British Summer: Kensington Palace

One thing I had to do in my British summer, especially because it was The Queen's Diamond Jubilee this summer, was visit the historic Royal Palaces. So, today we headed to Kensington Palace to visit our first Palace of the summer.

Doesn't it look glorious? From top left, clockwise: William III, Victoria statue with Kensington Palace behind, The Orangery and Kensington Palace Gardens. The Orangery was closed today for a private function so we couldn't have afternoon tea, but it gives us an excuse to return!

Here's the Palace Gate at the south side of the Palace - it's pretty hard to get a clear shot because of all the tourists - but here is one of the places that flowers were laid when Diana, Princess of Wales died. Diana, you see, lived here; other members of the Royal family still do.

Queen Victoria was also born here, which is why one of the areas you can visit is 'Victoria Revealed'. There's also The King's State Apartments, The Queen's State Apartments, plus a temporary exhibition called Diana.

It's actually a shame that I've never been to Kensington Palace before because it would have been rather telling to compare that visit with the experience we had today. That's because Kensington Palace has just had a £12 million renovation to get rid of its "stuffy image" and I can only imagine what it used to be like... Now though the experience is wonderful and full of so many quirky little details that are charming and make your journey through the Palace an immersive, engaging and enchanting adventure.

Kensington Palace does not feel like a stuffy, boring tourist attraction with your usual run-of-the-mill museum-type displays. How it presents the story of the Palace is innovative and I enjoyed it far more than I hoped I would because of this; the conception and curation is truly a joy.

Going up the King's Staircase to his Apartments - in this case, the King in question is George II -  are these delightful little figurines showing those who would have worked for the King. You're encouraged throughout to open drawers, have a bit of a poke around and really take part in the Palace. Instead of cabinets with copious display notes, books are left around the rooms which you can pick up to read about what you are seeing. In the case of 'Victoria Revealed', extracts from her diary are printed everywhere - on the carpet, on tables, on the wall - whereas whispering windows mutter stories to you in the State Apartments.

The visit is a short one - only an hour to ninety minutes spent inside, depending on the crowds - but it's a thoroughly charming one. Little touches like beautifully illustrated Diana wallpaper leading you to the exhibition of some of her dresses or reliving Queen Victoria's Jubilee, so very fitting this year with our Queen's own Diamond Jubilee having took place, make it a delight. 

But, it's not all quirky. This is still a Royal Palace and you have fittings and furnishings fit for Kings and Queens dotted around the Palace, in all their golden glory.

Once you've explored inside, do go and see Kensington Palace Gardens, not to be confused with Kensington Park. Kensington Park is the wider park (it joins up with Hyde Park); Kensington Palace Gardens are right by the Palace and, as you can see below, it's an actual garden. You can only stand by the edge and can't go into the garden, but it's still a sight to behold. (And you don't actually need to buy a ticket to be able to view the garden.)

We decided to purchase annual membership, which is worth doing if you're interested in visiting a few of the palaces over the course of a year. It would have cost us £31.90 (£15.95 each) to visit Kensington Palace, but instead we paid £65 and for that we both get unlimited entry for the next year to not only Kensington Palace, but to Hampton Court Palace (£16.95 entry each), the Tower of London (£20.90), Kew Palace (£6) and Banqueting House (£5) - a massive saving! You also get 10% off the restaurants and shops, a book worth £9.99 and a few other goodies when you join up.

We had a simply wonderful afternoon spent at Kensington Palace. My only niggle was I wish there was more to see and do there because I was having a grand time and was disappointed when I realised we had finished seeing everything - if we hadn't have bought the annual ticket, I would have questioned the value - but I can't wait to visit my next Royal Palace. I've been to the Tower of London before, but none of the others so there's lots to do and discover!

Have you been to any of the Royal Palaces? x

Sea bass, sizzled ginger, chilli & spring onions

This recipe for sea bass with sizzled ginger, chilli and spring onions is just divine, though I'm not so convinced by the addition of spring onions... it gives it texture, but *I* personally don't think it really does anything to enhance the flavour. 

We served this up with baby potatoes and asparagus with balsamic vinegar. Verdict? Delicious!

Next up, I need to find a decent recipe for another of my favourite fishes - monkfish - and make monkfish and chorizo skewers, the perfect combination! What are your favourite fish recipes? x

British Summer: Imperial War Museum

After a quick visit to Embankment today - which perfectly highlighted a British summer with dark, rainy clouds if you looked up the Thames towards the London Eye, whilst blue skies could be seen over the City of London - we hopped on a tube and headed to Lambeth North for the Imperial War Museum.

