Monday, 23 October 2017

JUST JULIA TRIES: Go Ape in Autumn

If you're like me and find the weekend just flies by, you want to ensure you make the most of it. And with the dark mornings and nights creeping in, it's a challenge to get out and about and back home all before we're plummeted into darkness.

I love the outdoors. Ever since I was a wee toot you'd always find me outside. Whether that was playing with flowers, climbing trees, or rescuing wild rabbits from the neighbours cats. I'm out and about with my dog every weekend and I'm always looking for new places to hang out with him. We've visited Crathes Castle a number of times and I always love seeing the people flying through the sky as they take on Go Ape.

So, when I was invited along and got the chance to take some of my best friends to Go Ape at Crathes Castle, it was a no brainier for me.

Being someone who's scared of heights, it was reassuring to know I wouldn't be taking to the trees on my own. With my besties in toll I knew we were going to have a blast.

Once a month the four of us always try catch up, and what better way than to do it whilst exercising and having a right old laugh.  Their exceitment when I told them we were going to Go Ape was brilliant, although I don't quite think they knew what they were getting themselves in for...

Sunday came and we headed out the road. Arriving in plenty of time, we introduced ourselves to the instructors and read and signed all the necessary documents - I promise this only takes about 5 minutes, but is essential for the health and safety of all participants, and then we eagerly waited for the rest of the tribe to arrive.

I've visited Go Ape previously with my boyfriend a few times and have always really enjoyed it. We were put in groups of up to about 8 individuals, but for some reason this group had 21 people in it - which I hear is definitely not the norm.

After our instructor had introduced himself to everyone we made our way over to the practice section where he briefed us on the house rules and watched as we clipped, attached and unclipped ourselves around the mini course. Once he was happy with everyone - which you can imagine took a wee while with so many of us - we all headed over to course 1 - the first of five courses to come.

Being the enthusiastic individual I am, of course, I naturally put my hand up to volunteer as tribute. And contribute to everyone's hysterics I did. Not only did I struggle to find my feeting after sitting back on my harness, I bashed my head numerous times out of sheer stupidity. It's safe to say no one made the same mistakes I did.

We decided to hold back and let everyone else go ahead of us as I was filming, and we wanted to really just embrace the course and have a laugh.

It was around an hour from when the inductions started that we eventually got finished course 1, but the fact we decided to go last didn't really help this.

The high ropes course at Crathes is Go Ape's most Northernly hang out and individuals can get up to two or three hours to enjoy monkeying around in the trees, so we still had plenty of time to play with.
Course 2 was where the real work kicked in. 

I've been best friends with Samantha, Abbie and Amy for years. We've been through school together and have tackled a number of obstacles together, but I must admit, Go Ape was one of the funniest experiences we've had together as a group.

I guess what made it so fun was that Abbie and myself are super adventurous (and competitive) - we would have been swinging in the trees going head to head if we could have, and that poor Amy was petrified of heights - I guess I never really explained to her just how high some of the ladders can be. Sorry Amy! But what really had us all in stitches was Samantha's running commentary around the course - her one liners were class.

Course 2 is the one which kind of determines if you have the balls to commit to the rest of the courses. It has a Tarzan swing and a zip line - two of the main activities throughout - as well as various other ladder exercises which you need to carry out, all whilst remembering to STAY ATTACHED at all times.

House rules are that only three people can be on a platform at a time (the points where two different activities meet), and only one person on an activity at a time. You also have to ensure you're attached to the wires around the course at all times, clipping, and unclipping as you venture throughout the course. It's fundamental for your own safety to follow these rules, otherwise you could hurt yourself, or someone else.

Staff patrol the course to safeguard that everyone is following the rules and if you ever did get stuck, each participant is provided with a whistle so they can get staff's attention if/when needed.

With some words of encouragement, lots of laughs and cheering each other on, the four of us made it through course 2. However there were a few dirty bottoms by the end thanks to the zip line...
As you progress through the woods, the course gets that little bit more challenging. Course 3 was all about balance more than strength - like the Tarzan swing. It was focused on finding your centre of gravity and challenging your brain to figure out where to put your hands and feet. For me, the most exhilarating part of the course is the various zip lines throughout which finish off each course. Hilariously, I was the only one to land perfectly, and forward every time, escaping a dirty bum - my fiends, not so much...
Course 4 has a skateboard on the zip line which is pretty cool, but sadly, it didn't want to seem to roll back up to where the zip line started off so alas, our skateboarding skills weren't needed that da - phew.

