My visit to Toronto has been a long time coming. The last time I ventured over to ‘the 6’ was over four years ago.
Home to Drake, The Weeknd, Lilly Singh and Rupi Kaur, I did secretly hope I would bump into one of the four during my week there but alas, it didn’t happen.
I did however have a lot of family time and even though I was struck down with a relentless cough, I still braved the elements and got to admire some of what Toronto had to offer.
Brunch is probably my favourite meal, which I think we should all take more time to appreciate and indulge in. What’s even better in my opinion is when you come across a brunch menu that isn’t filled with the typical dishes that are synonymous with this trendy past time. Smashed avocado on toast is great but let’s be real, we’ve all mastered this to perfection.
I only discovered the joys of Afternoon Tea a couple of years ago, when first taking Knightsbridge by storm and then Marble Arch much later on for Mother’s Day. The teas, the scones and the sandwiches! Full of such quaint, simple contentment.
The Strand Palace Hotel near Charing Cross Station has taken this quintessential British pastime and added an Indian twist – completely unique, and completely halal. So of course I used this opportunity to meet up with Sara from Sara K Blog. Our first hangout, on Valentines weekend may I add, was full of laughs, real talk, love for Mulberry, not so much love for Michael Kors (oops!) and genuinely connecting as bloggers and as friends.
The most important element of any Afternoon Tea are the teas (duh!) and the Daawat Restaurant, which plays host to Strand Palace’s Afternoon Tea, boasts a number of cuppas ranging from your traditional English Breakfast Tea, to herbal infusions and of course, Indian inspired chai with spiced scents.
Rather than your traditional finger sandwiches, we were treated to an Indian palette with flavours that suited all.
Coupled with delicious cakes, tarts and those obligatory scones, we weren’t only in agreement that the food and teas were splendid, but the current landscape especially where Asian bloggers were concerned, needed a major overhaul.
It seems that everyone is a blogger these days, with only a handful really striking it big. YouTube videos and make-up tutorials aside, where are the serious writers? Where are the people who have the perfect platform to address important issues that plague entire communities or strike up dialogue about mindsets that need to change?
Emerging and established bloggers and YouTubers thinking about being internet famous and capturing thousands of subscribers based on how well you contour, don’t quite realise the influence they have on the public who consume this media.
Right now on YouTube there will be an assortment of videos telling me how best to apply my eyeliner, but concerning gender inequality and sexual violence against women, I can’t seem see any vloggers addressing this. The sad thing is, most of them are intelligent enough and more than capable to educate people on these issues.
Quite a heavy and deep conversation I’ll admit, but this is my point. If we’re not going to talk about the domino effect blogs and vlogs have on society, then who will? Do we really want people to feel that all Asians are best known for is applying make up, styling hijabs and reviewing cosmetic products? As a collective group, we are so much more than that.
At this point, another tea was sorely needed. Refill in tow, the discussions continued.
On a less serious note, it’s definitely worth getting away from the stresses of reality and unwinding with an unlimited amount of tea and some delicious nibbles. Whether you’re on a date, catching up with friends, treating your Mum or talking business, Afternoon Tea suits all.
Priced at £18.95, Daawat’s Indian Afternoon Tea is definitely worth the visit, if only to try a delightful twist on a much loved British tradition.
Last month I mentioned that I would be taking part in my first Christmas Blogger Gift Swap. The swap itself was organised by Viola from A Piece of Viola and I was matched with the lovely Cathy Bee from www.beecathy.wordpress.com.
What I loved about this activity was getting to know a complete stranger who shared a mutual interest. With life always managing to worm its way in, it’s not like we get the chance to lend our time to something as proactive as getting to know someone new. However throughout the email exchanges, I’ve gotten to know a little bit more about Cathy. Not only does she work in early years education but her blog is full of pretty awesome picks of things to do and see in London. You can read more here.
For my gift swap, I received a lovely selection of chocolates, which are from a local shop in South East London and a candle tea cup. I’m the biggest sucker for home ware accessories – especially candles – so this gift was perfect and who doesn’t like chocolate?! I love that Cathy has kept it local and bought items from around her area. I’m excited about trying these uniquely flavoured chocolates and hopefully discovering a new found love for something other than Cadbury’s – (I had already tucked into one of the chocolates when I remembered that I needed to take pictures of them! Oops!)
The overall idea of a blogger gift swap was absolute genius. It’s a great way to meet other bloggers and I’m so glad I participated. For once it’s about lending your time to someone else. It’s so easy to consume all our free time with meaningless activities that really don’t do much for us. Why not give some time to other people, whether it’s your loved ones or a complete stranger? This year in itself has been a year of many firsts and I can safely say I’ll definitely be taking part next year. For anyone who missed this year’s gift swap, I urge you all to try it next year. It really is quite a thoughtful and fun thing to do especially in the run up to Christmas.
