Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Brighton antics

Hi friends!

According to Jose Mourinho the whole world will stand still tonight as it waits with bated breath to see the outcome of the Manchester United vs Real Madrid Champions League tie. It seems like the world of social media agrees and my newsfeed is top to toe in football talk. Rather join in the inevitable discussion about just how good Cristiano Ronaldo is or just how over-rated Wayne Rooney is I thought I would spend my evening watching the match and updating you all on just what I have been up to this week. It has been a really enjoyable week and I have plenty a tale and restaurant review to share with you! I hope you enjoy this edition and I whole heartedly encourage you to share this blog with others who may find this an interesting read. All pics are my own by the way so forgive the lighting on a couple because they are just phone shots in a dark restaurant....enjoy!

This week I escaped the humdrum world of my 9-5 job and took advantage of the joy that is my flexitime system at work. I had managed to amass over 15 hours so took Thursday and Friday off. It was a holiday I had been looking forward to for some time, not only because I needed a break from my slump at work, but mainly because I got to be re-united with my long lost lover from Seville. Let me tell you 8 weeks is too long to be away from the one you love and I personally will never be subjecting myself to it again!

So, I packed up a bag (complete with wine and chocolate as a little welcome back present) and headed in the general direction of the South. A weekend in Brighton was calling my name and I had booked to stay in a  self-catering flat through Airbnb. I have never been a big fan of hotels because they are often lifeless and lack that little bit of personality to make you feel special. I came across Airbnb a while ago and would strongly recommend it to anyone wanting to visit somewhere for less than a hotel and still enjoy the privacy that hostels don't provide. Essentially Airbnb is a room renting service where people offer up their homes for you to stay in for short periods of time. You often are right in the middle of the action and surrounded by locals.

Not A Great Start
As much as I recommend Airbnb (and I really do) this particular trip did not go so well! The night before my trip I did everything I could to get in touch with my host, but with no luck. I thought it was just a blip and they were either sleeping or busy. I would try again in the morning. I did just that but with no luck whatsoever and it was only upon my eventual arrival in Brighton that it hit home that I would need to start looking for alternate accommodation. The kind folk at Airbnb arranged a refund immediately and even gave me a discount for a future booking by ways of an apology. Given the multitude of hotels in Brighton I was not overly concerned about this hiccup and was more eager to get on with enjoying myself than being angry.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to find a hotel online and after a cheeky little call direct to the hotel I had managed to get an extra discounted rate that included breakfast and ended up spending less money that I originally had. Not bad I say! Ultimately I stayed in George IV Hotel and it was a bit of a lifesaver because it prevented me sleeping in the backseat of my Peugeot! It was in a great location central to town and as you stepped out the front door of the place you had a clear view to the sea...just what the doctor ordered!

Date night one
Wahey! I got to spend some quality time with my better half! None of that long distance thing, no Skype and no delays in conversation. It was fantastic to be able to spend some one on one time with Vic again and life always feel so much better when she is around. I is just a shame I have to wait a few weeks until life feels that good again.

Anyway enough of the soppy stuff. That evening we went out for a meal. It had been a long day and after having making the most of an email offer for a free drink at Pitcher and Piano (all you have to do is sign up to the newsletter for monthly deals) we just wanted something quick but tasty. Lucky for us we had a wide variety of restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world right one our doorstep. We opted for sushi and what a wise move it would prove to be.

It was long after the evening rush as we entered Sushi Garden, but were welcomed with a smile and very attentive service. Fair enough there was only one group left in the restaurant when we arrived, but you really got the impression you would have received the same welcome at the peak of the evening rush.

We had a quick read of the extensive menu and pretty quickly decided upon a tasting platter and some tempura prawns. I mean it would be wrong not to want to taste a bit of everything wouldn't it?! A mere moments later we were greeted by a platter that looked like a fan loaded with enticing looking items, such as tuna, squid, eel and octopus. Each item brought with it a different texture and taste. The octopus was ever so slightly spiced and the tuna was so fresh and tasty it just melted in the mouth. In all honesty there was not one item that let this meal down and it was delivered with style, experience and seriously enviable skills. This was all accompanied by spicy hot wasabi and glorious thin picked ginger. This really helped bring out the complexity of the simple ingredients in front of us. I also think the Tsingtao lager may have helped!

