The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

11 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Price

A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. 😉

Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

6 Comments 02 May 2013

There’s a culture behind absolutely everything in life.

It serves the people who are involved in the industry or those who just like a particular hobby or subject. Though some things in life have a much bigger culture than others, like coffee.

These days, coffee is way more than just a perk-up drink. Some may say it always was, but it’s definitely become more popular and attracted more followers worldwide in the last 15 years than ever. In fact, I’d dare to say that the coffee and cafe culture that exists today might be even bigger than that off wine.

I love that everything has a culture and a following. One of my favorite activities is seeing where events lead me and ending up at some random place with people who are completely dedicated to something.

Following the trails of events dedicated to a particular subject has allowed me to be taught by one of the world’s most popular belly dancers, it’s led me to abandoned warehouses in North Philadelphia with epic parties and this weekend it brought me to The London Coffee Festival.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Because of my love for getting involved in different cultures and the fact that my dad is a metal salesman and almost every industry needs that, I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, which is basically what London Coffee Festival is, but better because it involves food, drink and is set in a very trendy Shoreditch warehouse.

Basically, it was my Woodstock.

I think I drank a total of six cups of coffee during my six-hour visit. I swear they were only little. I was so wired by the time I reached the last barista, I’m surprised he didn’t turn me away.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I learned a million new ways to make a cuppa and saw just as many devices used to do so. Am I the only person who didn’t know what an Aeropress was? I saw beans being roasted, pouring techniques, coffee art and learned about coffee harvesting around the world. Plus, like any trade show, visitors received loads of free samples and tastings.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It started as soon as I entered Old Truman Brewery and was handed a bag filled with the 2012 edition of The London Coffee Guide, mints, chips and more. During the event I got to try ice cream, cheeses, chai and chocolate. Google Local London gave me a free bag Union hand-roasted coffee beans for filling out reviews of London cafes on Google+.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a barista competition, which are quite intense. It’s kind of funny to watch people make coffee in front of an audience and judges while dance music plays in the background for people, like me, who have never seen it before.

It is an art though and great to see the best in action.

The UK Aeropress Championship took place at the London Coffee Festival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Further, there were some very innovative ideas and products on display that visitors of the event are often the first to see and can purchase usually at a discount. A few things amazed me.

The first was the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer, which is basically a French press in a bag. This appealed to me especially as a traveler, because your guaranteed to have good coffee on you and the tools to make it, no matter where you go.  I had visions of road trips when I saw it.

I sampled coffee from the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer upon arrival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I also liked BlankBox’s coffee subscription program. Basically, people subscribe to BlankBox as they would a magazine and for £10 a month receive a box with two bags of coffee beans from a variety of roasters to try. What’s interesting is that the bags are unmarked and only have a small red or blue colored box on each. You try the blend first and can check online to see where it was roasted and learn more about the blend.

The last thing I liked was Rok Kitchen Tools’ Espresso Maker. If you haven’t noticed, there has been an increase in at-home coffee machines lately that claim to make artisan coffees from little pods and tastes ‘just like the cafe’. It’s a cool idea, but I’ve yet to find one that actually accomplishes that. I thought Rok’s tool was really fun, because you get to play barista and be hands on, but it’s really straight forward and produces a great shot of espresso. Plus, you can use coffee beans from wherever you like. It requires no electricity other than to boil your water or heat your milk and even comes with a milk frother. Look at the video below to see how it works.

There were also endless educational talks and demonstrations offered throughout the festival, including a Lindt chocolate and coffee pairing. I’m sure everyone wanted to volunteer for that one. They even had parties, coffee-inspired cocktails and live music performances throughout the festival. Coffee martini anyone?

The only problem with going to any festival of experts in a certain area, especially one as hip as coffee, is that some of the people can be quite pretentious. It was rare, but it was definitely there.

Overall I had such a good time and the value of samples, advice and coffee was worth much more than the prices of admission. I can’t encourage travelers enough to visit one of these shows no matter what the focus. They’re so much fun, a great learning experience and include some really interesting products. The Coffee Festival was especially good, but you can’t really go wrong with good coffee though can you?

The London Coffee Festival granted me press admission to cover this event.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. 😉

Wine, nature, design and burgers (what!) in Napa Valley

Destinations, Favorite Things, Road Trip, USA, USA, Wine and Coffee

Wine, nature, design and burgers (what!) in Napa Valley

7 Comments 01 February 2013

While wine is definitely Napa Valley’s claim to fame with almost 950 wineries, about 450 of which you can visit. That isn’t all the Northern California destination has to offer.

