It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Restaurant Review : Bills, Leamington Spa, UK

Ah, Bills, you promised so much!

First the plus points - the staff are lovely and friendly, the restaurant is clean and it looks cool and interesting.

Now the downsides - the drinks and the food.  Yep.

I was travelling alone and had been busy all day, all I wanted was a quick, nice, meal and then to go to bed.  Bill's was next but one to my hotel, hadn't been open long, and looked fab.  As soon as I had the door open I was greeted by staff who obligingly sat me at a table with good light so that I could read the newspaper (one perk of dining alone!).

There was fairly loud "surfy" type music playing which must drive the staff insane, but I started to tune it out after a few songs.  I'd had a big, but ultimately rewarding, day and I really deserved a drink, so I ordered a glass of their Jeio Rose (£5.45) and thought I'd have something healthy also, a carrot, orange and ginger juice (£3.35).  The rose was fine, just what I needed, but the juice was obviously not freshly squeezed and tasted like it came from long life catering packs - very blah, but drinkable.

I saw on their specials list that they had apple and blackberry crumble with custard for dessert, so I thought I'd just have a starter so that I knew I'd have room to fit the crumble in.  I ordered the crispy lemon squid with garlic and lemon mayo (£5.95) - that's where it all went a bit wrong.

The squid came out very quickly, which is fine because you're not meant to cook it for long anyway, and was served in a ramekin, on a napkin, on a saucer.  The ramekin wasn't big enough to use your knife and fork in, and the squid rings were too big to eat whole, so I tipped them out onto the saucer and got stuck in.  They were the strangest tasting things, almost unpleasant, and I couldn't figure out what the flavour was - it sure wasn't lemon.  I layered on a heap of salt, then a heap of the garlic and lemon mayo (which was just mayo with no discernible taste), but it was still awful and I couldn't face a plate of it.

So, for the first time ever, I made eye contact with a friendly staff member who came right on over, and said, very quietly, "I'm sorry, but this is really not very nice and I can't eat anymore of it".  She was very apologetic and asked if I wanted another serve of it, but I really couldn't face it, so said she'd take it back to the kitchen and bring me a menu so I could choose something else.  Great service.  Then the friendly manager came over and apologised again and asked me more details about it, which I happily gave.  He said it was his favourite dish from the menu and he would head to the kitchen and taste it, which he probably did, but I didn't see him again.

Then I ordered the avocado, bacon and spinach salad (£5.50), which came in a small bowl, on a napkin, on a saucer.  Again, the bowl was too small to use your cutlery in, and the spinach leaves were too big to eat whole, so I tipped the lot onto the saucer and dug in.  It was fine, just what it should have been, but the dressing ("Bill's dressing") had a strange crunchy texture to it so it felt like you were eating leaves fresh with dirt still on them.  Odd.

By the time I'd finished the salad, I was totally over the whole dinner experience.  I didn't even order the dessert so you know I wasn't impressed.

I asked for the bill and the squid had been removed from it, which I expected it should have been, then I paid and left - feeling rather let down.
  • There are branches of Bills all over the UK, so if you want to experience it for yourself, you can click HERE.
  • You can check out their menu HERE.
  • You can check out their current specials menu HERE.

140-142 The Parade
Leamington Spa  CV32 4AG

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Restaurant Review : Wagamama, UK

It's no secret that I love Asian food.  I could eat it every day and have zero regrets, and when I'm in the UK I love to visit Wagamama.  Wagamama is a chain of Japanese noodle bar restaurants - very yummy and very reasonably priced.

I've visited the Leamington Spa branch twice this year, and one just off Oxford Street in London as well.  I pretty much always order the Ginger Chicken Udon (£9.25) with a side of Endamame (£4.25) and have one of their fresh juices (£3.40) - YUM!  You can check out their current menu HERE.

