amba marble arch
Though my blog will forever and always be my ‘happy place’, I have been dealing with an exceptionally tough year behind the screen. From ongoing surgeries to unexpected losses, 2015 has been as trying as it has been wonderful.

As a silver linings kind of woman, however, I like to focus on the wonderful.

Having enjoyed the Amba Charing Cross so much during my last London staycation, I thought it would be a great idea to book in at the new Amba Marble Arch for a weekend of Christmas shopping, relaxation, and spa treatments.

Nestled straight off of Oxford Street, the new hotel may not have the unique charm of Charing Cross’ iconic architecture but could genuinely not be in a more convenient location for shopping, eating, and entertainment.

That, and the brand’s hyper-digital offering (you may remember me swooning over their complimentary iPads in a previous post) is as seamless and savvy as ever. After a long and festive afternoon through Soho, I returned to my lovely little room to be greeted by a toothbrush (requested by their “Oops, I forgot my…” app as I left) and a surprise assiette of desserts.

The rest of the evening consisted of a dinner catch-up in bed with one of my best friends, a complete clear-out of the Nespresso facilities, and a stream of movies so ridiculously bad I daren’t name them. As far as ‘wonderful’ is concerned, it was the real deal.

After waking up and getting ready for the day (pausing to revel in the heated, steamless bathroom mirrors), we spent the rest of our morning enjoying the gargantuan breakfast selection at The Grill and drinking far too many cups of tea before parting ways.

The final stop on my staycation was fast approaching.

During a recent browse on Red Letter Days I had spotted that my all-time favourite spa (The Spa at Dolphin Square) was offering an insane deal through their pamper day packages and couldn’t quite book it fast enough.

After a short tube ride to Pimlico, I made my way to the spa’s stunning Moroccan-style chambers and spent the next three hours being hammamed, massaged, steamed, and herbal tea-ed to complete tranquility. Very few ‘holiday’ spa experiences have evet come close to Dolphin Square’s.

Staycation of dreams, this one.

amba marble arch
amba marble arch
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coast fashion
Last week I was invited to Coast‘s flagship store on Oxford Street for a little dress-up session with a small and lovely group of fellow bloggers. In addition to a little make-up and hair refresher (they’re the ones to blame for this month’s Braid Takeover), Coast’s in-store personal stylist Marie pulled us all a selection of beautiful dresses before letting us run around the store to tag – or #hashtag – our favourite items.

While I would happily throw 90% of their stock into my wardrobe, the apple of my eye on the day was their Topaz dress, seen above. Unsurprisingly  I was sold on the chunky crystal embellishments scattered around teardrop cut outs. Quintessential Lela. The heels – their Haniba shoes – were designed by Jean Michel Cazabat and come in real JMC style; all chic and strappy platformed goodness.

Want to get in on the action? Until the 18th, Coast have an online promotion which will get you 25% off any full price items – just use the code ‘Style25‘!

coast fashion
coast fashion
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uk fashion
When it comes to tracing the development of the fashion industry, most people turn their attention to international trips which take in the major fashion cities of the world: Paris, Milan and London. However, turn your attention a little closer to home and you might be surprised by the fashion tips you could pick up right here on home soil.

Edinburgh

The Scottish capital, Edinburgh is perhaps best known for its association with arts and culture. Yet alongside the annual Fringe festival, Edinburgh is also home to some of the best fashion styles around. Whether you’re interested in traditional Scottish attire or something a little more contemporary, this is one city which will provide both in plentiful supply.

To get your hands on opulent kilts, stunning jewellery and the latest on-trend clothing, head to one of the city’s many shopping districts. Lothians Shopping and Livingston Designer Outlet are great places to find high quality garments at affordable prices while the Royal Mile should be your first port of call for unusual trinkets and one-off statement pieces that are sure to make an impression on the fashion world.

London

Turning your attention to the English capital, London hosts a number of high profile fashion events for a reason – it’s a melting pot of inspiration and diverse tastes. Whether you’re hitting the markets of Camden Town or trawling the exclusive boutiques and designer stores located around Oxford Street, you’re sure to find something that is fashionable.

Head off the beaten track to explore some of the deeper corners of the city and become surrounded by vibrant and colourful individuals who have plenty of style inspiration to share. One of the best things about London is its multicultural status and this means you’ll witness fashion styles which have been influenced by trends from throughout the world.

If you want to compare the fashion styles of these two capitals then why not journey between them? Weekend trips are more than possible thanks to rail services operated by firms such as East Coast Trains and you can find plenty of cheap train tickets online so that you have more money to spend in these fashion centres.

Brighton

Of course, it’s not just capital cities which are known for their contributions to the fashion world – virtually every city or county in the UK can boast some claim to fame when it comes to creating their own style. The southern coastal town of Brighton is a perfect example and is known as a hive of vibrancy and eccentric tastes. Journey down the quaint Lanes and stumble across unique shops which stock virtually everything you can think of before marvelling at the individualism which is painted on every street corner, shop front and outfit.