This was possibly the best sushi I have eaten in my life, in fact it was! It was fresh and perfectly delicate. The simple flavours were gently balanced and everything was in proportion. Mouthful after mouthful I was treated to explosions of sheer food bliss and could have easily gorged myself for hours on end on delicious sushi treats. There are those occasions in life when you stumble upon a jewel of a restaurant and I really think the Sushi Garden is just that. Great value, great service and most of all absolutely amazing food. If you are ever in Brighton please do go check it out, you will not be disappointed or my name is not Hagg!

A Good Night's Sleep
After that cracking meal out it was time to retire to bed. We had both been travelling for the majority of the day and had worn us both out. We returned to a warm and cosy room and nodded off pretty much straight away content in the knowledge that we were back together again and that a weekend full of fun things and relaxation lay ahead of us.

I guess now may be as good a time as any to tell you about the hotel and give it a mini review. I would say my experiences may be slightly shrouded by the fact the saved any accommodation woes at the last minute.
  • Room - The room was basic and a little bit dated if anything. It was clean and tidy but nothing to really write home about and I always find carpets in a bathroom a bit disturbing, especially having seen the state of men's toilets in pubs and knowing how many people have zero aim!
  • Location - The real selling point of this hotel is its location. A few strides from the beach one way and even less distance to shops and restaurants galore the other. The George IV Hotel offered a perfect base for adventures. There was a car park to the front and for some reason I managed to avoid extortionate Brighton parking fees as the gates were broken and it was free all weekend! Score one me!
  • Price - Like I say this hotel worked out less than I originally paid. I stayed 3 nights and got a 15% discount working out at a grand total of £212.50 for bed and breakfast. This is pretty good value for money in Brighton where you can find yourself paying London prices quite easily. I definitely recommend chancing your arm by ringing a hotel direct too and negotiating a deal!
  • Experience - Check in was easy and quick and the staff were friendly enough. You were left to get on with it from there and perhaps some interest in the reason for our stay or suggestions of things to do would not have gone amiss.

Overall the hotel was decent, nothing more, nothing less. It saved my bacon, but ordinarily I might have been a bit disappointed by it, but its location was perfection itself. The highlight of the stay was undoubtedly my day one breakfast - grilled halloumi on a breakfast muffin with rocket....nom nom nom!

Friday Funtimes
Waking up on Friday refreshed and full of hope for a fantastic day ahead I let Vic into the secret I had been keeping, I had booked a couples massage for later that day. It was hopefully going to make up for missing Valentine's Day together and renew our energy levels that seven and a half weeks of non-stop work had drained out of us! However, Vic did have the energy to get in some shopping before we had to go to the massage parlour.

Seeing Vic hit the shops anyone would think that Spain does not have shops, trust it does! Anyway we spent a couple of hours looking around a few shops and buying a couple of items. Although I generally like going shopping I just couldn't seem to get into it like normal and found myself getting distracted by fashion disasters and outrageous clothes. One particular cat dress still scares the life out of me and I have no comprehension as to why anyone would ever think buying it is a good idea. Check out the picture below and try explaining to me why anyone would want this in their wardrobe!

Shopping done it was off to Little Jasmine for our massage. I had got an hour treatment for 2 for £80 so a really good deal. I have had massages before that have frankly left me wondering what the big deal is and even left me in more pain than before I entered the treatment room, but honestly this was nothing like it. The staff were genuinely masters at their art and I knew as soon as the hot towel hit my feet that this was going to be an amazing experience and I just let myself relax as the masseuse went to work on my knotted body.

Now this was no normal massage and before you get started it was not one of those happy ending ones either! Keep your minds out the gutter please. No, this was a thai oil massage designed to work out the aches and pains of life with a mixture of fast and slow movements with different amounts of pressure. When the masseuse found a knot she applied perfect amounts of pressure to soothe the muscle and release the pent up tension. This was particularly relevant for me and my shoulders from weeks of hockey playing and having been stuck driving the length of the country the day before. I actually think there was a point where like the Massage Ninja she was my masseuse jumped up on the table and dropped an elbow on a particularly knotted muscle. Whatever she did it did the trick and I slipped into a state of relaxation I rarely feel and spent the next hour in and out of a massage induced comatose. When she was done I felt rejuvenated  but oddly in need of a nap. All in all it was a fantastic experience and definitely needed.

