The Middle Sister

The wonderings, ponderings and other 'ings' of me. Lifestyle, review, news and opinion posts. Chic with a hint of sarcasm... hopefully!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Charming Chamonix: or Another Skiing Holiday!

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post and while more change is afoot and a couple of family things have sprung up, one of the delays is due to a particularly privileged pastime. Yes dear reader I have been on ANOTHER skiing holiday*

This time Chamonix! We were in the extremely fortunate position of being able to rent an apartment at mate’s rates in the heart of the town**. A cute little place directly opposite a couple of bars that turned out to be our favourite hangouts. Monkey did a mean brunch as well as tacos, burgers and cocktails while the owner of Big Horn Bistro and Bakery became quite familiar with our faces by the end of the week. Their atmosphere, decor of animal hides and comfy leather chairs as well as the considerable gin collection made for very acceptable evenings. In short it was the perfect location.

Chamonix has much to offer and is a popular resort familiar to most western middle class people that like to ski. From here you can get to both Italy and Switzerland on the slidey things attached to your feet if you’re good enough. We weren’t but no matter, from the charming, helpful people to the abundance of English speakers - my laziness truly knows no bounds - we did feel particularly welcome and managed to have all sorts of fun on the piste.

However come March the altitude being only around 1,000 metres does mean it’s not the usual walking around in a snowy mountain town I had come to expect.* With only black runs down to the centre you need to be advanced or a strong intermediate skier to get home without taking the bubble of shame (a cable car which transports you back down the mountain and is a real no-no in any of the higher resorts I’ve frequented).

That said being a ‘real town’ Chamonix is great for the non-skier as well. The landscape, food and, importantly for moi, coffee being some of the most pleasing aspects.  I love skiing as much as the next person, unless the next person is my husband who would ski all-day-every-day for the entirety of the season if he were able.  I’m more of a few hours playing in the mountains then off to see what other adventures I can find snow bunny.  Luckily my interest in photography meant I had a lot to play with night shots being particularly entertaining.   

Real ale drinkers might like to know Chamonix has its own brewery Big Mountain. Run by 2 brits it was small and charmingly shambolic when we popped in during a brew.  While obviously busy the guys were so chatty and chilled happy to explain the process and generally be lovely.  While I'm not an ale drinker I am advised their beer was the best in town.

My home town of Cambridge has had more coffee shops open in the past few years then I’ve had ski holidays. I’ve not see the same dedication to the bean in the mountains, however it is starting to filter*** its way through.  I LOVE a good coffee shop as my rather lovely husband knows so he sourced the best place for a morning brew. Moody Coffee Roasters, run by 2 brits**** is everything you'd want it to be, friendly staff, great cakes and wonderfully aromatic and tasty coffee. We sampled this most mornings and I was very happy with this ritual.
If you’re invited on a ski holiday I would recommend Chamonix, whether you go for the pistes or the views alone is up to you but I think you’ll enjoy it. I certainly did though have visited France with alarming regularity this year  and  have a trip to Champagne on the way later next month.  So I suppose I’d better stop being so bloody lazy and learn the language eh!

See you at the top?

*excuse me while I wipe away a crumb of privilege from my pampered cheek!
**without getting all mean girls about it you can’t use it. You need to know Mrs M. or own a time machine, go back to 1990 and make friends with her at school, then stay in touch. Or make friends with her now. Whichever is easiest.
*** pun TOTALLY Intended!
**** sensing a trend here?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Review: The Ivy Brasserie

Some morning are perfect and last Wednesday was one of those mornings. I happily battled my way through the Cambridge rush hour traffic as even that couldn’t dampen my spirits. Maybe because the first few days of spring announced themselves in a parade of yellow trumpeted blooms and I could feel the sun warm my shoulders. Of course it might have been that I was making my way to The Ivy Cambridge Brasserie for their opening week Blogger Breakfast as well. 

