Lochside Lunch

This is just a quick little post about one of my favourite day-trip places to eat. Situated on the banks of Loch Venachar just outside Callendar, Venachar Lochside is a perfect little ‘taste of Scotland’ cafe with stunning views. It has a 4 star Scottish tourist rating amongst countless awards…Scotland’s Best Restaurant 2014 – Scottish Baking Awards, Taste Our Best 2014/15 – Visit Scotland and Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015! If that’s not enough to convince you, read on.

It’s my absolute favourite to go to with the girls on a sunny day for a ‘ladies who lunch’ day. The staff are delightful, polite and seem to all really get on which I like a lot – it’s a great atmosphere to dine in.

Go hungry. Their portions are generous and you have to leave room for some of the incredible home made cakes. If they have the coffee cake, get it and get a bit to take home – it’s divine!

I usually opt for mussels or their very homely and tasty cullin skink soup – I love fish. Their menu is refreshed regularly and never fails to give me that ‘oh but I want three different things’ feeling. Click here for a sample menu. 

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Equally as good as the fresh, tasty Scottish fayre is the beautiful view from the huge windows. Sit outside if it’s sunny, it’s a perfect scene. I wish I had taken more photos of the inside, it’s very simple and I can see why people have their weddings there. I really need to get Tina up there for an afternoon, I’m sure my Dad would love to get out on the boats too. I wanted to jump into one and putter off into the sun.

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Give their Facebook page a like here, if only to drool over the albums of food and cakes…

NAF Glasgow Guuurl

This is the face of a very happy lady! Not only because I’ve got a cracking new set of gels on the nails I’ve been growing and carefully babying for weeks…but because one of my oldest and dearest friends has just realised a business dream, I’m so proud!

Years ago, Tammy started painting nails in her bedroom in Stirling. I’m pretty sure her first leopard print nails were done with a sharpie on some Bodycare falsies and she’ll probably kill me for that. But if there’s ever a better example of making a dream come true, it’s Tammy and her brand new salon – NAF.

It stands for nails & face if you hadn’t already got that…Tammy has taken her DIY Nails business and expanded into the beauty market with a fully stocked salon doing nails, make up and soon to include henna, extensions and more! It’s basically your one-stop-shop for looking great in Glasgow.

I’m going to leave this as a photo post from here on because just LOOK AT IT! Definitely going to be the most instagrammed salon in Glasgow.

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Betty inspects the job the girls have done before you’re allowed to leave…

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Tammy did a beautiful job on some pale pink gels for me and I couldn’t resist a wee selfie session in front of the mirrors…

NAF has just opened in Central Chambers, if you’re walking down Waterloo St look up and you’ll see her emoji-windows! If you’ve never treated yourself to a proper manicure before, then why not? You’re in very good, very talented hands and you’ll leave feeling so sassy. I’ve popped their opening offers price list below, can you believe how bloody reasonable that is!? Make sure you book because they are sure to be busy – nafsalon.com

facebook.com/nafsalon  //  instagram.com/nafsalon  //  twitter.com/nafsalon  //  56, 1st Floor, 12 Waterloo St, Glasgow

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Birthday Bar Crawl

Last Sunday it was my wonderful flatmate’s 25th birthday and to celebrate her quarter life crisis, we decided to do what we do best –  drink lots and lots of alcohol and take lots of photos of it. I’ll leave this post as fairly photo heavy and text light, but we had a cracking day touring about Glasgow and it really made me miss the West End!

First up was breakfast in Stirling at Monterey Jack’s. I’ve never been up early enough for their famous pancakes and I’m so glad we made it. I over ordered as usual…

We had a few train issues due to some industrial action and I felt a bit like Samantha from SATC trying to get us to Glasgow but we managed it and the celebrations kicked off straight away with the standard birthday embarrassment for Marzy! A woman across from us couldn’t stop laughing at us with our table cover, birthday banners and tacky alcohol (it was after 12!). That and I kept calling the new passengers gatecrashers…

We headed straight to the West End for midday mojitos in Vodka Wodka and a HUGE lunch at Cafe Andaluz. It was absolutely ideal, I felt like I was on holiday.

