University Arms Cambridge

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the evening with local blogger friends at the newly reopened University Arms hotel in Cambridge. From sampling signature cocktails to a peek at some of the best hotel views in the city, it was a wonderful night. We topped it off with a stunning meal in their new bar and brasserie Parker’s Tavern. I’m still thinking about the food now, I can’t wait to show you!

Built in 1834, the University Arms is a landmark in Cambridge city centre’s history. However for the past four years it’s been closed whilst undergoing a huge £8 million huge transformation.  The result is something very beautiful indeed, befitting of its history and, just as importantly, its future.

You can’t miss the University Arms hotel now. Situated on Regent Street, it’s fronted by an immense stone porte-cochère supported by huge stone pillars.

University Arms Cambridge

The grand reception has an elegant art deco feel with geometric cut glass windows and muted sage paintwork. This is contrasted by pops of bright colour and sumptuous textures on the furnishings. Then every so often the artwork throws a little curveball with nods to ‘in jokes’ between the designers. I couldn’t get them to reveal the story behind why Winston Churchill resides behind the concierge desk!

University Arms Cambridge

Through yet more impressive doors, we found ourselves in a cosy wood panelled room filled with comfortable velvet sofas and chairs in lamplit corners and floor to ceiling bookcases. I could see myself cosying up in there on a quiet Winter evening with a good book and a little tipple.

University Arms Cambridge

This was not that kind of night though, so instead we moved through into the main bar to sample some of the Cambridge inspired cocktails, each aptly named as explained in the menu.

University Arms Cambridge University Arms Cambridge

Pippa had a wonderfully frothy creation…

University Arms Cambridge

…whilst I stuck with a classic: Rosé Champagne!

University Arms Cambridge

At this stage we were joined by Tristan Welch, an amazing chef who amongst other career highlights was head chef at Gordon Ramsey’s two michelin star restaurant Petrus. He has now returned to his hometown of Cambridge to be Head Director of Parker’s Tavern, creating a seasonal menu around the best local produce the area has to offer.

University Arms Cambridge

Tristan was so clearly passionate about this new venture, from explaining the history of the hotel and how they’ve carefully brought it up to date whilst retaining its unique personality, to giving us the guided tour of the accommodation.

University Arms Cambridge

The rooms are luxuriously decorated with little homages to Cambridge to be found.

University Arms Cambridge University Arms Cambridge

Behold: the inspiration for my next bathroom! (A girl can dream…)

University Arms Cambridge University Arms Cambridge

The most impressive rooms found on the top floor offer a substantial balcony with views looking out across Parker’s green and the city beyond.

And so onto the food at Parker’s Tavern!

University Arms Cambridge

I couldn’t find any guidance on the menu as to whether any of the options were suitable for vegans but quietly asked one of the waiters. He was very helpful and advised me of the dishes that were able to be adapted.

University Arms Cambridge

The rest of the table enjoyed tempura courgette with honey, as well as homemade burrata and heirloom tomatoes with a basil dressing. I opted for the heirloom tomatoes dish minus the cheese.

University Arms Cambridge

You might think that removing such a key element would make it rather bland. Thankfully that wasn’t the case at all. The tomatoes were infused with flavour and held their own on the plate. I’d order it again and would love to know how to recreate it at home.

Then this happened…

University Arms Cambridge

I know what you’re thinking, steak tartare is definitely not vegan. It is, however, entirely plant based! The ‘steak’ is actually Beetroot Hache, transforming the humble vegetable into something meaty, textural and full of flavour. The ‘egg’ is a delicate yellow tomato and horseradish cream.

I don’t say this lightly, but this is a 10/10 dish for me, truly superb.

What a brilliant evening with fantastic company and some of the best food I’ve eaten in ages. Well done Tristan Welch and the team behind this amazing hotel and restaurant. University Arms is truly back on the map!

LovedByLaura

PS. It was also an opportunity to catch up with Pippa and put some very exciting plans into motion. Keep an eye on my twitter for a big announcement coming very soon!

University Arms Cambridge

Disclaimer: Food and drink was complimentary on the night, all views are my honest opinion.