This course incorporated the chance to go an easy or difficult way. Having chosen the difficult way before and embracing a massive laughing fit with my legs in the splits, I decided to let Abbie go rogue for this one and myself and Samantha cried with hilarity as she gracefully *ahem* made her way through the rings. Amy decided to sit this one out and braced herself for the bigger, and final course, course 5.
Course 5 - the final voyage for the tribe. After hearing copious screams, screeches and bellowing laughter, we figured this had to be the creme de la creme. And rightly so.

They say it's best to finish with a bang, and Go Ape Crathes certainly does that. After scaling higher into the canopy, not only does this course have a massive version of the Tarzan swing, it also has the longest and fastest zip line too. For those not brave enough to take on the big Tazan swing, there is an easier route with additional activities for everyone to get stuck into.

It took us about an hour and a bit to complete the full course which suited us perfectly. We took our time, had a laugh and enjoyed the outdoors. It was refreshing not having to meet my besties for a coffee indoors for once.
All safely back on the ground, we headed back to base camp to retrieve our certificates and hand in our harnesses.

Smiles all round, I knew the girls had really enjoyed the experience, and the fact Amy (who hates heights) managed to tackle all of the more advanced activities was a testament to how safe we all felt.

I guess, the only reason I can think the place was so busy was the fact the school's had just broken up for the October holidays, and although it was busy at the start, by the end everyone was flying around the courses.

Go Ape Crathes is an excellent outdoor activity for all ages and is a great way to not only get fit, but to catch up with friends in a different way.

Go on...release your wild side at Go Ape this Autumn and do something different at the weekend - I dare ya!

  For Now...

Just Julia
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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Just Julia tries: Wagamama's vegan & vegetarian menu


We've all seen them, you know, those documentaries about plant based diets and the world of good solely eating these types of foods can do for us. I'm a meat eater, (sorry guys) but I like to think I incorporate a lot of fruit and vegetables into my diet, and I always try to eat at least one or two vegetarian meals a week.

I've got a few vegetarian and vegan friends who, besides their beliefs, have never questioned me about my eating habits, as I have never theirs. If anything, having our foodie differences has made me more and more interested in vegan and vegetarian meals. And what they have shown me is how delicious and colourful these types of foods can be.

I guess I've always been of the mindset that you need to have some sort of protein in your dinner, but that doesn't always necessarily have to be meat. Now, I'll admit, if you're expecting me to report that I've now gone completely vegan, I'm afraid that was just never going happen (yet anyway). However, what I can tell you is that my attitude towards vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants has very much changed thanks to Wagamama's.

It was just last week that I was invited to try out the restaurants newly launched vegan and vegetarian menu. At first, I was a little apprehensive about going as I do eat meat, however I've always enjoyed my time at Wagamama's and thought if I could educate myself a little more about what options are out there for vegans and vegetarians, that I would potentially be more inclined to order a meat-free dish.

When I originally thought of vegetarian or vegan meals, I'd usually associate them with being packed full of vegetables in some sort of broth, and hold little flavour. And I'm glad to say my ignorant views are gone have flown right out the window thanks to the restaurant.

In all honesty, I don't tend to frequent to chain restaurants too often, but when I do, Wagamama's is my place of choice. With fresh ingredients used, dishes made to order, friendly staff and quick service, its a great place to grab something healthy to eat, and fast.

Having launched their vegetarian and vegan menu just two weeks ago, I was excited to challenge myself to try something other than my favourite - the Katsu chicken curry.

When we arrived the restaurant was heaving. Christ were we lucky to have booked.

I love seeing a restaurant in action, I find the buzz of the kitchen and sea's of people chatting over good food quite relaxing - for why, your guess is as good as mine. 

Wagamana's in Union Square always seems to be super busy, and tonight was no different. There was energy in the room and I was eager to sample the food.

To kick things off I gave myself a wee boost with a positive juice smoothie. Made with pineapple, lime, spinach, cucumber and apple, it was creamy in texture and very smooth to drink. My sister decided on a traditional lemonade. 

We scanned the menu (which is completely separate from the original menu - a real bonus to those who have spent time searching for veggie and vegan options on it before), and sought recommendations from Ruta - our server for the night. She talked us through the menu and I decided to take her advice on ordering the Yasai Salma curry.
It didn't take long for my curry to arrive.

The Yasai Salma curry was a great recommendation. The food was bright and eye-catching, and tasted absolutely delicious - it was the perfect dish to replace my usual katsu curry. It had a real kick of spicy lemongrass in it and the tofu, peppers, shiitake mushrooms and baby plum tomatoes were mixed in throughout. On the side was a bowl of white boiled rice and the dish was finished off and garnished with a light serving of spring onions, chilli and coriander.

