Recent Restaurant Disappointments

Friday, 29 January 2016

I got into a discussion with another blogger recently about the importance of transparency and honesty in blog posts. We both agreed that it's the only way to build trust and credibility with your audience, and that any brand worth their salt should actually value constructive feedback from bloggers.

Of course, the conversation then turned to the fact that most posts on Follow Your Sunshine are overwhelmingly positive, and it has only been on very rare occasions that I have stuck my neck out so much as to say 'this wasn't OK'. There's a reason for this. I am so keen to maintain this blog as a happy and uplifting space which always looks on the more sunshiney side of life, and I am constantly aware of not coming across as a moaner, with ridiculously high standards and a whole suite of unrealistic and egocentric entitlements. Nevertheless, just sometimes it's only right and fair that I speak my feelings. Therefore, I'm taking a big gulp, and sticking my neck out to say that on three occasions in three different restaurants recently, I have left feeling a little underwhelmed.

1. Aceite, The Melia Hotel

A group of food bloggers had gathered for a meet-up at this new-ish Spanish restaurant, and I was excited to see some familiar faces that I hadn't caught up with for a while. So much so that the bland and uninspiring finger food that greeted us upon arrival didn't really register.

I admired the usual well thought-out set-up that Food Bloggers Qatar had put together, and the organisation of the staff of the restaurant and Zomato, who were helping to host the event.

Unfortunately, as the food was brought out dish by dish, it was all downhill from thereon out. The sauteed prawns with garlic were overcooked, and were accompanied by watery, tasteless mushrooms swimming in an unidentifiable brown liquid.

The deep fried calamari with black ink aeoli just tasted a bit strange. And I didn't even photograph the black ink paella, which I felt had been put together more for effect than for taste. Invariably, it was pushed away by my table mates in favour of some of the other dishes in front of us.

The semi-liquid croquettes were quite tasty and probably the biggest success around the table, but there weren't nearly enough to go around.

However, my biggest disappointment of the evening came when I asked one of the staff whether they might be able to make me a vegetarian paella in place of the more seafood-heavy dishes. I explained that I was pregnant and therefore had to limit the amount of seafood I ate in a day, and my waiter assured me that they would easily be able to knock something up for me. Half an hour later, this still hadn't arrived, and after a couple of reminders to staff who were frankly quite rude, I gave up, finished chatting with the bloggers and headed home with a grumbling stomach.

It was quite an unusual set-up for the restaurant that night, with so many of us to feed at once, so I can forgive the standards slipping on a few of the dishes. I can't forgive really poor service and rudeness however, and it is for that reason that I won't be returning to this restaurant any time soon.

If you are looking for good Spanish food in Doha, then my advice is to swerve this restaurant in favour of the brilliant El Faro at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski.

2. Isaan, The Grand Hyatt Hotel

I was quite reluctant to include this restaurant in my list, because it's one of my favourites in Doha, and I would like to make it absolutely clear that it still is! However, at a recent new menu tasting, a few of us left feeling that the restaurant's menage of tantalising Thai tastes weren't quite up to Isaan's usual standards.

I did however, thoroughly enjoy the entire experience - especially watching the chefs hard at work in the open kitchen, meticulously creating complex flavour combinations from the fresh produce before them.

However, when we eventually tucked into our food, I wished that they had laid off the spice a littlein some of their dishes - particularly the hot Kaeng Leang Goong soup which was inedible to my untrained palette!

Nevertheless, some of the sharing plates retained the high standards we've come to know and love at this restaurant. One of these was the Penang Gai (chicken curry) was creamy and coconut-y with lashings of sauce that drenched the sticky rice that was ladled onto our plates.

The shrimp spring rolls, although beautifully presented, were a little lacklustre.

And controversially, myself and my compatriot sitting next to me really weren't fans of the Mieng Pla Thod (deep fried sea bass in tamarind sauce, which we scooped up and wrapped in betel leaves) which, despite being fun to put together, were a little sharp. The taste of the leaf unfortunately completely overpowered the sweet chicken.

Despite these slight niggles, I will definitely return to Isaan. I know that they have been busy ironing out the kinks in their menu, and making it absolutely perfect once more.

3. Toro Toro, Marsa Malaz Kempinski

Long term readers of Follow Your Sunshine might remember that Toro Toro is one of my top restaurants in Doha. This made it another very difficult one to include in this list, particularly because I wasn't entirely disappointed with the food here per se, but because I had built the evening up in my mind for so long that when it finally arrived, I had incredibly high expectations which were probably going to be impossible to meet. Our food was going to be cooked by none other than founder and celebrity Chef Richard Sandoval himself, you see.