Entering The Ivy for the first time you are greeted by a strong and wildly colourful décor by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio*.  I’m a less is more women in general, but these bright colours and in-your-face design really works as it’s paired with a 1920’s sophistication, so you’re left attracted to the HUGE swan murals and sharp-angled art that covers the walls.  The bar begs to be sat at by elegantly dressed persons and reminds me a little of the famous Overlook Hotel** while the deep velvet of the moss green chairs invite you to take a load off.

You might be thinking ‘breakfast at The Ivy you say? No problem, I’ll just take out a second mortgage/sell a kidney and be right with you’. The thing is when you eat here in part at least, you’re paying to have your experience in a prestigious institution. But don’t think that means they are simply dinning off*** the London reputation, in either service or sustenance.  Yes the drinks were over £3 each though as a Cambridge resident for many years I’d say the prices aren’t too far from the average eatery.  Head Chef Stuart Conibear has worked at Downing College and was chef to Prince Charles for over 3 years so if it’s good enough for our future king its good enough for me.

 As stated this was a blogger breakfast which meant there was much image taking of instagramable dishes as we tucked into still warm pastries and coffee.  I indulged in tangy, seeded avocado on a toast with (deeply yellow and perfectly poached) hen’s eggs. We also got a tour to see the private dining area and walk around the restaurant fully and I could happily have spent a few hours here either for a brunch or at cocktail hour.

One side point that gives me just a little pause is when asked how the food is sourced and if fair trade/ethical/organic concepts are taken into consideration, the brasserie responded by saying “As with any responsible restaurant group, we take the time and effort to make sure we work with the best suppliers.” Not the most convincing of replies so this is something I will keeping an eye on and I’d love to know what you think as well. 

All things considered I’m looking forward to going back.  Yes dear reader, it looks like Cambridge culinary lovers have yet another place to think of when deciding where to go for a dinner date.  Will I see you there?

* Am advised this was ‘consulted on by’ so not entirely sure how much of a hand they had in this design.  It’s really rather good either way.
** That gorgeous bar in The Shining, pre the Jack Nicholson crazed homicidal maniac murder spree of course!
*** pun FULLY intended


Saturday, 10 March 2018

Review: Urban Larder

When I was a full time freelancer one of the places I loved to go for inspiration was Mill Road, Cambridge’s most multicultural street it holds a special place in the heart of many a local resident.  It also just so happens to house one of the cutest coffee shops we have, Urban Larder.  Set up just over 3 years ago (they had their toddler birthday the other week) this cosy corner has instagram worthy dark wood tables, a counter full of the most glorious pastries and a cheese toasty menu to salivate over.  Here’s the Cool the Quirks and the Que of this particular coffee house:

The Cool
Urban Larder was one of the first places I regularly frequented and I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since, evidently many people feel the same. There’s generally a happy chatter going on between staff and customers and the owner, Duncan, is possibly the friendliest person in town. At least every third customer seems to know him personally and he has time for all of them as well. 

The coffee itself is constantly evolving, from espresso to lattes to pour overs.  Duncan serves it any way you want it, always intense but never burnt he and his merry band of worker bees truly know how to brew. But let’s circle back to those toasties shall we? At one time they had the dubious honour of having my best cheese toasty trophy though now I have to admit there is another equally pleasing contender. Not that Urban Larder have slacked off in their quality, it’s just that The Locker arrived and now matches them for colour, taste and stodgy, gooey goodness!  Lucky Us TWO places to get a cheese toasty fit for a goddess! 

The Quirks
For such a popular place it is extremely small. So much so that on any given Saturday if you are not there before 10am you will struggle to find a seat.  Its also pretty popular with young families so there is quite a bit of noise when the kids (and sometimes the adults) start playing with the Lego boxes on all tables. Not the place to go for a little piece & quiet or to work. It also has one of the tiniest public bathrooms I’ve ever visited. You can barely turn around to get some paper without knocking your elbow on the wall. Not ideal.  

