As regular readers of this page will know, my better and far more beautiful other half has been whisked away by a major airline to Myanmar for a couple of weeks. And as she knew that I would spend my days wandering from empty room, to empty room, smelling her things and pining endlessly for her with tears in my eyes, she thought she would keep me busy and give me some JSC-related work to do in her absence. In Manchester. Can I just highlight again – SHE IS IN MYANMAR. I AM IN MANCHESTER – cold, rainy Manchester…(insert appropriate emoji here, dear readers…)

When she told me I would be covering a bloggers’ event, my immediate thought was dread. I have learned some stuff about this strange world of blogging over the last couple of years. It would be impossible not to learn something living with Asma, but blogging is somewhat an unknown entity to me. Still, in the spirit of support and all that, I thought I’d give it a go.

When I heard the task would be mocktail-making, I thought ‘oh, ok – something creative, I can blag creative‘. As a fragrance enthusiast, I thought I would approach the task in the same manner as I would approach being asked to create a perfume. Think about my favourite flavours and mix them all up, and see how it turns out. Also, as practicing Muslims, we don’t drink alcohol and the novelty of virgin mojitos has really worn off. I wanted to get creative to bring something different and new to the table. Literally. Surely it couldn’t by that hard?! However, with work being busy and amidst the Tasmanian Devil that was my wife in the week leading up to her departure, I genuinely had zero time to think about what ingredients I would use. Hand on heart, I didn’t even google any recipes. The only thing I knew was what I would call it – The Jet Set Junkie. A homage to Asma and this blog, I suppose.

So off I went to Thaikun on Monday evening, after work. We haven’t actually dined here yet but I love Thai food and I knew this place was also brought to us by the people that gave us Chaophraya, so I knew the quality would be great. It is a smaller space than Chao, but this is a thai street-food joint and it is a really lovely space. Bright and colourful interiors echoing the vibrancy of Bangkok – which is one of my favourite cities in the world. When I arrived, I was taken to the bar area. I was the first ‘blogger’ there, but Marielle (the social media manager)  and Bon (professional mixologist), who both work for Thaikun were both on hand and immediately put me at ease. Bon gave me a demonstration and before I knew it, I was using the ingredients placed nicely in front of me to create my own mocktail.

 

 

The whole time in my head, I could hear Asma’s voice. ‘You better win or else!’ GULP! I should have added that the creator of the best mocktail wins the elusive Orange Card, which allows the winner and a guest to dine at any Thaikun in the land, for FREE – for a year! The stakes were high…

Not gonna lie, my first couple of efforts were… pathetic, for want of a better word. I called those ones ‘This Really Is A Raspberry Fool’ and ‘Lychee Surprise Sh*te’. Luckily, there was no limit to the number of times we could have a go, but I had a brand reputation to maintain. And I simply could not allow JSC to be branded a LOSER. By this point the other lovely bloggers began to arrive and we all introduced ourselves, but then it got serious and we sat down and got down to business. Bon made up a couple of moctktails which are currently on the real menu and we all had a sample to literally get our creative juices going. And then we got stuck in. There was juice and fruit flying everywhere, everyone trying their hand at being Tom Cruise in Cocktail; shakers going all over the show. I didn’t try any tricks even though I really, REALLY wanted to.

 

 

Bon said he wanted someone to try using the coconut water and then just like that, from nowhere – I found my mocktail mojo and I went for it. Where the idea came from I have no idea, but I did it, I wrote it down and to me, IT WORKED. Third time lucky.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you –

The Jet Set Junkie Mocktail Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 4 measures* of coconut water;
  • 2 measures of mango juice;
  • 1 measure of fresh lime juice;
  • 1 measure of ginger & lemongrass juice; and
  • a dash (about 10ml) of sugar syrup
[*1 measure = 25ml]

And BOOM! The Jet Set Junkie was born. Bon re-created it for me on ice with a slice of fresh mango and it was perfect – even if I do say so myself. Funnily enough, these also happen to be some of my favourite flavours so the creation isn’t all that much surprising. It must have come from the depths of my subconscious.

 

 

Thaikun also laid on a buffet for us (much to my massive delight as I was starving), and I can confirm the food is seriously tasty. We had a large variety of things to try from spring rolls, to fritters to dumplings. Enough to satisfy 4 hungry bloggers and me – the pretend blogger. Asma and I will definitely be visiting properly when she’s back.

 

 

So did I win, I hear you ask? Well, the winner is revealed towards the end of the month. The competition is taking place at a couple of other sites so the stakes have got even higher… AND you too can enter!! (See below) Didn’t stop me from shamelessly asking whether the judges could be bribed. Not that I’m competitive or anything. Let’s see what happens, either me or my better half will keep you posted in due course.

