JACKET - (Similar) Black Waterfall Jacket by Evans Clothing - £42.00

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SHOES - Old Irregular Choice

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While it isn't exactly hard to find somewhere to eat in London, if you've not done your research ahead of time it's very easy to find yourself eating a really mundane meal. Being the food fan and obsessive pre-planner that I am I always scout around online and ask my friends in the city where the current best places to grab a bite are and I especially like when a blogger I know can recommend somewhere to try. Balans Soho Society is one such restaurant so when I was in town for a day full of press events and needed a nice dinner and some cocktails to chill out after a hectic eight hours it seemed the perfect spot.

I headed to the Kensington location (they have 8 across the city offering different dining experiences) with my sister and we were welcomed into a cosy front of house and bar that opened out into another dining area with a big skylight allowing light to flood in and highlight all the curiosities and art pieces that fill the place, including a big old spindly tree in the centre of the room decorated with old keys hanging like baubles. It's well known that I'm more maximalist than minimalist and love antiques and old books and curios so I felt very at home in the eccentric interior. We sat in the main dining room with the skylight and it had a nice buzzy atmosphere that felt cosy and brasserie-esque without being cramped and feeling like your table is nearly on top of another.

Like the decor the menu has a great mix of influences so there's going to be a dish for everyone. Naturally we started with a drink and I plumped for the Tiki Daiquiri that blended spiced rum with lime, vanilla, grapefruit and pineapple. It had a good boozy kick and wasn't all juice like you find at some places, with the vanilla rounding off the tartness of the fruits and the gentle cinnamony spice of the rum adding that all important back note - balanced and refreshing and very very drinkable. 

My sister went what I call a 'temperance drink' aka a mocktail, deciding on the really very delicious Grape & Kiwi Kooler. This mixed red grape juice with a little pineapple, lemon and kiwi and a few syrupy drops of agave - definitely one for lovers of American style purple grape drinks like us but a concoction I would have over and over again. Especially with the addition of gin!

While we perused the menu we nibbled on some very good house marinated olives that were room temperature (as they should be, boo to cold olives) and studded every now and again with a heavenly pickled garlic clove. Thankfully there were two so me and my sis didn't have to fight to the death over who got one. We decided to share a selection of small plates mainly so we could try lots of things and eventually chose four with the help of our amazingly wonderful server David who is quite possibly my favourite restaurant employee of all time. We love you David.

First up we tried the Hot Smoked Salmon that was flaked over salad leaves strewn with beetroot kimchi and dressed with black sesame seeds and a creamy miso dressing. The vegetables were lovely with the carrot and what I believe was daikon radish clearly freshly grated to order, their crunch contrasting beautifully with the soft moist fish. The chilli kick to the kimchi was a delight against the rich fattiness of the fish with the gentle earthiness of the beetroot and miso elements bringing everything into balance. A lovely sprightly dish that was as tasty as it was beautiful.

I couldn't resist ordering the Heritage Carrots mainly as they were served with one of my all time favourites baba ghanoush as well as yoghurt and feta cheese. Again the balance of flavours and textures here was a delight, the soft aubergine and yoghurt yielding against perfectly cooked but not a all mushy roasted carrots. The crumbles of feta added the required salty zing against the deliciously bland eggplant and humble flavour of the multi coloured carrots with the garnish of peppery watercress paying an equally important role in the dish.

Next up were two Smoked Trout Tacos, the hero ingredient being the substantial handmade tortillas that had been griddled to perfection and had that unmistakable and utterly lovely flavour of toasted corn. The trout was flaked over the top along with dill, fresh peas and watercress with a generous splodge of horseradish cream. I enjoyed the unabashed heat of the horseradish but it was a bit much for my sister - this of course is entirely down to personal taste but I appreciated its unsubtlety. The menu mentioned pickled spring vegetables which I wasn't able to detect unless perhaps the peas had been given a quick pickle, but the dish didn't suffer for this and the bright green freshness of the peas was lovely against the smoked fish and densely delicious corn tortilla.

Our final small plate was the Asian Pork Cheek which was indeed a delight to the tastebuds, but the texture of the meat was a little surprising as it was like a biltong or jerky with a dry chewiness as opposed to the supreme tenderness I was expecting from cheek meat. Honestly I'm not sure if this was just my expectation being completely wrong or if something wasn't quite right because it wasn't unpleasant, just unexpected. Crisp onion, freshly cut corn and a salad of Asian vegetables offered nice contrast with a kick of chilli, sweet salty sticky soy based sauce and dots of plum ketchup bringing everything together. Like I said not a bad tasting dish by any means but I'd be interested to hear other's reactions to this plate too so I can know if anyone else felt the same way about the meat cooking style.

