Me and Jay Rayner Fostered!.. A Night at Salt Dining

Salt Pic 1

Firstly let me point out that Jay Rayner and I have never met. I’m sure he is a lovely guy, a 1st class restaurant reviewer, and an all round good egg. I have it on good authority that Mr. Rayner is a friendly chap, but why am i discussing Jay Rayner you ask?.. After all we are very much opposite ends of the spectrum. Mr. Rayner writes for various national magazines and newspapers, the bonus being he gets paid for it. I myself have 32 extremely valued followers to my blog. Jay has lavish flowing locks, lavish facial hair and his own radio show. I have short hair, it takes me a month to grow anything remotely resembling a beard, and I at best listen to the radio some days. I could go on, areas we live in, career paths, hobbies, the list is endless. We do however have 1 thing in common. We have both been fostered!

The title admittedly is slightly misleading. As I said at the start we have never met. The title is nothing really to do with our parental upbringing. Neither have the pair of us had tearaways lob a can of Australian lager at our heads either, well I haven’t anyway…. No no no, what we do have in common is our love of a certain  little restaurant tucked away in the heart of Shakespeare country owned by Paul Foster. A picturesque and idyllic place in the very heart of our green and pleasant land. Well, maybe a tad to the left.

It was a crowdfunding website that first got me noticing the Paul Foster project. I recognised the name but couldn’t place it and so after a bit of research, (yeah yeah okay i googled him), it turned out I had seen him on Great British Menu. He was using this particular media platform, KickStarter, to raise money (for reward) with the intention to raise enough capital open up his own restaurant. Starting up any new business is tough going and I had no doubt that a restaurant venture in these increasingly difficult times would be no different. I chipped in a minimal amount and my “reward” was an invitation for 2 to the opening night on March 17th last year. It was a very nice evening where we had canapés and drinks.

There was certainly enough insight to warrant a 2nd trip. Not been to this neck of the woods?…Stratford-Upon-Avon is a beautiful town in its own right. Lots to see and do, the town has a nice feel to it and there are plenty of quirky shops alongside your mainstream. It has some nice bars and is a great base for exploring the surrounding areas. If I remember correctly Mr. Foster had originally been set to plant roots in another town in central England but for one reason or another it didn’t come to fruition. Having been based in SUA for a year now I wonder if that was a blessing in disguise, fate, call it what you will.

Her indoors and myself took our 2nd trip to Salt around the time of her birthday. We had a fantastic evening and I discovered a dish that I’d never had before. I’m not saying it was a revolutionary idea, just a 1st time for me. A baked onion. It sounds so simple when you say it out loud but knock me down with a 10lb sledgehammer if it wasn’t one of the most enjoyable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I’m an onion fiend!… I mean it was an onion, but it wasn’t if that makes sense. I’m doing it an injustice there. It was a “Confit Roscoff Onion, Beef Juices, Beef Cracker”. It was divine.

 

Mr. Foster also took time out to chat with us. We discussed a variety of things including the merits of a radish. Personally for me they are like wasps, absolutely useless, a pointless vegetable. I wait for the time that someone can prove me wrong on this front.

Given that the meal was so good I decided to book us a table for a bit later in the year. GB and I met on November 17th 1990. Officially, though we still debate it at some length to this day, the fact is we got together on the 18th. Amazing what a fox in a box joke can do… and what better way to celebrate! we booked a table for 17th November, the day before we officially met 27 years ago, (my opinion). We booked a hotel around the corner, overpriced and with a leaky roof but hey ho, onwards and upwards. For the record I have recommended a hotel in the area at the bottom of the blog. It doesn’t have a leaky roof, is cheaper, and the take on customer service is far better.

We arrived at around 19.30 after a couple of cheeky snifters at The Garrick. A nice cosy pub along the street. Walking in to Salt we were greeted by a friendly team member and shown to a table in the main restaurant next to a lovely fire. There are some tables out at the front by the bar, both areas are warm, almost humble, and inviting but you cannot see the master at work sitting at the front. We chose the tasting menu with drinks pairing. I’ve had a few of these at various places but am hard pushed to think of somewhere that offers better value for money that Salt when it comes to this.

So lets talk about front of house. Professionalism, check, knowledge of produce, check, attitude towards customers… hmm, they weren’t great… I’M JOKING!.. I’m just pulling your leg. They were marvellous. Extremely helpful towards her indoors who was on crutches at the time. Real friendly team who couldn’t do enough for us. More importantly they even introduced a Chardonnay to GB that she actually enjoyed, and my nearest and dearest doesn’t do Chardonnay at the worst of times.

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It was over 3 months ago now that we went. I could pretend to remember the names of the team that looked after us, they did tag our menu after all, but for someone who will tell all and sundry he has a fantastic memory I forget. Charlie (ly?) and Tom (thank you mr. Foster) are awesome, as are the rest of the team that you don’t always necessarily hear about.  I do recall the exceptional level of service we received and they are great ambassadors for the restaurant. Full kudos to you guys/girls. I’d take my hat off to you if I wore one.

 

So to the food, some might say FINALLY!… 7 courses (not inc the extra cheese course that we shared and the add ons that were unexpected but appreciated and delicious)…. Now I need to talk to you all, come closer my pretties, about bread. This isn’t just any bread. This bread with Salt. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say you could eat these bad little boys all night.They are like a burnt just baked mini loaf. Mother of god though they are bloody tasty and light. Whack some of the Salted butter on it and well, it’s a little bit of loaf shaped heaven. Worth visiting for on their own.

Pink Fir Potatoes, Roasted Yeast, Lardo. First course and already her indoors and myself were split. She loved it, that’ll be the Irish blood in her showing an affinity to the humble potty toe. I’m joking, it just wasn’t my highlight. It was a very pleasant starter and the purpose of food is to be interesting, thought provoking and tasty right?.. If this was the promise of what was to come then happy blinking’ days. GB had this down as her 2nd favourite overall by the end.

Course 2 was a first for me. It wasn’t the first course it was the second course, but my first time trying oysters. Some love them, some hate them, oysters are right up there with Brexit and marmite in the love/hate conundrum. You are simply for or against and there is no middle ground. There’s a first part paragraph you don’t hear very often. If they were cooked like this every time, (crispy and served with apple, kohlrabi, parsley sauce), I think I’d find safely find myself ticking the remain box. It was a triumph and the parsley sauce suited it perfectly. Definitely a winner we both agreed. No argument necessary although I don’t think you’ll see me knocking back oysters straight from the shells anytime soon.

We moved on easily and in good time to course 3. Carrot cooked in chicken fat, with chicken skin, and pickled carrot. Now remember what I said earlier in this review about the onion dish? (feels like about 6 months ago I hear you say… I know, sorry.. hehe), well this carrot bowl was pretty much its equal. To take something as humble as the carrot and elevate it to fine dining is hats off, socks off, and pants off to you chef. A winner of any “make something from a carrot competition” unless someone produces a carrot clifton suspension bridge. Stunning cooking. Would I swap it for my onion dish? maybe, but never the twain shall meet one hopes. My 3rd favourite dish.

