*A Festive Afternoon Tea and Ice Skating

It feels like that festive feeling’s been cranked up a notch, now that it’s finally December.  I’ve already heard The Pogues about ten times (…not through choice!  I’m not a fan!), the advent calendars are out and…  and why the hell am I starting every single blog post at the moment like a bloody Christmas newsletter?!  There’s something in the water, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m full of Christmas cheer (read: food and booze) after spending a very festive afternoon up at The Celtic Manor over the weekend.

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I had absolutely no idea that The Celtic Manor were opening up a little rink in their rooftop garden this Christmas until an email popped into my inbox a couple of weeks ago inviting me up for a festive afternoon of ice skating and scoffing.  I mean, the last time I went ice skating was around ten years ago and I ended that session flat on my back with my legs in the air (…easy now), but I conveniently forgot all about that small fact right up until I stepped (/slid) out onto the ice.  Luckily, the rink isn’t too big and it isn’t too busy either – much quieter and cosier than the one at Cardiff’s Winter Wonderland – so there was no worrying about clawing my way around the outside while I found my feet or fears of getting clipped by a cocky Torvil and Dean wannabe (I’m not jealous at all).  It’s also covered, so come rain or shine (or snow?) you can skate until you slip.  There’s also a bar serving drinks and food (the Currywurst with sauerkraut was really good) if you’d rather watch the slip-sliding rather than partake in it yourself… 😉

As for me, I didn’t end up flat on my back like last time, but I was very wobbly!  If I wasn’t holding onto the barrier then I was crashing into it! 🙂







Après Skate, Sunny and I headed to The Mulberry Bar just off the lobby for a very special Christmas Treat.  On weekends running up to Christmas, The Mulberry Bar is serving a Festive Afternoon Tea for groups of up to eight.  I’d never had a normal afternoon tea let alone a festive one, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect – soggy cucumber finger sandwiches and teeny weeny cakes, maybe?  I definitely wasn’t expecting to come away feeling like I’d just scoffed a three course meal, but the funny thing was, I pretty much had!  After three courses of beautiful finger food (from smoked salmon éclairs and truffled hen’s egg brioche rolls, to fig and armagnac tartlets), including hot tea (Danish Pastry flavoured, of course…), a festive cocktail and mince pies to finish off, I was stuffed (…There was totally room there for a Turkey/Stuffing joke, but I’m going to spare you this time!)… Sunny pretty much had to carry me out.  And not a soggy cucumber sandwich in sight!



Thanks so much to the lovely lot at The Celtic Manor for inviting me – it was such a lovely treat!  🙂

Cardiff Christmas Shopping Guide 2018

Happy Monday!  It’s that time of year again!  The tree went up over the weekend, I’m on first name terms with the Amazon delivery guy and I’ve even got my first Christmas party later on this week.  It feels like Christmas is going to pounce on us any second now, which means the annual “What the hecky-peck am I going to get my Mother-in-law!?” freak-out has officially begun.  But – have no fear – if you’re Cardiff-bound on your hunt for the perfect Christmas present this year then I’ve got you covered with my 2018 Christmas Shopping Guide, full of the best stops (and pit-stops 😉) to get you all sorted for the big day.

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Homeware & Gifts

☆ Flying Tiger (St Davids Centre)

Perfect for: Quirky homeware, stationary and stocking fillers.  Tiger is one of my favourite places to hit if I’m having people over because they’ve always got the best (and cheapest!) party supplies and decs.  When it comes to banners, cake decorations, candles, napkins and nick-nacks, Tiger is the place to go.

☆ Illustrate (Morgan Arcade and the Christmas Market)

Perfect for: Unique graphic prints, t-shirts and accessories.  Sunny and I absolutely love Illustrate’s geometric animal prints – we’ve got a whole gallery of them!  Definitely worth checking out.

☆ Scribbler (Morgan Arcade)

Perfect for: Quirky cards and stocking fillers!  They’ve currently got a 3 for 2 offer on packs of Christmas Cards ;-).