For instance, did you know that Yountville, a town in the Valley, has the most Michelin Star restaurants per capita in North America? Did you also know that Napa is a geothermal area, home to one of three Old Faithful geysers? Finally, were you aware that there is an actual castle in this wine region?

From food to nature to architecture, and obviously to wine, Napa Valley surprised me on every level, and this is after only one day of visiting the area.

Since, I only spent a day here, I’m not writing a full guide about it, nor am I writing a piece highlighting Napa’s must sees. For that, I recommend visiting The Napa Wine Project or yTravel Blog. I’m merely going to explain why I chose the stops I did, and why I think you should consider them too.

Before I begin let me just make one thing clear, my day with Ric in Napa was extremely random. We started out only planning to visit, tour and taste at three wineries, some of which are located over a 30-minute drive from Downtown Napa, where we spent the night at Skyline Wilderness Park.

I chose to do this, because I wanted to actually be in the places where wines I had heard so much about are being made. I knew this meant I would be spitting out my tastings, which just feels wrong, because I was driving. But I’ve discovered that there are a million ways to see Napa and on my first time there, this is how I wanted to do it.

So I got to see a lot of the Valley and Ric…well he got pissed, as he was drinking for two, which would explain the last visit on this list.

Ric watching Old Faithful erupt in Napa Valley. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Nature in Napa

It’s impossible to miss this. Venture out of downtown Napa and you’ll start to follow roads lined with California Oak Trees, catch your ears popping as you drive higher and higher into the hills and maybe even spot steam coming out of the ground.

This area is home to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, where visitors can see indigenous trees, such as coastal redwoods, Douglas-Fir and Tanoak. Those who are lucky might also spot deer, foxes and bobcats.

Napa is also a geothermal area. Ric spotted Old Faithful Geyser on the way out to our first stop on the agenda. We were really confused as we both thought it was in Yellow Stone National Park.

We found out there are actually three Old Faithfuls. If you’ve seen the one in Yellowstone, don’t bother with the one in Napa as you will be very disappointed, but if you’ve never seen a geyser before and you’re not on too tight a budget (this attraction is $14 per adult) it’s worth a stop and you’re guaranteed to see it erupt as it does so every five to ten minutes. Plus, they have a petting farm there with lambs. Need I say more?

Chateau Montelena winery was built in 1886 and French-inspired. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Chateau Montelena

This is the winery that put Napa on the wine world’s map. In 1976 Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay won a blind taste test held in Paris that put French wines against Californian wines. This tasting was huge. Not only did it prove that France was no longer the only place capable of making great wines, but it also proved that the vintners in California knew what they were doing.

A basic tasting here costs $20 per person. Visitors can see a bottle of the winning Chardonnay from 1973. They can also check out the winery’s old-world architecture and a very unexpected Japanese garden.

I felt like a princess as Ric photographed me on the steps of this Napa Valley castle. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Castello di Amorosa

Driving up a small road, lined with Italian Cypress Trees, vineyards to both sides and forests separating the property from the outside world, a building begins to appear.

“That’s an actual castle,” were my words to be exact, and I’m sure the words of many who visit Castello di Amorosa.

This 121,000-square-foot castle was a dream to create for owner Dario Sattui, who also owns V. Sattui Winery. His Italian heritage, fascination with Tuscan and medieval design and determination to create something spectacular have made this a dream come true for visitors to Napa as well.

Enter the castle up stone steps and across a drawbridge. A small information office will be to your right, where you can purchase tickets to tour the castle and taste its wines. Otherwise, visitors are allowed to roam certain areas of the castle on their own and sample the wines for a general admission price of $18.

It was easy to see how much our guide Jeff loved coming to work at the castle every day and be in the California sun. I think touring the castle would have been wonderful no matter how we did it, but Jeff made the experience incredible.

Jeff led our group of eight through the castle’s main dining area, courtyard, caves where barrels of wine are kept and even a torture chamber, all while talking about the history of the place, how it was made and characteristics about the wine making process. Everything in the castle is hand made and designed after medieval times. The wine is even made in a traditional Italian method, fermented in barrels, residue scraped out, instead of being filtered.

The wine at this boutique winery is wonderful, but most people visit to see the castle. Luckily, with Castello di Amorosa’s castle tour, visitors can tour the grounds and try ten different wines from their collection for $33.

There are so many ways to see this winery. It’s a given that any visitor to Napa should tour the grounds their first time. After that, look into the castle’s many parties throughout the year.

It’s incredible how much thought was put into the design at Darioush and continues to be put into the vineyard’s wine and hospitality. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Darioush

Walking into this winery, which is actually based off a castle as well, I had mixed emotions. Everything about the open room visitors walk into is perfect. A nice mixture of modern pieces and ancient design, all somehow mixed together in a way that just works.