In closing, I have enjoyed writing this post much more than I expected. Does this mean I am about to quit my day job and take up blogging? Hell no. This gig is tough and hats off to Asma for doing what she does. But I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

Thank you to Thaikun Manchester and especially to Marielle and Bon (both pictured below) for a really fun evening. And, if some of you try my mocktail recipe for dry January or simply because you want to, please let me know what you think.

 

 


 

Think you can do one better?

Well Thaikhun is wanting you to come up with your best mocktail! All you have to do is submit your own concoction using the link below. The winning mocktail will be judged by Thaikkhun’s expert mixologists and will actually feature on their cocktail menu nationwide!!!

Better still, £1 from each mocktail sale will go towards the Thai Childrens Trust 🙂

AND along with the glory, the winner will also receive a new and exclusive Thaikhun ‘Orange Card,’ which entitles you to two free meals for a year every time you dine at Thaikhun*

Submit your very own mocktail recipe here

 

*T’s & C’s apply, see Thaikhun website for further info.

 

*** Thank you to Thaikhun for inviting me to their Mocktail Masterclass, all opinions on here are my own, and I did check with the Mrs beforehand and she was happy for me to share this experience with you – Mo ***

 

Follow:

home sweet home review manchester

 

There are no shortage of places to eat out in the Northern Quarter. All with their own unique style, branding and that little bit of Northern-Quarter-Quirkiness.

When we decided to celebrate my sisters pre-birthday meal out at a place of her choice she knew exactly where to go and was happy that she could finally force us all into a place she had been craving for weeks.

Don’t ask me why, but whenever I visit an eatery where there’s a counter of fresh, fun-looking cakes, I always assume that this is the one thing they must be good at. So, it was safe to say I have always assumed this of Home Sweet Home and thought of them purely as somewhere to go for a sweet snack and afternoon brew.

 

 

Was I excited for the food? not particularly. when I had asked friends about it they had mentioned the word ‘Mexican.’ I could only see the word ‘American’ on skimming their website so my brain instantly branded the menu ‘confused’ when I was faced with this contradiction.

We propped up a booth and studied the food choices, settling once again on a range of fish and vegetarian options, my sister assuring me the whole time that I would not be disappointed – a phrase I am not keen on as it more often than not, leads to just that.

But alas, her taste buds are from the same gene-pool as mine, so she was of course right on the money. I devoured my fish burger in no time at all, the whole time thinking how could they make something that sounds pretty boring turn out to taste so good. It was nice to not have the usual elite option of ‘beer battered’ fish and instead this one is buttermilk fried, even the pickle was made to match (nice touch).

 

 

We also had the fish tacos (I know we really need to find something that doesn’t come from the ocean next time we’re out), which were served up beautifully. Most places these days like to offer tacos as a DIY meal so it was nice to have them all prepped and ready to eat for once.

Oh and the nachos! I mean I’m usually pretty happy with a bag of Doritos and some supermarket dip but this platter of chips and sauce (love the chipotle sour cream) means I’ll probably never enjoy a cinema snack again.

One thing that was missing, the one dish my sister had chosen the restaurant for and was craving, no longer graced the menu. Apparently the vegetarian chilli here was to die for (one to consider bringing back perhaps??)

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty sheepish about my doubts. Looking over the menu there was a pretty good balance of meals for all to enjoy, they even have a great link online for an allergen advice manual. Their website outlines how they work on making ‘comfort food’ and yes I was definitely eating my words, as the Mexican elements were the likes of tacos and nachos, which are technically classed as American cuisine. You see, I do admit to being wrong occasionally… not always. Just occasionally.

This was the perfect pre-escape room fuelling session, and if we hadn’t had to leave for our booking, we could’ve quite easily stayed on for milkshakes and desserts.

Home Sweet Home is a staple in the NQ food scene and after today, I can totally see why. No nonsense, good quality, freshly made food to be enjoyed in a laidback, comfortable ambience.

Just like home! Scratch that: ‘home’ is usually a mass of chaos and hit-and-miss cooking attempts with a crazy cat driving us up the wall.

What I meant to say was… just like the home I dream of.

Home Sweet Home Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Follow:

rio tour, booking a private guide in Brazil

 

I am doing something completely out of the ordinary today – I am letting someone else speak on my blog! It was not an easy decision, but I really wanted to share with you our experience of having a local guide during our stay in Rio de Janeiro, and seeing as hubby Mo was the one who sorted it all – I figured he should be the one to tell the tale…

“I really wanted to book Rio as a surprise birthday present for the Mrs, but she ended up finding out after one of those excruciating accidental text message moments. What was meant to be a text for her sister, I accidentally sent to her! EPIC. FAIL.

