The Hairy Fig, York – culinary shopping heaven!

Slightly off the beaten track in York city centre we stumbled upon Dickensian delight The Hairy Fig. Self-confessed ‘purveyors of fine fodder’ this magical little deli with even tinier hidden café is an absolute must for any foodie in York. Vintage wooden boxes & dark wooden shelves are stocked to the brim with locally sourced quality foods as well as Mediterranean & Mexican delicacies. Savoury speciality foods include British & continental cheeses, pate, truffles, truffle oil, truffle honey, hams and salamis. Sweet treats include chocolates from around the world and one of the biggest collections of liquorice we’ve ever seen!

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With its original pane glass windows and wooden frames painted cheerfully in bright turquoise, The Hairy Fig’s deli shop front is deliciously enchanting. Huge bundles of rusty red dried chillies and bulging bags of onions hang in the window, boxes of fresh kumquats and French chestnuts lie at your feet, all enticing you in.

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The original deli opened in 2008 and quickly expanded in ’09 to a bigger shop next door. Inside the walls are sumptuous red and lined with dark wooden shelves, Victorian apothecary style, with dark wooden floorboards. This old-fashioned interior creates a truly historic ‘Harry Potter-esque’ atmosphere – stepping inside The Hairy Fig is like stepping back in time.

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Most impressive was their selection of unique aged balsamic vinegars ranging from 12 to 100 years, all available ’on tap’. Balsamic creams, dressings & glaze in a wide array of mouth-watering flavours lined the shelves in vintage glass casks, creating a bewitching display reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or the sensory laboratory of olfactory genius Jean-Baptiste in Perfume. Flavours included cranberry, sundried tomato, apple, blueberry, mango, lemon, red bell pepper and blood orange. Yum!

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Now as a liquorice lover (Livi, Alex hates the stuff!) their luscious collection of liquorice stocked in 25+ jam-packed vintage jars was a sight for sore eyes! Shiny black gems of gorgeousness in so many varieties is not something you come by very often in England, so to see a collection including Livi’s favourite Swedish chilli & cherry liquorice was just too damn exciting! (Sweden on the other hand is a liquorice lover’s dream destination – think liquorice ice-cream, Marabou ‘Black Salt Lakrits’ chocolate, and thick, shiny salted liquorice dessert sauce!!) The Hairy Fig’s extensive assortment included sour & salty liquorice toads, liquorice and caramel twists, yellow citrus liquorice, salty skulls, Dutch honeycomb liquorice, sugar free & gluten free liquorice and chocolate covered liquorice. Now that’s a lot of liquorice!

Tucked away in the back is a tiny little café with 4 or 5 tables seating a maximum of 11 people! We were lucky enough to grab a vacant spot and sample some of their beautiful freshly prepared food. If memory recall is correct, we were on a cake mission (as always!) but upon seeing the specials blackboard with ‘Fresh figs baked in Honey & Chocolate Balsamic with Mascarpone’ we were sold! Other offerings were Strawberry & Vanilla Cheesecake and a Quince & local Bramley & Blackberry crumble. Our dessert was impeccably tasty and the perfect accompaniment to our coffee and hot chocolate on a cold & blustery November day in York.

The Hairy Fig promises floor to ceiling quality produce in an ‘exciting, quirky shopping environment’ and they absolutely deliver to their word. Visitors are transported to another world once over the threshold and will find it impossible to leave empty handed! There is something for everyone in this sensationally stocked shop so we urge you to swing by and enjoy the magic✩•*¨*• .

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We stumbled upon The Hairy Fig as we finished exploring the medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall, and noticed this pretty little alley with “THE HAIRY FIG” & “CAFE” signage on the right!
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This is the main entrance from the other side – photo credit: https://rovinglights.wordpress.com

Tower Guest House, York – boutique B&B bliss ❤

A recent trip up to a cold wet York promised and delivered many lovely surprises on a daily basis, none more so than the Tower Guest House, our delightfully beautiful, boutique B & B. This charming establishment, run by its equally charming and accommodating owners Tony and Diana Brennan, was originally a Victorian era family home. It has since been modernised and converted into a truly unique boutique bed and breakfast, with each room decorated in its own distinct style. Since our stay, Tower Guest House have deservedly scooped the ‘Best B & B in York’ accolade at the Visit York Tourism Awards 2017!

