Sophia Molly: Six Month Update

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Another month, another milestone. Half a year has flown by in a flash and every time I look at my daughter these days I no longer see a tiny baby, but a little girl emerging, with her own (big!) personality and preferences. At the risk of sounding super cheesy, I feel like I fall more in love with this little girl every single day; she is turning into such a bright, bubbly and beautiful child, and I find myself looking forward to every day to see which new developments are in store!

Once again, Sophia has changed a lot in just four weeks - so much that there's almost too much to mention in one post!

This month Sophia has liked:

Attending several blog events, where she has been cooed over, photographed and cuddled by soo many different people! She's turning into a bit of a social butterfly and is loving the attention!

Flying home once again to see her family and to help to celebrate her grandpa's 60th birthday, which just happened to fall on the same day as her 6 month birthday! She enjoyed meeting her cousin Amelie again, being carried in her Ergobaby carrier on a long walk through the woods, listening to a choir sing in Ely Cathedral with her two grannies, laughing her head off with her hilarious godmother and playing in a pretty restaurant garden with her grandpa, aunties and uncles.

Starting her baby-led weaning journey by exploring some new foods and textures and enjoying a few delicious purées too. She loves throwing everything around, squeezing fruit through her fingers and making a really good mess for me to clean up. Lucky mummy!

Attending her first few sessions at nursery, where she's made some new friends and been involved in exciting sensory play. She particularly liked exploring a bowl full of ice, and celebrating one of her new friend's first birthday with a party.

Starting Theatre Tots where she liked feeling different fabrics, chewing on pom poms and enjoyed the music.

Swimming with mummy, daddy and their friends in their pool.

Calling daddy on FaceTime at work.

The freedom that her newfound mobility has given her!

This month Sophia has disliked:

Napping. Yup, daytime sleeping is soo last month donchaknow!

Actually sleeping in general...still! She has such an overactive little mind, and just wants to be up and about and exploring all the time. Last night I found myself clambering after her as she escaped my arms in bed at around 10pm. She was attempting to pull herself up into a standing position and climb up the headboard, spiderman-style. Does this child realise that she is only six months old and shouldn't be ready for all of this athleticism just yet?!

Taking her bottle at nursery. She just point blank refuses to drink until I get there and can feed her myself. I am happy that she still enjoys breast feeding so much, but it does cause me an awful lot of worry when nursery calls to tell me she hasn't had a single drop of milk for six hours straight.

This month's firsts:

First time crawling

First time pulling herself into a standing position (Lord help us!)

First time eating anything other than fruit chunks, including purees and "proper" food like mashed sweet potato

First few sips of water

First time she's started to understand that playing peek-a-boo is the most fun in the world!

It's been a month of change, and (apart from the sleepless nights) I've loved every minute.

My Top Restaurants in Al Sadd and Fereej Bin Mahmoud

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Outside the bright lights of Doha city, hugging the C Ring Road as it bends round towards Hamad International Airport, lie two neighbourhoods whose culinary delights had, until fairly recently, remained unexplored by Mr Sunshine and me. For our first two years in Qatar we played it safe, preferring to stick to the acclaimed and popular hotel restaurants around West Bay and the marina-side eateries near to our home on The Pearl. But for months now, Al Sadd and Fereej Bin Mahmoud have been rapidly making their mark on Qatar's food map, and several restaurants in particular are making it difficult for us to continue to overlook these residential districts when it comes to choosing a place to eat out.

Over the past year and a bit, we have made it our aim to push ourselves out of our central-Doha comfort zone to explore the places that these two neighbouring areas have to offer. Now, after extensive research in the form of many, many meals out (it's a tough life!), in no particular order, here are my top four.

1. Mainland China

Behind an unassuming façade in Barwa Towers lies one of the most vibrant and aesthetically-pleasing restaurants to open its doors in Doha for a long time. Luckily, the artistic decor is not a ruse; the food is just as delicately beautiful as the restaurant itself. The menu is difficult to fault: extensive, diverse, interesting, refined and most importantly, value for money.

Don't miss: the Dim Sum (particular favourites are the steamed sea bass dumplings with truffle oil), the Crispy Duck Rolls, the Steamed Seabass Fillet, the Lamb Chops in the most delicious 'Chef's Special Sauce' and those so-naughty-they're-nice Coconut Dumplings...

2. Lo Spaghetto

We first visited Lo Spaghetto on a beautiful Spring day when I was 8 months pregnant and I remember feeling slightly underwhelmed by the food but completely overwhelmed by the atmosphere. The pretty, leafy courtyard and Mediterranean vibe of the restaurant is unparalleled in Doha. Are there better Italian restaurants in Doha? Most certainly, yes. Are there any with a more authentically Italian ambience which can transport you straight to a village Trattoria in the foothills of Umbria? I'm yet to find one.

Don't miss: the Caprése Salad and the Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino alla Gigi.

3. The French Olive

This dual Italian and French restaurant is an Instagrammer's dream, with sparkling white tiled walls and a display of pretty blue and white patterned porcelain plates down one side; eclectic colours and character aplenty. The food is all freshly made, using only the finest ingredients, and the menu offers a healthier alternative to some of the other offerings in the vicinity. Just check the prices of each dish carefully before ordering: some are extortionate and it's easy to get stung!

Don't miss: the freshly baked sourdough bread and breakfast items from the on-site patisserie; the wagyu burger; any of the delicious freshly-baked pizzas.

4. Cicchetti

Cicchetti Doha opened its doors earlier this year to widespread acclaim. It is part of the San Carlo group of award winning contemporary Italian restaurants, which have grown to become a £60 million restaurant empire. Over the past six months since its opening over 30,000 customers have graced the restaurant with their presence, and it's easy to see why: its upmarket ambience and chic interiors are mirrored by a refined and sophisticated menu with a few superbly executed, completely stand-out dishes. The perfect date night venue.

