Mdina, Malta is a walled, hilltop town on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, which stood as the capital of Malta until the Medieval period. Mdina is commonly known as the “Silent City,” its a UNESCO site, and Mdina is a hugely popular tourist destination in Malta. More importantly, its also Kings Landing from the first season of Game of Thrones!!!!
Being so close to Italy, Italy heavily influences Malta’s cuisine. Pasta, cannoli, and pizza are everywhere in Malta, and we ate a lot of it. However, I kept thinking that it was just not as good as Italian food; a second best so to speak. However, when we dined at Sotto Pizzeria, I was completely blown away and had, by far, the best meal of the entire trip!
Sotto Pizzeria is located in Malta’s capital, Valletta, in a nondescript basement with only a small sign announcing the restaurant.
En route back from Malta, Dan and had a little over three hours to kill in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 before flying back to New York via Virgin Atlantic. Since we flew economy class, we had two options for airport lounges via Priority Pass – the Aspire Lounge and the No. 1 Lounge. Since we had visited the Aspire Lounge (albeit in Terminal 5) previously, we decided to check out the No. 1 Lounge this time, as it was new and it gets pretty good reviews.
The No. 1 Lounge is part of a chain of lounges in the UK. The public can buy access to the lounge for 40 Pounds, and the No. 1 Lounge also accepts Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Diners Club, and Wexas, and acts as a lounge for certain carriers. As such, it can definitely fill up and lock out Priority Pass members. To avoid this, the No. 1 Lounge offers an option for Priority Pass members to purchase guaranteed access for 5 Pounds/person. We did purchase this option, but it ended up being unnecessary.
The No. 1 Lounge is located post-security on the second floor of Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport, just next to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse and very close to other airline lounges. It was easy enough to find, just follow signs for airport lounges and don’t get distracted in crazy Terminal 3! There is an elevator and stairs to access the lounge. Entrance was quick and easy with our Priority Pass, and there were no restrictions for entry at 11 AM on a Sunday morning in June.
Upon arrival, you are given a menu with hot meal choices for the day, a bit of general information on the lounge, and the wifi password.
Upon entry, the No. 1 Lounge is quite large with decent airport views (the exact same as the Virgin Clubhouse, only 1 floor higher). Just past checkin is a pretty large bar with bar stool seating. Just past the bar is a small buffet and coffee area with table seating.
Moving around the corner from the buffet area, there is a lot of seating, both nice sofa like chairs, tables, and seating overlooking the runway. While there was a lot of seating, it was pretty crowded. In addition to this area, there are a few private rooms that can apparently be rented out for private groups (or possibly airlines). We ended up in one of these rooms at a large table just in front or a large TV playing BBC. These small side rooms also had small fridges with soda and water.
Since we had limited time in the lounge, we decided to order hot food as soon as we sat down. Dan took our two menus to the bar, where all orders are placed, and placed our orders. The way the hot food works is that your menu is a ticket for one meal. We just missed breakfast, so I ordered the truffle mac and cheese and Dan ordered the bacon sandwich. Our food came out about 15 minutes later and both were quite delicious!! My only complaint is that the dishes were a little small… But we ended up lucking out and our neighbor gave us his menu (he was not eating) and we ordered a third fish wrap, which was served with potato chips and was SO good!! We were definitely plenty full at this point!
Aside from order from the menu, which is a really fun option in an airport lounge, we also visited the little buffet area. We visited just as the lunch portion was going out. When we visited, the buffet consisted of a hot soup, a beet salad, a small lettuce salad with some vegetables, fresh fruit (whole apples, oranges, etc.), and some nuts and dried fruit. The nearby coffee bar doubled as a dessert bar and offered cookies and a couple different types of tea cakes. The desserts were really good and the buffet food was high quality, but I was looking for something a little more unhealthy on my last day of vacation….