This leads me nicely into my second favourite. Crispy Pork Belly, Chanterelles, Mushroom & Truffle puree. I’m not even sure how to describe this. I wish Jay Rayner was here. Is this a straightforward combination?..Maybe it is, maybe not, but the texture, seasoning, and flavours. Wow! (hope Jay doesn’t nick that one). They packed a punch. Not just any punch though, a full bloodied Mike Tyson punch to the tastebuds. The dish was a knockout (boom boom). We disagreed,again, on this one. I had it in the higher stratosphere of 9’s. GB had it down as her least favourite but horses for courses, each to their own.

Salt pic 2

The ‘main’ course was Saddle of Roe Deer, burnt cream, confit shallot. BABY ONIONS COOKED THE SAME WAY!.. Okay so it might seem a bit obvious I was quite excited by this prospect. It didn’t disappoint. Never had deer, so another first, although I did buy 8 venison legs for 50 quid once, is that two deer?. Moving on, the dish was cooked exquisitely. It was a masterclass of marrying flavours and to top it off it had confit baby onions. Shallots of them.. sorry two bad jokes in 1 paragraph is maybe too much.This is genuinely a chef nearing perfection. Cheery at its finest. Course that surely couldn’t be topped. I would happily have walked away there and then. Plate of food doesn’t get any better, unless it has a side of Roscoff confit onion. Oh hold on, it did! 10 to of 10. A fist pump and a high five. Her indoors was slightly more modest. Again we were at odds. Wifey was debating that the fir potties was the best course. Luckily I’m writing this so I can honestly say she was wrong.

I’m no cheese buff so I will briefly say there was great variety and GB loved them all. She did have a favourite but I fail to recall its name. Apologies for that. The slithers I did have  were very tasty, definitely had the cheddar and i believe I tried the blue, but that was just an excuse for a cheeky glass of port.

For me this is where it got weird. GB chose this next dish as her favourite. Read it, think about it, then try to get your head around it. Poached blueberries, yep, normal, BROWN BREAD ICE CREAM, not so normal, frozen sorrel granita, again off the beaten track. Now in my head brown bread and ice cream should never go in the same sentence. I found this course challenging. Food as I touched on earlier is supposed to be thought provoking and experimental. There can be no debate that for me this was both. Personally it wasn’t my cup of tea. Can’t criticise the finished article and like I say GB loved it. It was just odd. I did finish it though so maybe it wasn’t as odd as I thought. Wifey continued to wax lyrical about it for the next week or so. She is more savoury than sweet though so maybe that was it.. she definitely enjoyed that one. Maybe it needed a sprinkle of radish?…

Our last course was Valrhona chocolate cream, pumpkin custard, pumpkin seeds. A lovely way to finish the meal. The only issue we had was that I was salivating over the main course and her indoors was rabbiting on about brown bread ice cream. It never really stood a chance. It wasn’t as memorable as some of the other courses but there was nothing wrong with it at all. It just got lost in a wave of brown bread and roe deer hysteria.

In essence what I’m saying is that ‘Salt’ is or should be the next big thing. It is without doubt the finest restaurant we have been to in a fair while. No question it is fine dining. It is also relaxed and casual. The good thing is that Salt doesn’t stop at doing what it says on the tin. It does SO much more than that. Salt is unobtrusive, and unpretentious. Like your favourite old snug t-shirt that you have worn for years its a treasure to behold, with the added bonus of serving immaculate food. What a fantastic advert for Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you find yourself heading that way in the near future, don’t take my word for it, book it, try it yourself. Even if you AREN’T going that way, book it, try it, make a weekend of it. It is brown bread ice cream and baby onion worth it.

If you are staying overnight I would recommend the Stratford Limes Hotel. Five mins outside of town run by a lovely couple. Nice rooms at a fair price and an excellent breakfast.

So there you have it. My take on Salt in Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you are reading this at any stage Mr. Rayner and feel the urge to offer some free journalistic tips to yours truly, I would be more than happy to meet up and listen. In fact I know the perfect place!

salt pic.5

Finally a use for the humble radish: Filling in gaps when you run out of pics! 

P.s. humble apologies for the length of the review. This is my most confident form of communicae and so quite often I have far too much to say. Something this good needs to be spoken about though right!

P.p.s I’m still lost at the point of a radish.

 

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No Glitch At The Flitch Part 2 (A Story of 2 Halves)

  

Starters, or pre starters to be exact were the Ham Hock & Lincolnshire Poacher Croquettes. They were spot on. Crispy Shells and soft and gooey inside. The cheese really came through. Perfect little quartet. I wish I’d had a bash on the quails eggs though. Maybe next time.

My starter was a Veloute of Pea, with Ravioli of Pork Belly. You could easily slice through the pasta ( or pastor as John Torode would call it ). The Pea Veloute had reL conviction to it, a strong sense of necessity and great consistency. I won’t hold back on this one, it was better than the Super Bowl. Actually, scrap that, I hate American football. I don’t normally do food pictures, but, I wish I had because it tasted better than it looked.. And it looked like Beyoncé , naked on a triangle tower of Ferrero Rocher. For equality purposes, it may have looked like Brad Pitt perched naked on a tub of Toffee flavoured Ben & Jerry ice – cream.

Okay, I saw this picture on Twitter and on reflection I have to concede that no matter good my explanation was, nothing summed it up like the clarity and quality of this photo. Massive cahoonas to @joevans16 for your foresight, photography skills, permission and input into this piece.

  
CHECK THAT OUT! ( courtesy of ajoevans16 )

This was Jo’s brief summary of the Flitch of Bacon:

“The refurb is excellent. Staff attentive, interactive, and informative about the food. It was evident they enjoyed working there. The food was yummy at a reasonable price, delivered with flawless execution” 

Well said that lady!… Below is the Pan Roasted Stone bass again courtesy of my new official photographer @joevans16 .. Thank you Jo.

  
For her starter, GB had the Salt Baked Beetroots, with a Golden Beetroot Marmalade, Shortbread and Goats Cheese. I cannot stand Beetroot. GB though loves every ingredient mentioned witching that dish and as a combination they went together like a line in that last song in Grease the musical. You know the one .. ( the “we go together like Rama lama lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” ).. Yes, the one no-one knows what they are singing!… I didn’t taste it but her little boat race lit up as she was eating like fireworks at new year. The empty plate was testament to the food.

Mains, it was a Sunday. I had the Pork, purchased so locally it could have walked over to the plate. Served with a chestnut stuffing, Apple Sauce and extra roasties for moi. There was also a carrot swede and carrot ( I think ) fusion with cinnamon inspiration. You also had your compulsory Broccoli and I believe Mange Tout but don’t hold me to that. 3 things on this plate hit me like a 10lb sledgehammer. The Stuffing was just ridiculous. I could have eaten a bowl of that on its own. It had a flavour of Black Pudding almost. Better still it wasn’t a stodgy stuffing. Your knife ran through it. Then you had the gravy!… Oh dear the gravy. Sorry that should be Oh dear lord the gravy. The gravy had flavour deeper than the River Roding ( keep it local ). Next time I visit the Fitch of B a on I am having a pint of Pork gravy!

