Birthday Celebrations

Michelin star food vs. good food

Urban flowers

On my actual birthday, I had the lovely treat of eating in the Tower Restaurant, whilst staying in the Tower Hotel, Lincoln. I’ve already reported the meal was amazing, one of the best I’ve had.

So when it comes to going to Purnells, with all its Michelin star glory, for my official birthday celebration, expectations are high. I’d already been there for my birthday last year and even when I booked it 8 weeks in advance, I had second thoughts as I that it could never eclipse the first experience.

It didn’t. In fact it didn’t match it. There’s nothing wrong with the food or the service this year but somehow it isn’t quite there. There are mutterings of certain foods being not quite perfect around the table, the service seems a touch arrogant compared to last year, I’m not sure if the fact that we were in the private room last year made a difference as we were treated like royalty then. Worst of all though, they didn’t explain that there was a set price for 3 courses so those of us who knew we couldn’t manage 3, opted for 2 but paid the same. I thought that was very presumptuous of them, given the ample opportunities to explain this to us during the ordering process. Why would anyone in their right mind only have 2 courses when they are paying for three – at Michelin star prices?

It’s a lovely meal, with even better company but both The Tower and Edmunds three weeks later easily eclipse Purnells.

Guinness cake, coffee made with love & flowers; the Urban birthday experience

Conversely, the next day is my Birthday Tea (coffee) in my regular Urban Coffee Co although last year was in the original Church Street, this year the newer Jewellery Quarter branch won out.

Urban, could not do enough; I walk in to see my ‘table’ laden with little pots of flowers, my favourite Guinness ‘birthday’ cake is on offer (not an Urban staple so bought in especially)  and there are already welcoming friends there. Quite an overwhelming but delightful afternoon.

The most thoughtful, handmade present

Enjoying good cake, coffee & company


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Icelandic birthday

I nteresting – Weird, magical, quiet, quaint, contrasting, weird, empty, expensive, mountainous, cold, weird, Hell.

View from the hotel

Not really hell, but our driver took delight in taking us past Hekla, a volcano known as the gateway to Hell and where the expression ‘Oh heck’ comes from. Or ‘Oh Hekla,’ as I will say it from now on.

I couldn’t pronounce some of the street names so we renamed them for easy reference, the favourites being Slipknot (Skipholt) and Trigger Happy Street (Tryggvgata).

On a windy road trip

C old – I’ve been in colder places, i.e. Montreal in -16c and New York in sub-zero but this is a different kind of cold. Forecast actually says ‘3c but will feel like -3c’. The coldest but one of the most beautiful sights is the waterfall, Gullfuss. Because we are at the top looking down, the cold was biting and we are hit by shards of ice rather ran water splashes. I didn’t fancy going to the bottom of the waterfall but I figured I’ve already had that experience at Niagara Falls. The scenery though, is spectacular.

Because it’s cold, it would be nice to have a hot shower, right? Wrong. Once I’ve had a two minute morning shower, I cannot go back into the bathroom again if the water is running – the smell makes me nauseas, apparently because of the sulfate.

Because its cold, it will be nice to stay wrapped up in warm wintery clothes, right? No. I find myself in a swim suit in the open mountain air before wrapping myself in the famously warm Blue Lagoon water. A surreal experience to be outside in the freezing cold, in warm water amidst the snow topped mountains. It smells but not as much as in a small closed bathroom.

This ‘Golden Circle’ trip that apparently eight companies offer in Reykjavik is arguable the best decision of the week as we drink in so much that Iceland has to offer just by going an hour or so outside the capital.

 

E asy – Everywhere is quiet which means we can move around and get seats in any coffee shop we choose. I still don’t know where the capital city’s population is. All I imagine is Icelanders flying into Heathrow and hitting London. There’ll be more people in one carriage on their train

Reykjavik's Oxford Street mid-morning

Wireless in Reykjavik is plentiful and super fast. I imagine because there’s barely anyone in the city.

 L ove – The best thing about the trip is sharing it with someone who loves travel and exploring as much as I do.

A rea – Iceland is huge and along with the freezing temperatures is similar to Canada where a huge majority of the population live in a small chunk of the land. Both countries have vast open lands and some extreme temperatures. The difference is, the cities of Canada, have people moving about in them.

‘Reykjavik is vibrant city with active and energetic habitants’

Iceland Tours

 With a population of 320,000, we expect most of the population to be in the capitol city considering the majority of the country is volcanic or lava fields. Not so. For the first three days we see barely a soul on the main street and we look inside every coffee shop, restaurant, home and office window. Where are the people? Who runs this country? How do they make any money? Why don’t they commute? Why don’t they eat?

On the fourth day, we se more people, presumable as the temperature tripled to 9c. But we count more bods in the one carriage on the train from Gatwick home than we did in the week in Iceland.

N orthern – The most northern part of the world I have been to, previously this was Glasgow but Iceland has more mountains, more volcanoes, more lava fields and more film sets. It felt like we’ve landed in Mars and we have days of being in Star Trek, Total Recall (or was it all a dream?) and especially Lord of the Rings. On our amazing ‘Golden Circle’ day trip we visited Thingvellir National Park, where the General Assembly was first formed in 930. With its little streams, caves, valleys and mini foot bridges, I’m half expecting to bump into a little person. Alas, there is not a gold ring to be found.