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After perusing their phenomenal photos online we opted for the ‘Rococo King’ room, as Livi insisted on one of the more traditional and opulent rooms for us to stay in! Stunningly decorated with plush furnishings throughout, this room is absolutely fit for a princess (therefore suiting Livi perfectly!). Unlike some hotels, who use well-lit, deceptively flattering photographs to promote their rooms, Tower Guest House’s reality is even better than their photos. One gets the sense that each room has been lovingly and painstakingly put together with the greatest of care and consideration. Each piece of intricately carved white Rococo furniture contributed to the magical, French fairy tale feel of the room and the red cast iron roll top bath was just the icing on the cake. It was so gorgeous we almost couldn’t bear to leave, even if it was to venture outdoors to explore the city!

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Not only was our room exquisitely luxurious, it was immaculately clean as well. No chance of finding any hidden dust bunnies here! Another lovely little touch that really impressed us was a designated space by the door for your shoes, so as to discourage walking dirty, muddy footprints all over the clean carpet. This may seem like a minor detail initially, but it simply made us aware of the respect and care taken in preparing our room. We loved the idea of ‘paying it forward’ so to speak, to ensure everything is perfect for the next guest too!

Each of the rooms is uniquely and impeccably decorated with an astounding attention to detail. The ‘Golden Versailles King’ room is a splendidly sumptuous antique gold haven, with gilded Versailles furniture, genuine leather arm chairs and modern en suite. Livi has her heart set on this one next time by the looks of it!

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If a sunken marble bath is more your thing, perhaps you would like to consider the stunning contemporary Asian themed ‘Samurai Four Poster King’ room? Clean edges, ultra-sharp modern decor and a more masculine energy make this the choice of the other half of Naked Koala!

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We also love the ‘Four Poster with Spa’ room – an elegant delight of a room featuring a rich mahogany four-poster Queen Anne bed as the centrepiece, hardwood floor and purple velvet flock wallpaper. Divine! The super deep spa tub with chromotherapy lighting is also very appealing! (These are just 4 of the 8 exquisite rooms.)

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All too often we see B&Bs and more recently Air B&Bs that are only too happy to take a customer’s money and provide the bare minimum service. Tony & Diana, however, don’t just rely on their beautiful rooms to fulfil their end of the deal. As clichéd as it sounds, it really is the little things that make the difference. From being addressed by our first names (who doesn’t like that?) to being given lifts into town by Tony, every guest is made to feel special. Breakfast orders are completed the night before at the front desk with any preferences noted there and then. There is even a free Netflix account that can be used by guests in their rooms! You will simply not find more courteous, hospitable hosts anywhere else.

A very special mention must go to the hollandaise sauce that accompanied the perfectly poached eggs at breakfast. We have no idea how it was made but it was gorgeously silky smooth and deliciously tasty. We have tried to make it since we returned to Leicester and we have failed. We have failed repeatedly.

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York is a wonderful treasure of a destination that is just perfect for a long weekend. We visited in November and it would clearly be a wonderful place to spend a few days in the build up to Christmas. Whether it is for a shopping trip specifically, or you simply have the desire to wander aimlessly through the maze of cobbled streets that comprise the city centre, no trip to York is complete without a few days in the Tower Guest House. It really is no surprise to us that this little paradise is now officially the best B&B in York.

Life isn’t always about perfection, but the Tower Guest House is pretty damn close to it

The Flax and Twine – a fairytale in York

An amble down the Shambles with its charming cobbles, wonky windows and rickety roofs is essential whilst in York, and not to be missed is the enchanting Aladdin’s cave of vintage treasures that is The Flax and Twine at number 20. With its simply magical, lovingly crafted window displays and its shelves of whimsical knick-knacks and trinkets, this hidden gem is truly a shabby chic paradise, as well as a cake-lover’s dream (it’s also a café!).

