterclass is the perfect girls day out, though boys will love it too (as did Mr H and his brother) and would be a great Hen celebration for those looking for something entertaining, educating and a little intoxicating. Be warned, I think phallic deely-boppers would not be welcomed at the über cool and sophisticated 5th Floor champagne bar at HN.

The day starts at 9.30 with a breakfast buffet of pastries, yoghurt and granola and fresh fruit with plenty of tea or coffee. 9.30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning seems an ungodly hour to even think about  imbibing alcohol but it doesn’t take long to  get into the swing of things.
There are several choices of class themes, Italy, Cuba, US, French and British each with three cocktails to be instructed on.

The class opens with a run through of all the equipment required to create the perfect cocktail. A muddler, strainer, cobbler, jigger … Each element has a crucial part to play in the making of your cocktail.
First spirits are added into the shaker (never ice first for fear of diluting your precious alcohol too soon, nevertheless essential to ‘soften’ the alcohol) and finally your mixers, bitters or essences. An elaborate shake, with the length of time and ferocity dictated by the type of cocktail and your own personal choice in ostentation, you can keep it ‘tight’ and snake hipped or go all out Carmen Miranda. For example a Martini Espresso requires a LOT of quite enthusiastic shaking to also emulsify the ingredients and create a slight froth at the top – pour into a glass shaker to check all is well and the correct texture has been achieved before pouring into a chilled Martini glass and finishing with a couple of coffee beans.
We chose the Italian influence for our masterclass so not only were we tutored in making the delicious Espresso Martini we learned to make a Breakfast Negroni; ( a traditional Negroni with a HN twist of the addition of a little marmalade to add texture and bitter-sweet finish to this Florentine classic and La Dolce Vita; an Aperol and Tequila cocktail again served in a chilled Martini glass.
Following the instruction and tastings from our Italian selection we were given the opportunity to make our own cocktail from a list of favourites … Mr H made a delicious Mojito with lashings of fresh mint, his brother made a Ginny Hendricks – gin based deliciousness, the lovely Sue made a Cosmopolitan and I made a Sky Cruiser known in less salubrious surroundings as a Pornstar Martini … Vanilla Vodka, passion fruit and champagne – heavenly!

Two and a half hours after starting the masterclass you are taken back to the restaurant with the effects of your imbibery making the path perhaps not quite as straight as your entrance,  to enjoy a two-course lunch served with red or white wine.
The masterclasses run on Saturday and Sunday throughout the year and can be booked here.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Long haul flights when travelling cattle class are tiring and anything that makes the travel experience more tolerable has to be good….. (#firstworldproblems I know and I am not complaining, I had a wonderful time and was very lucky to have gone! I am absolutely not seeking sympathy here!)

Having bought Mr H various Bose items over the years as gifts I thought we were all Bose’d up, with my final purchase 18 months ago of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones for his business trips. Last years 14+ hour flight had challenged me when seated at the back of the plane with regulation supply BA headphones I had observed Mr H languishing in his seat chuckling away or gripped in the action of his movie while I struggled the entire journey home, barely able to hear any dialogue on the in-flight entertainment – it is a very long way to have to lip read five or six blockbusters.
I am not a slave to technology … When out walking I like to be at one with nature, I don’t need the intrusion of piped music into my brain or on those rare occasions that I venture into the gym I am happy to listen to my decidedly uncool but uplifting  Now That’s What I call Running album on repeat at a low hum, but it’s no biggie if I forget my phone. Besides my auditory orifices are spatially challenged …. Earbuds/earphones of any shape or design simply will not stay in my ears, those peculiar Star Trek style earphones that slot over the ears present such difficulties to me putting them on I become like the child trying to force the square peg into the round hole, tense, frustrated and almost tearful. If I am ever lucky enough to get something to sit in my ear, within thirty minutes my ears are aflame and I want to rip the brain melting contraptions from my head.
So, though I had resisted Mr H’s offer of a Christmas gift to match his headphones, His n Hers Bose ‘phones and the promise of looking slightly ridiculous and a throwback to the 70’s … I politely declined, a new handbag or shoes seemed so MUCH more appealing

But then, knowing we had this epic journey ahead of us, Mr H plunged right in and gifted me with the new headphones for my birthday this year. Boy was I glad he did. These are a GAME CHANGER for long haul travel. No more struggling to hear the dialogue on the film listings, no more constant hum of the engines, not a peep from the unruly child three rows in front … Just super comfy headphones that make you feel as if you have gaffer taped a giant marshmallow to each side of your head.

When you need to remove them for a quick loo trip you realise just how obtrusive engine noise is on such a long trip, that sore inside your head feeling that is a result of constant noise – GONE!  The only downside I can think of is that if you don’t keep one eye on the aisle it’s all too easy to miss that all important question …. “Drink madam?”

(So keep these in mind as a very special gift for that very special someone, they neatly fold into a bag of their own with an adaptor for plane use. )

Lombok …. A Taste Of Indonesia…. Part II

Our trip to Indonesia and Lombok took us not only to mainland Lombok but to some of the outlying Gillis, both the smaller islands, Gilli Nanggu and Sudak in the South of Lombok and Gilli Trawangan off the West Coast – contrasting in every sense.  The southern islands are heavenly, largely uninhabited and provide an opportunity for snorkelling – though the Indonesians are yet to fully understand conservation, encouraging tourists to feed the fish with bread in bottles – we did it too I am ashamed to say, without it we were invisible to the sealife.  The bread encourages fish to swarm to the area for tourist driven photo opportunities but cheap white bread is not their natural diet … I imagine there are many carb bloated fish around the waters of Lombok!!