The gravy had to be going some to outshine the Tenderness of the Pork. It was level pegging it the meat was as succulent as it could be. Slightly pink it packed more punch than a Mike Tyson uppercut, although that is not an experiment I’d be willing to put to the test. The Flitch doesn’t do half measures on your food either. There was a lot of meat on the plate. Interestingly, not enough to deter one from having a dessert.

The treacle went for Beef, it was serve pink and was almost flawless. The only reason I say almost was the missing Horseradish sauce GB loves her Horseradish Sauce and so we sent out a search party. Ok what I mean is we asked one of the many staff. Within an instant a disaster was averted. Horseradish upon us it was all systems go. I tried a slither of Beef. It was melt in your mouth stuff. The red wine gravy complemented it perfectly. I’m not a fan of Cauliflower Cheese but I have it on good authority from my beloved that it delivered on both flavour and texture. Creamy but with a little bite.

http://www.flitchofbacon.co.uk
So we arrive at dessert. Apple Tart Tatin (for 2) served with a very tasty vanilla ice cream on top. It was sticky, can it be too sticky? My teeth told me to be careful of fillings. It was very sweet, but it was lovely. The apple and the ice cream on the same spoon were simply meant to be. GB thought dessert was lovely but that there was too much of it possibly. She did have the bigger half ( apparently ). I beg to differ, and I could have eaten it again.

Overall several things stand out about the FOB. The first being value for money. The Flitch certainly don’t scrimp on portion size in an attempt to save/make money. The produce is mostly gathered within the Essex and Suffolk borders, or within close proximity (Sussex, Hampshire), so provenance is not in question. The meat is so local you could throw a stone from the pub window and possibly hit a pheasant. Please note I am not suggesting that as a  viable or sporting option!

  
Of course it would be remiss of me to not mention the staff. The service we were given was second to none. Studious in their approach, I could only elucidate this better by saying it was almost as if they were walking to a floor plan. All provided service with a smile, and while we were served by maybe 5 different members of staff, each of them I’m sure were equipped to answer any questions we had relating to the food, wine or history of the FOB. As Jo put it, it was evident the staff were happy to be there. Teal gave us a brief history as to why the pub is so called and about the Flitch trials. Alan recommended a glass of one of the finest Riojas I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink. For the record it was a Marques de Reinosa Rioja 2013. Then there was Jordan who spoke excitedly about the ambition and dynamic that the owners are trying to create.

I’ve not even mentioned the chefs. Danny Gill take a bow squire!

This was one of the best meals I’ve had in ages. I rate Tredwells as the best Sunday Roast in Londinium. Essex now has a roast to match it. Simply put there cannot be a better Sunday dinner in this neck of the woods, or even this side of Epping Forest. The Flitch delivered on all fronts and passed its own trial of Little Dunmow. If the food continues to be this good going forward then Mr. Clifford should be one happy restaurant owner, and his tracky bottoms and hoody look will be forgiven.

My missus has a habit of bumping into well known chefs. Sunday was no different. She was spot on with her words to you though Mr.Clifford, they are doing you proud in there!

You REALLY need to visit people. You’ve no idea what you are missing!

No Glitch At The Flitch (A Story of 2 Halves)

 They say you learn something new everyday. Well I have to confess that, yesterday, (all my troubles seemed so far away ), sorry, couldn’t resist. I have to confess ( but only once ) that on this particular Sunday in February  I was overwashed by new information. I felt like I should be laying down after taking onboard so much new material. Of course when one is sitting in a restaurant this isn’t always the done thing, and so I remained upright but ever so slightly in awe of those lucky enough to live in the hamlet that is Little Dunmow, on the Essex Riviera. All will be revealed, I will be like a dreamboy doing the full monty, revealing all, but without the muscles, confidence and egotistical persona!

  
It began in the Molton Brown store over at Freeport Designer Village in Braintree. Mid to late afternoon. GB, (that’s her indoors ), has just discovered, that what we thought was a discontinued line many moons ago, is actually alive, well and still available. Not only is it sitting there, staring at us with those deep blue, buy me eyes, but it’s also nearly 30% cheaper than your normal Molton Brown shower gels. 

I feel it my duty to disclose to you,  that when approximately 2 years ago, my good lady was told in store that “Wild Indigo” body wash was no longer available, it was the 1st time I had seen a woman reduced to tears by a shower related product ( no sniggering at the back ). To this day the Fairy Liquid ‘Strawberry Fresh’ incident remains a closely guarded secret. Spread the word about the blog though and who knows what might happen!… Only joking, what happens in Leamington Spa, stays in Leamington Spa.

So, after a brief shopping excursion which included a near death experience with a lady on her ‘handling a pushchair’ exam, GB and I are sitting in the Flitch of Bacon in Little Dunmow. I am exaggerating the pushchair story ever so slightly. I did however learn ( new bit of knowledge no.2 ) that it’s possible for a person to control a pushchair ( badly ) and a mobile phone without even looking up. That is of course providing they use your leg as a “Not Beyond This Point” sign.

 I didn’t mind swiftly moving as this oblivious young lady just reversed back without a brief check. I gave her a glance on my 2nd move, as if to say “hello?” As she basically proceeded to twist the kid laden chair towards my legs again. The third time though got my goat as even when I moved to 1 side, the chair crashed into my skinny and unarmed leg. Still no response as she continued straight past me, phone in hand, no doubt checking her Facebook page for updates on TOWIE. I should add that this woman unequivocally failed her pushchair exam!.. How? She only had 2 minors, but her lack of control made it a serious!

Now, this is shaping up as a long blog, I apologise, I can go on a bit. In fact I’m going to split this blog into 2 halves. It’s a lobster bisque but I have to take a chance, it’s simply not compact enough. I take back what I said about blogs being easy!

This next bit of new knowledge though is as fascinating as it is important. While sitting, waiting for our mains, wifey and I were discussing the name of the place. With the dog and bone banished from the table, we were left in wonderment, as checking Google was not an option. In the end it was a young lady, Teal that enlightened us. The Flitch Trials of Little Dunmow can be traced back to the start of the 12th century. 

Flitch Trials 
Nominated couples ( you apply, you aren’t just picked at random ), are cross – examined by a selected jury to try and prove that for the past year and a day, the couple in question have not regretted being married. It’s fair to say that not too many passed the test. On such occasion that a winner(s) was found ( possibly telling the odd porky ), their reward was a flitch of bacon. A flitch of bacon is the whole side of a hog. Salted and cured. So now you know!… I have to be honest, I thought that was pretty amazing knowing that stuff like that still goes on. It takes place every 4 years, like the Olympics but without the drugs cheats. It just so happens that it’s that time again. July this year!.. I was going to enter myself and GB. She said no, and I said why not?.. It ended in a heated debate.. That’s us out! 
Now I remember why I started this blog. We went out for some food. I got the thumbs up from GB to choose where we went and luckily the FOB had a table available. I like Daniel Clifford. He comes across as a humble fellow with exceptional cooking skills. I was hoping that transferred to his new project. Well, hopefully you are still with me to find out what it was like in part 2 of this most lofty of blogs.