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Reminiscent of a Berlin flea market, The Flax and Twine is bursting with deliciously old, weathered items and artisan antiques. It is lovingly and tastefully stocked by its owners with zero tat – just beautiful, high quality pieces. From vintage-style floral umbrellas to delicate china tea sets, sturdy old trunks to ornate rococo mirrors, and pretty fabric lampshades to classic childrens’ games, it is impossible not to spend hours wandering around mesmerised by the sheer beauty and elegance of this yellowed, romantic sanctuary.

Had we actually lived in York, our home would now be fully furnished with The Flax and Twine’s captivating collection of charmingly battered shabby chic furniture. Alas we do not, and we forgot to ask about shipping opportunities! Livi literally dreams of those drawers and hopes one day she can find something similar.

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Shabby chic drawers of which Livi’s dreams are made!

Each nook and cranny delivers more delightful surprises and up the stairs decoupaged with vintage sheet music is a gorgeous, cosy tearoom/ café serving freshly baked-on-the-premises cakes and scones. The mismatched wooden tables and chairs, chipped paint and fresh flowers make this unpretentious, homely café a perfect oasis from the trample of tourists on the streets outside.

Items on the menu are seasonal and include both sweet and savoury. We shared a warm chocolate brownie and a large piece of carrot cake (pre our dairy-free days!), which were both wonderful. Their current special (summer 2017) is an apricot and St Clements curd scone with clotted cream, which we think sounds absolutely heavenly! Savoury items include a goats cheese Mediterranean tart and a homemade chili.

Once inside The Flax and Twine it is hard to leave. It weaves its magic effortlessly around you and time stands still. Rummaging through treasures in this grade two listed building built in the 1700s was easily one of our favourite ways to spend an afternoon in York and we’d recommend a visit to anyone and everyone. Without hesitation we say it’s better than Betty’s (by a country mile!) so if you only have time for one tearoom, make it this one!

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Toasty two like cinnamon buns, sheltered from a cold northern November day!

 

Camden canals, houseboat dwelling & a really friendly German!

If you love free escapades and beautiful walks we’d recommend venturing along the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Little Venice. Conveniently located at the start of the walk is Camden’s colourful and eclectic Street Food Market, brimming with burgers and burritos, crepes and cupcakes, and satisfying every cuisine craving imaginable – from Venezuelan to Vietnamese, Japanese to Taiwanese, Indian to African. It’s a true feast for all the senses and not to be missed if you’re in the area. But we digress (so easy when talking about food!)  After filling our bellies with savoury and sweet treats we ambled off at snail’s pace along the canal, photographing every inch of the sensational scenery as we walked.

Regent’s Canal whilst meandering through central London feels like anywhere but London. Very easy to forget about the noisy hustle and bustle of streets only minutes away, it is peaceful and picturesque, resembling more of a European city or a conjured up fairy tale than a route through the UK’s capital. With its brightly coloured narrowboats, music boats and smiling strangers, it is truly an idyllic escape.

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We particularly loved our encounter with this spectacularly eye-catching jumble of a boat and its German owner, who sat chilling in his ‘garden’ sipping beer and taking great delight in watching people’s reactions to his masterpiece. In response to our curiosity he informed us that he “started viz vun flower. And zen anuzza flower. And zen all zis shit!”

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He was absolutely lovely and invited us to take as many photos as we liked.

Further down the canal we passed the notoriously odd-shaped London Zoo bird enclosure and some really beautiful bridges.

We then marvelled at the multi-million pound mansions & their majestic reflections in the water, gobsmacked by google’s revelation that they are all in fact privately owned and not public property!

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Probably our absolute favourite bit of the walk was a large section of colourful floating homes, adorned with trinkets and flowers and gleaming gloriously in the sunlight. Each had its very own little ‘garden’ as well, with truly shabby chic rustic patio tables and chairs, birdcages, grow-your-own-veg patches, wildflowers and even a banana tree!

We fell in love with what we learned are Hollyhocks, growing lusciously alongside the canal. Just look at that exploding star in the middle of the flower! Isn’t nature incredible?!

The colours and diversity were just magical….