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Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

I often see people tweeting about how easy it is to turn vegan and that they didn’t find it a struggle at all. In my experience however there’s a lot more to being vegan than just cutting out certain foods. In this post I want to give you an insight into some of the everyday challenges that I face as a vegan and ways to deal with them.

Outside Influences

I’ve been vegan for 8 months now and I get variations of these same questions and comments all the time:

“But what about bacon/cheese/Christmas?”

“You need dairy for calcium, aren’t you worried about that?”

“Where are you going to get your protein from?”

“Can’t you just buy free range eggs instead?”

“It’s just a fad diet / trend.”

“If you were being attacked by a wild animal would you just let it kill you?”

*Looking me up and down* “What are your shoes made from? What about your handbag?”

In the majority of cases these concerns are well meaning but that doesn’t make them any less annoying! It would be seen as rude and confrontational for a vegan to ask people why they’re eating meat and dairy, but it seems to be widely accepted that it’s okay to ask vegans to justify their choice NOT to eat such things. This is often in front of lots of other people. Not fun for an introvert.

I’m often expected to provide scientific facts, nutritional values and a full citation of sources. It can all be a bit exhausting when all I want to do is eat my ‘vegan pizza’ without a debate.

I suppose some of this comes from the fact that some vegans do forcibly assert their opinions on others. This doesn’t represent every vegan however! Some of us have just made a personal decision that’s right for us and are happy to let other people do the same.

Veganism can also be a very emotive subject. I am extremely cautious about opening up on the matter even when asked to. I’ve learned to warn people that if they want me to go into detail on things like the egg and dairy industry I will be happy to tell them what I know, but that they need to be prepared to hear things that might make them feel uncomfortable.

With that being said, I’m always happy to answer questions asked out of genuine interest in the subject. I began my own vegan journey by seeking support and advice from those who’d experienced it all before me, so if I can pay that forward then I will!

Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

Emotions

Another thing I never expected when I turned vegan was how much I’d go through the wringer emotionally. On the plus side, turning vegan has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I am more relaxed knowing that I’m no longer conflicted about my food choices which is something I’d struggled with beforehand.

The problem is that with once you’ve taken action to stop yourself from being a part of the problem, it becomes even more frustrating knowing that there are still inconceivable acts of cruelty and suffering going on and there is little else that you can do about it.

Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

Staying Positive

I have been listening to a really great podcast called The Chickpeeps which has helped me to stay positive and find other small ways in which I can help make a difference, such as in my makeup and clothing choices.

It explores all manner of vegan topics in a relaxed, non confrontational way with everything from how honey is made, to ethical fashion and the debate over Activism vs Attractivism. They’ve promised a future episode on raising children vegan which should make for a thought provoking listen.

As an added bonus it’s hosted by Evanna Lynch, aka Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter!

Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

Food

Believe it or not, this has probably been the easiest part of the transition for me.

As soon as I realised that I was more concerned about the animal behind the food than my fleeting enjoyment of it, there was no longer a choice to be made. It’s very simple for me: anything animal derived is not something I consider food now. That makes it very easy to say no.

Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

If all of the vegan food that I love was readily available wherever I travelled there would be no issue. Unfortunately, sometimes the only option is dry toast or chips. It can feel isolating when you’re out socially and can’t enjoy the experience because your choices are limited.

Lots of restaurants have added vegan options to their menus which is a really positive step, but it’s still a struggle finding a decent starter or dessert in most.

I’ve learned to always come prepared! I take dairy free spread and oatmilk with me if I’m staying overnight somewhere. I keep energy balls in my handbag in case of emergency and bring vegan burgers to BBQs. It means that I can eat alongside everyone else and avoid feeling left out.

Cost

One of the arguments I hear repeatedly against veganism is that it is an expensive lifestyle. What I’ve found often makes any part of veganism expensive is the products marketed specifically to vegans.

Vegan pizzas, cheese, processed meat alternatives and ready meals are often priced higher than their meat and dairy versions. It is great that they exist and I do buy them occassionally, but not everyday.

Think about it. Tomatoes, mushrooms and carrots are vegan. Lentils, rice, beans and many dried pastas are vegan. These are pretty cheap ingredients. I batch cook chilli, risotto and curry in bulk and then freeze it into portions to avoid any waste.

