A return to the Royal Hotel

Hello!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  The first couple of months of this year has literally whizzed past, and I can’t believe it’s March already.  Anyway, here is my momentous return to this neglected little blog, and what a return it is. It’s also a return to The Royal Hotel, which I visited not long after its reopening last year.

The restaurant upstairs has got a snazzy new menu, the downstairs bar has got amazing new cocktails, and – excitingly – the basement is opening soon as a brand new absinthe bar.

Let’s (always) start at the bar.

The Royal’s mixologists are continually testing out new cocktails, and they’re adding signature recipes to the menu all the time.  I tried one of the new ones, The Sloe Paddington, and it was delicious.  Sloe gin (tick), raspberry gin liqueur (tick), lemon juice, mint, and marmalade. God, it was good.  Mama Bear had a  mock-jito because she was driving, and it’s probably a good job, because it was gone so quickly that if it had had alcohol in it, it would’ve gone straight to her head. Ha.

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After a couple of cocktails, our table was ready, so we went up to the ballroom to eat.  We had some bread and hummus whilst we debated the rest of the menu, and for starters, I went for the soup of the day (everywhere should do carrot and chilli soup, all the time), and Mum had pan seared scallops with black pudding and pea puree fondant, pancetta, and sour cream, and I have to say, it looked stunning.

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For mains, I opted for the new vegetarian dish, a braised garlic and herb puy lentil tapalone, and, inspired by the wildlife that has taken up residence in my parents’ garden, Mum had coq au vin style pheasant (!)

Our mains were really good; Mum said she wasn’t sure she’d eaten pheasant before, but that she’d have it again.  My plate looked like a flower when it arrived, but I deconstructed it pretty quick.  The only thing I’d say was maybe a downside was that it was mostly lentils; the tapalone is like a dumpling filled with lentils, and there are lentils with the green beans too.  It was good, but if you’re not a big lentil fan, it might not be for you.  On thinking about it, it actually might be a vegan option, rather than just vegetarian, but I’ll have to check!  We munched it all up and had a little break to decide on dessert.

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I didn’t manage to take a picture of my lemon tart before I ate it, but Mum and I shared that and some mixed sorbet – the flavours change about, but the lemongrass and basil is loooovely. We’d spent so long nattering over dinner that the parking had run out by the time we were finished, so I took a few instagram pics of the sun setting out of the window, and then we dashed back to the car.

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I should also mention that the service at the Royal has been AMAZING both times I’ve been.  The staff are friendly, and chatty, and really know what they’re talking about. If you have no idea what a tapalone is (just us?), they’re happy to explain anything, and they were superb.

I’m excited to see what the absinthe bar is like when it’s done – it’s something really fun and different, and Southend is really pulling it’s socks up on places to go out.  It’ll have a gin distillery any day now 😉

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*We were offered dinner and drinks at the Royal Hotel in return for an honest review.  As ever, all words/opinions/pictures are my own!

The best books I read in 2016

I’m going to do a slightly different end-of-year books roundup this year, because I’ve (mostly) been keeping track each month, so just listing all the books I’ve read would be… pretty repetitive.  Anyway, you can find all of them on goodreads, and mini reviews of most of them under “books“.  So, instead, here are the best books I read this year…

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The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
If you haven’t read this yet, go. I’ll wait here till you have, and then we can cry about David Wojnarowicz together.  I sobbed my way to Edinburgh on an easyjet flight to this, and it was totally worth it.  This was, by far, the best and most important book I read this year. So, so good.

The Dead Ladies Project, Jessa Crispin
More non-fiction, I read this for the #WLClub, and loved it.  I loved seeing glimpses into other people’s lives, through the lens of Crispin’s own travels, and how those other people affected her.

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
This was Obama’s book of the year last year,and he’s got good taste in books. People are always their own people, with their own inner lives and secrets, regardless of how well you know and/or love them, and this novel shows that beautifully.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
If a boy breaks up with you and then immediately gives you book presents, and the present is Murakami, keep them around because they have good taste in books and you can inherit boxes and boxes of good books from them when they move to America.

All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
More crying. Totally worth it. I read this in Crete, where I ate my body weight in fava and spent four days in the sun reading a huge stack of books.  This was stunningly written, and I’ve recommended it to everyone.

Honourable mentions:
Hold Your Own, Kate Tempest; We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo; The Girl With All The Gifts, MR Carey; Deer Michigan, Jack C. Buck; What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi, How to be Human, Paula Cocozza (this isn’t out until 2017, so I debated including it here, but it’s good, so look out for it!)

 

 

Reading… Deer Michigan

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twitter: @jack_c_buck

Jack C. Buck’s micro fiction is some of my favourite, and since publishing his story, write talk-talk if you have no one to talk-talk with, in the third issue of Severine, I’ve seen his writing appear all over the place.  A couple of months ago, I spotted on Twitter that Truth Serum Press would be publishing a collection of his fiction at the end of this year.  Jack asked if I’d like to review Deer Michigan, so I got it early (yay!), but you can get a copy from next week.

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A collection of 60 pieces, Deer Michigan is  Jack’s writing weaves so many stories into such a short space that each piece feels much longer than it is – and I mean that in the way that micro fiction can sometimes feel a bit wanting, like there’s not quite enough story, and that’s why that has to be the medium.  Here, the writing is wound tightly around the core of each story, giving a snapshot of a place, a person, but with just enough time to really look at them.

Once of my favourite things about flash and micro fiction is that it doesn’t have the space to introduce a ton of characters, or to spend five pages describing the scene, so instead, you’re just dropped in to the centre of whatever’s happening, and you have to figure it out for yourself.  It’s much more like being a fly on the wall.  Deer Michigan throws you into the centre of relationships, between lovers, families, friends, places, and lets you figure out the dynamics.  The stories are mostly quiet, their narrators sincere, and many of the pieces read like poetry, but they are rich, and full of life and love.

I’ll be tweeting when Deer Michigan is available to buy, but keep an eye out!