Some photos of The Naked Koala hard at work, before concluding our walk in the charmingly quaint Little Venice. It was early evening by the time we got there so we missed the floating Waterside cafe opening hours – a restaurant boat serving breakfasts, afternoon teas and freshly baked cakes. If you happen to make it there, do let us know what it’s like! Until then, happy walking to you 🙂

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Weeping willows and obligatory star jumps!
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Mini jungle in central London!

Vegan hot chocolate heaven – the stuff of which dreams are made!

Beyond your imagination of chocolate heaven exists the reality that is the Chocolate Tree, Edinburgh, situated in quirky village-in-the-city Bruntsfield. This utterly charming chocolaterie is the kind of place that novelists whip up to excite our senses as the scent of old yellowed book pages envelopes our nostrils and we picture a dreamy, authentic old-fashioned chocolate shop serving proper chocolate and other made-from-scratch chocolate treats created by magicians who know and understand chocolate. Stepping into the Chocolate Tree is like stepping into those pages and transcending the barrier between fiction and the real world.

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Dark wooden shelves stacked with dark chocolate delights are a feast for the eyes, the cake counter is pure cake artistry, and the array of artisan, hand-crafted individual chocolates is simply captivating. We came for vegan hot chocolate but we know we will be leaving with more!

Since going dairy-free we often struggle finding dairy-free alternatives – even if a café serves hot chocolate with almond milk or oat milk they usually use generic  chocolate powder (which contains milk products) so we were delighted to learn that the Chocolate Tree served real vegan hot chocolate. What they actually serve is absolutely spectacular and totally exceeded our expectations. We were given a choice of origin of chocolate – Columbia, Madagascar, Peru or Venezuela, a choice of milk alternative, and a choice of dairy-free coconut cream as a topping. How exciting is that?! Clutching our magnificent tailor made build-your-own vegan hot chocolates we settled into the Moroccan-styled snug, gleefully cosy and sheltered from the Edinburgh rain. Quite frankly words cannot explain how delicious these hot chocolates were. A bit like rich and luxurious chocolate soup these were to be savoured not downed, every indulgent mouthful like a bittersweet chocolate candied kiss. Simply sublime.

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Despite our bellies being fully satiated by the divinely decadent hot chocolates we couldn’t just leave without buying a bucket load of bars to take home and a bag of Peruvian chocolate buttons to try and replicate this heavenly vegan hot chocolate experience  ourselves. The beautifully packaged organic couverture chocolate bars with their classic and inventive flavour combinations tempted us into buying Bramble & Cardamom, Ginger, Sea Salt & Caramel and Strawberry & Pepper, and we chose a selection of individual artisan chocolates as well! We left with our bellies overjoyed and our wallets a little lighter!

And don’t just take our word for it. The Chocolate Tree were recently awarded Scottish chocolatier of the year 2017 at the Scottish Food Awards!

The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh – an underground tavern of sensory delights

As a reward for days spent treading the cold wet but delightful streets of Edinburgh and climbing staircase after staircase after steep hill after staircase, we suggest a visit to the cosy basement venue that is The Jazz Bar. You’ll find this little treasure centrally located in The Old Town at 1A Chambers Street. Not only does The Jazz Bar deliver its promise of exceptional live music in stylish but unpretentious surroundings, it is also fantastic value for money. Between 6-7.30pm it is free! then prices range from £3-6 (concessions available). All the door money goes to the musicians, none to the venue, which we think is pretty damn awesome!

Saving pennies isn’t the main reason to come here though. The Jazz Bar has a great reputation throughout the city and according to the venue is a six time award winner. This comes as no surprise to us as the night is opened up by the superbly talented and charismatic Graeme Mearns on his regular Wednesday night slot 6.30-8pm. Billed as Acoustic Swing ‘with a swing/jazz/acoustic style somewhere between Django Reinhardt and Richard Thompson’ Graeme’s lively set features some of the most inventive acoustic guitar playing you are ever likely to hear. It is utterly refreshing to see someone with an acoustic guitar avoid the cliché of strumming over-familiar Oasis tunes and instead play a more obscure and compelling set list. Mearns’ rendition of ‘These Days’ by Jackson Browne is heart-breakingly gorgeous and has since inspired Alex’s latest YouTube themed quest to track down every possible cover version out there!