All that food was a big case of make or break and I’m so glad I had that ridiculously strong espresso (with condensed milk, GAME CHANGER). We headed back into the city centre on a recommendation to head to Sugar Dumplin’ with a quick dive into Lush first to pick up our #gayisOK soap bars. If you’ve not head of the campaign, you can still support it here.

The decor is so cool, no other word for it. I loved it and I’m getting George to make me a light fixture out of the copious number of empty gin bottles I have.

Sadly the atmosphere was severely lacking due to it being completely empty but I can imagine if it was busy, it really would feel like you were in the Caribbean (if you don’t look out the window). The cocktails were standard prices and tasty and the staff were fab, but I’d probably only head back in if I knew it’d be busier.

We finally made it to the place we’d planned to go to all along – Gin 71. Cup on the corner of Renfield St turns into a fantastic, juuuust slightly opulent gin bar after 6pm and it’s definitely my new favourite Glasgow haunt. I made a bold order of a No3 gin with coriander and lemongrass with Fevertree tonic. It’s one of the tastiest ways to serve a strong gin and I love it. The range is fantastic and the staff are super knowledgeable…and particularly handsome. By this time I was suitably rosy cheeked and I think I fell in love with one of the beardy barmen. I don’t even mind if they tell him, he was lovely.

I’m actually worrying about the sheer amount of different alcohol that I put in my wee body. This post doesn’t include the ‘waiting for the train to Glasgow gin’ or the ‘waiting for the train to Stirling gin’…

We made it home and popped into the Curly Coo to say hello to Mandy, the cracking wee landlady. She was all excited to say Happy Birthday to Marzy and even came to the table with a ferrero rocher with a candle in it. Adorable. I took a wee snap of the pub but I think I’ll do a proper post on it because it really is my favourite pub in Stirling.

You’d think we’d be taking it easy after all that but no no, we’re off out tonight. Don’t think I’ll do a blog post about pre-drinks pitch perfect soundtrack karaoke and ring of fire though…

Where did we go?

Vodka Wodka – Ashton Lane, Hillhead subway and turn left.

Cafe Andaluz – Cresswell Lane, come out of Vodka Wodka and stumble along the cobbles.

Sugar Dumplin’ – Princes Square, right at the top – go on a Saturday.

Gin 71 – In Cup but only after 6pm, near Burger Meats Bun on the corner of Renfield St.

Curly Coo – Stirling, but worth the trip through just to meet Mandy.


Hair Mare: Blonde Ambition

This is a hugely shallow post about my hair. Carry on if you enjoy that, I do.

Recently I’ve accepted a fate. During a deep, wine fuelled discussion about which Friends character we each were, it was unanimously decided that I was Rachel. At first I was like ‘maaate I’m Chandler’, but after it was pointed out that I have very little trouble with finding men (just lots of trouble keeping them), I’m an ex-cheerleader (haha I know), I have a serious shopping problem, I spend money like it’s not mine, I waitressed for years, my ankles weigh me down, I send badly judged 3am messages and I have had the same hair style for…forever, I took it. Actually, the more I think about it, there are frightening similarities.

I’m now saved in my flatmate’s phone as ‘Blonde Ambition’ after a nightmare week of hair changes which have left me with a fresh, lighter tone for summer. She’s in mine as Burgundy Sparrow but that’s a whole different story… Anyway, I’ve made some hair changes for the first time in years and you may be looking at these photos thinking, eh Lauren that’s the same as before but for me it’s v different! I had grown out my wintery auburn ombre and I wanted a change.

First stop was my usual hairdresser, who I adore and I’ve trusted with my hair for years and years. I’ve followed him from salon to salon and even used to come back through from Glasgow to get my hair done here in Stirling. This time it just wasn’t what I wanted, and it’s just as much my fault for not being clear and not having the balls to go ’em that wasn’t what I wanted’. The top of my hair ended up very stripy, it just wasn’t me at all. The photos below don’t really show just how bright the blonde was on top, I spent a few days plaiting it onto my head to try and hide it!