Kaffitar

The coffee shops however, are excellent. What I read about people socialising over coffee or a beer in the evening is wonderfully true.

D ear – The most expensive place I’ve been to and I’ve been to Paris and indeed lived in London and New York. You know I don’t mind splashing out but I do seek value and £5 for a hot chocolate isn’t that. We had to stick to basics although being a closet vegetarian, I didn’t relish some of the local delicacies. I particularly didn’t enjoy seeing the whale and puffin meat restaurants advertised next to the whale watching tours.

What was great though was the lovely buffet breakfast supplied by our fantastic hotel, Foss Baron. We fill up on ‘make yourself waffles’ every kind of toast, cereal and lots more and then left with a bag of goodies for the road; such tourists. Even better we discover happy hour, or hours, 5-8 in Reykjavik, which means we can actually have a beer without eating into our budget for our next travel jaunt at Christmas.

Another birthday, another city

Part 1 of 3 birthday celebrations

Birthday flowers in Lincoln

This year, despite the big day falling on a Saturday, I’ve managed to stretch the celebrations to 10 days. I’m not a big drinker; my way of celebrating is through travel and fantastic experiences so first up, is a weekend in Lincoln.

My five year old tradition is to visit a new city for my birthday each year; San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Milan and now Lincoln. Technically, I’m going to Reykjavik for my birthday but practically, it’s not possibly to fly till Monday and this way; I’m still waking up in an interesting new city on the actual day.

Lincoln is cute for a visit and although there are not enough coffee shops to keep me in coffee crawl mode ordinarily, the Tower Hotel is well worth the trip and if this scrumptious hotel at the top of the hill isn’t enough, its restaurant near blew  me away.

Birthday meal – Tower Restaurant

The starters look fantastic but knowing my ‘eat small chunks every two hours’ appetite, something has to give so it is straight onto the main course:  

Pan Seared Fillet of Silver Mullet, Cauliflower Puree, Parsley Mash, Caper Berry Dressing, Cauliflower and Pine Nut Fritter

 Everything about this collection of goodies oozes goodness, how can a dish not be good if it has mash and fritters?! I devour every morsel with my reasonably priced wine (I thought it was a typo) before moving on to one of the things I live for, dessert:

 Ricotta and Vanilla Cheesecake Lemon Meringue, Buerre Noisette Crumb, Coffee Puree, Orange and Cinnamon Sorbet

If I’ve ever tasted a better dessert, it’s beyond my memory.

The chefs have clearly placed secret ingredients in this as every intricate part of this dish exploded in my mouth like heavenly volcanoes.

The Coffee Puree tastes so lethal it’s like espresso they may have served in the prohibition era, the cheesecake – already my favourite food on the planet – has its faultlessly crumbly base served in bounders piled next to it, saves having to cut into it and Lemon Meringues are unlike any ever tasted on earth so clearly are from another planet. But this is before the explosive Orange and Cinnamon sorbet which is exactly what they serve in heaven.

Perfect.

The setting is lovely, if not the luxury of a regular fine dining restaurant. It has a busy bar in the next room but we didn’t

Three kinds of butter

hear anything from it and I found our lovely window seat a delight, despite looking out to the car park opposite. It’s brighter than an intimate setting found in Michelin’s but the staff and fellow diners next to us were chatty and friendly, not at all pretentious. I’ve just read through the entire menu and I could eat it all, even the Sunday Lunch which is the one meal I proudly make.

This is one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had and if it was in Birmingham, this will be a monthly treat, or perhaps more often. How is next week’s Michelin star’d Purnells, where I also ate last birthday, going to compete with this flawlessness?

9½/10

Tower Restaurant menu  Tower Hotel website

 

Amuse Bouche; Pea, ham & popcorn

Gratitude: October

I’m grateful for seeing the season change during my favourite month

I’m grateful for celebrating yet another year of this wonderful life

I’m grateful for having my birthday dinner in Purnells  which if memory serves me right, is only the second Michelin starred restaurant I’ve eaten in

I’m grateful to share my birthday with many of my new Birmingham friends mixed with a couple of old ones

I’m mightily grateful to add yet another travel adventure to the many I have already experienced. A break in Milan was also just what I needed to refresh mind, body and soul.

Adventures in Birmingham: the Birthday

Happy Birthday to me

Before the birthday trip to Milan came two celebrations with friends:

Sunday afternoon tea

I invited my local friends to join me at Urban Coffee Co for coffee & cake, drinks & snacks and fun & frolics to kick start my birthday celebrations.  What I didn’t expect was for Urban to go beyond the call of duty; decorating my reserved table with confetti and balloons and getting in Guinness cake although they just managed to save me a slice as it was snapped up before we got there! (my traditional birthday drink is Black Velvet; Guinness and champagne).