   
You walk into a light and inviting environment. Newly renovated, the bar area has a lovely old log burner. The decor is mainly white/stone and a beautiful dark green with nice light furniture. A couple of 2 seater sofas and big old wing back chair are located in the corner or you can sit at the bar, dependent on available stalls. A small quarter moon serves 4 real ales including Hopheads DarkStar. A lovely beer anytime of the year. For lager lovers Estrella is on tap. GB went straight for the wine. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Very light and crisp, but not that I’m in the know when it comes to wine, it could have been a tad colder for me personally. Saying that 4 glasses later something tells me it wasn’t that bad.

As you walk round past the bar and into the main restaurant area the same colour scheme continues with some burgundy thrown in for good measure. At the back and to the left is a very loud and somewhat out of place butterfly patterned wallpaper. There are some nice spotted old skool banquettes and while there isn’t much room to manoeuvre the staff are fleet of foot and balanced enough to negotiate the twists and turns without leaving you waiting. I should say at this point it’s very possible that if in the near future you take my advice and visit The Flitch of Bacon the decor may have changed yet again as the owners seek an excellent environment in which all can enjoy the exquisite food on offer.

We got a short tour of the  outside space. There are three huge smokers, and I’m not talking about 7ft tall guys puffing on a packet of bensons. Fully ready for the summer, they look the business. Also, out of the side door are 3 individual kennels for those that wish to park the dog up for a bit while indulging in a wee pint and a cheeky bit of lunch or(and?) dinner. I guess though the piece de resistance is the old green Citroen H van fully restored and stocked up with fridges, washing basin and a serving hatch. Be a shame to get it dirty such was its spotlessly clean look. It does need to be seen to be believed. 

I nearly forgot. We didn’t see them,but above the pub is 3 rooms to rest your weary head after you’ve eaten and drunk yourself merry at the trials!… If they are remotely like the downstairs area you should be in for a treat.

Part one is done… Part two will be with you in a jiffy..safer to read that way!

  
 

 

 
 

Sofitel – Gatwick Airport

  Firstly, let me share with you a tale of two star – crossed lovers. They met while in search of inner peace on a Himalayan trail. After the female offered a helping hand to a wounded male Trekker who had badly injured his ankle. Both sat gazing out across the landscape and with almost no words said realised they had found “The One”. 

Of course, you and I both know ( yep, I’m being assumptious on the basis of using the word both, but hey let’s live a little ), that unless you are Kate Winslet in Titanic, it very rarely happens that Prince Charming, or in Kate’s case Leonardo Di Cappucino is waiting to hoist you up onto the masthead of a ship while Celine Dion sings in the background. I guess in some ways it also proves important that by the same margin, any relationship you embark upon tends to last more than the 2 hours and 30 minutes Winny and the Caps did. Ideally your other half doesn’t die in the cold of the Atlantic while you watch from a broken bit of 4 by 2  either.

It’s more than fair to say that GB and I did not meet in any sort of Winny and Cap way. We did meet over a crowded kitchen sink at a friends 18th birthday party. Romantic I hear you say!…. Not really, I thought she looked like a waitress who had come straight from a 12hr shift, and GB was similarly observant in that I was morbidly obese. It turned out, neither was true. GB just had a bad dress sense and I was wearing a coat 5 times to big for me! In theory I guess that means I too had a bad dress sense. Our first thing in common.

After a disinterested glancing “Alright” we both went about our business and spoke no other words on that cold winters eve. Two weeks later however, after a few phone calls and some rather frank verbal exchanges we met up for a date. I had relieved myself of the coat in question, coincidentally shedding about 5 stone at the same time, and GB arrived looking amazing wearing an at the time, very trendy, double denim look.  Bear in mind, back then, there was no “Plenty O Fish” , “Grindr” , “Blendr”, or any other kitchen utensil based dating website. It was all done old school sty-lee. 

What’s the point of all this you ask? Well fast forward 25 years and here we are. Still together and I think it’s fair to say relatively happy. We have a cat Madge, a little house on the Essex Riviera and more than that, we still know how to make each other laugh, smile, and when we argue, how to wind each other right up!… We don’t argue often though, as ninety per cent of the time I can’t get a word in edgeways.

To celebrate our milestone, some would argue millstone, GB booked us a short stay in Tenerife. 5 nights, all inclusive. Happy days. We wouldn’t celebrate normally as such, but we both decided 25 years was worth at least acknowledging. To cut out the aggravation of rushing on the day,  (early flight), it was a joint decision to crash at the airport the night before. By crash, I mean invest in a room, and not to drive up to Gatwick at high speed looking for potential whiplash victims. 

This way we could get the car parking included  with the room, therefore killing two thoras for the price of a popular Mexican forename. ( two Thora Hirds, that’s birds – popular Mexican forename, that’s Juan). 2 for the price of 1.  Maybe I should have just typed that first off!
Arriving was fine. Nice chap at the doorway downstairs took the bags and I nipped off to park the car. Car park attached to hotel and hotel has a walkway into the North Terminal, so easy in, easy out. GB had a quick smoke and then we took the escalator up to the reception. It’s a big area, but a bit blocky. Not the greatest description I grant you, but then it was quite non – descript. Very beige. A little disappointing.  A very helpful young lady on the desk (Zainab), got us checked in, straight forward and simple enough.

 We fluffy Bob – tailed up to the room only to find we’d been given a twin.  Maybe after 25 years it was par for the course. I mean I can take a hint!.. A brief conversation ensued with reservations and we found ourselves back in the foyer. Room swapped, panic over. Our new room was located and with a swipe of a key card we were in. The room itself lacked personality but was nice enough. The bed was huge (thumbs up), and the bathroom was pleasantly roomy. I’m not sure I could have swung a cat in there but

A. Madge wasn’t with us to test the theory

B. Even if she was I don’t think she’d have appreciated being thrown around like a car on a waltzer at the fair. 

C. I would never do that. First rule of staying in a hotel, always take someone else’s cat.

The shower was nice and powerful and the toiletries tasteful. The room in essence was a little like the lobby. Luxurious enough but just a bit bland. 

There are 3 restaurants to choose from. A bistro, the food was nice but it has to be said expensive. A Chinese eatery, which looked very tasty but again wasn’t cheap, and a cafe’ serving anything from pizza to curry. It looked OK in fairness. There is however a 4th option. Less than 30 seconds walk away is Lenny Henry’s choice of kipping station. A Premier Inn. Serving half decent food and drink at half the price, it’s a no – brainer. We had Mushrooms(GB) and tomato soup(moi) to start, the Tommy soup was lovely. 

Mains were Gammon steak for me and some form of Rugby World Cup inspired burger for the good lady. Sadly she did have to send it back as it was overdone (burnt), meaning I’d finished by the time GB got her dinner. Not ideal, but hey ho. The food was adequate, GBs burger looked much better second time around, was tasty and price wise there was no comparison with our hotel. We were not the only couple to think this was the case judging by the exodus from our hotel and into the PI.