Despite feeling pretty replete at this point one look at the dessert menu convinced us we had room for sweet treats so we placed our order. Laura picked the Warm Doughnuts, a generous portion of which were served up in hot sugar dusted glory alongside pots of dark chocolate fudge sauce & vanilla chantilly cream. There was a nice denseness to the doughnuts that made them taste comforting and old fashioned, not like the super aerated versions you see most of the time these days (although they do have their own place in my heart ahem stomach) and when dipped in the warm chocolate and topped with a blob of chantilly they were a delight. 

I'm a sucker for a panna cotta and so couldn't resist their version served with mulled winter fruits and an almond crumb. This felt oh so appropriate as it had been chucking it down with rain all day and comfort food was required, making the gently spiced red winey fruit oh so welcome. Personally rather than a crumb I would have served a buttery almondy biscuit as the crumbles got soggy in the wine so quickly, but it was by no means unpleasant especially with the cool creamy panna cotta. I think creme fraiche had been added alongside the normal cream here as there was a lovely tangy finish similar to sour cream and the texture was perfect - soft and yielding without the dreaded over set wobble that can occur if not done correctly. I'm definitely going to experiment with my panna cotta recipe next time to try and get a similar fresh zing to it.

All in all this was a really pleasant meal in nice relaxed surroundings. I'd be more than happy to while away a good few hours of drinks and nibbles with friends at Balans Soho Society and I'll definitely be looking out for their other locations next time I'm in the big city.

Thank you to Balans for gifting us this meal in exchange for my review and all the gratitude to our charming, attentive and funny server David who made our meal even more of a delight, dance and all!

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As someone who has never owned a property but feels the need to be surrounded by beautiful and meaningful things at all times I've known the pain of renting and not being able to decorate first hand. This also means however that after 13 years of being a tenant I've realised that you can still bring your passions and personality into your interior decor in a non permanent way. Believe me when I say that art, textiles, books, keepsakes and a little imagination are your very best friends and if you want to create a space that makes you feel comfortable, content and inspired then surrounding yourself with things that make you smile and bring back memories is the best way to do it.

I don't follow interior design trends as you'll see, much like with clothing I just mix together looks that I love to create my dream result. It is however very helpful when things you love just happen to come into style as it makes them much easier (and often much cheaper) to procure. 

A shining example of this is the trend for elaborate lighting such as the brass palm tree light that have been gracing the homes of my favourite interior influencers for a while now but have been way out of my price range (think £600 plus!) then in steps Matalan and makes me dream come true! I think they must have got some new very clever bods into their homewares team recently because boy are there are a lot of gorgeous things on their website right now!

Personally I do think a dog is an essential addition to a home but its actually soft furnishings that I want to talk about here. One thing that can absolutely change a room completely is a sofa and since we got our new giant corner sectional last year our living room has finally become the cosy sanctuary I always wished for.

To up the comfort levels I have of course added some gorgeous cushions and a big faux fur throw that I use far too frequently for sofa naps. I was also thrilled to find a rug that wasn't too expensive in a pattern I actually liked as the wood floors could be a bit chilly in the winter and not very comfortable for Betty the bulldog to snooze on. It also helps with sound in the room giving the tv and hifi system a warmer tone than it had when it was just bouncing around hard walls and a hard floor.

Dillon Sectional Sofa in Raven by DFS - pieces start at £569.00 (purchased)
Faux Wolf Fur Throw by Home Bargains - £35.00 (purchased)
Double Sided Faux Mongolian Fur Cushion by Matalan - £12.00 (* gifted by the brand)
Vintage Look Rug in Graphite from Amazon - £65.00 (purchased)

One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to collect keepsakes and things that I can display in the cottage to remind me of my adventures around the world. Museums are very special places to me and I love the two pieces here from some of my favourite London locations the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Soanes Museum, both of which I collected on trips with my parents and sister. 

Although not purchased on the trip I love my giant fabric wall hanging map of Paris as it brings back memories of the time I spent there but also makes a great focal point for the wall opposite the window in our little living room. I also have lots of trinkets from my Grandparents house in this room that remind me of my beloved Gran and Gramps.