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☆ The Joke Shop (Duke Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Fancy Dress Costumes and practical jokes.  My brother and I used to love hitting up the joke shop when we were kids – it’s perfect if you’re planning a fancy dress night out at Christmas, or you’ve got pranks planned around the Christmas dinner table, or for fun stocking fillers.

☆ Cardiff Outdoor Christmas Market (The Hayes)

Perfect for: You can’t miss the Christmas Market! Running from the 15th of November to the 23rd of December, it’s the best place to find unique handmade gifts, artwork and food.  If there’s someone on your gift list that’s impossible to buy for and you’re tearing your hair out over them then a stroll around the stalls should do the trick.  You can find a directory of all this year’s stalls here.

☆ Cardiff Indoor (Central) Market (St Mary Street)

Perfect for: Cardiff’s indoor market is over a hundred years old and still going strong.  It’s a great place to hit up if you need home hardware, specialist foodie gifts, pet supplies, sewing and crafty gifts and vinyl records.  It’s absolutely criminal to come away without buying a bag of ten Welsh Cakes from Bakestones. 😉

☆ Forbidden Planet (Duke Street)

Perfect for: Comic books, cult action figures and collectibles.  If you’ve got a Sheldon Cooper to buy for then you’ll already know about Forbidden Planet and are probably a frequent visitor. 🙂

☆ Oliver Bonas (St David’s 2 – The Hayes)

Perfect for: I recently told my mother that I would happily live in an Oliver Bonas store.  Bright and colourful shop offering quirky homeware, books and gifts – also fashion and accessories.  I wrote a whole post about the shop here.

☆ The Pen & Paper (Morgan Arcade)

Perfect for: Pens and Paper!  The best place to go for ink, card, pens, notebooks, art supplies and diaries.

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Kitchens Cookshop (High Street – castle end of St Mary Street)

Perfect for: Everything kitchen, cooking and baking related.  Guaranteed if I get a strange utensil or quirky cooking-related item from my Mum at Christmas time (and I always do!) then this is the shop it’s most likely come from.

☆ Rules of Play (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: If your annual Cards Against Humanity Marathon is starting to lose its novelty (we played for hours last year) and you’re on the hunt for a new board game or card game to play once Christmas dinner’s digested, then Rules of Play has got you covered.

☆ Castle Emporium (Womanby Street)

Perfect for: Market full of independent retailers selling clothing, jewellery, second hand books, artwork and skateboarding equipment.  On Saturday the 1st of December they’ve got a pop up Christmas Market from 12-5pm.

Outside the City Centre…

☆ Nest (Heol-y-Deri, Rhiwbina)

Perfect for: Not in the city centre, but definitely worth popping in if you’ve got a car.  Beautiful cosy homeware and gifts. 🙂

☆ Home byKirsty (Glenroy St, Roath)

Perfect for: Scandi-style homeware and stationary.  Awarded best new business in the 2015 Cardiff Life Awards, Home byKirsty showcases statement pieces like lights, cushions, mugs and other accessories for the home.  Definitely worth a look if you’re looking to buy a present for someone who’s just moved house!

☆ Beti Biggs (Albany Road, Roath)

Perfect for: “Vintage furniture, unusual gifts and homewares from around the world.”

*If Online Shopping’s your gig, check out these fab Welsh Makers and Brands with online stores.

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*Boots can be found in St David’s Centre, while most major brands can be tracked down in Debenhams and John Lewis (St David’s).

☆ Miss Patisserie (7, High Street Arcade) Available Online (and in most Boots stores)

Perfect for: Handmade Cosmetics, Bath Bombs, Candles. Tucked away in one of the Victorian Arcades (just off St John Street) Miss Patisserie is my go-to if I’ve got a pamper session planned – their bath balls are the bomb-diggity (much slower to fizzle out than, y’know, that *other* highstreet handmade cosmetics brand, and they create beautiful tie-dye swirls in the tub).  All their products are handmade, vegan and cruelty free and downright gorgeous.

☆ Neal’s Yard Remedies (Morgan Quarter)

Perfect for: Natural Remedies; I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Mama who isn’t a big fan of their soothing hand lotions.