We made our way back to the room and both fell asleep. The beds are tremendous. I woke up at around 8pm and made my way down to the first floor cocktail bar. A lovely area. £7.95 for a Gin & Tonic though isn’t the cheapest. It did go down rather well though, and while watching the ROI v Bosnia qualifier I managed to sink another 3 or 4. What?? They didn’t sell beer up there. A bit later GB showed up and we had closers in the lobby bar. Table service was a nice touch, before hitting the hay. 

Check out was extremely easy, and on our return we were in the car within a minute or two of getting the cases. It worked exceptionally well. Overall it’s certainly not on a par with the Sofitel in Heathrow. I will say though that all the staff I spoke to were very polite and helpful. I love the colour brown but it’s just too brown. I’m no interior designer but if someone has been paid lots of money for that, then I’m still in with a chance of making it. I guess the burning question is would I stay there again, and I would, providing the Premier Inn wasn’t fully booked. 

Kings Head Inn, Hursley, Hampshire

The Kings Head, Hursley, Hampshire.
Never done this before, but just to make it different I thought I’d try and poem my way through a review. Don’t expect Keats though. Plus my constructive critic, DS, thought my last blog was “lacking in wit” ( that’s rhyming slang for how he more blatantly expressed his feelings towards it ), and he may have had a point as it wasn’t the best.
( clears throat ).
In July it was GB’s special day,

She was er.. 21 again, I’d better say.

We went somewhere pleasant,

Just as a nice present,

To Hursley, ( I couldn’t afford Bray ).

It was only one night, just a treat.

A teeny weeny village, in Hampshire near Fleet, ( closer to Winchester but this ain’t easy you know ).

We stayed at the Kings Head

Just a meal and a bed,

Cheap as chips, lovely food, Bon appetit…..
We travelled down in a car, GB at the wheel,

Our SatNav though, tried taking us via Deal. ( I know every slip road off of the M3 now ).

The sun shining bright,

The Inn glistening white,

The interior had a cosy ‘n’ comfortable feel…..

Our table was booked at half three,

A roast dinner, can’t beat it, pot pourri.

Quick drink in the sun, ( outside, not in another pub )

The garden is fun,

Then time for our dinner, hope no broccoli!…..
Broccoli came out on the plate,

You can’t win them all I must state,

The rest of the dinner,

One hundred per cent winner,

The roasties, top drawer, really great……
Our room was cool, done in grey and sage,

Not a hint of boring old beige, ( praise the Lord )

A fair old sized shower

With bundles of power,

We weren’t in there together, at our age??……
It had a nice little sofa to sit,

With views of the church opposite,

It has to be said,

On Sunday, Hursley’s dead,

But the pubs own Skittles alley was a hit! ( I didn’t play due to an injury but it looked the dogs danglies )… Other games available also but SKITTLES, that’s quality!…..
A beer in The Dolphin and a relaxing stroll, ( I had to take it slow, The Dolphin is 100yds away )

We returned to our lovely Hampshire bolt hole,

Sunday eve at The Kings Head,

They do a cracking flatbread,

Might be wrong but cooked on charcoal? ( ask the owners, Penny was very helpful )…..
The courtyard reminded me of the med,

Stunning patio heaters, vintage red.

With a glass of white wine,

Lovely area to dine,

Pretty soon it was closers ( last drink ), and then bed…..

Next morning , a full English, in the price,

Have to say, it’s high five, very nice,

All the food was exquisite,

The Inn’s well worth a visit,

Would I go back?.. You don’t have to ask twice!…( Take me now! )

………..
Small print. Ok same size print but small extra details…. And not in poetry form.

All the staff were very friendly and helpful.

We booked a “Spoil Yourself Sunday” deal. It was by a country mile the cheapest place I found. On a serious note the food was very good. We stayed in the Baxendale room. We loved the clean, airy, bright room. No window in the Baxendale bathroom, but it’s not the end of the world.

Winchester is very close and has, providing you are able, some lovely areas to wander around.
Hope you liked my efforts. If you didn’t, well, at least I’m experimenting various avenues!… Think Keats might be safe for now. Following this, The Ivy, described through the medium of breakdance!…
Next up, The Foodies Festival!

Chris Rea & The Great British Actress PT. 3 ( The Other Side Of Miami ) Metroplitan By Como Miami