Mexican Tin and Mirror Hand from the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A - £5.99 (purchased)
Paris Fabric Wall Hanging by Collard Manson - £40.00 (purchased, sold out but others here)
Tattooed Vamp Print (part of a Milan tattoo convention poster) - Freebie with an order from Gentlemen's Tattoo Flash
Round Angel Plaque - from my grandparents house

As with my fashion choices I love mixing the old and the new so finding Pop Vinyl characters dotted in amongst antiques is a frequent sight in our house - we've been collecting them for some time now and the latest addition was a Black Phillip from The VVitch that Pete surprised me with. Other new things are the Time Turner that Pete bought me on our honeymoon trip to Universal Studios in Orlando, oyster shells with our names on that were place settings at a friend's wedding and my candleholder friend Oswald the Octopus.

Drawing of our cat Cleo by our mega talented friend Anne
Feathered fascinator hat made by me at a class with Pearls and Swine
Pop Vinyl characters collected from various places like Amazon, eBay and Forbidden Planet
Time Turner Necklace from Harry Potter World at Universal Studios but also available here
Madonna statue and crucifix both from antique shops in Bruges
Jesus statue was a present from my sister

My husband and I are both music obsessed and so bringing this love into our decor came naturally. I mostly collect prints and posters at gigs we go to, but if I spot any online that catch my eye for bands that we love I like to grab them to add to the collection. I recently found an Australia based company called Beyond The Pale and I've become a bit obsessed - if I won the lottery I think I'd buy one of nearly all of their prints!

Also seen here is a print of a piece by one of my all time favourite artists John William Waterhouse and a defaced dollar bill that came with a print I purchased from a current incredible artist Kevin Llewellyn that I mounted on a spare scrap of fabric by the amazing Timorous Beasties. The tin hand was another purchase from the V and A Frida Kahlo exhibition.

Alkaline Trio Tour Poster Print by Beyond The Pale - $30.00 (purchased)

Collecting books is an obsession of mine and every room in our house is 'decorated' with them. I collect anything that interests me but my particular favourites are old ghost stories and historical volumes like the translation of the Egyptian Book of The Dead that fans of The Mummy may be aware of - yes it was an actual thing! I collect my books everywhere - from markets, second hand bookshops, antique warehouses and fairs and various online resources. 

I struck gold recently on eBay winning this antique black corner unit with mirrors for just a tenner and it has pride of place filled with books and being guarded by Shaun the Prawn which was a Valentines Day gift from my husband that he got at Zara Home a few years ago.

More trinkets from my travels live on this shelf including a cuddle bat and old copy of the world of Percey Shelley that I found when we visited gorgeous Gloria and Ali in Glasgow. The ceramic hands were found at various vintage fairs and I painted the lady face plant pot on a trip to Center Parcs one year. The print is by Kevin Llewellyn who is mentioned above and is of my favourite sculpture The Veiled Bride that usually resides at the amazing Chatsworth House.

The kitchen can be a tricky place to personalise if you have limited space but we're fortunate enough to have the original range in our cottage that makes a perfect focal point slash book shelf! Of course I haven't been able to hold back here either and have decorated the chimney breast with an amazing neon light, vintage liquor adverts and postcards that I bought at a concert. My giant Cointreau bottle ice bucket also resides here along with a neon heart light that I got as a secret santa present last year!

Cocktails Neon Light by Prezzybox - £75.00 (* gifted by the brand)
Vintage vermouth ads purchased online
Fake travel postcards bought at a Caro Emerald concert
Vintage Cointreau Ice Bucket - Winged Ape Loughborough (purchased)

I've managed to add a touch of eccentricity to my office too with the addition of a decorative table hanging bar, some shelves and nicnacs and of course more art prints. I also an out of room on my jewelry organiser and so I started hanging light necklaces from my fake trailing plants, but I liked the effect so much I've carried on doing it!

Table Hanger Rack by Clas Ohlson - £14.99 (purchased)
String Bulb Lights by Clas Ohlson - £19.99 (purchased)
Swan Hanging Planters by Flying Tiger Copenhagen (purchased)
Faux Trailing Plant by Ikea - £6.00 (purchased)
Leopard Bauble Decorations were a gift from my Mother in Law

As someone who loves 'pretty stuff' storage is key for me and naturally if the storage itself is decorative all the better! The wall shelf trend has been a big help with this and I have quite a few little display shelves dotted about the cottage now.

Wire Shelf by Matalan - £16.00 (* gifted by the brand)
'N' Book from The National Portrait Gallery (purchased)
Lobster Bottle Opener purchased at a little shop on Spetses island in Greece
Gold pen pot by Primark (purchased)
The Library Scented Candle by True Grace (purchased - my favourite candle of all time!)