☆ Jo Malone (St David’s 2 – Hayes side)

Perfect for: Personalised high-end perfume and beauty.

☆ L’Occitane (St David’s 2)

Perfect for: Provencial Beauty products and gift sets.

☆ Kiehl’s (St David’s 2)

Perfect for: Cult skincare products for men and women (I can’t rave more about their Midnight Recovery Oil).

Fashion & Jewellery

*Most of the big stores can be found dotted between Queen Street and The Hayes, with the majority of big names in St David’s 2.  For independents, check The Arcades.

☆ Hobos (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Hobos has been around since I was a kid!  One of the best spots in Cardiff for vintage and secondhand fashion and accessories.

☆ Two Seasons (Queens Arcade)

Perfect for: Ski, skate and surf shop selling main brands of clothing and equipment for adults and kids.

☆ Urban Outfitters (The Hayes)

Perfect for: Quirky fashion with a vintage feel, but their homeware and gift section is where you want to be this time of year… 😉

☆ Blue Banana (Queen Street)

Perfect for: Alternative fashion and jewellery (my one stop shop circa 2004 when I had pink hair…).

Outside the City Centre…

☆ Kiti Cymru (Pontcanna Mews, King’s Road)

Perfect for: Fashion boutique in Pontcanna with carefully curated fashion from brands such as Lily & Lionel, Tatty Devine and Traffic People.

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Food & Drink

☆ Wally’s Delicatessen (Morgan Arcade)

Perfect for: Foodie gift central.  Wally’s has its own unique aroma, you’ll smell the spices and cured meat long before you step inside.  It’s definitely the place to go if you’re looking for things to go into a Christmas hamper, as well as hot sauces, biscuits, chocolates, cheeses, pannettone and Christmas pudding.  They’ve also got a coffee shop on the second floor.

☆ Wally’s Drinks (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Wines, drinks and spirits.  Perfect if you’re looking to gift some quirky drinks or liquors – including Welsh-brewed products – or stock up for New Year’s Eve!

☆ Vom Fass (High Street Arcade)

Perfect for: Specialist Oils and Spirits.

☆ Bean Freaks (St Mary’s Street)

Perfect for: Natural foods, remedies and beauty products.

☆ Simply V (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Vegan groceries, toiletries and clothing.

☆ Madame Fromage (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Cheesy gifts, literally!  Specialty cheeses and hampers.  They also offer Cheese and Wine Tasting evenings from £25 a head which my Dad would be all over. 🙂

Outside the City Centre…

☆ Pontcanna Market (King’s Road Yard, Pontcanna)

Perfect for: Worth venturing out of the city centre for their Saturday Farmer’s Market (9.30am – 2pm), and on the first three Sundays in December they’re hosting a Christmas Craft Fair (9am – 3pm).

Books & Music

☆ Spillers (Morgan Arcade)

Perfect for: LEGENDARY.  CDs and Vinyl.  The world’s oldest record shop and a Cardiff institution.  ‘Nuff said.

☆ Cranes (High Street – castle end of St Mary Street)

Perfect for: Gifts for musicians.  Cranes is the Mecca for Cardiff Musicians and the place to go to buy instruments and accessories.

☆ Troutmark Books (Castle Arcade)

Perfect for: Lovely secondhand book store tucked away in Castle Arcade.

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Welsh-themed Gifts

☆ Bodlon (Yr Hen Lyfrgell, The Hayes – and also 12 Park Road, Whitchurch)

Perfect for: Welsh-themed gifts.  Beautiful homeware, welsh language books, prints and stationary by welsh artists, toys and locally produced chocolates and alcohol.

☆ Castle Welsh Crafts (Castle Street – opposite Cardiff Castle)

Perfect for: Welsh themed gifts, love spoons, slate and souvenirs.  Castle Crafts has been around for donkey’s years and it’s no wonder because it’s the best place to go for all things Wales – especially love spoons.

☆ Shop Rugby (Duke Street)

Perfect for: Rugby Shirts and Kit as well as a few Welsh themed gifts.

Pitstops

Because all that Christmas Shopping is nackering!  It’s nice to have somewhere to go for coffee and a snack!  Here are some of my faves.