The vegan coconut curry hit the spot and was much more filling than anticipated. I had to pace myself to ensure Nicole got her food before I ate every last morsel of mine, as I would have been after her's too if not. I really enjoyed this dish, however, the only thing I would have liked a little more of would have been the tofu. The three smaller pieces just needed to be that little bit bigger, or a few more pieces needed to be added. I think with the addition of some more tofu then it would have been perfect.



Up next came the five yasai steamed gyoza dumplings which again, were vegan. The gilled dumplings were phenomenal and one of my favourites of the night. The soy dipping sauce was strong, but didn't overpower the tastes coming from the ingredients inside the dumplings. They were cooked slightly crispy but beautifully soft too. The perfect combination and polished off rather quickly too.
It wasn't long until Nicole's Kare burosu shichimi arrived. Featuring coated silken tofu with grilled mushrooms on a bed of thick udon noodles, this was food heaven for Nicole. She's always loved noodles and Asian food, so it was great to see her really enjoying a vegan version just as much. She'd mentioned to me how filling the dish was, and how it had taken her by surprise as she'd always thought vegetarian or vegan foods wouldn't fill you up as much as meat dishes. We'd both been completely wrong about this.

Her curried vegetable broth was excellent. Swimming in broth, the noodles continued to cook in the bowl and Nicole polished the whole thing off in no time at all. Finished off with an array of pea shoots, chilli, carrot and coriander, it was a great choice.

By this point, I'd ordered my second fruit smoothie - a blueberry spice juice, which had blueberry, apple and carrot in it. The pinch of ginger used gave a full and lasting punch of flavour at the end.
Looking to the vegetarian offering, we'd also decided to order a side of the mixed mushrooms and panko aubergine hirata steamed buns.

The two fluffy Asian buns were stuffed with mixed mushrooms and aubergine which had been lightly coated in panko breadcrumbs which have a light, flaky texture. They came served with a delicious Japanese mayonnaise (the non-vegan part of the dish) and coriander. The mushrooms were juicy and the aubergine was crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside. But, it was the mayonnaise and the fluffy Asian buns which stole the show for me. Utterly scrumptious.
After our mains and sides, we were both pretty full. By this time it was nearing 7.30pm and the restaurant was still heaving, although it was clear the staff had everything under control. 

Ruta talked us through the dessert menu, of which I noticed there were a lot of vegetarian desserts available and not so many vegan desserts. This was where the aspect of quality over quantity kicked   in, and after trying one of the vegan desserts - the pink guava and passionfruit sorbet served with fresh mint - I would happily swap every ice cream for that sorbet any day.

It was everything you would want from a dessert. Refreshing, light, flavoursome and pink. Ok so not every dessert needs to be pink, but it had one of my favourite fruits in it - passionfruit - and was topped with mint leaves. Everything about this dessert was brilliant, and I'd buy it by the tubful if I could.

The chocolate layer cake was also very light. Much more rich in flavour, and of course, very, very chocolatey, it boasted three layers including chocolate sponge, dark chocolate parfait and a layer of hazelnut cream. It was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with a small sprig of mint.

The sorbet was vegan, however the chocolate layer cake was vegetarian. Both were very enjoyable and we shared them both - that's what sisters are for after all is it not!?
Bellies full, we gave our feedback on the new menu to Ruta who had guided us through it with great ease. She knew everything about the dishes we were ordering and was very happy to offer guidance and recommendations too. Our service in the restaurant was faultless, which can be unusual in chain restaurants, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our trip. I love catching up with my sister, but there's no better way than catching up with her than over some tasty food.

A huge thanks to the team at Wagamama, and the manager Livia for inviting us to try out the new menu, I'm sure it's going to be a huge hit!

  For Now...

Just Julia
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Friday, 8 September 2017

Giraffe World Kitchen (Aberdeen) - Review

When it comes to traveling, there's nothing I enjoy more than scoping out the best foodie havens and indulging in some great local dishes. Although it may not be as exotic as a restaurant on the marina of St Tropez, Giraffe World Kitchen in Aberdeen has now launched its brand spanking new-look with a food and drinks menu boasting dishes from across the globe.

With a fresh new brand, a revamped name, and a food and drink menu to suit all tastes, Giraffe World Kitchen is back with a bang and putting some serious life, (and spice) into national chain restaurants.