The Future Is In Your Hands Print by Oh Deer - £12.95 (purchased)

I hope you've enjoyed this post and that it's given you a few ideas for your own home - I'd love to see photos of anything you add that was inspired by this piece!

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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.

If I was only able to use one word to describe The School of Artisan Food that word would be special. Before you even go through the gates as you drive through some of the UK's prettiest countryside the feeling of excitement and privilege builds, then you're into the estate and it's like you've entered another world. It really is a feeling of privilege and luck, like I have access to a secret domain that encapsulates all of the things I love that I feel when I head here and that is rightly so - where else can you learn techniques and skills from some of the most brilliant food artisans in historic surroundings as gorgeous as these?

On my second visit to the school these feeling hadn't dissipated and it was with practically a spring in my step that I walked up the steps of the school to the main dining room where my class was meeting. Of course you need to fuel up for a full day of learning on your feet and so the spread that greeted us was most welcome and of course all made at the school - I grabbed a coffee and a lovely fruit bun topped with apple before sitting down and chatting to some of my fellow students. The relaxed atmosphere is one of the nicest things here, even in the classroom you go at a pace that isn't rushed, you're free to ask any questions you wish and the teachers frequently visit your station to see how you're getting on.  

The class I attended on this occasion was all about the afternoon tea and the day was spent making five delightful treats that would plate up as a perfect sweet selection for that most British of eating events. On the menu were macarons, friands, tuille pastries filled with flavoured cream, possett and of course scones - all with a twist and using all natural ingredients of the best quality. We were fortunate enough to be being taught by Graham and Rose Dunton, two professionals who have been working in patisserie for over 30 years in some of the most predigious establishments such as The Dorchester and The Connaught and The Hyatt Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge. To say that I felt honoured to be learning from Rose and Graham was an understatement and they were wonderful teachers peppering the recipes with ideas for other ways to use the elements, alternative flavour combinations and professional tips and techniques that you'd only dream of hearing outside of these walls.

The morning began with macaron shell making which is something I'm familiar with but is definitely a big draw for a lot of people since they have been one of the trendiest - and difficult to perfect  - delicacies on the scene for a few years now. We then moved on to baking our friands and Graham even showed us how to make the jam that he has used for years, a different take that is much quicker to make and leaves you with a beautiful zippy fruity blend that would probably make a piece of polystyrene taste great!

Time flew by and before I knew it we were at lunchtime so we wandered back into the dining room where two lovely ladies had spent the morning cooking us up a feast of quiches, tarts, roasted potatoes and a myriad of salads. I must say that the wild garlic quiche was just gorgeous and I'm actually planning on recreating it this weekend along with the refreshing fennel and cucumber salad.

After a chilled out meal and a chance to rest our feet for a while we were back at it in the kitchen whipping cream, spreading out langue du chat paste and (briefly) kneading our scones before we were on to topping, filling and gussying up our completed treats. As happens in any kitchen we had a couple of hiccups along the way with some naughty macaron shells that cracked and rolling up cigarette pastries that were a tad too short to join around the moulds, but honestly a kitchen is a place full of the opportunity for mistakes. With that many students creating such a spread of different patisserie I'm frankly amazed that's all that went awry and Graham and Rose did a brilliant job of explaining what my have gone wrong and ways to rectify it which is far preferable to your trying on your own at home and having no clue what went amiss!

By the end of the day everyone had brains full of tips and inspiration and cars full of delicacies to take home - I could barely fit it all in my fridge when I got home. There was no doubt that everyone had had a thoroughly enjoyable day and I left with renewed invigoration for baking and a mind whirring with different ways I could flavour and switch up what we had made during the day. 

I absolutely will be returning to the school to do more courses in the future and if you are a food and cookery fan I know that you would just adore a day or two of learning just like me. It's not just baking that you can learn here either, the range of courses cover butchery, cheesemaking, preserving, brewing, chocolate making, food photography and more so you are sure to find a subject that tickles your fancy. Personally I'd love to do the Classic Culinary Skills course with Justine Kanter and I'm keeping my eyes on the Fermentation Masterclass with Sandor Katz!

It's safe to say that I fall more in love with this place on each visit and I can't wait to come back to explore the rest of what the Welbeck Estate has to offer like the farm shop, microbrewery and the gallery. It's safe to say that if I ever ended up working here at some point in my life I would be a very happy woman - it's nice to have goals eh?

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*This post contains items that were gifted for review. For more information head to my disclaimer page.