Antigua

After a short delay and relatively easy British Airways flight we arrived on time to the beautiful island of Antigua. A quick immigration stop we were then met by our driver who pulled up in a gold Lincoln and then swiftly taken to our hotel.

Greeted with a strong rum punch and taken straight to the beach front, I knew we’d made the right choice of hotel; Keyonna Beach Hotel. I immediately felt relaxed, perhaps it was the rum or the fact we’d chosen an adults only hotel. I’d say both had something to do with it.

I’d love to say I engineered what happened next but sadly I don’t get to win wife points on this occasion. Maybe they knew it was Sam’s 40th birthday or maybe we just got lucky, but either way we were upgraded to our own pool villa right on the beach. A result and a very happy husband.

The next few days went something like this, early mornings, early nights. Our daily routine of breakfast, sun, swim, lunch, sun, swim, sunset, shower, drinks, dinner, bed with a few more drinks somewhere in between depending on our mood.

Oh and of course we had a birthday to celebrate so a few more rum punches were definitely consumed that day.

Acare, the beach waiter was on hand everyday to bring us drinks throughout the day; pina coladas, beers, rum punch and G&Ts which was a nice touch.

Another reason we’d booked Keyonna was its reputation for great food (naturally) and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint.

Always a bit cautious of all ins, I didn’t expect too much. The food was, however, fabulous. No buffets in sight (except the 4pm snacks). It was table service and a la carte menus everyday. The lunch time menu included classic salads, curries, daily ‘catch’ specials, suckling pig specials and more. The evening menu changed every day and included dishes such as jerk pork, lobster ravioli, shrimp curry, sirloin steak to name a few.

All accompanied by a choice of wine; white, red or rose carefully selected for the daily menu by the on site sommelier. To be honest the wines were pretty average but nice none-the-less and I’ve not seen this level of service at an all inclusive before.

They soon cottoned onto Sam’s love of chilli sauce (or hot sauce) and made sure he had a pot of the chefs homemade finest for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We took a walk up the beach to check out the local restaurant and bar (just in case we were missing out). We’d seen the Rum Bus on A Place in the Sun (addicted to this show) so wanted to check it out. It was disappointing. It was super quiet, a bit run down and expensive. We paid $18 US for two pre-made rum punches. Not impressed, we returned to our hotel for the fantastic food and cocktails feeling pleased we weren’t missing out on anything locally.

I’d pre-booked a boat tour with Creole Antigua Tours five days into our trip. That way we had a few days to acclimatise to the sun so we didn’t frazzle out at sea. We had a fantastic day with perfect weather.

The tour included some snorkelling and a lobster lunch. The lobster was perfectly cooked by Captain Glen and was served straight off the grill with a selection of homemade salads – green, pasta and potato salad. Washed down with your choice of local beer or rum punch. The setting was perfect with picnic style tables on the beach whilst the sea lapped at our feet.

We took a short nature walk before lunch and chilled in the turquoise sea after lunch. On route around the island we got to see where the rich and famous live / stay including Georgio Armani’s mansion.

We had two snorkel stops, the first was a bit average as the coral reef was pretty dead sadly. The second stop was better and we saw lots of star fish (I’m sure you’re not meant to pick them up), a giant puffer fish and a octopus trying to hide in the sea bed which was cool. We were two of eight people on our boat so it felt quite personal compared to the larger full catamaran tours we’d seen.

KATER Score 10/10 – £250 for two including service

Sam had spotted that it was the Women’s International T20 Cricket World Cup whilst we were there. Acare (beach waiter) sorted us out with tickets for the semi final; England playing India. England went on to win to go through to the final. England then lost to Australia in the final.

The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was approx. 40 minute drive away and we shared a cab with another English couple. It was much bigger and busier than I had expected. We arrived for the second half of the West Indies v Australia. The atmosphere was electric and generally it all felt quite hectic, a shock to the system after five days of literally doing nothing and seeing no-one.