Gilli Trawangan is in contrast to Lombok, a party island for the young (and young at heart) … Gilli T is a little grubby around the edges, with a faint waft of the previous nights hedonistic over-indulgence.  However head around the island towards the sunset beaches and though dusty there are fewer people and a less trampled-in grimy feel, you do have to be mindful of the speeding Cidomos (horse drawn carriages that speed around the island with tourists and their bags hurtling along and peeping their horns at unwitting pedestrians and cyclists alike, we liked to call them the Lombok Ferraris).     Mr H and I enjoyed a cycle ride around the motor free island, the cycling was a triumph but despite my ample in-built padding the two hour stint was enough for both of us in the extreme heat. We attempted to snorkel but this was challenging due to boat traffic and a fierce drift that carried you along into the path of the numerous boats picking up and dropping off to the beach. We were promised turtles but sadly the only ones we got to see were at the turtle hatchery, which were very sweet but not what we had hoped for.

Lombok’s southern coast is drier, a little edgier but with the most spectacular beaches … we were encouraged to visit Kuta beach (nothing like its Bali namesake!) with some sweet little homestays and a clutch of small souvenir shops but for me the beach was a little disappointing, stony and sparse in the central part … it may have been better further around but we had already experienced the stunning sandy bay of Mawun beach and the rolling waves of Selong Balanak – two beautiful and in my mind superior beaches.  Mawun is ideal for sheer relaxation with a small reef to snorkel around safely without too much in the way of boat traffic and Selong Balanak or the mirrored beach, a vast expanse of white sand with soft tumbling breaks for novice surfers – even I would have attempted a surf lesson here had I more time.  For the serious surfer a boat can be taken to the huge breaks just off the coast.

We split all our sightseeing trips between a private driver from outside the resort and our hotel driver.  The driver commissioned outside of the hotel was certainly cheaper and came recommended, pre booking our guide for the trekking to the waterfalls and a private boat transfer to Gilli Nanggu. He invited us to his home for tea and to meet his wife and children. Something we would not have experienced had we stuck only to our hotel driver. Each have their merits, maybe the hotel driver experience was a little more polished but the private driver was more amenable to going ‘off piste’.

Belmond British Pullman

I know I was utterly spoilt last year year for my FortyTen celebrations and in late October,  5 months in, those celebrations finally came to a close.
I was very generously gifted a voucher for the Orient Express group … Googling ‘book Orient Express tickets’ I was filled with images of a romantic trip  with Mr H and I channeling Agatha Christie and the diminutive Poirot, heading from Paris to Venice. Back to earth with a bump …. £500 will buy you a 2 hour journey with afternoon tea from London’s Victoria through the Kent countryside for two people.
Further exploration of itineraries and we decided to add some of our own coffers to opt for Belmond British Pullman‘s The Golden Age of Travel lunch.

Departing from Victoria Station, there is a waiting room exclusively for Belmond travellers with tea and coffee, a welcome warming drink before the off.

The excitement is tangible, the audience a mixed bunch, most celebrating the passing of milestone birthdays, engagements, marriages The average age is somewhat more than my own half century I suspect. Some have embraced the bygone era, tea dresses, the odd gentleman in black tie and one group who seemed to be wearing Lilliputian sized trilbys a in a nod to ….. Bugsy Malone?

A short wait and boarding commences, the cheery crew welcome you aboard with due reverence … A very different experience to the 7.26 Haslemere to Waterloo. Space and comfort are what greet you, high backed wingchairs set at beautifully laid tables with an overly ornate table lamp, with a shade something akin to a Victorian courtesans flouncy knickers. Beautiful crystal, fine china and flatware are far removed from the contemporary stemless glasses and heavy earthenware crockery of so many restaurants now.

Champagne is poured almost as soon as you are seated and the experience begins. It doesn’t take long to immerse yourself, talking in hushed tones and waving regally like a pageant queen to the passengers disembarking the normal service trains.

Amuse bouche followed by a soup starter served professionally by the steady footed crew, wine ordered – the journey begins out through a much graffiti’d South London and down to the Kent coast. It’s not the most interesting of vistas but Mr H and I enjoyed the food and each other’s company and shared juvenile humour at our efforts at sotto voce conversation in a bid to not disturb the library hush.

There is an opportunity to purchase souvenirs but I refrained from the branded sweater-wearing teddy and the other costlier Belmond ephemera. Our adjacent neighbours bought a rather overpriced Station Clock as their souvenir of the day … Mr H and I settled for a few photos on our iPhones and the memories!

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Two bottles of wine and an extra glass of champagne for the delay in leaving Victoria at the start of the journey coupled with the gentle tinkling of silver against chinaware leaves even the most seasoned of travellers in a soporific state. As we reached Broadstairs we were asked to disembark where we were greeted with another glass of wine and fresh local Oysters. Some of our fellow passengers were less than keen to partake of the crustaceans on offer (fools)  – all the more for us. A blazer-clad brass band was playing to add to the yesteryear ambience but it felt slightly awkward and contrived standing side by side on the platform –  needless to say there was one fellow traveller who threw inhibition to the wind and managed a sort of Charleston. We all dutifully congratulated her as we returned to our seats, homeward bound.

In essence it was a charming day out but given the cost I think we probably could have had an Air BnB weekend city break for the same price as lunch on the Belmond.  This trip is best suited to a more vintage traveller, a special older birthday or celebratory anniversary. My in-laws would have loved this trip as would any ferroequinologist* but perhaps Mr H and I should have saved this for our twilight years!

*trainspotter/anorak

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