Date Night Two
After our day of relaxation I had booked us a table at Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant and thought we should have a few cocktails before we headed on down. So, we headed to the local cocktail bar, KOBA, to enjoy their happy hour deals. I am a bit of a cocktail fiend and think I can make a pretty decent Mojito or Cosmo, so I was a little bit disappointed in the standard of the cocktails presented to us. I don't quite know what to say, but it was like the bar staff did not put enough love into each drink. As a result we were left with cocktails that lacked that spark and lacked the finesse you begin to expect from a specialist cocktail bar these days. To be honest we returned later that night and I was much more impressed by the precision of the drinks so it might just have been a dodgy bartender crumbling under the pressure of a happy hour deal, but I reckon I could do a better job of it!

I wasn't about to get caught up in that though because I had a real treat ahead of me - a meal out with Vic in Jamie's Italian. Now as you know I am a bit of a foodie and I have to be honest I love Jamie Oliver's approach to food in keeping in pimping up the classics, using quality ingredients and making dining a memorable experience. Jamie's Italian really does not fail to deliver on all 3 of these.

As we walked in we were welcomed by a hostess in a kind a chilled bar area and subsequently shown to our table. We were sat upstairs, but as we walked through I could smell bread baking and there was a real hustle and bustle about the place making it feel like a market place, full of life and tasty prospects. The restaurant was huge with every table full. I really don't know how the kitchen cope in there, but they really do and do it well.

We started out with a peach bellini, it would be rude not to and thanks to me signing up to be a member of Jamie's Gold Members newsletter we were also given some free food. This was a perfect start to a fantastic meal. Quickly our free appetiser of prosciutto appeared at the table with a drizzle of olive oil. The meat was delicate and melted in the mouth and the olive oil really brought an extra dimension to the dish. Not bad for free either!

Next up we opted for a shared fish plank and a bread medley. Both were sensational. The bread fresh bread was warm and soft and covered in rosemary and garlic in equal measures, truly delish. The fish plank is a genuine Jamie dish. Presented on an elongated chopping board perched on top of two cans of chopped tomatoes it is that shabby chic style that Jamie has become renowned for. It was not even a case of style over substance with mackerel pate and fried fish delivering a taste of the ocean, but for me the stewed clams really stood out with their slightly spiced broth, just yum.

Next up was mains. I was disappointed that they had sold out of the lamb ravioli special, but to be fair I can see why it sounded ace. I ended up opting for a rabbit tagliolini and Vic went for a squid ink spaghetti with scallops. Both were spot on and the rabbit was a delight. It's rich and game flavour of the rabbit was complimented by a simple sauce and perfectly cooked pasta. As the Italians would say 'bellissimo'. Vic's meal also delivered a fresh scallop punch, but I will be honest I didn't get much of a look in!

Dessert was where it is at in any Italian restaurant if you ask me. I love me an Affogatto if I am being simple, but I thought I would be different for once and chose the rich and delicious brownies that came loaded with amaretti biscuits and fresh raspberries. However, Vic's chocolate pot was really the star of the show. Not only was it huge, but it was gloriously chocolatey and was topped with a orange mascapone that really cut through the sweetness of the chocolate. I was seriously jealous and that is impressive because my brownies rocked!

In addition to receiving free food earlier on in the meal my Gold Membership also entitled me to £10 off the bill, so it was great value. We had 3 courses, wine and cocktails for £60! Now you don't get that standard of food for that price in many places. Overall this was a fantastic experience and I just wish there was one in Newcastle. Coming to think of it that makes 2 franchises I need to enquire about for Newcastle now. Both Jamie's Italian and Le Bistrot Pierre would make great additions to the Geordie foodscene. I wonder how much it would be to own one of these places because it is seriously tempting. Hmm...

On Saturday morning Vic disappeared off to Starbucks (other coffee chains available but none serve a killer Egg Nog Latte at Christmas) to meet an friend for a catch up so I decided to walk along to Brighton Marina from the town centre. It was a fairly long walk and I had high hopes for the marina because I like me a boat and there's something about a marina that makes me expect a tonne of well to do folks and bright sunshine. Maybe I have been spoilt by foreign holidays and watching the F1 at Monaco all these years, but Brighton Marina was a real let down. Maybe it was just the weather though.