I really enjoy evenings like these, where you are given the opportunity to speak openly with someone who inspires you. Not to mention fellow food bloggers who have the ability to make you laugh until you well up.

With the usual happy buzz around the table, we all looked on expectantly as the first set of dishes were brought out, while Richard described the composition of each in detail. The first blow came when I realised that I wasn't going to be able to eat a lot of what was laid before us, and I looked on enviously as everyone tucked into Sea Bass Tartare and Scallops Tiradito, which I am assured were beautifully fresh and delicately flavoured. Not the restaurant's fault however, and I made a mental note to return for these bad boys post-baby.

The Quinoa Solterito with Canary Bean Humus, and the Cachapas (slow cooked beef on corn pancakes) really stole the show that evening, and I'm sure I devoured more than my fair share to make up for my lack of raw fish.

However, I was left disappointed by all of the larger meat dishes. The Parrillada (charcoal-grilled cuts of chicken, beef and lamb) seemed to be tougher and chewier than I had remembered previously.

And the skewers of meat, although juicy and tender, didn't pack the same punch.

However, I still left full and contented, and importantly, extremely happy with the service and atmosphere of the evening. Toro Toro can do very little wrong in my book (although I really do wish that they would reduce some of the prices on their menu!), and a slight disappointment won't stop me coming back for more.

When we all dine at really great restaurants time and time again in Doha, I think it's important to remind ourselves that each and every plate of food we eat can't always be the most exciting dish that's ever been placed in front of us. Instead, for me, it's important to differentiate a few 'one-offs' from ongoing errors and poor customer service before I lay down my judgement too harshly.

Have you had any restaurant disappointments recently? What would put you off ever returning to a restaurant again?

I was a guest of Aceite, Isaan and Toro Toro on these occasions. As always, all views are my own.

Our Honeymoon: Top Tips for Romance in Rome

Friday, 22 January 2016

The first few days of our Italian honeymoon seem like a very long time ago now. Every now and again I think back to the balmy nights spent as newly-weds in the Gran Melia, and the blissful days spent wandering hand in hand through the streets of Rome.

There isn't a better city on earth for lovers to explore together, if you know where to go and what to do. Here are my top tips for a truly rome-antic getaway.

Take in the view from the Gianicolo

Just west of the Tiber, on the outskirts of the ancient city, a winding road meanders its way up the hillside of the Gianicolo. The serene and beautiful panarama of the rooftops of Rome which can be viewed from the top will take your breath away.

(As did my new husband when he climbed onto this rather tall wall in order to get a better photo!)

Dress: Missguided (last season). Similar shape, here. Bag: Primark (last season). Similar here.


Take a wander around historic Trastevere


Make sure you stop for a bowl of authentic hand-pulled Spaghetti Carbonara in one of the locality's numerous Osterias. This gorgeous bowl came from Osteria Der Belli in Piazza di Sant'Apollonia.

Afterwards, it would be criminal to walk past one of the area's tiny cubby-hole Gelaterias without stopping for a gelato or lemon granita. Our favourite is Gelateria Alla Scala on Via Della Scala.

Finally, have a nose around any one of the beautiful old churches / basilicas in the area. They might not look like much from the outside, but inside they are brimming with treasures and beauty. Convento di San Maria Della Scala was a particular surprise. Don't forget to be respectful and cover shoulders and knees!

 See the sights on foot

Take a walk around the Vatican city, enjoying the history and grandeur of St Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

Throw a Euro into the iconic 18th Century sculpted Trevi Fountain. They say if you do this as a couple, the next time you return to Rome you will have had your first child. It worked for us!

Hang out with the Roman elite at the Piazza di Spagna, and climb the ancient baroque staircase of the Spanish steps.

Escape the crowds, and have a little snoop around the Pantheon.

Dress: Pepe Jeans; sunglasses: Tiffany.

Take a guided tour around the Colosseum and Roman Forum, soaking up the history as you go.

Most importantly, don't forget to return to all of these places again after sunset, when the romance really comes alive with the beautiful lighting, and a special kind of buzzy atmosphere which is completely unique to Rome.

Eat, eat and eat some more

You all know that Mr Sunshine and I love our food, and therefore it doesn't get more romantic than sampling the local delights of some of Rome's best restaurants.

Top choice for us was the famous Antica Pesa, where you can celebrity-spot while enjoying delectable traditional Roman fayre cooked in an ancient, family-run setting. For a full review, head here

If you are looking for something a little more casual, then the ancient Trattoria del Pantheon di Fortunato on Via del Pantheon is our pick of the Trattorias; a bustling, family-run restaurant selling delicious homemade pasta, a good range of local beer and wine, and showcasing a killer view.