The Ginger Chicken Udon is teppan fried udon noodles with chicken, egg, beansprouts, red and spring onions, mangetout and chilli, garnished with pickled ginger and coriander - I always add a slurp of soy sauce from the bottle in the middle of the table too.  The endamame are steamed green soya beans and they come with either salt, chilli or garlic salt and I always stick with plain salt - you eat them with your fingers, popping the pods open and the beans straight into your mouth.

Their fresh juices make me feel like I'm doing something healthy and they're always really yummy.  That said, thank heavens they've taken their beetroot and ginger juice off the menu, that's POWERFUL stuff (yeah, you don't need to know the details).

The staff are always friendly and helpful, happy to explain dishes to people on their first visit.  There are small tables, or long sharing tables where you sit on long benches.  Boxes of condiments, chop sticks and cutlery dot along the tables and the place mats are paper.

Cheap, cheerful and yummy - get yourself along to Wagamama if you're in the UK.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hotel Review : Premier Inn, Leamington Spa, UK

This was my second stay at this property, and this is the only Premier Inn I've stayed at, so this review might not be applicable to the entire chain.

UK hotels are known the world over for being madly expensive, but chains like Premier Inn have figured out that if they provide good basics, they can get great occupancy repeatedly.  You will average around £70/night at most of their properties, but of course those rates do increase when events and things are on locally and they can make more money.  You can even get rooms as low as £25 from time to time, but I've never managed that!

I stayed for two nights on each of my visits and I can say that the Leamington Spa Premier Inn has the friendliest staff I've experienced at any hotel anywhere in the world, and I'm talking friendlier than 5* star properties.  They are all just so nice, cheery and helpful - nothing is too much trouble for them.

This property is in an old renovated shopping centre space, though you wouldn't know that if you hadn't been told.  It looks like it's part of the terraces along The Parade in Leamington, and it fits in very well and is in a great location for visiting the area.  It's clean and modern inside - I don't think it's been open for too long.

There's a self check-in desk in the lobby, but there's always a happy staff member around if you need help getting through that - though it's pretty basic stuff, and the machine spits out your room number and also your room key.

The property is only on two levels and the rooms are very generously sized.  Each basic room I've had has a king sized bed (remember the post I did on bed sizes - UK king is smaller than US king) and a chaise lounge, plus a desk and chair, and TV on a set of shelves.  The bathrooms are a good size too, with a shower over the tub.  The towels are rather large and soft for a budget chain, but there's no dinky bottles of shampoo etc., just a dispenser of "hair and body wash" on the wall - yucko.

The beds are very comfortable, and Premier offers a "sleep guarantee" - they will actually refund your bill if you don't sleep well!  My only quibble with their beds is that their duvets are so incredibly thick that you could take them along on an Arctic expedition and not get cold.  This would probably be okay if you could open the window, but all of the windows are locked closed for safety reasons (grrrrr, hate that!).  You have to keep the air conditioning on all the time at about 19c or you will get too hot.  If you think you're going to boil whilst you sleep, ask the friendly staff for a sheet that you can use instead of the duvet if you don't want to sleep in the air conditioning.

I had breakfast there each morning and even the catering staff are really friendly.  The cook happily put my bacon under the grill each morning to give it a "crisp up" as it was a bit pallid looking and their sausages are scrumptious.  I love a good UK fry up, but there's also a cold selection (breads, cereals, yoghurts) and a really yummy Costa coffee station with bottomless refills - their cappuccino is lovely - all for the breakfast price of £8.75/person.  It is really good value.

I think Premier Inn in Leamington Spa is great value and I'll stay there again if I'm in the area.  My only quibbles are the madly thick duvets and the note in the shower asking you to consider the environment and re-use your towels if you wish - if the duvets were thinner or if you could open the windows, you wouldn't need to have the air conditioning on 24/7 and that would be a hell of a lot better for the environment!  Rant over.

There's great parking behind the hotel in a council car park for £4/24 hours - you can't beat that.

154-156 Parade
Leamington Spa  UK  CV32 4BQ
Phone:- 0871 527 9380