The Que?
Some oddities I’m still trying to work out is why they don’t seem to like loyalty cards? While I have it on good authority they do use them when I approached Urban Larder to chat about these fabulous free coffee cards for a Barista Magazine article, I was met with unease and reluctance and I’m still not sure why.  

Another question I had is with so many Cambridge roasters like Silver Oak Coffee and Hot Numbers why they go to Butterworth & Son, a Suffolk roaster, for their coffee beans? However the lovely larder people (Duncan I'm assuming!) were only too happy to answer this saying on Twitter "Just wanted to distinguish ourselves". He goes on "Butterworths are from where I grew up and they're blooming lovely people on top of all that.... oh and their coffee tastes pretty good too! 😊".

Typically friendly chat eh?

So it’s tiny but it’s lovely. It’s noisy but its friendly and above all it sells a damn fine cup of coffee!

Have you been to Urban Larder yet? 


Friday, 2 March 2018

Vero. True Social?

So did your Monday start with a search for what the heck Vero is? Yeah me too. 

After hearing about it on sunday from @lifesacatwalk I was all set to ignore the hype much like I always do when a new platform comes along. But on Monday afternoon I signed up.  Due in part* because I saw their super SWANKY advert:

I mean come on! They have a silky smooth female voice over saying all the things we've been bitching about (boo algorithms, adverts etc.) WONT happen on Vero! What self respecting instagram lover who has watched their engagement fail off a cliff could resist!  It felt open, honest and woke, But is it as good as it promises?

Lets start with the good stuff!

No algorithms: Since the Facebook takeover, instagram have ignored our pleases to reinstate the chronological order and kept their fancy-pants-tech-geek-computer-programme which push posts down the feed IT thinks aren't popular.  My feed usually consists of three adverts and seven posts from a week ago instead of current 'just posted' images.  This is particularly dumb when a post is scheduled to coincide with a memorable point in the year (Valentines Day, Christmas etc.) as this means you are STILL seeing valentines posts on 18th February. Bobbins eh?  Vero is promising to pull no such technical shenanigans! How this will work when/if they get to a billion users is yet to be decided but for now its a real plus point.

No adverts: Which means the big guns can't buy space on your feed and get their annoying as all heck post about insurance above that of lovely friends chatting about lovely things! 

Links: Theses can be clicked on directly from your post.  Great for bloggers, no more #linkinbio rubbish!

Classification: You can split your connections into acquaintances, friends and close friends (they can't see what you call them) and then decide who sees your posts. Gives you a little rush of power choosing who fits in what category doesn't it? 

Its free: At least for the first million users anyway then (supposedly) it'll be about tenner a year. ** UPDATE they have now surpassed their 1 MILLION USERS but are still offering the app free 'until further notice' due to how lacklustre the service has been up until now**

However...Some aspects of this platform are not currently running all that well.  True its only at beta stage so this may change, but if you signed up today be prepared for the following:

The Bad Stuff!

Search Engine Issues:  You can post separately on things like books, music, TV etc but the search engine is weak.  Some books can't be found at all and when I tried to @ my sisters in a post, Vero told me they didn't exist even though they most definitely do. Turns out they needed to post something before they could be found even though we had already connected, super annoying. It's equally bad at finding people you know are on Vero but that you aren't yet connected to. You'll get anything from no results to an ever changing list of randoms... to both...

Follow or Connect: Decide whether you want to connect or follow and connect to your friends straight away because the bloody follow button LITERALLY disappears if you don't do this on the first go. Should you change your mind you need to disconnect and reconnect to be given the opportunity of doing both again and its a major pain in the hole!

SO. GOD. DAMMED. SLOW  Much like the little town of Kingston Falls**, Vero is currently completely overwhelmed and fighting to stay alive which means the app is running like shit! Which leads me to...