Miami Take 2 ” A Different World “What a difference a week makes. Up early we departed the Celebrity Silhouette mid morning on Sunday. With TH as always leading the way the 4 of us made our way to the car rental area at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. Everything was done and dusted and before you could say “I’ve just spent a week on a cruise ship, let’s go again”, we were in our hire car making our last journey as a group of 4 , ( no tears please ), to the Metropolitan By Como Hotel on Collins Avenue, back in Miami. 
Thanks to the driving skills of TH and the satellite navigation skills of a very irritatingly voiced Tom Tom, we arrived at our hotel in extremely good time. We were greeted by one of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure too meet.
 Brian, I’m not sure what his “official” title is, seems to be the concierge/porter/shopkeeper. It could just be that he is the face of the MBCH. Brian made us feel more welcome in Miami in 10 minutes than our previous hotel did in 3 days. I can honestly say that if there is something you require, you get the feeling that Brian would move heaven and earth to get it for you.
Cases taken and car parked we headed into the bright and light airy ness of the lobby. The chap at reception recognised us immediately. Believe me it’s not because we are instantly memorable. The treacle and I on our previous visit to Miami had located the hotel and popped in to book the restaurant. The fact he ( Michael ) upon our return, recollected where we had been, our reason for staying and our names was highly impressive and the sort of welcome that you only get in the very best of hotels. It was explained that Our room wasn’t ready but obviously all the facilities were free to be taken advantage of. 
We sat around for roughly 45 minutes on the circular and very comfy sofa. We were early. Check – in wasn’t actually for another 2 hours. Once the cleaners had done the necessaries and our room was good to go, the 4 of us danced upstairs for a butchers. 7th floor. Nice views. We also had a little plate congratulating us on our wedding anniversary which was a very cool touch. Keeping in style with the rest of the hotel, the room was quirky without being outlandish. A mixture of sage green and white in colour, Oh and a walk – in rain shower, happy with that!
After a quick shuffle through various bags we got changed and went downstairs to hang out by the pool. It was a nice day, and so like on every other nice day I settled for a beer from the pool bar. TH, Juzza and GB all got a snack and we passed the next hour or two drifting through peace and tranquility. As the clouds drifted over the 4 of us went to explore the hotel. I remembered reading about it, but until I saw it, I’d forgotten about the rooftop pool. Leaving TH and Juzza to get changed myself and wifey stripped to the bones and hopped in to the bubbles. Oh yes, JACK-OOZY sty-lee. 
All 4 of us wasted the next hour just watching the ships going out from our little piece of paradise. If somewhere up there, there is a heaven, surely we were sitting in a watery bath next to it at least. This was luxurious bliss with a capital L. I was already loving this hotel. Unfortunately though it came to the point where 4 became 2 as the spice girls would sing, ( I know it was 2 become 1 but you wouldn’t have me admitting to knowing the music of the Spice Girls would you?… “The Doe & Dizzee” had a plane to catch. Walking them down through the lobby I have to admit I almost shed a tear. They are two fantastic people to go away with. We were going to miss them, welllll…. for a bit anyway….They must be good twin bags, we are doing something similar next year, unless they have cancelled on us!
All of a sudden we were alone. “Ju-u-St the two of us ” as Bill Withers would sing, ( if he were still alive that is ). GB and myself were becoming peckish. Dinner for the following evening was already sorted. Table booked in the highly acclaimed Traymore Restaurant based in our hotel. This evening though was to be a mystery tour. I approached the front desk, and asked the advice of Michael on reception. He told us of a little Indonesian restaurant on the ground floor of where his apartment was. It certainly sounded worth a shout, adding to the bonus of it being roughly 500 yards from our hotel we sauntered out and into the fading sun.
Indomania is a small place. Almost like being in someone’s living room. As soon as we opened the door we were being treated to a table and drinks. The front of house couple couldn’t do enough for us. Very hospitable. We had a set menu of ” Rijsttafel Java “. Its basis is similar to a tasting menu comprising of 14 different dishes such as slow cooked beef in kecap sauce, shrimp cracker, and boneless chicken in coconut sauce. The standouts though were Sate Ayam ( Chicken in Peanut Butter Sauce ) and the aforementioned Semurjawa ( Slow Cooked Beef ). I would have no hesitation at all in suggesting this as a place to eat if you find yourself In mid – Collins Ave. It wasn’t expensive, but it most certainly was a real pleasure. What a cracking little find.
We mustered back to MBCH and relaxed at the bar with a Mojito or two before bidding goodnight. The barman in a similar vein to the pool bar attendants were very friendly and boy do they know ho to knock up a decent cocktail. It had however been a long, ( though very relaxing ) day and so the Rollos retired for a bit of American TV and a few hours of kip.
Bright and early her indoors was nudging me to get up. Time for a sunrise stroll before breakfast. After half an hour we returned and sat outside on the terrace for breakfast. GB had something off the a’la carte menu choosing an Eggs Benedict, while I stayed within the boundaries of the free continental cuisine. One of the things I chose was this little Granola type thing, well, you know what it’s like when you are lean, mean and fighting fit, you need to keep in trim. Or in my case it was just the idea of eating something that looked like it was in a novelty jar. If I was given just one breakfast item to eat before I met my maker it would be this little jar of conkers. I cannot stress how wonderful this glass canister of healthy stuff was. Apparently the Eggs weren’t three bad either. A win double then. 
My good lady loves her shoes/trainers/flip flops. Equally I love my football team. Since landing on American soil. One of her goals had been to purchase a new pair of pumps, or if you are American, sneakers. One of my goals was to make sure I was in place to watch the FA Cup match that evening between my beloved Arsenal FC and Manchester United. We made a pact. We would hit the mall first for GB’s foot fetish and then jolly on to Elwoods Bar where the MASC ( Miami Arsenal Supporters Club ) meet for most games to indulge my addiction ( or some would say my affliction ). 
The first part went well on a scale of 1 to 10. We made it to the excessively large shopping precinct by public transport. All was well. GB found her footwear of choice. Excellent. Then arose problem no.1. After trawling most shoe/footwear shops, GB could only find one shop that sold this particular pair of spotted sprinters, and as luck would have it there were none in her size. Try as she might, and believe me she had a bloody good go, no others took her fancy. Time was ticking on. Mission failing, GB conceded, and we left empty handed. We studied the route map of two buses and chose what looked on paper the quickest. We still had an hour so plenty of time……. Or so I thought!
I knew we were in trouble when the bus turned down Biscayne Boulevard and the 1st stop was something like 183rd street. There was 35 minutes till kick off. We wanted 2nd street. I was still trying to stay positive that maybe we’d make it to Elwoods by half time. Sadly at half time the bus was just hitting 116th. Only another 114 blocks to go. Maybe the driver could see my anxiousness, although I doubt it as he put a little spurt on around 50th. Then it hit me like a boomerang I’d just thrown and forgotten about. Two and a half hours on a bus, we get there and we’ve lost. Top that with no trainers for the treacle, it would have been a day in Miam- AAAAARRGGHH!
Believe it or not, we got off the bus, roughly a 4 minute walk from the bar, with roughly 4 minutes left of the game. Typical!… I really didn’t want to walk in. I was dreading the score. Well after the time spent trying to prevail GB was having none of it and frogmarched me in. Knock me down with a ten pound sledgehammer. I couldn’t believe it. They were playing 5 minutes of injury time. More importantly Arsenal were WINNING!… That 5 minutes took longer than the bus journey to go by. Eventually though the whistle blew and the sea of red and yellow tops were jumping around and clinking glasses and bottles of victory. More good news followed as my team were drawn against Reading in the semi – final. That journey was worth every second!
We had 2 or 3 drinks and then it was bus time home. Thankfully this time a mere 45 minutes. 

Arriving back at MBCH at roughly 7pm we swiftly changed, I have to say her indoors looked a proper hotty!… We dived down for an electric cocktail before being seated for our food. The Traymore Restaurant is said to be, hang on research required…..when we were there the restaurant was the No.1 place to go in Miami. All jokes aside ( which I seem to be saying a lot lately ) I can understand why. The food was outstanding. We had a starter and a main course. It wasn’t expensive which was surprising. I would recommend to everyone going to Miami to try the food at Traymore. If disappointed I’d be shocked. The room you are dining in warrants a merit in itself. 
I had the Mussels to start. Those little babies alone were worth the scheckels. I could argue at minor faults but to be honest I love this hotel. The food was as good as the service. I would suggest eating inside in March though as it was a bit blowy. 
For the record, please let it be noted I love the stick on “Do Not Disturb & Please Clean Me” signs. Quirky. The following day was ‘We have to go home day’. Again the hotel has enough facilities wise to ensure guests are able to enjoy the luxuries before leaving. We spent a day ( GB and I ) literally chilling by the pool. The weather was spot on. It was an incredible day. Of course we had to finish how we started. We made our way up to the rooftop pool, for one last dip in the hydro pool. It was quite windy and so GB decided against going in. 
Trying to be confident, ( I will dictate to the water that I am not scared sort of thing ), I jumped straight in. The water was warm and the view of ships leaving or returning to Miami Harbour was awesome. As the bubbles in the Hydro pool died I lost my enthusiasm. Luckily a lady who had just hopped out offered to spark up the water again. Excited at the new array of testosterone about to hit the water i stood up. At was at this point I realised that for the last 20 minutes I had been bathing in the pool with my iPhone in my pocket!
In case you want to know, the iphone4 is semi water proof. After leaving it in dry rice ( surely a myth ) , for a few hours and then placing the phone on a radiator for 3 days upon our return I can now get a full 9% battery use on it, which lasts as anyone with an iPhone will know all of about 4 minutes. 
Things I learnt on holiday.