Though in other places I might have, I didn’t get that museum, do-not-touch feeling, nor did I feel like I didn’t belong. Maybe it was the warm lighting in the room or the smiling faces all around, but walking into the classiest winery I’ve ever been to, I immediately felt right at home.

I felt the warmth in Darioush’s welcome within seconds of entering the winery. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This is one of the many details proprietor Darioush Khaledi thought about when he found his winery in 1997. Hospitality is one of the most important aspects of Persian culture, and Khaledi, who emigrated to the USA from Iran in the 1970s definitely made sure to highlight this at his vineyard, as well as several other characteristics of Persian culture.

The design of the cellar door at Darioush is actually based off Apadana Palace constructed by King Darius in Persia’s ancient capital city, Persepolis, which is near modern-day Shiraz, Iran where Khaledi grew up. Pomegranate trees welcome visitors as the front entrance. There is an amphitheater in the back. A collection of Khaledi’s maps of the Persian empire line the hallway to the bathroom. Plus they serve Persian-roasted pistachios, made with lime and salt.

This attention to detail carries over to the wine at Darioush. Khaledi plays a strong part in the wine making process, which is led by Steve M. Devitt. Our hostess, Michelle Romaine, who is extremely knowledgeable about the wine and history at Darioush, guided us through a tasting of their Signature Flight, which includes five different wines for $35.

For it, Ric and I sat down on leather chairs in our own personal tasting area in the main room. Each wine was clean and tasty, but my favorites were Duel, a cabernet/shiraz blend, and Capataz, which is a Malbec made from the Argentinian grapes.

I think it’s the traveler in me that is so drawn to Darioush, stepping onto this vineyard, feels like stepping out into another world, another time. Khaledi’s global influences, his interest in history from his homeland and wine from around the world, makes this winery a very special place to visit in Napa Valley.

Big D Burgers

Anyone who follows this blog or me on other networks, knows Ric has a thing for American burgers. Unless he is in Philadelphia, in which case he only orders cheese steaks, he will order a burger for almost every meal at almost every restaurant we visit. So for him to say Big D Burgers is his favorite in America. That means something, even if he was a few wines deep.

The burger shack looks like it hasn’t changed since the 50s, nor has its prices. He bought one quarter-pounder with cheese, curly fries and a drink and got another quarter-pounder free. You can bet I stole quite a few bites and sips of everything and-wow. The burgers are pretty standard, but made to perfection.

There are so many places in Napa known for culinary excellency that you should definitely take advantage of, but when you want to save money on a good meal during your stay, this is the best place we found to do it.

If you don’t want to worry about driving, some good options include, hiring a designated driver, booking a tour, purchasing a wine tasting card and sampling at various wine houses all in walking distance from each other in downtown Napa, taking the wine train or paying $1 for a single journey to various wineries on the Calistoga Shuttle.

All of my stops might already be included in the options above. Otherwise, I highly recommend making an effort to see each on their own or to convince one person in your group to take one for the team and follow this one day itinerary. Thank them with a burger, you’re going to get one for free any way.

Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A special thanks to Castello di Amorosa and Darioush for sponsoring my visit to Napa Valley.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Hump day photo: Rippon Vineyard

Destinations, Favorite Things, New Zealand, Other, Photography, Wine and Coffee

Hump day photo: Rippon Vineyard

No Comments 02 May 2012

Vineyards, blue waters and even a snow-capped mountain, views don’t get much better than this.

The night before leaving Wellington for an epic South Island adventure, I thought what better way to cheers the voyage than with a glass of one of New Zealand’s finest wine with my dad at Ancestral.

The posh restaurant was running a Riesling-inspired campaign featuring vineyards from all around New Zealand. Since we were planning to visit Wanaka, we tried a glass of the white wine from one of the region’s best wineries, Rippon. I prefer reds, so to enjoy a glass of white that much, I had to visit the place.

So we did.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I was expecting a great tasting, even to spend a bit of money on a few bottles of wine, but I wasn’t expecting the view. Located on Mount Aspiring Road, a dirt path guides cars uphill to the cellar door, passing line after line of grape vines along the way. At the top is a modern, stone cellar door with a few tables set up outside facing the spectacular view of Lake Wanaka, the Buchanan Mountain Range and vineyards seen here.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)