When in Rome, you must sample some truffle, so a visit to Ad Hoc Restaurant is a must. For a full review head here.

Finally, when all of that strolling around catches up with you, stop at one of the Angelina Ristorantes in Testaccio or Trevi for service with a smile and a slice of traditional Crostata di Marmellata - or jam tart to you or me.

Take a stroll through one of the city's beautiful parks

Are you beginning to notice a theme here? Rome is a city that is best seen by foot. It's the only way that you are able to stop for long enough to soak up the city's unique atmosphere and to truly enjoy the romance of the moment.

There are numerous green spaces to choose from, but we took a winding path through Villa Doria Pamphilli.

There are 445 acres of beautiful parkland here, including a splendid villa, manicured gardens and a walking trail.

For a long time in the hot, July sun we got absolutely, irrevocably lost. I don't think we saw another person for at least two hours.

And there is nothing on this earth more romantic than that!

Have you visited Rome with a loved one? What romantic tips do you have that I've missed?

Guest Post: Mr Sunshine on Becoming a First Time Dad

Monday, 18 January 2016

Hi, Rich (a.k.a. Mr Sunshine) here. I asked Polly if I could write a guest post as a follow up to her excellent pregnancy posts and her response was surprisingly an emphatic “YES!”, followed by a rather suspicious “….what are you going to write about??”. My answer was brief and went thus: “Basically, I’m shitting myself at the prospect of being a new father. Maybe if I write down my thoughts, I can make sense of it all” (spoiler for those who can’t be bothered to read to the end...I can’t).

               Mr S getting some practice in with our friends Sarah and Sam's baby Sophie over Christmas

It’s been an incredible 6 months, from our wedding to the honeymoon and finally the news that Polly was pregnant. These 6 months have been the happiest of my life and up to now I have kind of lived in a state of ignorant bliss. However, in the last few weeks the prospect that I will be a new father has come into sharp focus. I’ve read that this stage slowly creeps up on all expectant fathers, perfectly articulated in one book as “a stage when the future comes too quickly and the present always feels like the past” (granted, that phrase does sound sensationally dramatic!)

Like many soon-to-be-dads, I have been asking myself the following questions: Will I be a good dad? Am I mentally ready for this? Will I be able to change a nappy on my own? How long will it take before I stop holding the baby like a bomb? And most importantly, will I still have the time to stick to my strict hair-coiffeuring regimen???

Pertinent questions I’m sure you’ll agree readers.

It’s comforting to know I’m not alone though in this sudden rush of self-doubt. If you type in “scared of being a father” into Google, you will get nearly 52,000,000 results. In one article I found, one father’s biggest worry is that he might “bring home the wrong baby from daycare”. I mean, wow. Even I can’t be that bad (please no one bookmark this though!).

What I’ve learnt so far about being a new father is that the only way to deal with all this upcoming uncertainty is to simply embrace it, even if I do not fully understand it. I’m finally coming round to accepting the chaos…I’m just not sure whether it will accept me!

20 Ways to Cope With Pregnancy in Your Third Trimester

Friday, 15 January 2016

In preparing for motherhood in your third trimester, your whole world is turned upside down and inside out. The things you do, eat, talk about and think about change in the blink of an eye. You notice new things about yourself, and about others. Some days you worry that you might be slowly morphing into your mother. It's a fabulous journey, but it's full of uncertainty. The only thing that's certain is that you will never be the same again.

But it's OK, you can get through every little thing that pregnancy throws at you in your final weeks before the birth. Here are a few observations I've noted as I've entered the third trimester, and how I've learned to cope:

1. Everyone will have a comment on your bump, and all of these comments will be different. "It's still so small!"; "Look how big you are!"; "It's sitting low, it must be a boy"; "I can tell by the shape it's a girl"; "You can't tell you're pregnant at all"; "OMG your bump is huge!". Quieten the commentary by quickly saying, "Yeah, everyone says that!".

2. Some people won't be able to fight the urge to touch the bump, sometimes without even asking. This includes strangers in lifts, at the supermarket, and in line to check in at the airport. When this happens, return the same little smile they are giving you and quietly stroke their stomach back.

3. Nobody else cares about your blurry 4D scan photo as much as you do. They're actually more freaked out by the clear view of the umbilical cord in the top right-hand corner than taken with how cute your baby's button nose is. Try to stop yourself from plastering this image all over social media, sending it via Whatsapp to your next door neighbour and bringing it up on the big screen at the start a presentation to your boss; you might put them off their lunch. Reserve this photo for the closest people to you, and only bring it out if other people ask.