1. Miami – I’m more of a Collins than SoBe person.

2. MBCH – I’m not a regular visitor to Miami but if you want an unbelievable hotel to stay at, I seriously suggest you consider this little number.

3. Brian & Michael who represent the MBCH are the sort of people who make you want to revisit Miami. 

4. You really need nicknames for your friends. ( Tony SourDoe & Dizzey )

5. A bus ride in Miami is not like a bus ride in London.

6. I don’t mind the water, ( when I’m on a huge cruise ship, in calm waters ).
I know some of my phrases are repetitive but I have to emphasise this point again. It’s not always the scenery or the accommodation that makes your holiday. The thing that made a difference to us both aboard Celebrity Silhouette and staying at Metropolitan By Como Miami were the staff. These people done everything possible to make our stay a memorable one. We thank you all for that, and better still it’s fair to say you succeeded in every way 🙂 

Roll on next year!

Finally I’ve got no pics but the blog site is playing up!

  “Not Your Average Stay With A Celebrity!”

“Not Your Average Boat Trip… A week with a Celebrity”
Confession number 1. I can’t swim. I did try to learn as a child but, like quite a few things in my life I wasn’t very good at it. I kept sinking. I did have a go. I think i could sink in the Dead Sea. Then one day while trying to catch newts at a local dyke aged around 8 or 9 ( under supervision ), I slipped. I went in feet first, and all I really remember after that is the water and the fear. I’ve no doubt it’s an old wives tale but somewhere along the line I recall a tale of someone drowning. The bottom line being that “if you go under three times that’s it, you ain’t coming back up again”. It’s probably rubbish. I’m damn sure however if it wasn’t for the heroics of a chap called Paul, who I still consider to be one of my closest friends, I wouldn’t be here now. 
From that moment on my fear of water grew and grew. Im scared of water to the point I wear water wings in the bath.I know in theory everyone should be able to swim, but that feeling of water going up your hooter, over your head and in your ears, you can keep it. Which beckons the big question really. Why the hell would you book a cruise holiday?… If truth be told, I suggested it over a tipsy Indian meal, while discussing our fellow diners forthcoming cruise. It was something that was ringing around my head as we approached the port in Fort Lauderdale. I wasn’t panicking, but I was nervous. It’s not as if we were on a fishing boat I know, but we were about to go to the middle of the ocean. The sheer thought of looking all round and just seeing water petrified me. Maybe a trifle over the top but what if it started getting rocky?
I have never really taken much notice of how big a cruise ship actually is. I don’t think the word huge does it justice. Monstrous makes it sound ugly. I will say it was a little 

overwhelming walking up to the boarding ‘Hangar’ with this giant floating hotel alongside it. Thankfully our fellow travellers, TH and Juzza are experienced in the cruising world. I don’t mean that sense of cruising. They don’t spend their pastime cruising the streets of Rochester looking for extra excitement, no I mean holidaying on cruise ships. This was to be their 7th cruise, and their 2nd time on this particular bad boy. We were about to board the Celebrity Silhouette. 
Originally I had sent a text asking ‘The Doe’, ( that’s TH to you, a long story I will get to later ), what he would suggest or recommend for a first cruise. TH I thought would possess a little knowledge of which line would be the best for rookies like GB and me. It turns out TH is a full on cruise geek these days. I mean that as a compliment. We agreed to meet up for some food and a drink to have a chat about what they thought of it, and if there was anything or anywhere in particular these water lovers would endorse as a way forward. I won’t lie, GB didn’t need much persuading. She would be happy with a week on Loch Lomond in a dinghy. I on the other hand like my luxury. This will sound awful but I’m not overly fussed at having hundreds of kids swamping me either.
I love a brochure but was no further forward when our friends came up with a plan. They had a week long Caribbean cruise booked already. We could tag along with them. Just under 11 months later here we were staring up at this gigantic modern day Trojan horse, though thankfully not made of wood. Apparently I hadn’t printed off the correct paperwork. I found this out when in the queue. TH, being his ever caring self allowing me few excuses before calling me countless names ( jokingly, I think ), and walking off to find out if there would be a problem. Luckily, the chap who took care of us in the hangar was good as gold and before we knew it we were on the walkway boarding our home for the next week.
To give you a day to day blow would be too much. I will however give you some idea of what to expect onboard the ( as our captain continuously called it ), ‘Beautiful Celebrity Silhouette’. Let’s start with the accommodation. We were in AquaClass. This allows you access to Blu restaurant, and free entry and usage of the relaxation rooms. Blu restaurant and AquaClass in general I believe is designed for a slightly more healthy outlook and cruise appeal. We ate in Blu for dinner once and the 4 of us met there for breakfast at least a couple of times. The food isn’t buffet style and is cooked to order. The Muesli, made in front of you with a countless choice of ingredients was delicious. All hot plates ordered, were again cooked very well and we couldn’t really complain.
Our room was bigger than I thought. After spending an evening on a Marco Polo ship in dock recently I was fearing the worst. On that night the room was tiny and had not even a window or clock. Aboard the Celebrity Silhouette however things couldn’t have been more different. We had a good size balcony space for a start. A definite recommendation in my eyes. Plenty of room for relaxing in the evening while watching the world go by. The room itself had a decent shower, considering what I was expecting. The bathroom was more than adequate. There was some wardrobe space and it had plenty of little nice extras.
It was hard to really debate the quality of the food. We ate in all the speciality restaurants. Each have their own standout reasons to be tried. My personal favourite was Murano. The food was outstanding. The service perfect. It was a more refined affair than the others but it was still relaxed enough. It was at least as good as some meals I have eaten at Michelin starred restaurants in the UK. Alternatives though were as below, ( and at a supplement unless you buy a package )
Qsine: Designed to be different. Lots of food served in very unusual ways. Ordered on an iPad. Well worth a visit for original dishes such as Sushi Lollipops and a Meatball Trilogy.
Tuscan Grille: basically, an excellently executed steakhouse. Obvious in its name, Italian dishes are par for the course. The food again was pretty much faultless and was a great way to start our week.
The Lawn Grill: GB’s favourite. Up on deck 15. An interactive experience where guests get to make their own pizzas as starters and then if they choose to they can grill/barbecue whatever cuts of meat/fish/vegetable options they selected from the menu, and there is a huge choice. The most fun of all the speciality restaurants. We went twice.
Blu: I may have this slightly wrong but I believe this is reserved for AquaClass only, or anyone in a suite. Please note you won’t get in dressed as a Malteser! The dinner we had in there was very nice, but out of them all I would say this was my least favourite. 
There was also The Porch. A small surcharge was involved when we ate there for lunch. I wouldn’t say it was outstanding. It was a wrap or panini type affair. By the same token I’ve eaten much worse. It’s difficult to find issues in the food in any way really. Everywhere that I tried had so much choice, and was cooked to a very high standard. The main restaurant was great. Lots of variations, good service and food you would expect to pay a reasonable price for in the UK. 
I’m not even covering the pool grill and pool bar, the main breakfast buffet area, and not forgetting there is a Bistro along with a cafe serving cakes, coffee, etc and an Ice Cream parlour all on Deck 5. The food as I have already stated is extremely good. What I haven’t mentioned though is the service. I am going to sound like I am writing an advert for Celebrity Cruises but truthfully I cannot think of any place I have been to where the people treat you better. The little things the staff onboard do to go that extra mile really does make a difference.
There are other bars as well. The chap running the bar down on deck 3 was a lovely man. Impressive in itself that when I ventured there the following day he remembered what I was drinking. Considering we had one drink there the day before and the traffic going through that section just made it that much more noticeable. The Sunset bar at the back of the ship. What a place to watch the sun fade away, and amazingly while drinking your G & T, you can sit on the perfectly cut lawn or play Boules. GRASS!.. On a BOAT!… It’s not my drink of choice but you still have to visit The Martini Bar. The bar surface is made of ice and is über cool ( literally ). Of course being childish we did play the who can keep their hand on the bar longest!
There is a casino. Apparently it’s the norm on a cruise ship these days. I’m not a big gambler but I had the odd go on a fruity, TH and Juzza spent a few Disney ducks in there. GB even tried her hand at Craps. For those unaware of the game it’s the one where you throw dice down the table aiming to get certain numbers. GB actually walked away with a hundred dollars in her bin. The same cannot be said for her playing partner Jim. A crusty looking skinny old boy who came to the table wielding a fistful of cash. He changed up $300 and started well. He even offered GB some $25 chips to stay insisting she was his lucky charm, but we headed off to dinner. Upon our return Jimbo was not looking so chipper. He was down to the tune of 8000 DOLLARS!… Which shows two things in my book.
1. The house always wins