However, since she now knew where she was going, I had to up the anti. It meant that I had to make the trip as memorable and as special for her possible. Now I’m not gonna lie. Since we’ve been married, I have become lazy. Asma tends to plan our holidays, but I wanted to show her once and for all that when I put my thinking cap on, and when it becomes a labour of love (as this trip was), then I can pull off something pretty spectacular – even if I do say so myself.

As we were limited time wise, I knew I had to plan every single day to ensure that we got the most out of Rio. I made a daily plan and ensured that morning, afternoon and evening were all taken care of.

Rio, as you may have heard, is not the safest of cities in the world. But it is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most exciting I have ever been to and thinking about it even now fills me with an indescribable urge to go back. (I won’t go into the details as my better half already has on here).

But because of the safety aspect and because I knew that Asma and I would be limited if we were to attempt to do it alone, the only option was for me to hire a local. Somebody who has grown up or lived in Rio and knows exactly where to go and where to avoid.

And so began my research. A lot of my research was based around TripAdvisor. I googled ‘private tour guide in Rio’ and out came a beautiful list of many private tour guides based in and around Rio. I, of course, gravitated towards people at the top of the list. Good ratings, some with their own websites – they were the natural option.

The first person I emailed, was already booked. He did however recommend a man called Ederson Oliveira. I did my research and contacted probably about half a dozen guides to see what they could offer and how much they would charge. Bear in mind my days were already planned and I knew what we wanted to see with a tour guide, or in our case, with 2 different tour guides.

My top tips when you’re searching:

  1. Look at your guides personal profile, are you compatible? Do you share the same interests? (I.e. family man, party animal, etc.)
  2. Be sure to negotiate a good price
  3. Make sure you’re able to include everything you want to see (within reason)

I took the plunge and chose Ederson for our trip to the neighbouring City of Niteroi, across the water from Rio de Janiero.

What do I say about Ederson?! He was simply incredible. He is young, dynamic and very thoughtful. He pulled up outside of our hotel on time and drove us through the city to the bridge that connects Rio to Niteroi. Along the way, he stopped once or twice to point out local areas of interest and explained in amazing detail, elements of Brazilian history and politics. It was utterly fascinating (you can read all about our day here).

 

Niteroi-Rio-De-Janeiro-Brazil-15

 

Asma and I go against what we learn as kids. We absolutely love to talk to strangers, especially when we are away. And we both bonded with him pretty much straight away. The conversation flowed and we got on like a house on fire. Ederson instinctively knew when to come over and explain things to us, and when to give us our time alone – to wonder around, to contemplate life, to simply absorb the ephemeral beauty of the Brazilian coastline.

He also knew what roads to avoid and the best places to take the most incredible photographs. The views of Rio from some points of Niteroi are indescribably beautiful. At several points, I was rendered utterly speechless.

Towards the end of our time sightseeing around Niteroi, Ederson said he would take us to a local eatery. A restaurant by the water serving fish caught that very afternoon. He said, ‘I will drop you off that this time and come pick you up later.’ Although this was a holiday dedicated entirely to my beautiful wife, we invited him to join us for dinner. And it was great because he knew the best local dishes and it just meant that we could talk to him more and find out about Brazilian life and culture. He made us laugh, showed us pictures and videos of his family. There was never a moment of clock-watching where we felt rushed. It was as though we were dining with an old friend.

Ederson is a highly principled man with a lot of integrity. He was unfortunately booked up for the rest of the trip and it was a real shame as there was another trip we would very much have wanted to do with him, but it wasn’t meant to be.

A couple of days later, whilst we were on top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, I heard a voice shout ‘Patel!’ (my surname). It was Ederson. He had spotted me amongst the masses whilst out on a trip with another family and he came over to say hi and ask how we were doing. The fact that he even remembered my name shows that this is a genuine guy.

Asma and I are LONGING to return to Rio. And if we do, you can bet your bottom dollar that we will be booking our trip around this man’s availability. I cannot recommend him highly enough. What he added to our trip of a lifetime was simply amazing.

My advice: BOOK HIM NOW. ”

M xx

 

Click here to visit Ederson’s good looking website

Pin for later?

 

top tips for booking a local guide in Rio De Janeiro Brazil

 

Have you booked a tour with a local guide? What are your top tips?

Follow:

Dough Manchester restaurant and food review jet set chick

Dough Manchester Review

 

I am a bad, BAD blogger.