Barker Tea House (High Street Arcade)

Nata & Co (Castle Arcade)

Gin & Juice (Castle Arcade) – for something stronger… 😉

Crumb’s (Morgan Arcade)

Nine Yards (Duke Street Arcade)

The Plan (Morgan Arcade)

Hard Lines (Cardiff Indoor Market and Castle Emporium)

Llaeth a Siwgr (Yr Hen Llyfrgell)

Uncommon Ground (Morgan Arcade)

Big Moose Coffee (Frederick Street) tucked away between Boots and Primark and worth dropping in on to check out their Brownie of the Week 😉

The New York Deli (High Street Arcade)

The Grazing Shed Burgers (Morgan Quarter)

If you’ve got any Cardiff Christmas Shopping suggestions then I’d love to hear them – I’m always discovering new favourites! 🙂

A Stress-Free Sunday Night Dinner with La Belle Assiette

I love getting my friends and family over for dinner.  You know me, I’m a right Monica Geller; “I’m always the hostess!”  It’s stressful, but it’s the kind of stress I feed off of (literally!).  I love setting the table up, deciding what cook for everyone and then serving it up.  But more than anything else I love having all my favourite people around my kitchen table.  My only problem with the whole hosting game is that I’m constantly having to leave that table to go check on the food, top up drinks and then… ugh, clean everything up.  I keep having to disappear in the middle of one of my Dad’s stories, or the latest TV and movie tip-off from my brother and that, my friends, is the worst part of always being the hostess.  Sometimes it’d be nice to just sit at that same table and soak up a Sunday night dinner with the family without having to actually serve it myself.

I thought I’d have to win a Grammy or the lottery to be able to hire a private chef, and since my singing’s only shower-worthy and I can’t remember the last time I won anything on the lottery – I thought I was way off.  But it’s actually more affordable than you’d think!  La Belle Assiette is a website that allows you to hire local chefs and caterers to come and serve a meal in your home with prices starting from as little as £39 a head.  Chefs call up and discuss the menu with you beforehand – taking into consideration any special dietary requirements or fussy eaters you might have – and then they buy all the ingredients, cook the meal and – better yet – clean up afterwards!  So, when an email popped into my inbox asking whether I fancied opening up my little kitchen for the night to local chef, Manveer Holloway, how could I possibly refuse? 🙂


I’m a bit possessive of my kitchen – I always kick people out when I’m cooking, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be like having a stranger come and use my cheap old pans and crusty oven (I did have a panic the night before that nothing was chef-clean enough and scrubbed until my arm almost fell off), but Manveer was friendly and professional right from the get go.  He arrived a few hours before dinner to set up and prepare the food and got right down to it!  I could just sit back and wait for my guests to arrive.  But I didn’t do that, it felt strange not mucking in!  So I went and had a chat with Manveer instead, asking him about his experience in the catering industry and the six months he spent working on the tiny channel island of Aldernay.

The meal kicked off at eight with some bread and olives on the table, followed by a starter of Tikka Marinated Chicken, pickled cue and courgettes (which were absolutely stunning) and mint raita.  And for my Mum, who only eats fish and vegetables; wild mushroom arancini, pea shoots and truffle oil.


When Manveer called me a few weeks before the meal to discuss the menu, he suggested rump of lamb for a main course.  Now, I’m not normally a huge fan of lamb, but I knew that Sunny, my Dad and my brother would be all over it – so I said yes!  Turns out, I hadn’t really given lamb a chance because the lamb Manveer cooked was absolutely delicious! Accompanied with rosemary and garlic mash, pea and butternut puree, fresh leek and red wine sauce it was probably the nicest Sunday Dinner to ever grace my kitchen table!



While we feasted on lamb, my Mum polished off a fillet of seabass with sauteed potatoes, spiced tomato sauce, tempura broccoli and cauliflower florets.  I was amazed how Manveer perfectly timed two very different meals, cooking the fish to perfection while keeping the lamb tender.

To finish off, we had a deconstructed lemon tart with candied lemon peel, limoncello jelly and earl grey syrup (which I loved so much I had to try making myself!).  While we all ate and chatted, Manveer worked hard to get the kitchen back clean and in working order.