4. Your Whatsapp conversations which used to revolve around nights out, outfits and man-related gossip start to become more focused on the best bargains in the latest Mothercare sale, how many sleep bags the baby will need and the pros and cons of scratch mittens. Try to limit these conversations to your pool of friends who are actually mothers or mothers-to-be themselves. Others might think that pregnancy has sent you slightly bonkers.

5. You will soon learn which of your friends you can call from the office toilet asking what amniotic fluid looks like because you aren't sure but you think your waters might have broken. See above.

6. Your appetite and food preferences will change beyond recognition. Cue someone telling you a story about their aunt, friend or neighbour's dog who ate coal on toast when they were pregnant or couldn't get through the day without licking a Pritt Stick. Make up a story about a craving you have that's even more gruesome, and try to keep a straight face.

7. In the final stages of pregnancy, you won't be able to get comfortable at night, and will spend hours tossing and turning. Try not to wake your partner more than twice a night to complain about how difficult it is for you. If you really feel you have to, try to spread these times throughout the night to correlate with the upcoming feed times for your baby, thereby obtaining comfort from them and establishing a routine at the same time. Clever.

8. Scary pregnancy symptom and labour stories are everywhere. Every time you have an urge to Google, search 'cute kittens' instead. Every time someone starts to tell you a negative story, put your fingers in your ears and hum as loudly as you can. DON'T whatever you do watch One Born Every Minute.

9. Unless you seriously believe that pregnancy leggings, bump bands and your husband's extra large t-shirts are the height of couture, you will not be able to be the fashion goddess you once believed you were. Embrace this by starting a new Instagram account showcasing the best of your pregnancy loungewear range.

10. Everyone, even those without children of their own will have an opinion on your pregnancy, upcoming labour and how to be a good mother. Return the favour by sharing your strong views on their political persuasion, choice of career or hairstyle.

11. You will become far more sensible...dare I say it, even a little bit...boring? Increase your daily dose of excitement by living vicariously through others. You will be doing this for the next 18 years anyway.

12. You will worry like you've never worried before, about whether you're doing all of the right things in your pregnancy and to prepare for the birth, whether you know enough and are going to be a good mummy to your baby. Reassure yourself that every single woman that has ever been pregnant feels exactly like this, that you're doing a great job and everything will turn out OK. Then eat another brownie.

13. You will no longer recognise your reflection. Move all of the mirrors in your house higher by 6 inches so you can only see your face.

14. You won't be able to bend over enough to shave your legs. And forget putting on your shoes. Embrace your inner shoeless, hairy hippy. Include photos of said look on your pregnancy fashion Instagram page.

15. Heartburn and acid reflux will attack with a vengeance. Usually at night, the minute you announce that it's time to go to bed. I'd love to say that drinking a glass of cold milk, swallowing half a tub of baking soda or not eating anything after 8pm works, but nothing really does. Sleep propped up on six pillows and wake up in the morning with a cricked neck.

16. You will get a sudden urge to clean the house from top to bottom. Make sure you bend your knees when you need to move something low down, and don't lift anything heavy. Even better, sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and instruct your other half on what needs doing.

17. You might get a little bit hormonal. Not all the time, just when you see a cute puppy or someone tells you what it felt like to hold their baby for the first time. Let the tears flow, as a reserved Brit it's probably the only time in your life that you have a valid excuse to wear your heart on your sleeve without people making excuses and moving away.

18. Those little kicks will be getting stronger and firmer. You might even be able to make out whole body parts as they press against your now very taught stomach. Freak everyone else out by showing them when this happens. Inside, relish that special glow-y feeling that comes with knowing that the thing growing inside you is an actual, real human.

19. You will grow closer to those people who have been through what you're going through. You will develop a new bond with all of those other mums and dads you know. Lean on them, they are going to be your lifeline in the weeks to come. Hell, they might even become the people you call in a panic from the toilet cubicle at work when your waters actually do break.

20. You will grow closer to your partner too. You will respect and cherish each other in a way you never have before. Make sure you're open and honest with one another about everything you're feeling. You are both new to this, and you're in it together.

The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Anyone who writes a blog knows that the best thing about creating your space on the internet is the opportunities it opens up for meeting new people and making new friends. Since Follow Your Sunshine came into being in 2014, I have got to know and been inspired by some of the most interesting, motivated and talented ladies I have ever met, all of whom are creatively writing, designing, and snapping away, and shaping their own blogging niche. What's more, nearly all of them have turned out to be lovely people and excellent friends too. I love this 'sisterhood' and wouldn't change it for the world now I've found it.