Small stalls sold beer, rum punch and food. Same small stalls then ran out of beers and we couldn’t get served food for love nor money. This was the worst bit for me. I don’t consider myself an obvious tourist and am by now a seasoned traveller but, I am British and us Brits like a bit of order and we know how to queue patiently (more fool us). It became a who can shout loudest situation and then who you knew or perhaps they just didn’t like tourists. I tried three times, each time ignored. I was so annoyed especially as the food smelt and looked amazing serving up dishes like fried chicken and BBQ ribs.

Back to the hotel and normality resumed over the last few days of our stay. There was varied evening entertainment which was mixed, some chilled steel drums during dinner which was great, a lively band with female lead who was excellent (could have been down to all the rum I’d drunk that day). Then we had a boy band who were not so good and led to an early night.

The sunsets have been beautiful, and on a couple of occasions we have taken a sunset dip in the sea. I can’t tell you how indulgent this felt and how fortunate I felt in that moment. A true sense of freedom and relaxation.

Another perk of our stay was the complimentary 30 min massage which Sam refused and meant I got two sessions.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to do in Antigua. Every kind of watersports, zip wiring, sting ray city (cruel) and English Harbour to name a few. There is the infamous Shirley Heights when on a Sunday, the locals (tourists) gather to watch the sunset whilst enjoying a rum punch or two. It’s meant to be a party atmosphere but given our experience at the cricket and the fact we had a perfect sunset view of our own, we couldn’t be bothered to make the two hour round trip. Call us boring if you want.

Overall we had a super chilled ten days, busy doing nothing. We read a few books including my favourite ‘Get your shit together’ which is a perfect holiday read. We recharged our batteries and I caught up on my blog writing.

Next stop – Christmas in Morocco!

Cornerstone

It’s taken me a while to get a reservation here, but boy was it worth the wait. One of the best meals I have had in very long time and I’ve had a few!

Having never had the pleasure of visiting whilst with Nathan Outlaw, I watched the brilliant Tom Brown on the Great British Menu, and I have to say I’ve become am a bit of a fan. And what a treat to have him there cooking for us.

We were there as an early celebration for Sam’s birthday. I’d messaged ahead and organised some fizz to kick start the evening.

The menu is not huge and the dishes that are part of the tasting menu are highlighted rather than being presented separately which I quite liked. The tasting options looked good but feeling hungry and wanting to try everything we literally ordered all but two of the dishes. So we had a rather greedy total of ten dishes if you include the bread.

The first course of oysters with horseradish was so good we ordered a second round. The oysters were lightly pickled, deliciously fresh and perfectly accompanied by the horseradish. They left us feeling excited about the dishes still to come, and they we’re as pretty as a picture.

Next came the raw brill with green sauce, a take on a salsa verde. Stunning and delicious. It was served with the mackerel pate which was beautifully smooth with slices of cured mackerel and cucumber delicately placed on the top. The best bit about this dish was the warm treacle bread served alongside so you could smother it with the creamy pate. Absolutely perfect.

Sam questioned why we ordered the carrots as he viewed this dish as boring. He couldn’t have been more wrong. The carrots were served whole, had been perfectly cooked and had a slight bite to them. But it was the silky smooth smoked cod roe and addition of crushed pistachios which really took this dish to another level. Never has a carrot tasted so good.

Next up was what I believe is Tom’s signature dish at Cornerstone, the potted shrimp crumpet. Topped with kolhrabi and gherkin, this dish was very tasty but sadly not as stand out as the previous.

Feeling fuller by the mouthful we managed to demolish the roast Cornish hake which was served with parsnip puree, anchovy and chilli. The fish soft and perfectly cooked, I would expect nothing less from the extremly talented Tom Brown.

The finale dish of ray wing with a chicken butter sauce was quite simply out of this world. The fish was so delicate and the sauce was rich and creamy, a perfect combination. I could have licked the plate.

We’re generally not massive fans of desert, but thought we should at least share one to try. We chose the earl grey mille feuille with pears. It looked fantastic and tasted good. I was however disappointed that the mille feuille was a brandy snap rather than the traditional pastry layers.

Cornerstone is a brilliant addition to the up and coming Hackney Wick dining and drinking scene. Only a 10 minute uber ride from home I shall definitely be coming back for more.

KATER Score 10/10 – £230 for two with wine