While the hot food is understandably limited at the No. 1 Lounge, the drinks (well most) are free flowing (unlike the Aspire lounge). At the No. 1 Lounge, all alcohol beverages come from the main bar, and there are a lot of options. Seriously, Prosecco, numerous types of red and white wines, draft and bottled beer, and cider. There is also Champagne available for purchase. Between Dan and me, we tried the Prosecco, cider, and the Spanish Rioja red wine. I do not recall the brand of wine, but the Spanish Rioja was an excellent wine for a Priority Pass airline lounge.
In addition to alcohol drinks, the No. 1 Lounge offers complimentary bottles of flat and sparkling wine, a variety of sodas, juice, and a large coffee machine making all of the standard espresso beverages. These drinks are all unlimited and are self-serve via several small fridges spread out throughout the lounge.
The No. 1 Lounge has in lounge lavatories, which were clean and large enough to change and freshen up. The No. 1 Lounge also offers showers for 15 Pounds, nap pods for 20 Pounds, and apparently spa services! We did not use these features, nor did I see anyone else using them, but they apparently exist…
All in all, the No. 1 Lounge was a good lounge, and I think that I liked it better than the Aspire Lounge, but only slightly.
STEAL OUR LOUNGE
No. 1 Lounge Heathrow: Post-security in London Heathrow Terminal 3. Follow signs for Lounge F access. Directly above the Virgin Clubhouse. Open daily 4:30 – 22:30. From 34 Pounds in advance, 40 Pounds at the door. Priority Pass, Dragon Pass, Diners Club, and Wexas members have complimentary access. Showers are 10 Pounds extra for patrons with complimentary access. Pass members can also guaranty entrance for 5 Pounds per person online in advance.
Dan and my friend, Hugh, is in the wine industry, so when we were in Rome, he sent us over a few dinner/wine bar recommendations to try while we were in town! Usually I am a little picky about people’s restaurant or wine recommendations, but this guy knows his stuff and introduced us to Portuguese wine, which led to our wedding in Portugal! Enter L’Angolo Divino, a wine bar near Campo de’ Fiori, which was definitely our hang out spot when we studied in Rome…. We called and made a reservation same day (and probably did not need a reservation).
Despite it being late December in Rome, we walked to dinner (it was mid 50s F!) and were promptly seated at a cute table next to a window overlooking the street. The restaurant is quite small and when we visited, all of the patrons seemed to be tourists. This was a bit unsettling, but it turned out great.
On my 35th Birthday Trip in Rome, I lived out one of my greatest dreams – cruising around Rome in a vintage Fiat 500!!! Or a small metal death trap, as Dan called it… He hates danger. Our afternoon was absolutely fantastic and a unique way to explore the lovely city of Roma, Italia!
Roma Sparita is an absolutely delicious, well-known, yet casual, restaurant in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome that frequently tops “best place to eat in Rome” lists. It doesn’t hurt that Anthony Bourdain LOVED this restaurant, so much that he would never disclose its name (although it was pretty easy to uncover). And, as some of you may know, Dan and I lived in Trastevere for a summer in law school and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Bourdain! Obviously, when we were in Rome over the New Year, I just had to have a meal at Roma Sparita and made a dinner reservation our first night.
One of the best, if not the best (a close tie with Roma Sparita), meals that I had on my 35th birthday trip to Rome was at Restaurant Roscioli. Restaurant Roscioli is quite well known in Rome, as both a delicious restaurant and a popular tourist haunt. Despite its touristy popularity, we booked a table for dinner on our trip, and it was so, SO good!