To celebrate this special and kind of unique group of ladies, two of my favourite bloggers, Anna from Penelope & Parker's Travels and Angie from Silverspoon London nominated me to answer some questions in a little ode to the sisterhood! {UPDATE: I later found out that I had been put forward a third time by the lovely Sara from Big World Small Me and had missed it. Thank you so much!} Here goes...

Where is your all-time favourite destination?

This is an easy one. Italy's Amalfi Coast wins hands down.

Jaw-dropping coastlines, great weather, stunning food, some of the world's best luxury hotels (and swimming pools!!), friendly and welcoming people and gorgeous hillside towns combine to create a region which is as close to perfection as I think you can get. Mr Sunshine and I spent a large part of our honeymoon exploring this coastline. I promised to tell you all about this time in a bit more detail and I'm a woman of my word so look out for these posts in the next few weeks before the baby arrives (sorry it has taken me so know, pregnancy...).

Which post are you most proud of?

This one. I wrote it in less than half an hour, but it is the most honest, emotional and 'real' post I think I'll ever write.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party, alive or dead?

I was so devastated to hear the news about Alan Rickman earlier. I love him in every role he's ever played (particularly Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility), and I think he'd be really interesting and witty, so I have to say him. Jane Austen for her stories. Gary Lineker for his dad jokes (and because he's a Leicester City legend). Taylor Swift to bring the party and give us some entertainment. Ryan Reynolds, because, well, Ryan Reynolds. {UPDATE: I missed out Ryan Gosling. He would have to be there because he's probably my biggest celebrity crush ever after Steven Gately from Boyzone}.

Do you have a favourite travel app? 

I don't tend to use apps to plan my travels, instead preferring to rely on the internet and blogs for information. Like Angie, I am obsessed with Instagram though, and love nothing more than sifting through hotel and blogger pages for ideas, and ogling at beautiful pictures of the world for inspiration.

What's your favourite and least favourite thing about blogging?

Other than the friends and community that I've already mentioned, it's definitely the opportunities it opens up for trying new things - traveling to new places, visiting new hotels and sampling new restaurants. I also love having an excuse for another creative outlet outside of my job, and it's given me something positive to focus my time and energy on when Mr Sunshine is working long hours, or when I'm really missing my friends and family back home in the UK.

It also makes me look out for good photo opportunities that I'd otherwise miss so my collection is now huge!

(Yup, this also involves quite a lot of posing!!)

My least favourite thing is the time and energy it consumes. If you want to be a successful blogger, it takes hours of work a week. It's not just about attending events, taking photos and writing & editing posts. You need to engage with readers and other bloggers, promote what you do across social media channels, build relationships with PRs...if blogging not your full time job, and if you are also pregnant at the same time, this can be really bloody exhausting. But if you love it like I do, then it is still completely worth it.

Is there anything you like to do any time you visit somewhere new?

I love to get out and about and do something that feels a bit adventurous if I can. I have never been one of those people that could spend a whole week in the grounds of an all-inclusive hotel, or just lying on a beach.  Whether it's dolphin-watching in Oman, exploring wine country in California or spending a day boat-tripping, swimming and exploring the caves around Capri, I am never more happy than when I am exploring. Especially when Mr Sunshine's by my side.

Where is somewhere you've been or something you did that you didn't expect much of but ended up loving?

It's got to be moving to Doha. It was terrifying, and I wasn't sure I'd made the right decision for a while. This post sums up why I quickly changed my mind.

What is your pet peeve?

Elitist or snobby people. I think a true mark of a man/woman is how they speak to waiters and receptionists. If someone's as polite and kind to them as they would be to a CEO, celebrity or respected politician then I think you're onto a winner.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My little girl.

Now I have to hand the chain over to four more of my blogging sisters! I choose:

Rosalyn from Dream Days, a truly lovely human being and one of the best friends I have made through blogging thus far.
Noemi from Pinay Flying High, a fellow Doha blogger as well as foodie and world traveller. 
Kirsty from Life In Excess, just down the road in the UAE, who makes me laugh on a regular basis with her sharp wit and ability to write it like it is.
Shikha from Why Waste Annual Leave, one of the most talented travel bloggers I know, and a thoroughly lovely lass to boot.

The questions are:

Where is your all-time favourite destination?
Which post are you most proud of?
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party, alive or dead?
Do you have a favourite travel app?
What’s your favourite and least favourite thing about blogging?
Is anything you like to do any time you visit somewhere new?
Where is somewhere you’ve been or something you did that you didn’t expect much of, but ended up loving?
What’s you pet peeve?
What’s your most treasured possession?

Over to you ladies!