What can I say?  The whole night was a total treat from start to finish!  If you’re looking to host a dinner party with a difference then I’d definitely check out La Belle Assiette – your guests will be nattering about it for months!

Massive thanks to La Belle Assiette and Manveer for such an amazing evening – and to Anna from Exposure for the photographs (it was so nice to dig into a plate of food without me having to photograph it first!).

Have a great week everyone! 

What I Did: Cardiff Bay Beach

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And so the heatwave blazes on here in Cardiff (it’s set to get up to 27° again later on this week – phew!) which is great because it means there’s plenty of chance to get out and enjoy all the summery things on offer in the city in the weather they were actually intended for!  Case and point: The Cardiff Bay Beach Festival, which runs every year from July to early September.  It’s moved from its usual spot on Plas Roald Dahl right in the heart of The Bay to a bigger, breezier spot up by The Barrage – a genius decision as it means there’s plenty more to see, do and eat!  I popped down on Saturday evening for a drink and stroll around the funfair, and thanks to the beautiful weather and even more beautiful sunset it really felt like I was on holiday somewhere far away.  Hello Cardiffornia! 🙂


If I hadn’t stuffed my face at Vegetarian Food Studio earlier that day then I’d have absolutely filled up on the Milkshakes, Halloumi Fries, Candifloss and Churros on offer – but I was full, so I had a sunset slushie instead 🙂








Have a great week! 🙂

What I Did: The Volvo Ocean Race Cardiff Stopover

I’ve got to be honest, I’m not that bothered about boats.  I’ve manned a boat maybe three times in my life, and none of those voyages were particularly successful.  Two of them involved getting tangled in some pretty thick pond weed under a willow on Roath Park Lake, and the other time was on honeymoon when Sunny decided that he wanted to try a two-man kayak.  Honestly?  I was absolutely knackered from rowing before we’d even made it out of the dock and whinged the whole way round (“Can we pleeeeease go back to the beach now?”).

So when Sunny suggested we pop down to Cardiff Bay to see the Volvo Ocean Race Stopover, I agreed to go on the proviso that we’d have our own stopover in Compass Coffee for breakfast Cronuts. 🙂

Sunny went for the Eggs Hebredian (Eggs Benedict with some added juicy black pudding), I had the Sticky Toffee and Custard Cronut and can confirm that it was 👌👌👌



After breakfast we walked over the Barrage towards The Boatyard.  I didn’t know much about the actual race before I got there, but it’s been running since the seventies.  Back in October, the boats weighed anchor in Alicante and set off on a nine month race around the world, with stopovers in just twelve cities.  And this year, Cardiff was picked as the stopping port after the tiring Atlantic leg.  Unfortunately, the boats hadn’t actually arrived when we were there on Sunday (they came in very early on Tuesday morning after being slowed down by some bad weather – welcome to Wales!), but there was more than enough to see and do (and eat!).  They’re docked in Cardiff until the 10th of June, when they’ll set off for Gothenburg.  While they’re here there’s plenty going on in and around The Bay, including workshops, demonstrations and a couple of races on Friday the 8th and Saturday the 9th of June (you can find out a bit more about what’s on here).


Despite being “not bothered about boats” the workshops and stalls were actually really interesting – particularly the Volvo Building; you can learn more about the race, the boats and how bloody hard the teams work during each leg.  You can also hop into a replica of one of the actual racing boats, and even attempt to dock one using a simulator.  Lots of cool stuff to do.  We got down there at about 11 in the morning and before we knew it, it was pushing 4!


As well as the stalls devoted to the race, there were also a few flying the flag for Wales (including some fab local food stalls), like Visit Wales, where you can try out a Virtual Reality version of some activities and experiences on offer around the country – like rocketing down the side of Snowdon on a Zip Line and diving with dolphins. 🙂





I’ll never complain about rowing around Roath Park again!  Definitely worth heading down to Cardiff Bay and checking out the Stopover while it’s in town – the boats are shipping off on the 10th of June.

Have a great weekend! 🙂