Ciao for now! x
Events like The Cake and Bake Show is every sweet tooth’s dream. Arriving at Earls Court right on time for a 10am open, crowds of people were already gathering for a show that would both teach and tempt the strongest of willpowers. Perusing around the spacious venue, stalls lined every twist and turn with both savoury and sweet bakes.
The three day event, which started on Friday 3rd October featured an abundance of special guests, activities and exhibitors for baking enthusiasts. The Cake Kitchen featured favourite chefs such as Phil Vickery, Paul A Young, Rachel Khoo and Lisa Faulkner preparing a variety of bakes, whilst The Bakery featured even more chefs waiting to dazzle with even more bakes including breads, cakes and pies. The Competition Theatre featured fierce baking finesse as the previous winners of the Great British Bake Off took to the stage to compete in a series of challenges.
Along with watching their favourite chefs and snapping up some new recipes, visitors were also given the chance to cook along in one of many Classroom sessions throughout the weekend. Thirty-minute classes included cake sculpting, bread-making and a chocolate masterclass. Held across three Classrooms, there were plenty of opportunities to get involved and develop a new skill.
The entire vibe of the event was one of pleasance and cheerfulness with the common factor being our love for baking. Walking around the busy floor, I came across some absolutely amazing businesses who were not only happy to talk about their origins but offer tasty samples that were worth every, single penny. Below are a few delightful brands that really stood out.
The first thing I noticed when walking up to the Meringue Girls counter was the sheer colour! Their bright pink neon sign naturally drew the girly girl in me towards them and soon I was chomping down on some seriously delicious meringues. Don’t shoot me – I’ve never been a huge meringue fan, but after nibbling on a bag full which consisted of hints of coconut and raspberry I’m totally sold on meringues. Meringue girls don’t only just sell meringues, they also use their expertise to create some seriously stunning showstoppers.
The Brownie Bar
Brownies are my weakness. Luckily I have strong willpower so I manage to refrain from indulging in them every single day. On this occasion however, I refused to listen to the little voice in my head and I dived headfirst into the Brownie Bar and tried a malteaser brownie, which was a mix of chocolate brownie and crushed maltesers, drizzled with white chocolate. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest and had absolutely no regrets either. The Brownie Bar offers a mouth-watering range which includes incredible flavours such as oreo, peanut butter and salted caramel. Who knew heaven could exist in a brownie?
Popcorn is all the rage at the moment. People in the office opt for these popped delights instead of a heavier sweet treat. I’m very much a popcorn person so I was delighted and intrigued by Popcorn Kitchen. Offering popcorn in a variety of flavours, the samples were a massively welcomed change from the everyday popcorn you buy that lacks that intensity in every bite. Unlike other popcorn makers, Popcorn Kitchen charges you for a full bag of popcorn – not half a bag of air. Packets are actually filled up and they have also created some smart and creative packaging, which makes for the perfect Christmas and/or Secret Santa gift!
Like many others, my love for red velvet hasn’t waned one bit, especially as there are new and creative ways in which people are incorporating that indulgent red velvet flavour. I’ve had a red velvet milkshake, but now I’m in love with red velvet macaroons. L’orchidee creates these gorgeously decadent macaroons what are simply melt in your mouth. Also specializing in patisserie-style desserts, L’orchidee is a combination of passionate baking and high quality desserts.
(Image courtesy of L’orchidee)
As I’m jetting off abroad this week, Serendipity Tailormade’s event, Rihla, couldn’t have come at a better time. Behind the doors of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, was an evening full of travel inspiration for Muslims who wished to explore countries beyond their comfort zone.
Offering a palette of destinations such as New Zealand, Argentina, Cambodia and Vietnam, Serendipity have done all of the work for you when it comes to sourcing accommodation that takes the needs of Muslims into consideration when it comes to privacy, worship and food.
With a screening room, 30 minute seminars, yummy finger food and a range of exhibitors, this was definitely a one of a kind event. I sat down with the founder of Serendipity, Nabeel Shariff, to talk about Rihla and the selection of destinations on offer.
1. To start, could you give us a brief introduction of who you are and what do you do?
“I’m the director of Serendipity Tailormade and we are the only UK and potentially European tour operator that specialises in halal-friendly travel. What we do in that sense is provide bespoke, luxury and individual itineraries for clients looking to travel to places that they wouldn’t have necessarily thought of.”