Vegan specific clothing and shoe labels tend to have a higher price tag because producing these items ethically tends to cost more. Even some technically vegan items aren’t great for environment due to the toxicity of the synthetic materials used.

My compromise is to wear out my old leather/wool goods. When replacing them I use ‘vegan’ in high street retailer website search bars to see if anything comes up (Shuh and ASOS are both good for this). It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s what is affordable to me for now and I’m okay with that.

Everyday challenges that I face as a vegan

Why It’s All Worth It

If I’m ever feeling frustrated, I remind myself of this:

Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.

(Source)

And that is why despite the everyday challenges that I face as a vegan, it’s all worth it!

LovedByLaura

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An Overnight Stay at The Bull and Swan at Burghley

A little while back Oliver and I made our escape from the city for a relaxing overnight stay at The Bull and Swan at Burghley.

The hotel is ideally located in the heart of Stamford, a charming and quaint town a mere 20 minutes drive from Peterborough.

If it were not for the cars and some of the more modern shops and bars, it could be something straight out of a Jane Austen novel. There are  plenty of pretty stone fronted boutique shops, bars and restaurants to explore (I love The Cosy Club).

The town is also home to the sprawling estate of Burghley House, famed for the Burghley Horse Trials which start later this week.

An Overnight Stay at The Bull and Swan at Burghley

Upon arrival we were keen to drop off our bags and freshen up and headed straight up to our room for the night, ‘The Stag’.

The accomodation is described as being ‘quirky luxury’ on their website and I think they’ve summed it up very well there! The building is very old with uneven walls and period features, but it’s very well maintained. I felt rather like I was staying as the guest in someone’s stately home thanks to all of the beautiful wooden furniture and little details.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

The bathroom was stocked with The White Company toiletries, a big shower and bath and fluffy white towels, perfect for a spot of pampering.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

The bedroom itself was huge with all the mod cons you’d expect and decor to match its name.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Ready for our date night, we headed downstairs. From April to September, weather permitting, Thursday night is movie night!

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

They have a newly opened kitchen garden containing an open air cinema, as well as a Pizza Potting Shed serving up the ‘5 P’s’: pizza, prosecco, Peroni, Pinot and popcorn (amongst other things!).

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Luck was not on our side however. It had been drizzling earlier and no sooner had we sat down to watch the opening to Moulin Rouge, the heavens opened.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Whilst there are umbrellas and buckets containing cosy throws provided, the viewing area is not completely sheltered from the elements so feeling increasingly soggy, we decided to change our plans and head into the cosiness of the Bull and Swan’s pub for our meal!

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Oliver went for a freshly made pizza cooked outside to order in their pizza oven, whilst I enquired as to whether there were any suitable vegan options. Their chef was happy to suggest some recipes he could adapt to make dairy free, so I opted for a gnocci dish with pesto. It was beautiful, soft in the middle with an almost crispy texture outside.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

I was slightly confused when it came out with some shavings of parmesan on it though. I have a feeling they just forgot when adding the usual finishing touch to the dish. Since my veganism is not allergy related I didn’t feel it was worth raising and Oliver was happy to transfer it to his pizza. I know that a lot of places are still getting used to adapting recipes and satisfying special dietary requests so I appreciated the fact that they’d made the effort to be accommodating and was happy to forgive this little slip!

I skipped dessert but Oliver enjoyed honeycomb and icecream.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Following a lovely nights sleep in the super comfy bed (which I didn’t want to get out of the next morning) we headed down to breakfast, admiring the decor properly in the daylight.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Isn’t the wallpaper fabulous?

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Vegan options were limited but I always carry a secret weapon with me on overnight stays: dairy free spread! This meant that I was able to pick a vegetarian option and just request it without butter on the toast – perfect.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Oliver went for a classic full English.

An Overnight Stay at the Bull and Swan at Burghley Stamford

Feeling suitably relaxed and rested, we headed back to city life, happy to have discovered somewhere special with our overnight stay at The Bull and Swan at Burghley!

The Bull and Swan At Burghley

Address: St Martins, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 2LJ

Cinema: Thursday from 7.30pm & Sunday from 1pm

Pizza Potting Shed: Thursday, Friday & Saturday 6pm-9pm. Sunday 12pm-6pm

LovedByLaura

*Disclaimer: Our overnight stay at The Bull and Swan at Burghley was complimentary in return for an honest review.