The ends were a very bright yellow blonde too, which was just too harsh for my skin. I’ve usually got a bit of a tan (not real, plz) in summertime anyway but it was clashing terribly with my general skin tone and eyes. I walked home from the salon in a total panic and found myself booking an appointment with the Rainbow Rooms for a few days later to get it fixed. Saturday rolled around and I found myself sitting having a really delightful salon experience. Double consultation with my stylist and the head honcho who discussed numbers and tones and made sure I was getting exactly what I wanted. I had a couple of lovely strong coffees, an incredible head massage and the colour work they’ve done is fantastic. The stripes are completely toned down and the ends are a lovely rose gold to ash blonde.

Unfortunately, half an hour later I found myself nearly fainting in Boots. I was having a reaction to the dye. I managed to sit myself down, get some sugary tea and food in me and meet my Gran for our usual Saturday bingo thinking I’d be fine and it would just pass once I had some fresh air. Turns out it got worse and I was having a mild anaphylactic shock. I’m allergic to nuts (amongst a few other things) and I know the signs, so when my tongue felt like it didn’t quite fit in my mouth I started to fairly panic. I called NHS24 and twenty minutes later I was in an ambulance on my way to hospital. They didn’t know if this was it as bad as it was going to get or if it was going to get worse. Oh joy. Turns out I was going to be fine but it wasn’t exactly a fun Saturday. I won’t be letting dye touch my skin again and although the salon did a patch test, I’ll stick to foils and my natural hair on top from now on. The joys of having an ombre hairstyle, no one knows if it’s roots or you meant it.

Stirling Eats: Bite East

Yep, I’ve dyed half my head blonde again. Half love it and half in absolute horror that the top of my head is stripy. It’s turned me into a total hair-zilla this week and luckily I’m getting it fixed on Saturday morning. My poor natural brown! Anyway, I’m writing this up a hill in the 26 degree… cloud-shine? It’s roasting but the sun is hiding, there I’ve invented a new weather term. There’s a couple lying on the other side watching me with great interest, reaaaaaally hoping I don’t get mugged for my mac.

Last night I continued my journey around the fantastic independent restaurants in Stirling. I’ve said before, it’s pretty hard to find somewhere to eat that isn’t a chain but the little guys are fighting back. None more than Bite East. The evening was organised between myself and Cailin who owns the restaurant. She had popped into the office to ask about working with us over Freshers, doing some promotion etc and my boss mentioned I blogged. A few quick emails back and forth and I assembled some troops in the form of new bloggers, Clare & Hollie and seasoned professional, Sharon. It was actually really nice to get a group of people who don’t know each other together and we all had a good giggle.

Bite East is located right in the centre of town on Port Street in a beautiful old building which I remember being called Little Johns (showing my age). It still has the old, pretty stained glassed windows – I’m so glad they didn’t get rid of them. We were given a big table right at the front door, which was a blessing on such a muggy night, but I do recommend you ask to sit up the back at the more ‘romantic’ tables.

We kicked off with some very refreshing fruit punches and bubble teas. I’m 50/50 on bubble tea, I find it a really funny consistency but the fruit punch was ideal. I had a very tasty passionfruit one which came with yogurt flavoured balls in the bottom, the girls laughed at me when I said ‘It makes my drink fun’ ‘eh, that’s what alcohol is for Lauren!’

Cailin had worked out a menu for us in advance and it wasn’t long until the sushi was coming thick and fast. My goodness I’ve never seen such beautiful presentation in a restaurant. Nothing was tacky or overdone, it was Instagram heaven. I’m not a sushi novice, I’ve had a fair few visits to YO in my time but this sushi was something else. So fresh and light…and huge.

Things kicked off with little warm battered balls called Takoyaki with octopus. I love calamari so I was so down with these. The flakes are actually delicately thin slices of dried fish which gave the whole thing a lovely aroma. Next up were some beautiful California rolls with crab and avocado, a sprinkling of roe and a Japanese mayo. I had forgotten how good it was to dunk one of these babies in some soy and shove the whole thing in your mouth. Even if I did look like a hamster.