2. Never judge a book by its cover.
 Jim might have looked like a washed out vagrant with his Vegas Dice Tattoo but he obviously had the wedge. Eventually he bowled away from the table, still laughing and joking, drink in hand without a care in the world although bemoaning his luck. I dread to think how much he lost over the course of the week. Each to their own though so good luck to him, or at least better luck. The bar in the casino always had at least two staff on and it was never a problem getting a drink. 
My favourite bar and surprisingly the quietest bar mostly was the Molecular Bar. TH knows I love a drink. He had suggested I would like Molecular. TH was right. Jelena, a lovely Serbian girl and the main mixologist onboard was friendlier than a politician looking for your vote. More importantly this girl could make a serious cocktail. I must add she had an incredibly sexy way of saying my name as well which wins her a vote in my book!… Favourite cocktail without doubt was “The Black Mamba”. GB was spoilt with either the Espresso Martini or a 3G. I think we tried virtually all of them through the week ( it’s a tough life ). I won’t go into what was in each drink as the blog would go on forever. We made this or the Martini Bar our meeting point for the evening. It tended to be our “late” drinking den as well. 
This isn’t a top tip, it’s a no – brainer. During our time on board I heard one chap order a Gin & Tonic and a beer. The price was $13.90 give or take a dollar. Asked if he had a drinks package he replied no. Asked if he would like one, his answer was the same. If you take into consideration that during the day this fellow drunk, just for example, 3 cups of coffee and had 3 Gins, why on earth would you NOT have any form of drinks package?.. A cocktail at the Molecular Bar I believe to purchase would be approximately $13. A daily drinks  Premium package costs $12 more than the classic beverage bundle ( I may be slightly out but not by much ). So by having one drink alone gets you your money back. I’m sure people have their reasons but for me regardless the biggest saving we made was purchasing the drink deal. I did mention I like a beer though!
Here is another worthwhile point, at least for some. The smoking areas or as we renamed them “The Lost & Found”. If ever we lost GB, we found her here. I have to say I was surprised how many smoking areas there were. Four in total I think. It’s not like you were forced into a tiny corner and velcroed into a tiny little space. Plenty of seating and with some lovely views. Not a problem for the smoking fraternity onboard Celebrity. 
This isn’t a quibble, just a view or outlook about life on board a Celebrity ship. I thought I’d get bored. By the time I left the Silhouette I was cream crackered. There is SO much to do. From 6am to midnight something , somewhere is going on. From the cheesy stuff like music quizzes and bingo to ballroom dancing and theatre shows. You also had tours and talks regarding the ship. I’ve not even mentioned the sports, karaoke or egg drop competition. It’s all about choice.
The outdoor pool area with hot tub naturally is busy but a bed was always around somewhere. The spa was nice and peaceful as was the indoor pool. 
I did mention it before but the thing that made this part of our break so good were the staff. Faultless in every way. Always smiling, always busy, but never too busy to say hello. They certainly earn their cahoonas. Including swan towels in the room. I mean who doesn’t love a swan towel!. The hideaway is where you go for an afternoon nap or an air conditioned book read in peace and quiet. I also loved a lot of the art in the stairways.
Finally our destinations visited. We were lazy. GB and myself didn’t even think to look up where we were visiting for tours etc..
We avoided any official trips on advice of the Doe ( TH ), and made our own way off the liner.
Puerto Rico, San Juan: nice views, large Ralph Lauren shop in port. Not having read up on it we were unsure of what to do or where to go. We were back on board within the hour. 
St. Kitts, Carambola Beach Club: The Doe had done his research. We spent 3 hours lapping up the sun in this lovely beach club around the other side of the hills. I would recommend getting there ASAP though as the best beds go quicker than a hot loaf in a bakers. It’s on the Pacific Ocean side, so the water ( according to The Doe, Dizzee, and GB ) is much warmer. I confess, I went in to my ankles but that was it. Food and drink were reasonable and our taxi driver Bernadette was lovely. Did you know you can have two wives on St. Kitts? Very entertaining ride. My favourite island. I would go back to St. Kitts tomorrow. 
St. Maarten, Mahoe Beach: firstly let me say it’s by far the busiest of the 3 places we visited. 6 huge vessels sat there in dock by the time we returned from our day out including the gargantuan Anthem Of The Seas. It dwarfed the others. You may have seen Mahoe Beach on TV. It’s the one where planes fly roughly 100ft above you as they land a stones throw away. The beach itself gets exceptionally busy and is quite a short beach from road to water, steep and a little awkward as well. Again a tip is get there as early as possible. It is well worth a trip out though if a big bird is coming in. Make sure you book a return with plenty of time to get back to the ship though. Don’t end up a “Runner”.
Trust me, this is not like going on a canal boat down the Norfolk Broads. I’ve not even mentioned the bands that play during the day/evenings. Special mention to 5 o’clock Somewhere. A two piece band that were awesome both acoustically and as a full band. Loved Tabitha’s voice. I must have enjoyed my first cruising holiday. We are booked to go again next year. The Doe told us that Celebrity was 5 star luxury. As a snow buddy, and now a cruise buddy I have to say he wasn’t wrong. 

Did you know it took our Captain 21 years to gain his position. I’m not going to try and spell his name. It was longer than a Christmas conga.

Celebrity please note: the Birdie Song is called the Birdie Song. It is NOT called Chicken Dance! We lost a music quiz on this question!
There you have it. We sailed the erm… 1 sea and we’re heading back to Miami. I am officially the newest member of the Celebrity Cruises fan club!