The Imperial War Museum tells the stories of those whose lives have been shaped by war from the First World War to the present day, and like many of London's museums is absolutely free to visit. Open 10pm to 6pm daily it's well worth a visit; make sure you allow at least three hours though to ensure that you get a good sense of everything. 


All photos were taken on my phone using Instagram. I'm "ellefieauthor" if you want to follow me! x

Memory lane: Graduation

Five years ago this week I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a M.A (Hons) International Relations - Social Anthropology. Yes, that's St Andrews and not Hogwarts like the picture suggests! ;) Amazingly, I managed to achieve that awesome jump on only the second attempt. That's talent for you.

That photo is the only photo I actually like from the graduation day as I didn't have time to get my hair just right, which is one of those silly things that can annoy a girl. All my smiles seem just a little bit too forced, but how many photos do we honestly need to remember an event? I think this one sums up my graduation splendidly!

The ceremony is somewhat scary for a girl wearing heels as it involves kneeling down, in your robe, to be tapped on the head (capped) with a 14th Century piece of cloth or, should I say, John Knox's breeches. Aaaah, St Andrews. The really horrid part is standing back up again and ensuring that you don't trip up over your gown when you step back up to bow, before sauntering off the stage to get your degree scroll from a little table, out of sight. 

Having spent four years in St Andrews and knowing its odd weather - once I wore just jeans and a tee one very mild December and I've also sunbathed there in a bikini in February - it shouldn't have surprised me that it was the weirdest weather that June. It tipped it down with rain and there was a ghastly fog that hung over the town. It did manage to keep bright for my graduation ceremony, but all-in-all it was a pretty miserable week.

In between my final exams and graduation I was hanging out in the Caribbean with my best friend so I really felt that weather. By the end of the graduation week I had a dreadful cold and at the graduation ball looked bleary-eyed, not from drinking - nothing but soft drinks passed my lips that night - but because of the tiredness and cold medicine.

Still, at least I liked my hair that night. x

Le Gavroche

Michel Roux Jr.'s Le Gavroche is kind of a big deal. The first UK restaurant to be awarded one, two and three Michelin stars - it currently has two - a reservation is needed to be made months in advance, and an original Picasso hangs on the wall. It's something else.

I was very lucky to be there last Friday night for my anniversary dinner. Olly booked it as a surprise MONTHS ago, but then accidentally let it slip we were going there with only two days left to keep the secret... Doh!

There had been a slight mix-up with our reservation and the time we were supposed to have our table, but Emmanuel, the General Manager, is an absolute star and sorted everything out for us with finesse and poise. ApƩritifs of gin and tonics ordered, it was time to take a look at what amazing dishes we would be feasting on.

[Just as side note, drink prices are perfectly reasonable at Le Gavroche. I'll compare it to The Ritz, which is still an "experience" but one which boasts no Michelin stars... At Le Gavroche, a G & T is £7, The Ritz is triple that.]

One thing about Le Gavroche is that it is old-fashioned. Ladies, your menu will have no prices, unlike the menus for the gentlemen. After some mouth-watering perusing, we finally decided upon the Menu Exceptional - the eight course tasting menu, followed by coffee and petit fours - and chose to have it with the matching wines.

I definitely recommend you pick matching wines if they are ever available at any restaurant you go to because they enhance the food like you wouldn't believe. The sommelier knows his/her stuff, believe me, and those matching wines are picked for a reason - heaven!

With an amuse-bouche and a nod and a smile from Michel Roux Jr. who was doing the rounds - he was there all night, most of the time in the kitchen but often popping out to talk to the patrons - it was time to enjoy ourselves and settle down for an evening of divine taste. To start with, a cheese souffle cooked on double cream, which I surprisingly liked even though I hate cheese (the cheese trolley was completely ignored by me later on), which went down lovely with a Dry Amontillado, “Los Arcos” - a sherry! I know!

Marinated var salmon with lemon and vodka jelly swiftly followed, and then stone bass and pastilla, scented with Arabian spices, with fennel, red rice and meat jus. Both matching wines enhanced the food beautifully, with the Chateau Roubine "Terre de Croix" Semillon 2009 adding to the spices in the stone bass and giving extra warmth to the flavours. 