The boats themselves were impressive, but the surroundings left a lot to be desired. It is clear that a lot of time, money and effort has gone in to regenerating the area, but it feels a bit cold and corporate without a sense of individual character. Chains of restaurants and a cinema have shot up from the concrete surroundings to bring a new sense of life, but the approach to the marina just fills you with disappointment. Maybe it is the graffiti laden walls or the lifeless approach through a car park, but it really did not set the blood flowing.

The walk back to town was the best part of the walk where I found myself unwittingly watch someone get naked on the beach even though it was freezing only to realise I had stumbled upon a nudist section of the beach! I carried along the route of the old mini train track with looked sad and in need of some love but reminisced about younger years of miniature trains in parks and the joy they brought. Oh to be young again! Although saying that I like what I have now.

That afternoon we relived one of Vic's childhood memories and took a trip up Devil's Dyke for a surprisingly good pub lunch. There are various stories about Devil's Dyke, but essentially there is some mumbo jumbo suggesting the Devil was trying to cause some havoc and created a big scar in the land. I can see why the surrounding area is good for hikers as it is relatively unblemished, but other than the views, which have no specific points of interest, there is not much going on. Like I say the pub was good! 

Birthday Drinks
After returning home and having a brief power nap we were ready and raring to go out again. It is all about making the most of every minute we have when we are together. So we set off for a Thai meal at Siam Siam as Vic was craving the thai flavours that are just not available in Spain. It was a decent meal providing the hit of spice we were both after, but not really outstanding in my opinion. 

After that it was off to a bar for shots and rum and cokes to celebrate the birthday of one of Vic's cousins. We caught up with the group after some pre-drinks and had a good time a had a good catch up with the birthday girl. We spoke about homemade birthday cakes and watched a group of rugby lads try their best to impress the girls and pretty much failing miserably as it descended into rowdy shouting and group singing! I also spent a bit of time talking to Vic's other cousin about her thesis on educational psychology about the transition between college and university and will make sure I share her findings when she publishes them as it sounds very interesting indeed.

I don't know what it is about Brighton whether it is the gay scene or what but everywhere we went we were followed by 90s music. It may be something to do with the whole reunion tour going on at the moment, but there is something disturbing about it. It is like taking a step back in time and I don't like it because it makes me feel old! I mean I am only 26 I shouldn't feel like this. I do fear for the music industry though as shows like X Factor have really sucked the art out of the industry and left us with commercial entities vying to be the next teenage crush or artist who can sign a catchy hook rather than actually signing about anything of importance. I suppose that is a slightly hypocritical comment from me at times, but I would much rather genuine artists be given the props they deserve rather than being in the minority and overlooked to easily. 

After a brief night cap in another bar we headed home and off to bed for a brief sleep before having to get up and head out. Ultimately I had very little sleep and had to be up early to take Vic to the airport. It was a great weekend but left me sleeping away my Sunday ahead of a return to working life reality on Monday. This really was an example of living for the weekend, even if it was an extended one!

Have You Heard What Haggy's Heard?
This week I haven't heard much, but there are some quirky little things I want to share with you that will make you smile. I hope you enjoy them because it is the little things in life that keep you smiling so open your eyes and appreciate what is going on around you.

Inspirational basketball video - click the link to see a really genuine display of sportsmanship. If you have seen it I apologise because I know it has been everywhere but it is a fine example of how you can make a difference to someone's life.
I saw a funny hotel in Brighton called Hotel Schmotel. It takes no further explanation, but I laughed at the name and it deserves a mention.

Jamie Oliver says that 30,000 napkins go missing from his restaurants each month. Now whilst I am not surprised because it is a decent little memento of a good experience the napkins are not all that special. Also it is disappointing to see him try and make a profit from out habits by selling packs of 2 for £12. Read more here
And finally, "We're going to need a bigger boat"

Sorry that this was a long blog, but I had a great break and experienced a lot that I thought you should know about. I hope you have enjoyed it and this week's food for thought is that when you find that person that makes the world seem that bit brighter you should do everything in your power to make sure you bring light to their world too. Keep them in your life and enjoy each other's company as much as you can, making the most of the little things as they cost nothing and will stay with you forever. Trust me when you don't have the opportunity to do this every day you will miss it.

Next week's blog will likely involve an update on my man flu, University Ice Hockey, spring cleaning and hopefully experiences of a walk in the sun by the Quayside. If anyone cares to join me on any of these adventures just comment and we will see what we can do.

Peas and love, see you next week.

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