Realizing good coffee

Australia, Destinations, Favorite Things, New Zealand, Wine and Coffee

Realizing good coffee

5 Comments 16 September 2011

I remember it like it was yesterday. The day I learned I know nothing about coffee.
Fresh off a great two month journey up Australia’s East coast, I arrived in Port Douglas, ready to work. I walked into a busy cafe called rehab with the local paper’s classified section in hand.
Falling in love with the cafe instantly, I thought, “Why not here?” And as luck would have it they posted a “barista wanted” sign in the window. With my one-year-worth of experience as a barista at Starbucks in the States, I walked up to the counter with confidence and asked the dreadlocked manager for a job.
“Do you know how to make coffee?” he asked.
“Why yes sir,” I replied. “I worked at Starbucks.”
“Then you don’t know how to make coffee,” he said with a judgmental look and continued what he was doing.
At first I chucked it up to Aussie arrogance. But the more I traveled and the more I tasted, the more I realized how right he was.
Forgetting all the reasons people hate or love Starbucks, I’m sorry but they’re coffee is not very good. Sorry, it’s true.
I know the company treats their employees well, but giving an 18-year-old an hour-long online coffee course and a few hours of training at an automatic coffee machine, does not make him or her a barista.
I learned this in Australia, but am now trying to learn what does make a person a barista in New Zealand. What I’m finding is that it’s practice and attention.
It’s amazing how much they care about coffee down here and quite refreshing. It’s not just a job, it’s an art.
I was a frequent customer at a tiny cafe called Origins in Port Douglas. The barista there would buy antique or hard to find coffee-making objects. I saw through him what it meant to care about coffee. It payed off, I couldn’t get enough of the place and still long for their cappuccinos.
I worked at a small cafe called Neighbours on Chapel Street in Australia and the baristas there were obsessed with creating a perfect cup of coffee for each customer each time. As a waitress there I saw what that meant when most customers averaged three cups and quite a few visited more than once a day.
I’m not saying that coffee is completely terrible in the states. In fact, I know it’s not. On a recent trip home, I visited a number of places that served coffee with attention. They created a perfect shot, frothed the milk just right and even created designs between the coffee in milk. I just think that places like these are unfortunately overlooked.
So I’m pledging to myself to learn to make coffee like they do down under and I think at home people should embrace small coffee shops that are doing something similar to here.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The day I learned that I knew nothing about coffee.

Fresh off a great two month journey up Australia’s East coast, I arrived in Port Douglas, ready to work. I walked into a busy cafe called Rehab, now closed, with the local paper’s classified section in hand.

Falling in love with the cafe instantly, I thought, “Why not here?” And as luck would have it they posted a “barista wanted” sign in the window. With my one-year-worth of experience as a barista at Starbucks in the States, I walked up to the counter with confidence and asked the dreadlocked manager for a job.

“Do you know how to make coffee?” he asked.

“Why yes sir,” I replied. “I worked at Starbucks.”

“Then you don’t know how to make coffee,” he said with a judgmental look and continued what he was doing.

At first I chucked it up to Aussie arrogance. But the more I traveled and the more I tasted, the more I realized how right he was.

Forgetting all the reasons people hate or love Starbucks, I’m sorry but their coffee is not very good.

I know the company treats their employees well, but giving an 18-year-old an hour-long online course and a few hours of training at an automatic coffee machine, does not make him or her a barista.

I learned this in Australia, but am now trying to learn what does make a person a barista in New Zealand. What I’m finding is that it’s practice and attention.

It’s amazing how much they care about coffee down here and quite refreshing. It’s not just a job, it’s an art.

I was a frequent customer at a tiny cafe called Origins in Port Douglas. The barista there would buy antique or hard to find coffee-making objects. I saw through him what it meant to care about coffee. It payed off, I couldn’t get enough of the place and still long for their cappuccinos.

I worked at a small cafe called Neighbours on Chapel Street in Melbourne and the baristas there were obsessed with creating a perfect cup of coffee for each customer each time. As a waitress there I saw what that meant when most customers averaged three cups and quite a few visited more than once a day.

I’m not saying that coffee is completely terrible in the states. In fact, I know it’s not. On a recent trip home, I visited a number of places that served coffee with attention. They created a perfect shot, frothed the milk just right and even created designs between the coffee in milk. I just think that places like these are unfortunately overlooked.

So I’m pledging to myself to learn to make coffee like they do down under and I think at home people should embrace small coffee shops that are doing something similar to here.

Banner photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon, taken at Rehab.

Know of a great coffee shop somewhere in Oz, NZ or USA? Post is below so readers know where to go.

Like what you see? Follow me on Bloglovin’, Twitter and Facebook to keep up with what I’m writing about. ;)


Follow on Bloglovin
Powered by Unanchor.com
blogger badge (1)

© 2013 Heels and Wheels. Powered by Wordpress.

Daily Edition Theme by WooThemes - Premium Wordpress Themes