The famous Coquilles St. Jacques followed (grilled scallops with a clam minestrone) - heavenly - and then something which surprised me... Black pudding. Or, should I say, black pudding, crumbed egg, crackling, asparagus salad and spicy tomato chutney. My first thought was no because it was black pudding, which just went to show me as this was my favourite course of the evening. Michel Roux Jr. can cook me it any time.

Grilled fillet of Scottish beef was served up for course six, and then the previously-mentioned cheese trolley, before a dessert of crispy layers of pastry, raspberries and praline flavoured chocolate, accompanied by a glass of Maury Vintage 2006. By the time the tea, coffee and petit fours were brought out, we were deliciously stuffed (and also somewhat tipsy with the eight glasses of wine).

What more can I say? The food was divine, the service impeccable, and it was great to see Michel there. (Typically, he came over to our table and spoke to Olly whilst I was in the loo.) It was certainly a magical, unrushed four and a half hours we spent there celebrating. 

If you want to go to Le Gavroche - who wouldn't! - be aware that you will need to book your table months in advance. The Menu Exceptional costs £110 per person; if you choose to have it with the matching wines that is an extra £68. Believe me though, it's worth every penny, and I will be dropping enough hints to ensure that Olly books Le Gavroche again! x

The first year of forever

On June 16th last year something started. Which was somewhat surprising as I had sworn off men the previous week, but it just goes to show that when this is it, this is it. I stood waiting outside The 39 Steps and my first words uttered were a somewhat childish sing-song of: "Ollllllllllllly. You're late!" Possibly with a little stamp of the foot. Ever the grown-up.

Now, to clarify, we weren't even on a date, just meeting as friends to go and see Senna -  a brilliant but sad documentary - though Olly thought otherwise... Not about Senna, about the date. He thought we were on a date.

This is probably why he was on his best and most charming behaviour - not that he's not this anyway - and because I was most definitely not on a date - sworn off men, remember? - I could be relaxed and faintly ridiculous if I felt like it. Basically, I could be me because I didn't have to try and impress him and be in that awful date mode where you are trying to be a perfect person... one you most definitely are not.

He asked if I wanted to go for a drink after the film, and I confused him. Aware that he was still commuting in from Kent which took forever, I didn't want to delay his journey home. So I umm'd and aaaah'd, and he thought I wasn't interested in him because of this, but we finally made it to a pub off Regent Street. We drank Sol, we chatted, and when we said goodbye at Piccadilly Circus, I felt somewhat sad that the night was over.

I am a little silly sometimes so when he suggested we should hang out again, I said yes. It didn't twig until I had thought about it a bit more that he was asking me out on a date. Definitely an *actual* one this time.

On Saturday 25th June we went to London Zoo, hung out in Regent's Park, and then went for dinner and drinks at Paramount at Centre Point... Last week we went back to Paramount for nibbles and drinks, which brought back a flood of giddy memories, before we headed round the corner to see We Will Rock You. I think that can mean only one thing - that our "official" first date went very well.

We officially celebrated at Le Gavroche last Friday night, and I won't mind one bit if we celebrate there every year. I'll be blogging more about there another time, but it was INCREDIBLE. Michel Roux Junior was there, and the food wasn't too shabby either!

In all seriousness though, this past year has been amazing - full of love, laughter and amazing adventures. It really has been the first year of forever and I can't wait to see not only what the next year brings us, but the next five years, ten years, and the rest of our lives. Here's to forever. xxxxx

Happy Father's Day!

"My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low-grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery ... My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament."

~ Dr. Evil, Austin Powers

British Summer: Olympic countdown

I got an email today saying that it's fifty days until the Olympic Games 2012 begin in London, which is rather fitting as I also found out today that the free Olympic tickets we snagged are for Beach Volleyball! I know many people will be jealous about that given it seems just about everyone applied for Beach Volleyball tickets... I have no idea why! ;)

I have to confess though, I never applied for any Olympic tickets and planned on being out of town for most of the games - I am having to actually rearrange a trip to go to the Volleyball - but once I found out we had the tickets, I knew I had to go.

So, I'll be adding Beach Volleyball to my British Summer and will be looking forward to taking my seat at The Royal Horse Guards in August, though I'm not looking forward to the increased crowds and the inevitable Tube nightmares that the Games will bring. 

Is anyone else going to the Olympic Games this summer or will you stick to watching and supporting Team GB (if you're a Brit, that is!) from the comfort of your own home? x


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