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Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com title

If you’re planning a visit to London and want to stay somewhere a bit more edgy than the regular tourist traps, I’d recommend taking a look at hotels near Shoreditch. Colourful street art adorns the walls, trendy eateries like The Breakfast Club, Bike Shed Motorcycle Club and CookDaily all lie within easy walking distance of Old Street tube station and if you like shopping there’s plenty of independent goods on offer at Old Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane and the BoxPark popups.

Then, of course, for something a bit more boozy and a LOT more silly, there’s Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson* which is where Oliver and I ended up on Saturday!

In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s what is involved:

  • Unlimited pizza
  • Unlimited prosecco
  • Neon lights and pumping party music
  • An adult ball pit (!)

So how did we find it?

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com title

Well, first off, going in the ball pit was hilarious! I’m five foot tall and so I was just about able to stand up and see, but actually moving about was another matter. One minute I’d be fine and the next sinking uncontrollably into a sea of rolling balls, laughing my socks off at how ridiculous I must look as I struggled to right myself!

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com Shoreditch

Although we were there at peak time on a Saturday afternoon at no point did we feel overcrowded in the ball pit and we were free to lark about as much as we wanted. However the one thing I’d mention is that there is only one ball pit, so in all honestly 20 minutes in there was plenty and after that the novelty wore off.

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com Shoreditch

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com Shoreditch

…after that, it was all about the bottomless brunch!

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com Shoreditch

Periodically during our time there the staff would come out with fresh pizza on boards and leave them around the venue. That meant that near the beginning of the event it was a bit of a mission to get a slice of pizza as the trays were mostly laid out in front of large groups (there were several hen parties there) and these were snapped up very quickly. As the time went on though more and more pizza arrived until Oliver ended up with a whole board to himself.

Being vegan meant that I couldn’t just grab any slice of what was being freely laid out. However I’d notified Ballie Ballerson of my dietary requirements ahead of time and they were happy to cater for me too. When I arrived I was given a numbered paddle to hold so that they could spot me in the crowd and deliver my pizza directly to me.

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com

The prosecco was free flowing and plentiful the whole time. Bottles were left out across the venue so that we could help oursevles to refills whenever we wanted. I have a feeling that this was why the ball pit was never all that busy – everyone was too full and tipsy!

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com Shoreditch

Saturday afternoon is peak time and a 2hr afternoon slot costs £40 for an unseated ticket or £45 for one of the VIP tables upstairs if you book well enough in advance. This is a fair price if you’re a fan of bubbly and a fast drinker, but it’s worth mentioning that if you want a soft drink or anything other than prosecco then you have to pay extra. If you are willing to risk the Monday morning hangover, Sundays are cheaper!

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson with hotels.com

Bottomless Brunch at Ballie Ballerson

Location: 97 – 113 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3BS

Nearest tube: Old Street

Tickets: From £20 to £45, available here

LovedByLaura

*Disclaimer: This post is made in collaboration with Hotels.com who kindly gifted us our tickets to Ballie Ballerson so that we could try out something new during our visit to Shoreditch.

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Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

I was recently contacted by Bill’s Restaurant in Cambridge asking if I’d like to visit and review their vegan menu.

Damn right I would – I love that place!

I’ve been a normal paying customer at Bill’s Restaurants both in Cambridge and Peterborough for many years so it was an absolute privelege to be invited there in a blogging capacity. It was also the first time I’d visited since becoming vegan so I was keen to see how the experience would compare.

Upon arrival we were given some of Bill’s cocktails to sample. I found them very easy drinking as each contained deliciously fruity flavours which helped to tone down the taste of the various alchols blended through. The English Country Garden, for example, contained Bill’s Elderflower Gin aperitif with a mix of wild Sussex elderflower cordial, lime juice and cloudy apple juice – absolutely perfect for a hot Summer’s day!