Battery Drain While my battery lasted 1.5 days BV**** now I'm lucky if it makes it to 8pm.

And the truly awful WTAF stuff...

Hashtag Violation:  Certain popular hashtags are always going to be searched but Vero seem to be having trouble keeping images of nudity out of the results. For example I searched for #Louboutin... About 10 pictures down I got a boob.  No I'm not kidding.  Am not adding the picture here but any that don't believe me please contact me directly and I'll show you! This NEEDS to be addressed pronto, there's nothing wrong with nudity but I didn't want nudity I wanted pretty shoes and I got flappy baps! 

Bad Karma: Rumours that the Lebanese billionaire owner is not a nice guy have been floating around all week dogging the possible runaway success the app could have been.  Vero of course have put out a statement saying we're nice, honest (am paraphrasing). The conspiracy theorist in me feels it wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility that a certain Zuckerberg owned company helped the rumour along*****.  Either way its leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Not everyone is going to like it, and while it maybe be a little unfair to review it now as it is still beta, the fact is going viral means you get judged. The customer service team at Vero have an extremely limited time to get things ship shaped or, much like the Titanic, the ride will be over before it even really begun!

I'm giving it a bit longer before I power down completely, will you be joining me on Vero? 

*for part read 100% 
** ERM the town in THE GREMLINS! Jeez who didn't know that***
*** Me thats who. Had to look it up to complete the analogy... Its not even a very good analogy, I probably shouldn't have bothered. 
**** Before Vero
***** I base this on NOTHING its a theory only! 


Friday, 23 February 2018

Privileged Pastimes

Ah the trails and tribulations of a first world life.  It really can be quite tiring enjoying all the freedom bestowed on a white, cis-gendered woman, able to come and go as I please and buy things.  Sometimes it all gets a bit much and we need a break. So what better way to relax from the pains of doing whatever you please than to indulge in another privileged pastime. The Afternoon Tea.

It’s given this cute name so that we can pretend this is an elegant affair, when really it’s an excuse to all out stuff our faces with as much bread products as possible while simultaneously providing an excuse to drink in the daytime. Sure the sandwiches are cut into small sections and the sweets miniature, but it’s only ourselves we're fooling into feeling dainty as that 6th cake is consumed.  THAT SAID personally I feel its a worthy way to spend a few hours and Cambridge is a place that loves to indulge the desire. Harriet’s on Green Street, The Ivy which is due to accept guests as soon as next month and The University Arms which we have on good authority will open this summer all prove foodies are well catered* for here.

This review takes place at The Tamburlaine Hotel.  A new(ish) addition to the scene and a literal stone’s throw from the train station.  Once inside there is NO question about where you are, from the books in the library to the classification of the rooms (Fresher to Dean) The Tamburlaine embodies the essence of Cambridge. I find the lobby decorated with contemporary art particularly pleasing and the colour scheme classic yet bold, especially in the bathroom and garden room where afternoon tea is served.

Presented with a three tiered copper tray each section filled with an array of goodies, I will admit to being a little disappointed at the amount of savoury options.  However it soon became apparent it was an ‘eyes bigger than my belly’ situation as I failed to finish ANY of the cakes (small though they were).  I only managed a bite of each before seeking comfort by sitting back in the plush chairs. It’s worth noting this was not due to the flavours, while the rose macaroon was a little too intense for my taste buds** the chocolate brownie was rich and decadent and the red velvet cake red and velvety. I was just too full up to continue punishing myself. Pathetic I know, I'm heading back again shortly to give it another go!     

I particularly enjoyed the special effort made as we were celebrating a friend's birthday. And while not strictly part of the afternoon tea experience, I highly recommend trying a cocktail from the marble bar afterwards, especially the French 75! 

A perfect end to a perfectly gluttonous day!  Have you tried The Tamburlaine afternoon tea yet?

*Get it? Food, Catering, I crack myself up!
**Princess, moi?

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