Stepping inside the restaurant takes you on a journey around the world, uncovering new, exciting places the further you venture in. With bright, bold patterns, lots of interesting wood work, intricate detailing and modern lighting, the new and improved look is definitely now on par with its diverse menu offering. Having always been a restaurant focused on the diverse food offering the world boasts, Giraffe has now re-branded to bring the look of the restaurant and the food available together so that they both compliment one another - and that they do.
The restaurant was busy, probably the busiest I've ever seen it and guests were having to be turned away due to it being completely full - A great problem for any business of any size to have.

Luckily for us we had booked a table and were greeted and seated promptly. Whilst browsing the food menu, we ordered a couple of drinks. A Mexican Sunset (£6.95) for me, and freshly made lemonade with mint (£2.25) for my sister. 

Having a new love for Mexico's favourite spirit, the tequila based drink was extremely refreshing. With Aperol, pineapple, lime, sweetened agave nectar and soda over ice, it was lovely and sweet and the perfect drink to start off my dining experience at the new-look restaurant.
Our server for the night talked us through some of the popular dishes, which made choosing a dish all that more challenging, but after much deliberation we eventually managed to order. To begin I decided to go for the steamed duck gua bao buns (£6.95) and Nicole chose the prawn saganaki (£6.95).

The two steamed duck gua bao buns were beautifully soft and fluffy, and were packed full of crispy shredded duck, cucumber, spring onion and topped with chopped red chillies. The peanuts in the buns provided a real crunch to the dish, and the rich hoisin sauce finished it off perfectly.

Saganaki is a cheesy Greek dish which is created in a small frying pan and was exactly what my sister needed after a long day at work. The Greek comfort food was served with juicy king prawns in a delicious garlic, chilli, white wine, red onion and tomato sauce. The prawn saganaki (£6.95) was covered in crumbled feta and was served with a toasted flatbread on the side - perfect for dipping into and scooping up the leftover sauce. She loved the dish and there was plenty prawns in it too which suited her fine.
Polishing off both starters, our my, attention drifted back to the cocktail menu. This time I decided to order a gin based cocktail, with the Bramble Garden (£6.95) catching my eye. Featuring a healthy serving of London Dry gin, cucumber, apple, blackberries and elderflower, topped with soda and served long over ice, the gin sour hit the spot.

Taking on the role as driver for the night, Nicole tried out the Sunshine Coast Iced Tea which was ridiculously fine. With ice cold chamomile and green tea, mango, limeade and fresh mint it boasted all the characteristics of the base of a good cocktail (£2.95).
Next up was our Japanese and Asian inspired main dishes. Bowls for the soul Katsu Chicken (£11.95) for me, and Thai Duck Stir Fry (£10.95) for Nicole.

The Katsu Chicken was divine and went great with the noodles. I'd usually have paired it with rice at home, but the noodles worked really well and the mild peanut and coconut sauce, the bok choy, tenderstem broccoli and crunchy wok-fried vegetables. The lightly breaded Katsu chicken was very tasty, and the freshly squeezed lime on top added a real citrus hit to it.

Nicole's Thai duck stir fry was served with shredded duck, noodles with chilli jam, bok choy, crispy onions and wok-fried vegetables all tossed in teriyaki sauce. Both dishes were demolished quite rapidly.
Taking our time, we eventually decided that dessert was a must. Drifting to the shores of Spain,  my heart was set on the Churros (£4.95). The Spanish doughnuts came coated in cinnamon sugar with a choice of chocolate orange dipping sauce or dulce de leche on the side - of course I went for both...

The five churros were crisp on the outside and nice and fluffy inside and were extremely sweet. The chocolate orange and the dulce de leche sauces were very more-sih and creamy, a real sugar fix to round off the meal.

Nicole decided to embrace the Rocky Road (£5.95) dessert, which, if I had to pick somewhere, would have probably have hailed from the big ol' US of A - I could be completely wrong, but that was my interpretation. The tall sundae glass was filled with vanilla and salted caramel ice cream, layered with chocolate brownie chunks, chocolate sauce, mini marshmallows and lathered with whipped cream on top. She ate ever last morsel and even tried to pinch a few of my churros - not on my watch.
Bellies full it was time to call it a day on our foodie outing, and with the restaurant still very busy, we decided to promptly get our bill and free up our table so other customers could experience the new and improved version of Giraffe.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at just how much Giraffe World Kitchen impressed me. From the knowledgable staff, to the funky interiors, to the scrumptious and varied food on the menu and the diverse drinks offering, this was one chain restaurant which ticked all the boxes.

The restaurant is big on catering to families and offer free kids meal promotions quite regularly. With the opportunity to dine out in a comfortable restaurant which also encourages youngsters to try new foods from around the world, it's no surprise the restaurant was so busy. Hats off to Giraffe.

 For Now...

Just Julia
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