There was the birthday cupcake personalised with my name (Courtesy of Kiss Me Cupcakes) and best surprise of all there was Rich the pianist, my favourite (so far) of all the Urban entertainers. He was meant to be away and I was told there was no way he would make it. Now that’s the type of surprise that puts a smile on a birthday girl’s face.

Kiss Me Cupcakes pulled out the stops too by providing me with canapé size cupcakes decorated with my requested dolly mixtures and love hearts.

We had the most perfect, completely chilled afternoon.

How lucky am to know Kiss Me Cupcakes and to have the honour of Rich playing for my birthday. Big thanks to the ever wonderful host, Becks and Alan and all at Urban. “Where everybody knows your name” ♫♪

One Michelin star ♥♥♥♥♥

Two days later a select group of us head into Purnells for a birthday dinner. We have the private room so feel more like royalty than perhaps we normally would, although I wouldn’t know as I’ve saved my first visit to Purnells for a special occasion.

We make the effort to dress for the occasion, the occasion being my birthday rather than a Tuesday evening at Purnells.

The staff for their part give the 100% perfect service we have come to expect. Truly amazing

Two days later, I’m on a flight to Milan.

Now, what shall I do next year……….any ideas?

Adventures in Milan- Day 1

 
 

Birthday cards & flowers

Birthday cards & flowers

The arrival

Our plane leaves half an hour late but arrives just 10 minutes after time. For the first time in my life I am earliest on the plane, I’m usually about last as I don’t see the point of sitting on a plane when you have several hours to go. This though is my first European trip in years so a short hop in comparison to two decades of transatlantic flights.

This is the flight they ask me if I’d like more leg room and to sit by the exit door, the one that’s barely enough long enough for me to read the Post and get into my book (read 4 pages). Still I take my ‘emergency door operator’ responsibilities seriously and for once read the instructions. They don’t trust me though and the steward gives me one-to-one tuition. You’re reading this so thankfully I didn’t need my new knowledge.

The only thing about flying out from Birmingham is that I don’t have a chance to experience Air Italia’s food and service but that’s not enough to get me to fly out from London. I do have another theory why my two favourite colours are red and green; I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it’s because I love Christmas but as we land and I spot the Air Italia plane, it could just be the Italian flag.

I immediately feel under par as soon as I arrive at the airport; everyone here is ultra glam, slim & stylish. It’s been ten years and I’ve forgotten how easy the Italians make it look.

I decide to risk an Italian taxi and not only survive but I’m pleasantly surprised that the cab driver rounds down from €10.10 rather than waiting for me to say, ‘make it €12’.

As I start to walk around to get my bearings every woman I see is the same. Even their unkempt hair looks glamorous; everyone has colour and perfect haircuts so I don’t think there’s any such thing as natural hair here.

In amongst the abundance of mainly Italian designer shops I come across a book shop that specialises in automobile reads. I spot the Duomo, the much talked about cathedral a couple of times but I’m saving that for a rainy day and when my friend flies out to join me.

I’m writing this at Passarella Cafe on a main street sitting outside under a canopy but the outdoor heating is so warm, I can take my coat off. There’s no menu so how is everyone else ordering? I’ll settle for pretty much anything in Italy as I know even the fast food tastes good. I love this!

I’m amazed how I’ve managed to write 500 words with the distractions of both perfectly coiffed hair and Fendi shopping bags walking past me

The downside is that everyone smokes. The two on my left have their unlit cigarettes poised ready for as soon as they have inserted their last mouthful but I guess my asthma can take that for a few days. In any case, rain is due so I’m staying outside as much as I can until then.

Now, it’s time for my first coffee in Italy. The first of many as the 2 daily cups rule goes out the window here; this the real deal.

Day 2 follows.

 

Fave bday cards

Fave bday cards

 

Birthdays

Why I (Still) Celebrate my Birthday

After about the age of nineteen, for many, birthdays are greeted with much derision but me? I like to celebrate another year full of laughter, fun and of course new experiences. I think of a birthday as a celebration of being on this planet rather than having one year less to go. Who’s to say what will happen? My plan is to make the most of every minute and pack every day and go places I want to go every year.

Up until the big 40 I had parties at home just for my nearest and dearest – no hangers on that were unknown to me. I only want to celebrate the most important day of my year with people that matter, not strangers. Each year would have a theme, NOT fancy dress but a random theme just for fun. The last few were Bollywood, a children’s party, pink, All Saints and ending with ‘Letting it all Go’.

The 40th was a surprise to everyone; it was a commemoration of everyone I have known in my life with a look back in pictures and every track we played was painstakingly put together (remember @girltaristhan ?) as I celebrated a lifetimes’ love of music; we had top 3s, top 5s and top 10s  of all my favourite artists and genres and yet with 5 hours, I still didn’t have room for Springsteen.

After 15 years of this; of caterers, wait staff and the traditional fireworks, I realise that all I’m doing is paying a small fortune just to get my national friends together once a year, twice if you count the summer party too.

So the new tradition is take those few hundred £££ and go to a place I haven’t been before. I have been to San Francisco, Washington, Montreal and this year, Milan all adding to life’s rich experiences to be celebrated next year.