Next up, the Nigiri Combo and Sashimi Combo. A raw fish lovers heaven. I can get fully onboard with the salmon, tuna and prawn but I couldn’t have a raw scallop. I just can’t have them any other way than fried quickly in butter… The fish was incredibly fresh and beautifully chilled on a bed of ice & shredded Japanese radish. You can start to see what I mean about the presentation, so much work goes in to each plate. Never mind slapping some chips down, this is art!

We reached the end of our sushi adventure with this little guy, what a handsome and inquisitive chap! He almost distracted me from how delicious the Dragon rolls are, but I was quick to ruin the presentation and nab his prawn dragon tail from the other end. A crispy fried piece of king prawn with that moreish sticky rice and a little avocado jacket. The drizzled sauce was a sweet teriyaki style glaze and I reckon this was my favourite from the whole selection!

We were all suitably stuffed in that nice way that sushi makes you, but we were nowhere near done. Even writing this I keep letting out little slow ‘I’m still full’ breaths. The mains started coming pretty quickly, which is a testament to the chefs – I love quick service!

First off, these crispy delights! King Prawns with very fine crispy potato ‘shreddings’ and a sauce that tasted like really top quality…salad cream. Bear with me, it was incredible. The prawns were so thick I had to revert to my knife and fork (I’d been chop-sticking the best I could), they were warm and just what I needed to transition from the sushi.

Next up, the star of the show – sticky, sizzling, spicy sea bass. I feel like I’m revealing this too soon but I’m trying to remain in the order things arrived in. This appeared bubbling and as Jamie Oliver says ‘blipping’ away on it’s little tin foil bed. It smelt incredible, like allllll the good Chinese food at once. The fish fell off the bone and into all our mouths so quickly. We had it with some lovely fresh fried rice and every one of us went back again and again for more. Definitely the favourite! We all kept exclaiming that it’s something we’d never order, but now we’ve tried it I think a repeat visit is due.

Talk about an Instagram dream, we were served a sticky sweet & sour chicken IN A PINEAPPLE. Cailin brought it over and we all thought we’d skipped to dessert early, but she opened the top to reveal another course! This was a special serve as usually the pineapple bowl is reserved for the pineapple chicken which will hit the menu soon, but what a showstopper and very very tasty. I think this would be a great date restaurant, no chance for awkward silences with this on the table.

By this time we were all really struggling, as Sharon put it, the table had reached critical mass and there were still more courses to come. Cailin couldn’t recommend these stir fried fine beans enough and I think I’d have destroyed the whole plate if I wasn’t struggling by that point. A really fresh version of my favourite take away Chinese, special fried rice.

We’d gotten to the wide-eyed ‘I can’t eat anything else’ stage but those green beans were a game changer. We all dug in and exclaimed about just how good they were. I know, just green beans but they were in a full-flavoured almost salty dressing which we managed to find out was made from bean sprouts. Make sure you order these as a side if (when!) you go, I could just eat a plate of them on their own. We finished up with the classic peking crispy shredded beef, which I think was maybe too sweet for some of the girls but I loved it. Another presentation gold star here too!

There was so much food leftover, Cailin gave us all a little take away box and we plundered the table buffet-style. I spent my morning nibbling on more of those incredible green beans, not your usual breakfast.

Obviously as full disclosure, all meals and drinks were provided free of charge by Bite East as a gift. But don’t let that fool you into thinking I was forced to write nice things, the food was bloody delightful!

I’m hoping that this post has made you crave an evening of oriental fusion cooking, there’s no better place than Bite East. The attention to detail that goes into each plate, the freshness of ingredients and the passion from the staff is just wonderful. If you’re in Stirling, pop along to 52 Port Street and have a proper, delicious and very reasonably priced sit down meal in lovely surroundings. You can have a nosey (and a like!) at their Facebook page here and if you go in, say hi to Cailin for me!