If you are planning a trip to Rome, Roscioli will likely pop up on a lot of “best restaurant” lists and if you are just walking around looking for a place to eat, Roscioli’s charming atmosphere will certainly draw you in – think meats hanging from the ceiling, Italian products stocking the walls, and lots and lots of people. We made a reservation in advance before we left home (recommended) for the wine cellar. Yes, you pick where you sit, and there are four options: (1) the counter bar; (2) the restaurant hall; (3) the wine cellar; and (4) a table in front of the deli counter. Avoid the wine cellar if you can’t do steep stairs and the counter bar if you do not want to sit on a stool. Otherwise, the “options” are all in the same building and use the same menu and kitchen. We opted for the wine cellar because, well, we love wine! I would also note that each reservation is strictly timed and you are only allotted two hours for dinner, which I hate and is very un-Italian. Since we had a late dinner, we were the last sitting for our table and were able to stay as long as we wanted.
On arrival, we were promptly shown to our table, which was down a steep set of stairs in, not surprisingly, the wine cellar. The tables were TIGHT, but that’s somewhat normal in Italy and we were sitting among some amazing and delicious bottles of wine. We kept spotting bottles that we would like to try. It was kind of a problem. The waitress gave us the menu and the huge wine list, and we set out to choose a bottle of wine! We also ordered a couple gin and tonics to start, and these were absolutely delicious. They were also served in the cutest glasses, and there are multiple fancy gins to choose from on their Gin and Tonic list!
After reviewing the wine list in great detail, we decided to ask for a recommendation on a Sagrintino. We ended up decanting a 2011 Montefalco Sagrantino at Dan’s choice. The wine was ridiculously good!
On the food front, Roscioli has a really good menu, from pasta to meat, to fish, the list goes on. We ended up ordering two entrees (aka starters in Europe). First, fresh burrata! Burrata is a fresh, soft cheese, reminiscent of fresh mozzarella but better in my opinion! I was going to order this regardless but, super lucky for us, it was still white truffle season in Italy and there was a special white truffle menu, and the burrata was on it!! So, of course, I opted for the white truffle burrata! For those unfamiliar, white truffles are the most expensive of the truffle family, and they are incredibly, incredibly delicious. They are also only available for a short time period between about November and January. White truffles are priced by weight and the waiter will shave it fresh onto your dish. We went to a white truffle festival in San Miniato in 2016, and black truffles have just never been the same. We were also pretty familiar about how white truffles worked.
In addition to the burrata, we ordered something that was similar to a hotdog slider, basically a very tasty local sausage on a small bun with a pickle and a delicious sauce. These came two to an order and were quite delicious. No truffles on these bad boys.
For my main dish, I initially planned to order to Cacio e Pepe, but I wanted a dish from the white truffle menu, which narrowed it a bit. In the end, I ordered homemade tortellini from Bologna, which were stuffed with pork, and topped with more white truffles! Like the burrata, the white truffle was freshly shaved onto my pasta! This meal, again, was AMAZING!
Dan opted for my original Cacio e Pepe order, so at least I got to try that! As expected, his Cacio e Pepe was beautiful and tasted amazing. It was also a huge dish! I will absolutely order this next time (assuming its not white truffle season).
Even though we had enjoyed so much food at this point, we could not pass up dessert since the food was so tasty! We ended up ordered a fruit plate with chocolate sauce for dessert, accompanied with these famous dessert cookies. We also did a glass of dessert wine – a 2014 Muffato della Sala. The fruit was excellent and a great way to finish off our meal. However, I would probably not order it again, as it looks like every table receives a similar, smaller dessert for free.
All in, this meal was 1000%!!! I cannot go back to Rome without eating here, and I even joined their wine club! For those planning to visit, make a reservation in advance and review the menu (online) before you arrive to maximize your two hour dinner. There are a lot of options on the menu and it can be a little confusing. But don’t worry, the waitstaff is super nice and used to tourists. They will gladly assist if needed! In terms of price, this was our most expensive dinner in Rome, but that was due to my white truffles (about $50 US extra between the two courses – it was my birthday!) and an expensive bottle of wine. I would classify Roscioli as upscale but not breaking the bank.
STEAL OUR DINNER
Roscioli: Via dei Giubbonari, 21/22, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. Closed Sunday. Open Monday – Sunday, 12h30 – 16h, 19h – 00h. Reservations almost mandatory and can be made here. There are several options of “where to sit” in Roscioli. All areas serve the same menu prepared by the same kitchen.
Dan and I made our triumphant return to Rome Italy between Christmas and New Year’s to celebrate my 35th birthday!! We originally visited Rome in 2008 as a law school summer study abroad and LOVED it but, unfortunately, had not been back – despite having been to Italy many times over the last decade… Since my birthday is in late December – the 26th to be precise – we visited Rome between Christmas and New Years. I was a bit concerned about the timing, the weather, what to do, etc., but we ended up having the perfect trip and now I really want to go back!
Le Grand Colbert is an old-school Parisian haunt near the Louvre (and even closer to the Bourse (aka stock exchange)). Its also right around the corner from Ellsworth, an adorable restaurant that I recommend! Being old-school, Le Grand Colbert has been around for years – since 1900 (current owners since 1992) – and its everything that you would imagine in such a bistrot – gorgeous interior, fancy waiters dressed in full suits, and classic French fare. The building also has tons of history, originally dating to 1637. Be sure to check out the details in the small details, including the mosaic floor!
Doesn’t le Grand Colbert seem like the perfect spot? Well, its also, and somewhat unfortunately, quite popular with the tourist crowds due to the fact that it was featured in the hit American move, Something’s Gotta Give (GREAT movie though!). So while its a classic, you will not likely be enjoying a meal at Le Grand Colbert with Parisians, but with other tourists. Even then, however, Le Grand Colbert is a pretty fabulous meal in Paris, especially for those on a first time (or once in a life time visit)!
As you can probably guess, I dined at Le Grand Colbert on my Ladies Trip to Paris earlier this year, but my mother and I visited Le Grand Colbert way back in 2004 when I studied abroad in Paris! We loved it then and it was just as good this time around. One of the best things about Le Grand Colbert is its classic, and lengthy, Parisian/South Burgundy menu. You want something classically French, its probably on this menu. Le Grand Colbert also boasts a great wine list! Every table at Le Grand Colbert starts with olives, potato chips (my favorite!), and crusty French bread. We paired this with a 2014 Bordeaux from Haut-Médoc from that excellent wine list.
I started my meal with a bowl of French Onion Soup because well, I was in Paris. This one was particularly good and super cheesy! Highly recommended. My only complaint is that it was too much food for me, ha!
I then ordered a classic Parisian dish and one of my favorites, steak au poivre. This is basically a deliciously rare steak in a pepper corn sauce. My steak was served with a slice of tomato with Parmesean crust, really good haricot vert (green beans), and pommes frites! Super Parisian, and super delicious! Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of other peoples food, but other popular choices were the very fresh scallops, and the huge pot of moules-frites (mussels and fries)!
For dessert, because, Paris, I ordered a classic crème brûlée. It was served flaming, and it was absolutely delicious!
STEAL OUR DINNER
Le Grand Colbert: 2 Rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris, France. Open daily 12h – 00h. Reservations recommended and can easily be made online. Not cheap, but not as expensive as you would think. Below are some pictures of the large menu (but not all of it) for price point comparison. While touristy, I do recommend this restaurant and would absolutely eat here again. Le Grand Colbert is also good about reserving tables for large groups without issue, a plus for groups or families!
Ah, the Eiffel Tower. The definitive bucket list site in Paris. Completed in 1889 for the World’s Fair in Paris, its still the tallest structure in Paris and very popular with visitors, who can ascend to the very top on most days (the top is occasionally closed for wind). I’ve visited the Eiffel Tower many times of the years, and visiting it has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Gone are the days of picnicing in the Champs de Mars and gone are the days of buying a ticket on the spot. Now, due to increased security measures, tourists should plan their visit in advance to save precious Paris vacation time and ensure their ticket to the top! Here is my guide on visiting and dining on the Eiffel Tower (skip to the bottom for information on dining on the Eiffel Tower only) in 2019!