Don't miss: the Calamari; the hand made Truffle and Pecorino Ravioli; the Venetian Cod.

Best of the rest

Oishi Sushi: one of Doha's more authentic and reasonably-priced Japanese restaurants, located in Royal Plaza Mall.

Roger's Diner: a typically American joint with quirky interiors serving fast food and larger than life desserts.

Sabai Thai: one of Doha's most recently-celebrated Thai restaurants, located in The Westin with an absolute killer of an express lunch deal (QAR 65 for three courses!)

Sky View: One of Qatar's best rooftop bars, on the 11th floor of La Cigale Hotel, showcasing stunning views of the Doha skyline, and excellent sushi & sharing platters to boot.

Have you eaten at any restaurants outside of your usual stomping ground that have surprised you recently?

Our Honeymoon: A Memorable Meal at Don Alfonso 1890, Amalfi Coast

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

For over a century, Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890 has nestled in the centre of the quaint little village of Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi, approximately half an hour from the famous town of Sorrento. And for over a Century, it has wowed its clientele with its innovative twist on traditional Italian cooking, carefully crafted by generation after generation of the same talented family.

Despite being slightly off the beaten path, and nowhere near anywhere we were staying on our honeymoon tour of the Amalfi Coast, the restaurant's two Michelin stars, interesting menu and glowing reviews lured us in and we decided that it was probably worth a detour.

We weren't wrong. In fact, six perfectly executed tasting menu courses (plus one extra off-menu course for us to sample) and several glasses of bubbly, red wine and Limoncello later and we had both agreed that this was the most memorable meal of our lives. Here's why:

Every dish was unique

The baked egg with burrata and black truffle for example, which arrived looking exactly like nothing more complex than a raw egg in a dish, but which tasted so delicate yet complex that we both exclaimed in surprise.

The Gnocchi also surprised us with its warm, gooey liquid centres of smoked Scamorza and cherry tomato, which oozed out as we bit in.

And the pièce de résistance was the dramatic dessert platter complete with lashings of dry ice, which poured out over our table, creating the drama that each of these unique creations deserved.

The entire menu exuded passion

Livia, mother of head chef Ernesto runs the front of house and makes it her priority to circle the pretty white tables each evening, checking the guests are comfortable and answering any questions that they might have. She arrived at our table just as the mozzarella soufflé was being served by our waiter.

She described how her son had shut himself away in the kitchen for six whole months to perfect this dish; how it became an all-consuming obsession until he had got it just right. As she spoke, I wondered how a dish so simple could have become so important to him, but as soon as I tasted it I understood. I know that it will be a long time before I eat something so perfect, in texture, taste and composition.

The soufflé was incredible but it wasn't unique. Every dish that comes out of that kitchen uses simple ingredients but is the product of complex techniques and an incredible amount of passion.

The food was about more than just the finished product

Since 1896, the kitchen has used produce from its own dedicated farm Le Peracciole, which lies a few miles away on the coast facing the island of Capri. Tended by Alfonso's father (and Livia's husband) Alfonso, this seven hectare vegetable garden provides an array of beautiful organic ingredients for the restaurant, from olive oil and lemons, to seed, grain and tomatoes.

The restaurant's wine list is also given very careful consideration. In fact, the extensive wine cellar which dates back to the fifteenth century is one of the most interesting things about the villa in which the restaurant is housed, and we were lucky enough to be taken on a quick tour down the ancient stone staircase which leads to the maze of chambers which house the 25,000 or so bottles on offer to the restaurant's patrons.

We felt like a part of the family

We were welcomed warmly at the door, as if we were old friends visiting the family home for dinner. We were congratulated throughout the meal for our recent nuptials, and our meal was turned into a celebration by the kind staff.

When we had finished, Livia asked if we would like to visit the kitchens and meet her son, and we jumped at the chance to shake the hand of the man who had concocted the best meal of our lives.

She then invited us into their family home, to show us maps of the farm, and talk about the history of the restaurant. It was clear to us that this was far more than a business to her, it was her entire life, and we were so grateful to her for sharing her passion with us so warmly.

We didn't want to leave

It was nearing midnight when Livia finally led us out to our waiting cab. We had arrived for an early dinner and I wasn't sure where the last five hours had gone! I waved out of the back window of the cab as we pulled away, Livia still standing out on the pavement to see us off. I felt as though we were leaving old, beloved friends, and even though we had been there for a short amount of time, I knew that this meal would live on in our memories for a very long time to come.

Mr Sunshine says:

"This truly was a unique experience for both of us. For a two Michelin Star restaurant, I was expecting glitz and glamour but the look and feel of the restaurant was actually pretty unassuming. That's the beauty of this place: they let the food do the talking. From cheese soufflés to decadent desserts, every bite had us smiling from ear to ear! A family institution and one we were honoured to be a part of, for a few hours at least!"

Don Alfonso 1890 | Corso Sant'Agata, 11/13, 80064 Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi, Massa Lubrense NA, Italy | +39 081 878 0026

End note: At the end of the night we were ushered from the house to our waiting cab and as we were a little tipsy by this point, we didn't realise that we hadn't paid for our meal until we were almost back at our hotel. We were left wondering whether this meal was given to us for free or whether it was an oversight that we were not asked for payment at the end. If it was the latter and we left without paying then we are truly sorry to this lovely family who welcomed us so warmly! We emailed to apologise, and next time we are back on the Amalfi Coast, we have promised that we will come back to foot the bill (and have another incredible meal of course)!

I am posting this as part of the monthly travel link-up with Angie JessiEmma and co-host Tanja at Red Phone Box Travels. This month is all about memorable food experiences - link-up your post before the 7th!