I have been writing for over a year now on new places I’ve discovered. New places I’ve seen, stayed and places I’ve enjoyed eating and socialising at.

BUT –

I have not dedicated any blogspace whatsoever to the places I visit that are all time favourites and have time and time again never let me down.

Bad, bad, blogger.

Let’s write this wrong. (get it? bad joke I know, couldn’t resist)

 

First up: Dough.

In the heart of the Northern Quarter, Dough Pizza Kitchen is one of my firm favourites.

 

Dough-Manchester-jetsetchick-16

 

We’ve been for family meals, date night, friends night, last-minute-don’t-know-what-we-want-to-eat night, it’s a restaurant that caters to all occasions. Whether you’re dressed up all fancy or super casual you will never feel out of place.

There’s an open kitchen to the left as you walk in and the decor inside is simple and modern. There’s no real theme, no over the top opulence it’s simple and comfortable.

And that’s perfect because this is a place to relax, have fun and most importantly eat some bloody good food.

You’d assume this is now the point where I bombard you with really fine looking pictures of beautifully decorated plates, artistically angled shots that include cocktails and candles…

Well I’m not.

This is what you’re getting.

 

 

Empty plates.

Let me explain.

We have been here many, many times. We know exactly how good this food tastes, the consistency here is superb. So the minute a dish lands on the table we’ve already anticipated the look, the smell, the taste. No sooner has our waiter/waitress let go of that plate, we are all over it. There is simply no time (or desire for that matter) to pause for a photo shoot.

Ok, I felt bad, so the last time we went I made sure to take at least some pics:

 

 

I really struggle to think of a time or a dish that has disappointed us. Ever.

What makes Dough even more amazing – is it’s variety of options for all types of diners. The menu clearly labels gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian options. It’s so easy to read, no fancy code or squinting for the fine print (Dough if you read this – might I suggest introducing halal options?).

 

 

When I was faced with the challenge of eating only gluten and dairy free, Dough was my first meal out and they really set the bar high. I had the gluten-free Arabiatta – my first try at a GF pasta and it set me at ease and made me realise I can cope with the new diet I was taking on – and I can actually enjoy it.

Oh and the dairy free ice cream that’s on offer for dessert? It’s divine!! Even if you’re full, make room! Order a scoop of plain old vanilla just to try it. My sister nagged me about it for months and after my first taste, I totally understood what she meant. Made with almond milk, it’s not overly sweet, the vanilla is laced through perfectly and it’s a great end to an evening. In fact, every evening should end with dairy free vanilla ice cream. And it is made in-house.

There have been numerous times when Mo and I have been in the city with the intention of eating at places we haven’t tried yet and their either full, over crowded, wait list too long, not many halal-friendly menu options, whatever the reason… we’ve then ended up at Dough.

And every time that happens we sit down and think to ourselves why on earth did we decide to try somewhere new when we know this place is perfect?!?!

 

Dough – you never ever let us down.

(And I have every confidence, you never will).

 

*** I recently wrote an article for match.com which featured Dough as a perfect place to take out a selective eater – check it out here 🙂

 

Have you tried Dough? Do you love it as much as I do? What’s your ‘go to’ place to eat in Manchester?

Follow:

You can imagine when this Sheraton opened in Abu Dhabi as one of the first few hotels in the late 70’s it would have fit right in. But now? it’s a world away from the surrounding modern, glass, obnoxiously tall skyscrapers that dominate the centre.

Some Tripadvisor reviews have described its appearance as out-dated. It’s significantly smaller than most hotels (height wise anyway) but holds its own off Corniche Road with its sand-textured exterior.

Quite frankly, the fact that this family-friendly hotel is an exact opposite of what the rest of the City has become, is the main reason I hope to return.

After almost 24hours of travelling, Mo expertly navigated us from Dubai straight down the Sheikh Zayed Road until we finally screeched to a halt outside our hotel. Greeted with smiles, and sympathetic looks as they could sense (and probably see) our exhaustion we were ushered through the revolving doors and into the cool lobby. Here we were greeted by the even friendlier reception staff who took us through our stay.

As this trip was a family affair, we had three rooms booked, two were sorted quickly and ready straight away. Mo and I had to wait for our room as the hotel had kindly arranged for us to have a resort view upgrade. It was worth the wait as we were treated to this wonderful welcome:

Generous sized double bed, tv, desk area, balcony… I’m not going to go into major detail here because this room is exactly what they say it is, there are no hidden issues. My favourite element was the bathroom. Spacious power shower cubicle, large bathtub and my main concern on any visit – very clean and in good condition. A perfect base for our family holiday.