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If you prefer sitting rather than standing we’d definitely recommend an early arrival, as The Jazz Bar tends to get very busy from around 8pm. Dimly lit in all the right places, this intimate venue is the perfect place to hole up for the night with a drink and a notepad, alone with your thoughts. The atmosphere is also buzzy and energetic (especially later), making it a great place for a night out with friends or to share conversations with strangers.

The folks at The Jazz Bar are certainly doing their bit for the Edinburgh music scene, boasting an eclectic mix of Jazz, Acoustic/Blues/Roots and Funk/Soul/Electric gigs. Not only do they bring acts of the highest calibre to our attention, but they also serve as a testing ground for local students to take their early steps into performing.

Aside from the music, our supreme highlight and reason for returning multiple times was their heavenly home-made non-alcoholic ginger beer! Without doubt, this fiercely fiery ginger beer was the finest soft drink we’ve ever tasted in a bar. Bursting with heat and lime and sweetened with agave syrup, it is served to your own personal heat specifications. The spicier you want it, the more freshly-squeezed ginger juice you get! Yes, freshly-squeezed ginger juice! (by an industrial juicer btw, so ‘don’t try this at home’ we were warned, because it will fuck up your juicer 😉 Honestly, best ginger beer ever. Old Jamaica tastes like sugary piss water in comparison. Go to Edinburgh, just for this drink. Or else have Alex manually juice ginger with a grater and his hands for you, because that’s pretty damn delicious too.

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Holy cow that’s a good burger!

Edinburgh is steaming way ahead of other cities on the vegan train, supplying us awkward dairy-freers with quite an array of vegan eateries to choose from. Our favourite purveyor of vegan delights was the Holy Cow, billed as ‘100% vegan’ and located on the basement level of 34 Elder Street. Keep your eyes peeled because this hidden gem is definitely hidden – one of those blink-and-you-will-miss-it type of places!

First thing that struck us about this homely living-room style restaurant was their heart-warming hospitality. It was quite literally one of the coldest days of the year, pissing down icy Scottish rain, our glasses dripping wet, our hands frozen and gloveless (his, not mine – I brought gloves!) when we pushed open the restaurant door desperate for some warmth and longing to feel our hands again!  We were met immediately by the delightful waitress/chef/owner who gave us mugs of hot water to warm our hands and encouraged us to use the loo hand-dryers to dry our hair and clothes!

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Spoilt for choice, we decided to revert to our tried and tested technique of ordering two different burgers and sharing them. We opted for the ‘Bloody Beetroot’ burger and the Mexican bean burger. Both of these creations were ridiculously juicy, packed full of flavour, bursting with all the colours of the rainbow and accompanied by delicious rustic homemade ‘skin on’ fries. Burgers are coated with lashings of rich and creamy vegan mayonnaise so if that’s not your thing we’d recommend going ‘When Harry Met Sally’ style and requesting mayo on the side!

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Everything about the food feels clean and healthy in the Holy Cow. These beautifully presented vegan burgers simply confirm that this food is being made with love.

Whilst we were in the depths of winter we missed out on their spectacularly beautiful summer rolls and undoubtedly fresh and zingy salads. We think the photos however speak for themselves:

Keen to take advantage of a gap in the rain, we decided to box our dessert to go. Their full cake counter is simply mesmerising but with vegan carrot cake on the menu complete with vegan frosting, there was only one choice for us! so the delightfully hospitable hostess-with-the-mostest waitress/owner/ chef packed it up for us along with a complimentary slice of chocolate peanut butter cake. In the hands of the Holy Cow, these sweet treats were elevated to the point of absolute triumph and we were thrilled by the lady’s generosity! Ordinarily, chocolate peanut butter cake wouldn’t be our go to choice as neither of us particularly like peanut butter, however once back at our Air B’n’b neither cake lasted two minutes, as we devoured both cakes, both as heavenly tasting as each other.

Holy Cow is not just a place to go to if you want to sample vegan burgers of the life affirming nature. It is also a warm welcoming venue perfect for a slice of cake and afternoon tea. An absolute ‘must visit’ and definitely on our list to return to when we are next in Edinburgh.

Natural Healthy Foods – a stunning, contemporary vegan wonderland.