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la porte des indes
Indian cuisine does not fall short in the average Londoner’s mind. The infamous ‘tikka masala’ is practically as synonymous with British mealtime as a steak and kidney pie. That – in all of my deluded wisdom – makes me rather indifferent to an Indian menu.

Until, of course, I experience something like La Porte des Indes.

A real shame for anyone who judges a book by its cover, the unassuming exterior of La Porte des Indes is a complete departure from the dining areas; a colonially opulent, mirrored and palm treed escape from the tourist-packed hell that is Oxford Street.

On the last Friday of every month, executive chef Mehernosh Mody – and his biting wit – hosts a “master” class which I attended last week. Hence the quotations. Though I have yet to develop a mastery in Mody’s unique style, the class details the genius behind La Porte des Indes’ blend of Southern Indian French trading post cuisine and the French Creole of Pondichéry in a manner that anyone could understand.

Kicking off with a fruit cocktail in their former ballroom and a tour of the tandoor-edged kitchens, we soon settled into a large area behind their waterfall for a cooking demonstration. (Yes, waterfall).

Joined by wine expert Jacqueline Kay of Berkmann Wine Cellars, we were treated to a live display of Mody’s salmon and dill samosas, rougail d’aubergine, and Kerala chicken stew alongside their tanin-free wine pairings. Tanin-free, of course, because wines which are oak-barreled or contain tanin will often coat the mouth, making it a poor match for the strong flavours and spices of India. Jacqueline explained that while many of us steer clear of wine while consuming spicy food, Australian Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc options are excellent go-tos for balanced and fresh consumption.

Post-demonstration you are given a signed copy of La Porte des Indes cookbook, a complimentary spice mix, a certificate of participation, and are then seated to enjoy a three-course meal.

Welcomed with extensive lists of fruit-based cocktails and wines, we amuse bouched before settling on the non-vegetarian menu. To start, we enjoyed lamb kebabs with smoked chilli, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs – complemented with a fruit chutney – alongside Sunhere Samosas and Dahl Puri (melt-in-the-mouth vegetarian fare drizzled with yoghurt, chutneys and gram flour crisps).

As mains, the menu featured the Pulet Rouge (shredded chicken simmered in a buttery cream sauce with rustic spices), Saag Khumb (stir-fried field mushrooms and leaf spinach with kadai spices), and a ‘very hot’ Kerala Meen Kari (tillapia fillets simmered with coconut, chillies, ginger, and tinged with smoked tamarind) which I didn’t find much spicier than the Pulet Rouge. As accompaniments, the table managed to gorge on saffron-flavoured Basmati rice, Tandoori Naan, and Gajar ka Ralta (crunchy carrots and raisins in a tempered yogurt sauce). While my personal taste calls for an experimental use of spice in such an extensive menu, flavours impressed from the starting line and often played sweet and savoury off each other in a way I know any Indian food lover would adore.

Though I have always found Indian desserts to be too sweet for my liking, the final l’assiette du chef went down well. With an assortment of nibbles that managed to counter the aftertaste of chillies and tamarind, their chocolate samosa managed to give me a delectable sugar hit that allowed me to eat every bite.

Tikka masala, this is not.

La Porte des Indes, 32 Bryanston Street, London, W1H 7EG.

la porte des indes
la porte des indes
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afternoon tea
Because Monday seems like an incredibly strange day for a ‘date‘, The Manfriend and I thought we would test it out. By working all of Sunday, we sedated our workaholic guilt and booked yesterday out for each other.

Living on the edge of London, it is pretty hard to find local date spots that offer more than a greasy spoon. Deciding we would work our way into Central London throughout the day, however, we created a mini adventure. Gluttons for afternoon tea, we originally planned to head towards Eaton for Doll’s House on The Hill (a hidden gem) only to discover they are closed on Mondays. In a Metropolitan Line state of mind (and hunger), we made the quick choice to head towards Uxbridge for a little pop-up shop called “The Forties Tea Room” (no website). Located in a shopping centre and boasting a strong over-50s clientele, expectations were ravenous but low.

We were pleasantly surprised. With mismatched cutlery and delicious home-made treats, the Forties Tea Room was charming as could be. Because the cafe was set up to raise money for the RAF Bomber Command Memorial and Maintenance Appeal, you have an excuse to break the diet, to boot.

After filling ourselves to the brim, The Manfriend and I headed up to Oxford Street for a spot of shopping (Jigsaw purchases revealed soon!), traipsing, and drinks.

Drinks of epic proportions. Blog readers and loved ones…let me introduce you to Adventure Bar. We escaped from the perpetual drizzle in the Covent Garden branch, but I am positive that they are all as fabulous. Happy hour is 5-7 (two for one), music is on point, staff are high on life, and drunkenness doubles as dessert. You simply must go.

afternoon tea

afternoon tea

jigsaw

adventure bar covent garden

adventure bar covent garden