2. How did Serendipity come about?
“Initially when we did a lot of research for the company we found tat a lot of clients either went ‘home’, they went to pilgrimage or they went to somewhere that was very comfortable like Morocco, Turkey, potentially Malaysia. We thought, ‘why can’t they travel to places like Thailand, Vietnam, South America and Africa?’ From that, Serendipity was born.”
3. How did you go about ensuring these countries were feasible for Muslims?
“We have individual teams on the ground who do a lot of the work in terms of research. For example, making sure that the restaurants that our clients would dine in are either owned by Muslims, and most of them are owned by Muslims. Alternatively, we make sure that they are who they say they are. We work with various resorts and hotels around the world who advise us that their food is halal and we check to see where their food is coming in from. In addition to this we check if they have halal certification, are the kitchens prepared for halal-friendly cuisine, separation of utensils and making sure non-halal and halal are not mixed. We do all that work so our clients don’t have to and when we find somewhere that can provide an option for Muslims, we bring it to market.”
4. What’s the response been like?
“Over the last three years it’s been amazing. Alhamdulilah it’s been as expected and to be honest with you, you go into a project and you believe in it and there’s always been a market for Muslims wanting to travel, it’s in our blood to travel, whether it’s for holiday purposes, whether it’s for pilgrimage or for migration, we have historically travelled. But in this day and age we also want to aspire to travel and second and third generation British Muslims have the inspiration from fellow colleagues and the media that they see. They do want to experience these things and they don’t want to feel like they’re restricted in any way.”
5. What’s been the most surprising destination in terms of accessing halal food?
“Probably Vietnam and Cambodia. Those two are the most surprising purely because of the demographic there. When we first started looking into Vietnam we realised there were a lot of migrants from Malaysia that had set up businesses there making halal food much more accessible. We don’t like to say if you go to Vietnam you’ll get Malay food though. Wherever we have a new destination or an unusual destination we also like to try local cuisine so that you do have the opportunity to try for example peking duck in Beijing.”
6. Tell us a bit more about Rihla.
“Rihla is all about Muslims in London coming together and spend the evening finding travel inspiration. That’s really what it’s all about. You may not have thought about travelling to Thailand but Rihla brings together our destination experts from Thailand, Malaysia and the Seychelles for example, and allows you to ask as many questions as you want, find out about all the attractions they have and reasons to travel to these destinations. It’s really just about expanding your travel horizons, giving you a bit more knowledge in order to provide you with more options for your next halal-friendly holiday.”
7. What are your future plans for Serendipity?
“We obviously want to keep growing ourselves and offer new destinations. We would like to offer unusual destinations. We’ve just launched New Zealand for example, which is fantastic and so far-flung. We’d also like to look in Europe too. We feel that Europe has a lot of potential with a lot of migrant Muslims living in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona, so there’s no reason why we can’t do that and inshallah going forward we shall do.”
To start planning your next trip, visit http://www.serendipity.travel/
A crisp Friday evening where the work week is officially over and the chaos begins as everyone eagerly makes their way across London, anticipating the weekend ahead. Some heading home, others out with friends.
Instead of heading home where it’s cosy and warm, I’ve decided to detour and seek out a new retreat that doesn’t come with any distractions, allowing me to give my full attention to my beloved blog. No, before you raise your eyebrows and wonder, “What’s Safeera doing at a champagne bar?!”, calm down and read on…
Comfortably occupying the first floor of St Pancras Station, Searcy’s is a stylish champagne bar with accommodating staff, plenty of space and a spoilt for choice menu when it comes to choosing the perfect glass of bubbly.
Away from the hectic Friday evening crowds below, I’ve nestled myself into a comfy seat, Elderflower Presse my drink of choice. Sweet, sparkling and in my opinion a fabulous replacement for champagne. See, you don’t need to necessarily have champagne. The non-alcoholic drinks are limited, but considering this is a champagne bar, you can tell thought has gone into the alternative drinks on offer.
Food and beverages are what you would expect to be priced, in what I deem, the heart of St. Pancras. Placed outside the actual restaurant, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything with a selection of edibles that ranges from seafood to sandwiches to a cheese platter. I was told however, that the restaurant is something to behold, so watch this space!
What I loved most about this place is it isn’t a social venue for the pretentious. Whether you’re waiting for a train to whisk you out of London, or simply meeting friends for the night ahead, Searcy’s is the ideal spot and caters for all. (You know this is true when a party of 1 turns up wanting to just sit there and write a blog!)
The odd Eurostar pulling up on the platform behind you adds a lovely touch, almost tempting you to throw caution to the wind and escape the crazy busy city for a few days. If you’re more level headed than me, then the decor, the vibe and the charm of this bar is enough to satisfy the need to leave reality behind for a few hours.
Cover photo by: Plodicus via Flickr