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

After sampling the cocktails we switched to soft drinks. I went for Bill’s Pink Lemonade which is my idea of a perfect non alcoholic Summer pick me up. It’s made for them by a small French artisan company that’s been around for more than 100 years and the quality shows – it’s super sparkly and refreshing and served in the cutest bottle. Sian chose a Botanical Ginger Beer and I had a taste of it, so I can vouch for that being another good option!

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

When it came time to order food I made my server aware of my dietary requirements and she was happy to offer some recommendations. The menu itself was really easy to follow as all vegan friendly dishes were clearly labelled VE. If you have another type of special dietary requirements or need to avoid a certain allergen there’s a more detailed menu that they can bring out to help so if in doubt, just ask. They clearly take it very seriously and are well prepared if you have questions.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge Vegan Food Menu

We decided to start off with some nibbles, so we ordered flatbread, hummus and nicoise olives to share. The flatbread was fresh and warm from the stove with just the right texture for tearing and dipping into the hummus. The hummus itself was incredibly moorish.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

The nicoise olives were another hit with us, they had a salty tang and happily were already pitted.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

Being gluttons, we’d ordered proper starters too! I chose the Roasted Butternut Squash and Lentil Salad which was a feast for the eyes as well as my tummy. The lentils had a wonderful delicate flavour owing to their lemon dressing and every so often I’d get a little sweet pop from the pomegranate which worked surprisingly well with the squash.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

Sian chose Crumbed Halloumi Sticks which came with a pot of garlic and lemon mayo. This is a vegetarian rather than vegan option so I couldn’t try it myself but Sian assures me that it was delicious!

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

Despite already having had squash for my starter, I chose the Rustic Butternut Squash Stew for my main and I’m not overstating things here to say that this dish is an absolute sensation!

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

The flavour profile was like nothing else I’ve eaten this year. The freekeh grains were a perfect vehicle to soak up the rich sweet smoky sauce, the chargrilled red pepper and onions added depth, kale kept things fresh and the toasted pistachios provided a satisfying crunch. Honestly – go have this immediately even if you usually prefer a meaty or cheesy option – it’s perfection on a plate.

This look probably says it better than words can.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge Vegan Food Menu

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

Sian chose a meaty option of Gnocchi Bolognese with Basil Pesto and Gran Moravia Cheese. Definitely not vegan!

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

We were probably supposed to have completed our review by eating dessert too, but we were so full by this point that there was no way that either of us could have managed another morsel. This actually worked out fine for me because there was only one vegan option on the dessert menu and it contained coconut which I have an intense dislike for.

Thus if I could offer any suggestions to Bill’s on improvements to the vegan menu it would simply be to add a second dessert choice. The same is true for all other non vegan restaurants I’ve been to, the choice seems to stop once you get past the mains and sometimes there’s no option at all.

Bill's Restaurant Cambridge | A Review of the Vegan Menu

Before leaving the manager at Bill’s very kindly gave me a goodie bag from their own range of produce to take away and try at home. They are very proud of the items and rightly so – everything has been carefully sourced and developed with independant suppliers and artisans. I was very happy to find another bottle of Pink Lemonade in there which lasted approximately 2 hours at home (it didn’t even have time to chill properly!) as well as a big tin of Sevilla Green Gordal Olives, a delicious Raspberry Jam, Slow Baked Granola and a bar of White Chocolate Eton Mess. Sadly I had to give the last one away as it wasn’t suitable for me but that made me very popular at home so I’m not complaining!

I thought I’d leave you with a short video of our visit so that you can see what went into the making of this post – basically a lot of standing up in the middle of a restaurant to take photos and rearranging the table… no wonder we were there for about 3 hours!

Videography and the photos of me in this post are by the wickedly talented Sian’s Photography

Food photography is by me, as seen in the video!

Music by Eme Hache: http://freemusicarchive.org/…/EME…/Chasing_Time/Help_me_1484.

LovedByLaura

Disclaimer: I’d like to extend a big thanks to Bill’s Restaurants for providing some wonderful hospitality. As stated above my food and drink on this occassion was complimentary, but this just meant was that I got to try out a few more things than I would normally order on a trip there to give a more comprehensive review of what’s on offer there. The friendly service and the quality of the food lived up to my past trips as a paying customer and I’d thoroughly recommend a trip to Bill’s in Cambridge if you’re in the area, or your nearest local branch if not!

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