For anyone looking for outstanding value vegan food, look no further than Natural Healthy Foods in Birmingham. Located on Suffolk Street, this wonderful vegan eatery combines tasty, beautiful and lovingly prepared food with super helpful and friendly service. Surprisingly large for a vegan restaurant (some are quite literally the size of a phone box!), Natural Healthy Foods is immaculately clean and spacious. The enormous floor-to-ceiling windows drench rustic wooden tables with natural sun light, creating a true oasis from the busy Birmingham streets outside.

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Fortunately, this place is not one of those to dine out on looks alone. The highlights (among many) included the dairy-free yet richest, creamiest mushroom stroganoff imaginable, a South Indian curry that whilst jam packed with flavour was also light, fresh and delicately  fruity, and the seemingly-simple but oh so delicious cinnamon roasted roots (beetroot, sweet potato etc).  We also loved the rosemary roasted potatoes, raw Thai mushroom salad, home-made hummus, and the fresh, colourful, mouth-wateringly moreish pad-thai.  As for that stroganoff? Good luck to any carnivore hoping to pick that out as vegan on a blind tasting, such was the meatiness of those mushrooms!

Not only are there obviously some superb vegan chefs working in tandem with the front of house staff, but they are using gorgeous and inspiring ingredients – organic, gluten free, free from refined sugar and of course vegan. Everything about Natural Healthy Foods works in perfect harmony, from the vegan food itself to the service accompanying it.

Food is served buffet-style, the pricing of which works on a simple ‘weight of plate’ method. This lovely, quirky feature allows you to sample anything and everything on the menu as opposed to committing to just a couple of dishes. You can then return afterwards to stock up on your favourites!

Of course, with savoury vegan food of such jaw dropping quality you’d be expecting a decent vegan dessert right? Well, this is where Natural Healthy Foods have you covered with a selection of tantalising treats, all of which are remarkably refined-sugar-free! The dairy-free and sugar-free desserts included a beautifully sweet, melt in your mouth lemon cheesecake, a raw carrot cake bursting with the taste of carrots, the obligatory chocolate brownie, and a picture-perfect raspberry and pitaya cheesecake containing cashews, coconut oil and chia seeds. Our past experience with ‘healthy’ plant-based desserts lacking sugar and dairy is that they also sadly lack that killer touch of sweetness, however, the lemon cheesecake and the carrot cake we tasted were decadent to the extreme and we were not disappointed! They were sweet, delicious and perfectly balanced.

The coffee menu was also outstanding, although sampling these will have to wait til our next visit! Lattes are made with almond or coconut milk and then flavoured with dreamy combinations such as turmeric, cinnamon, cacao, ginger, vanilla, liquorice and black pepper, or cacao, banana powder and lucuma. Imaginative and exotic, we’re sure these taste as magnificent as they sound!

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Their menu is hugely diverse and varies depending on availability of the best, freshest mostly-organic ingredients. Items from their website sample menu that we can’t wait to try next time:

  • Smokey Black Bean Chilli With Walnut Chorizo
  • Creamed Red Rice Risotto with Sage Roasted Butternut Squash
  • South Indian Tamarind Rice
  • Wakame Glass Noodle Salad with Avocado and Wasabi Dressing
  • Chilli Kelp and Black Fungus Mushrooms
  • Creamy Kale with Ginger and Miso Dressing
  • Zucchini Spaghetti with Creamed Porcini Mushrooms and Truffle Oil
  • Probiotic Dragon Fruit Cheesecake
  • Raw Key Lime Pie

A word to the wise though. We found this vegan wonderland completely by accident! Literally. We had been searching for some other places to no avail. Averting our gaze from our phones (and google maps) we looked up in the nick of time to see Natural Healthy Foods gleaming at us from across the road. We struck gold by looking up at the world instead of down at our phones, just at the right time. Take from that what you will.

#veganlife #veganlifestyle #healthyliving #plantbased #plantbasedlifestyle #freefrom #glutenfree #sugarfree #norefinedsugar #naturalhealthyfoods #healthyfoods #healthydesserts #sugarfreecake #dairyfreecake #vegancake

 

 

 

 

 

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