Let me take you through a few of my favourite things:

First, breakfast. A large continental fully stocked breakfast spread awaited us every morning. As a family we all had different eating habits, some opted for cereal, others egg, waffles, pancakes, cakes or all of the above. Personally, I couldn’t stay away from the traditional middle eastern choice… Foul moudamas. I had it every. single. day. I don’t for one second think you should do the same – but no visit to this area of the world is complete without at least trying it.

Speaking of food, we sampled a few meals at the hotel. We ordered from the all day menu a couple of times, from our room and also by the pool. The quality each time was of a very high standard, most times better than that of the fancy restaurants we visited in the city!

One thing I should mention which was a disappointment food wise (bearing in mind it was the only one) was the club level deals. Although they seemed reasonable, the club level itself was a bit of a let down – more so for those that don’t drink alcohol. The Cloud 9 area was quite small and the dining options weren’t as good as what we could find in other parts of the hotel, so as a non-drinker, upgrading to club access wasn’t worth it.

For the first time in the history of me staying at a hotel, I decided to use the gym. I really enjoyed it too! The leisure centre facilities are free for hotel guests. The machines looked brand new, I was completely spoilt for choice and the staff manning it were helpful and friendly. I found myself waking up at unheard of hours just to squeeze in an hour or so whilst the others slept (how I miss it!).

If the gym isn’t your thing, when on a sunny holiday you can’t go without stopping by the pool. It wasn’t huge, but it had a swim up bar and lots of surrounding deck chairs and tables mapped out over the sun spots. We spent most of our time at the kids pool, of which there are two, one for tiny tots and one for toddlers.

The kids had an absolute blast. I had brought with me some inflatables that I purchased from Bestway beforehand and I’d encourage anyone else with kids to do the same. Inflatables obviously flat pack so take up no room in luggage and just think of the hours of fun you can get out of them?!

Done with the pool? There’s always the beach. Again, I’ll be honest, it’s not huge. Unfortunately Abu Dhabi seems to have some weird ideas on road construction as the main Corniche Road bridges over the mouth of the bay which opens out to the sea from the private beach area. Don’t get me wrong there is still sand and sea, it’s just not a very big space. There is a water sports centre (quite reasonably priced I thought) which offer everything from paddle boards, canoes, banana boats and more, and don’t worry, they would take you out past the bay and into the open water.

Whilst we were there the hotel put on an outdoor cinema evening (family-friendly), with large double bean bags, popcorn and a traditional Arabic barbecue menu (5AED shawarmas!!) right on the beach.

After dinner, the outdoor B-Lounge transforms into a chic seating area for the adults wanting to relax. The amphitheatre style steps are covered in majlis cushions, lots of ambient light boxes and fairy lights hugged the palm trees (just like mine at home!). Here couples and groups can order drinks, food and sheesha. Resident dj’s put on evening sets of cool, relaxing tones – nothing heady hard-core. One night really made me smile when I heard one of our favourites Kwabs subtly echoing round the perimeter.

The more I look back over our trip the more I realise how much use we made of all the services that were available. The laundry service was on time; reception always on hand; lifeguard at the pool helped when I had a cut on my knee; dessert counter in the lobby made a beautiful cake we took away as a gift; concierge made calls for us when we needed to book places.

Before checking out, I grabbed a quick coffee with Judith, the Director of Marketing just to give some feedback on our stay and to ask her thoughts on the hotel and Abu Dhabi (you can see her #top3tips here).

She mentioned that the hotel still welcomes guests from when it first opened, regulars who now bring their children to the club, return to stay at the weekends and some staff members can boast 30+ years of service. For a hospitality business, that’s no mean feat and as she recounted tales I found myself nodding, as after a week here I can see why people would return.

For a country where ‘big and bold’ is everything, it was a welcome relief to stay in a hotel that didn’t boast over the top opulence. As a family of 6 adults and 2 children it catered to every eventuality. When you spend your time sight seeing round the Emirates and all you can see is bling, bling, bling, coming back to a homely, comfortable hotel was exactly what we needed.

image-taken-from-sheraton-website-abu-dhabi-Hotel-Exterior-day-view-1600x900

So…

When we going back?

 

Thank you to everyone at the Sheraton for taking such good care of my whole family during our stay, the service we received throughout was excellent!

Anyone interested in booking – we booked our hotel 6 months in advance through www.agoda.com as they offered the best rate – (If you go through quidco you can even claim some cashback on it!)

** Mo and I received a view upgrade (from road to resort), not a room upgrade. This review is based on a 6 night stay in a Classic room.

 

Have you stayed at the Sheraton on Corniche Road? What are your thoughts on simple elegance vs over the top opulence?

Follow: