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cheriecity

Hotels, London, Restaurants

Dinner at Min Jiang, London

Min Jiang has been on my foodie wish list for a while, so I was delighted to visit with a small group of food and lifestyle bloggers for a photography masterclass and dinner.

This fine dining Chinese restaurant on the tenth floor of the Royal Garden Hotel Kensington opened in 2008 to rave reviews, particularly about its wood-fired Beijing duck.

Really good Chinese food is one of my favourite indulgences, so I was looking forward to sampling some of Min Jiang’s signature dishes while marveling at the panoramic views over Kensington Gardens.

But before we could pick up our chopsticks, we had some snapping to do with professional photographers Rafe Abrook and Oli Sander.

We took over Min Jiang’s gorgeous deep red private dining room to talk all things photography.  We took away plenty of cool tips for improving our food photography and had some time to practice shooting Min Jiang dishes with guidance from the pros.

Rafe and Oli recommended investing in a portable camera light to combat the yellow glare of the tungsten lighting usually found in restaurants.  The super cool light sabre may be a bit intense for the dinner table, but the smaller box size can fit in your handbag for a quick lighting fix.

We then moved into the main dining room for a cosy dinner – cameras still out, of course!  First up was the Steamed Dim Sum Platter in four different flavours.  The delicate parcels were cooked perfectly and generously filled – my favourite was the prawn har gau.

Bi Feng Tang Soft Shell Crab with Garlic and Chili was crunchy and flavoursome with crispy fried onions and large pieces of red chili.  I’d expected it to be a fiery dish, but it was actually quite subtle and very moreish.

Min Jiang’s Legendary wood-fired Beijing Duck is indeed worthy of high praise.  The meat was tender and juicy with a good amount of fat and crispy, lacquered skin.  It was served with light and airy pancakes, a mouth-watering hoisin sauce, extra pieces of scorched skin and all of the usual trimmings.

Thankfully a second plate was brought out, so we could continue rolling these exquisite pancakes.  It’s certainly hard to exercise restraint and any kind of etiquette when sharing such a special, luxurious dish with hungry foodies, but I think we’re all still on speaking terms.

For the main course, we shared a few signature dishes.  Sauteed Gong Bao Tiger Prawns were covered in a deliciously sticky ginger glaze and punctuated with roasted cashews and chili.

Diced Rib Eye of Beef with Black Pepper Sauce had a smoky, chargrilled taste and was ever so tender, doused in a rich, mellow sauce.  It went perfectly with the steamed, wilted Pak Choi with Garlic.

Our individual bowls of Fried Noodles were super tasty, but the portion size was a bit small and I found only a sliver of the second serving of roast duck.  It was a taster dinner though, so the typical set menu noodle servings may be more substantial.

The Seasonal Fruit Platter was beautifully presented and refreshing but not the most exciting dessert to end the meal.  Min Jiang does actually have a rather tempting dessert menu, so you can look forward to trying treats such as Poached Black Sesame Dumpling, Mango Cream with Sago Pearls and Pomelo or the Chilled Orange and Ginger Soup.

Min Jiang is a great destination restaurant for a celebration with exceptional food that matches the impressive views.  It has a grown-up, contemporary-classic feel and is likely to become a London institution for top notch Chinese fine dining.

For more information and booking, visit: www.minjiang.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of Min Jiang

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Min Jiang)

Click to add a blog post for Min Jiang - Royal Garden Hotel on Zomato

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Pizza Union, Kings Cross

Pizza Union has become my ‘go to’ place for a quick pizza fix and I’ve stopped by many times since it opened its first restaurant in Spitalfields last summer.

The fire-baked Roman-style pizza is always tasty, the quality is consistent and I’ve never had to wait long for my pizza to arrive fresh out of the oven (it usually takes just three minutes to cook).

Pizza Union’s newly-opened second restaurant on Pentonville Road, Kings Cross, is just as conveniently located as the first – close to a major station, offices and student halls (these guys sure know what they’re doing).  The restaurant was already busy on an early Monday evening, even though it had only been open for a few weeks – perhaps due to word of mouth and its central location.

Its urban-cool design is familiar and slick, with marble counters, wooden tables covered in Italian tiles and splashes of neon.  It’s also well air-conditioned, so it’s the perfect place to escape the summer heat and refuel with delicious food and an ice cold Peroni or San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa.

I have a few favourite toppings at Pizza Union, but on this occasion I decided to try the gluten-free pizza for something a bit different.  I don’t have a strong gluten intolerance but try to avoid large portions of wheat and the thought of leaving without feeling bloated seemed appealing on that particularly hot day.

Since I was going gluten-free, I went for the classically Italian Reine (£5.95 + £1 for gluten-free) – tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, cotto ham, mushrooms and black olives.  The pizza base, made using rice flour, was surprisingly good with a light, chewy texture that was made crispy by the pizza oven.

The high quality Italian toppings, natural sunkissed tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella made for a satisfying, flavoursome pizza.  Of course, the original pizza base is impossible to beat, but I would definitely order the gluten-free pizza again if I was in the mood.

It’s worth noting however, that if you have a severe allergy to gluten, it’s best to avoid the pizzas altogether (instead try the Pizzeria Salad) since they are all cooked in the same pizza oven – the helpful staff pointed this out when ordering.

Steven went for the super-spicy Manzo (£5.95) – tomato sauce, mozzarella, beef, garlic, green chillis and rocket. This is the pizza to order if you want an intense taste – the spiced minced beef goes very well with the fresh, peppery rocket.

Pizza Union Dolce warm dough rings filled with Nutella, coconut and chocolate or salted caramel and peanuts are so heavenly and indulgent, but we couldn’t quite manage one this time.  I’d quite like to go back and try one of the new flavours as an afternoon treat with a cup of tea rather than attempt to squeeze one in after a big pizza.

Instead, we grazed on a selection of delicious bite-size Cannolis in chocolate, white chocolate and pistachio. They seem to be smaller and less generously filled than when I first tried them, but they’re ever so tasty and perfect for a touch of sweetness to end the meal.  It’s also impossible to pick a favourite, so just order them all.

Pizza Union is a real game-changing restaurant that has the potential to eventually become a national chain. With such excellent pizza, cool style and affordable prices, who could resist?

Chérie City was invited by Pizza Union

Photos by Chérie City and Pizza Union

Click to add a blog post for Pizza Union on Zomato

Websites

What to Pack for a Summer Trip

Every time I come back from a summer trip, I survey the unused items in my suitcase and swear to streamline my packing for the next one.

Today I have the tedious task of unpacking, having just returned from a wonderful long weekend in Provence late last night and my packing skills have improved, but there were still a few things that didn’t make it outside my hotel room.

With this in mind, here are a few simple travel essentials that are always in my suitcase for a summer trip…

Hat – It might be the item that your Dad always reminds you to pack (I used to roll my eyes at this), but a hat can really help prevent sunstroke and protect your hair from sun damage and colour fading.

Posh Flip Flops – Towards the end of a summer trip, my heels cry out for no more sandals and flip flops are the only thing I can bear to put on my feet.  So, cheat with some smart flip flops that you can dress up or down and you’ll not have to take them off.

After-Sun – On my recent trip I was confident that I’d be safe in the sun with my trusty Ultrasun suncream, but in the morning rush I forgot to apply it to the back of my neck and ended up with a patch of light sunburn.  Even if tanning isn’t a priority on your warm city break, don’t forget the after-sun to cool down your skin.

Travel Adaptor - My world travel adaptor is my number one travel essential.  It’s small and doesn’t take up much room, but with such a reliance on technology, most of us would be lost without one.

Travel Pillow – Snoozing on a plane or train can be so uncomfortable and leave you feeling crumpled on arrival, but a travel pillow makes sleeping en route much more pleasant.

Don’t even bother with…

High heels – Unless your activities consist of lazing by the pool all day, you won’t have the desire to wedge your feet into sky-high heels in the sizzling heat.  Just leave them at home.

Jacket – You think it might get cold in the evenings, but it never does.  Pack a cardigan and pashmina for travelling, but that’s probably the only time you’ll need layers in the summer.

All of the magazines – I tend to pack lots of magazines for a bit of travel entertainment, but most of them end up unread and come back home with me.  Digital magazines on a tablet or iPad are a much more sensible choice.

For my trip to Provence, I was travelling on the Eurostar, so I gave little thought to the weight and size of my suitcase, but taking a flight is a whole different ballgame.

Luckily, the clever folk at Expedia have created a handy travel tool that lists the hand luggage and cabin baggage allowance for all major airlines flying out of the UK.  You can view the restrictions on size, weight and capacity for flight with British Airways, Emirates, EasyJet, Wizz Air and many more.

There’s even a clickable link to the airline’s official baggage policy, so you don’t need to spend time searching the airline website to get more information.  The tool is regularly updated, providing the latest information so you won’t get caught out at the airport.

It’s also useful before travelling, as you can see which airline offers the best value for your flight, depending on whether you just need hand luggage for a short city break, or whether a generous baggage allowance is a priority for a longer trip.

I’ll definitely be using the Expedia travel tool for my next trip – it’s one less thing to stress about before taking a flight.

Do you worry about baggage allowances when packing?  Which items always come back unused in your suitcase?

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Bars, Hotels, London

Cocktails at GONG, Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

On one of the hottest days of the year last week, I escaped the intense heat high above the city in the stylish surroundings of GONG at Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London.

The impressive five star hotel – set across the 34th to the 52nd floors of Renzo Piano’s iconic building – opened last year and is already famed for its incredible views.

I’ve had the pleasure of staying in Shangri-La hotels in Asia and Europe, so on arrival at the London hotel, the speedy elevator ride and signature spiced tea scent felt familiar and took me back to my travels in China.

I arrived at GONG, Western Europe’s highest bar, on the 52nd floor of the hotel just in time for cocktail hour and perched on a comfy seat at the bar.

The contemporary Asian interiors are ever so sleek, with plenty of grey marble and dark magenta highlights framing the spectacular 360 degree views of the city.  I’m not sure if it was the relief of the glorious air-conditioning or the altitude, but I could definitely feel that we were at a high level.

Our host for the next few hours was Head Mixologist Christian Maspes (formerly of the American Bar at The Savoy), who took us on a tasting journey of GONG’s signature cocktails.  He was named the winner of last year’s Shangri-La Bartender of the Year and constantly experiments with premium Asian and British spirits to create innovative new drinks.

Christian began by telling us that the GONG cocktail menu is divided into four categories to represent the essence of Shangri-La, its home in vibrant London, unique sensory experiences and a celebration of rare spirits.

To start, we visited the mythical land of Shangri-La with Mantras – Haig Club scotch whisky, coconut cream, cardamon, turmeric, limoncello and home-made saffron syrup.  This was one of my favourite cocktails, particularly for this hot day, as it was so smooth, refreshing and subtly aromatic (almost like an Indian lassi drink).

To accompany our drinks, we were treated to a delicious taster plate of the new bar food menu, including Iberico ham with tomato chutney, Wasabi and ginger cured salmon with yuzu cream on toast, Rosemary foccaccia with roasted vegetables and Chicken breast with mango and avocado on sourdough.

From the Nest of London section, we tried a rather regal Elizabeth’s Diadem – Jensen’s Bermondsey Dry gin, carrot juice, rosemary and Olorosso sherry.  This was a zingy, fragrant cocktail that was a bit like a healthy cold-pressed juice but with the welcome addition of gin and sherry – a great combination in my opinion.

Jensen’s Bermondsey Dry gin is made just 10 minutes walk away from the hotel at Bermondsey Distillery, created by Christian Jensen in order to bring back the neighbourhood’s golden age of gin-making.

From the Awaken Your Senses section, we tried the Turkish Chinata – Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Mozart chocolate, Barolo Chinato, salt, berry fondue.  This was a curious sensory experience as the sweet, characterful cocktail, served in a Turkish coffee pot, was garnished with both chocolate shards and pungent truffle oil.

Christian explained that the truffle oil usually divides guests and I found that it confused my palate a little, as my palate didn’t know whether to expect a sweet or savoury flavour.  It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly an interesting option to try if you like to give your taste-buds a challenge.

We finished with two cocktails from the Forgotten Elixirs section – the first was the El Jimador – Mezcal, kaffir lime leaves infused in maraschino, lime and Chartreuse Verte.  The blend of Mezcal and Chartreuse Verte made it lethally strong, but it was easy to drink and had a citrus tang from the lime.

Our final cocktail was an Anaesthetic Crusta – Remy Martin VSOP, Mandarine Napoleon, home-made orange cordial, lemon and maraschino.  It had a delicious sherbet orange flavour and was very mellow with a bit of crunch from the poppy seeds – it would be one of my top choices to order again.

GONG is much more than a luxury viewpoint near the top of The Shard, it’s a real destination bar with imaginative, expertly-crafted cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere.  I can’t wait to go back for a chic cocktail by the infinity Skypool adjoining the bar and imagine I’m on a summer staycation.

For more information and booking, visit: www.gong-shangri-la.com

Chérie City was invited by Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Shangri-La Hotel, at The Shard, London)

 

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Jamie’s Italian Covent Garden, London

My list of independent London restaurants is never ending, but sometimes a high quality, dependable chain restaurant can really hit the spot.

Jamie’s Italian is one of my preferred choices, as well as Carluccio’s, for hearty Italian food made well with good ingredients.  I’ve always enjoyed my meals at Jamie Oliver restaurants, including Fifteen in Cornwall, so I was keen to see if the Jamie magic was still alive at his Covent Garden restaurant in St. Martin’s Courtyard.

The first Jamie’s Italian opened in Oxford back in 2008 and it clearly remains popular – the Covent Garden restaurant was reassuringly busy, even for an early evening midweek dinner.

The friendly, attentive staff sat us at a comfortable corner booth where we had a good view of the restaurant and the tempting dishes that were coming out of the kitchen.  On the day we dined, there was a raging storm outside, so we were much in need of some serious comfort food and shelter from the rain.

To start, we shared a Fresh Crab Bruschetta (£6.85), which turned out to be a good idea as it was quite substantial.  Fresh, flaky white and brown crab meat was lightly dressed with crunchy sliced fennel, served on charred sourdough toast.  It was finished with thin slices of fresh red chilli for a bit of a kick and I liked the addition of shaved lemon zest to brighten the flavours.

Pasta at Jamie’s Italian is a real must, so I went for my all-time favourite pasta dish – Tagliatelle Bolognese (£10.75).  I make a pretty good Bolognese at home, so I rarely order it in restaurants in case it’s underwhelming, but Jamie’s Bolognese is a cut above the rest.  The mountain of tagliatelle was cooked perfectly al dente and the beef ragu was rich and juicy with plenty of lean meat, topped with herby breadcrumbs (a clever addition that I’ll be trying at home) and lots of fresh Parmesan.

Steven’s Penne Carbonara (£10.95) was just as tasty and satisfying with a creamy, garlicky sauce, chunky strips of rustic pancetta, buttered leeks and fresh herbs.  It’s a super indulgent dish and quite a treat, if you can handle the richness.

For dessert, I tried a light and summery Chocolate, Pear and Honeycomb Pavlova (£5.95).  The delicate yet chewy meringue was exemplary, topped with light-as-air whipped cream, sticky chocolate sauce, crunchy honeycomb pieces and a sliver of poached pear.  It was simple and well-suited to those with a sweet tooth – I could’ve easily eaten more of it.

Steven went for a typically Italian Sour Cherry and Almond Tart (£5.95).  The moist, dense almond sponge with baked sour cherries was set inside buttery golden pastry, topped with toasted almonds and served with whipped honey cream and crumbled Amaretti biscuits.  It was a substantial, fragrant dessert that rounded off the meal nicely.

Jamie’s Italian really fixed my Italian comfort food craving and I can see myself visiting again to try more of the seasonally-changing menu and some cocktails the next time I want to escape the Covent Garden crowds.

Chérie City was invited by Jamie’s Italian

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Jamie’s Italian)

Click to add a blog post for Jamie's Italian on Zomato

London, Restaurants

Lunch at West Thirty Six, London

When I first moved to London, one of my favourite days out was a spot of vintage shopping on Portobello Road (I found one of my favourite designer cashmere cardigans there for a tenner) and a rummage for new music in Rough Trade, followed by cupcakes at Hummingbird Bakery, back in the day when there were always queues outside.

Visiting the hip new townhouse West Thirty Six for lunch made me a bit nostalgic for my past Notting Hill jaunts, when I was a care-free journalism student with little more to do than explore my new city.

My summer resolution is to make it over to the west more often to watch the world go by at the pavement cafes and marvel at the pastel-coloured houses.

Located just over the bridge on Golborne Road, West Thirty Six is a seriously cool converted townhouse from the team behind Beach Blanket Babylon.  It has the cosy feel of a private members’ club with a enviable mix of contemporary and retro design and maze-like rooms with different ambiances.

We walked through the expansive downstairs brasserie and ate in the more intimate first floor dining room, which also features a separate bar and stunning terrace.  Our corner table was in a prime spot with plush sofas, bookcases and sleek artwork – it almost felt like our own private living room.

The second floor is exclusively for private parties and bottle service and there’s also the ‘secret’ basement yard The Tool Shed with its own fire pit and a cute gardening theme.

At the helm of West Thirty Six is Chef Jon Pollard (formerly of Soho House and Caprice Holdings), whose menu features grill house and brasserie classics with a twist.  There’s a big meat focus with British farm-sourced produce, but still plenty of dishes to pique the interest of vegetarians.

Since it was a hot day and only lunchtime, we skipped starters and went straight to the mains – given the portion size, this turned out to be a wise choice.

I was tempted by the Half Rotisserie Chicken (£12) and it really looked the part when it arrived nicely dressed on a wooden board.  But this was no ordinary rotisserie chicken, it was a spit roasted rare breed Norfolk grey chicken seasoned with rosemary and thyme.

The generously-sized roast chicken was tender, succulent and with the most delicious, properly crispy skin, grilled half lemon, roasted garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme.

Steven went for the Sirloin 39 day house aged Hereford beef, 350g, (£25).  The nicely charred, juicy steak was cooked perfectly medium and had a lovely smoky flavour from the grill.  It was lightly seasoned, simply to enhance the natural meat flavours, but was accompanied with a pot of delicious, herby Béarnaise sauce.

For a lighter alternative to fries, we ordered two of the tempting vegetable dishes to share.  Roasted cauliflower with pomegranate, hazelnut (£8.50) was a nice combination of ingredients, but I found the dish unexpectedly overly sweet, as though it was coated in a sugary glaze.

More successful were Artichokes with broad beans, hazelnuts and saffron (£9) – a dish that you can imagine gracing an Ottolenghi counter.  The tangy marinated artichokes had a summery lemon, saffron and fresh mint flavour and the large broad beans, hazelnuts and pickled pink onions were the ideal additions.

For dessert, the Apple Cinnamon Pie with custard (£9) came highly recommended and happily it was already my number one choice.  Our waitress presented us with a rustic, freshly-baked whole apple pie and cut the most enormous portion with a little jug of custard.

It was one of the best apple pies I’ve ever had with juicy, sweet green apples, plenty of cinnamon and a golden, buttery crust.  It was perfectly complemented by the smooth, vanilla-scented custard – puddings don’t come much better than this.

Steven tried the Chocolate Bar with peanut crunch (£9), which was a more sophisticated dessert but equally delicious.  The dense chocolate sponge base (almost like a brownie) was topped with a layer or smooth salted caramel mousse, milk chocolate mousse and glossy dark chocolate ganache.

As if that wasn’t indulgent enough, it came with gorgeous salted caramel ice cream and a copper pot of warm cherry compote.  Desserts at West Thirty Six really are worth shouting about, so you must leave room to try a few, washed down with a pot of fresh mint tea.

West Thirty Six is a fantastic spot for a laid-back, cosy lunch with friendly staff, excellent food and attractive surroundings.  I imagine it to be buzzing with a fun west London crowd in the evenings and will definitely be visiting again soon to try the Sunday Roast, cocktails and the magnificent Build your own Sundae.

For more information and booking, visit: www.w36.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of West Thirty Six

Photos by Chérie City (some interiors by West Thirty Six)

Click to add a blog post for West Thirty Six on Zomato

italy, Websites

Love Prosecco with Citalia

Italy is one of my favourite places to spend the summer, especially when it includes lazy afternoons spent dining al fresco with copious plates of antipasti and a glass of Prosecco in hand.

However, I’m not the only one with a penchant for Prosecco, as the Italy experts over at Citalia have launched a Love Prosecco campaign, celebrating what is now officially the UK’s favourite fizz (sorry Champagne, we’re having a Prosecco love-in).

If you could do with brush up on your Prosecco knowledge like me, Citalia has created a handy infographic detailing the vineyards that produce some of the best Prosecco in its native north-eastern Veneto region.  There are also interesting facts about the drink’s history, tasting notes, food pairings and cocktail recipes.

In tribute to the Italian good life and a summer of Prosecco, here are some of my favourite Italian destinations for a stylish break…

Venice

Every traveller should try and visit Venice at least once in their lives, as there really is nothing like it in the world.  The moment when the mist clears and you approach the port by boat (or a chic private water taxi like the Clooneys), is truly breathtaking and you know you’re somewhere very special.

Venice is smaller than you might imagine and the picture perfect Grand Canal is almost like a theatre set with the Rialto bridge and passing gondolas.

Some of my favourite Venice moments on my trip there were having a fabulous three-course meal overlooking the canal (you can’t not do the tourist stuff in Venice), strolling around the maze-like streets filled with carnival mask shops and watching the world go by at the historic Caffè Florian (mentioned in Citalia’s guide to the best bars in Venice to drink Prosecco in) perched on St Mark’s Square. On the balmy evening we visited, the square was filled with the sounds of Pink Floyd performing live in concert – definitely a memorable moment.

If you have plenty of time, or prefer to stay outside of Venice, try the seaside resort of Lido di Jesolo where you can find golden sand beaches, plenty of Italo Disco bars and tiny family-run restaurants that do the most delicious spaghetti alle cozze.  It’s just a short ferry ride over to Venice, so it’s ideally placed for a relaxing sightseeing and sunlounging holiday.

Sorrento, Capri and Anacapri

My travels have mostly taken me to northern Italy, but a few years ago, I spent a day in Sorrento, Capri and Anacapri as part of a Mediterranean cruise.

Sorrento is a real beauty spot with delightful terrace cafes, elegant hotels and peaceful squares.  Nearby Capri is a long-time favourite for Europe’s glam jet-setters with its designer boutiques, exclusive beachside seafood restaurants and luxury villas, however it’s still full of character with stunning panoramas over the sea.

More low-key is Anacapri at the top of the hill with its pretty gardens, limoncello shops, artisan sandal-makers, perfumeries and the lovely Villa San Michele museum.

Rome

Italy’s capital city has it all – history, culture, designer shopping and great food.  Be wowed by the iconic Coliseum and sacred Vatican City, pick up some fresh flowers and sun-kissed fruit at the Campo de’ Fiori daily market and throw your coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure you’ll return back to Rome.

When I visited Rome, I stayed in a typically Italian boutique hotel just off the Via Condotti, a short stroll away from the Spanish Steps and spent an evening at the opera watching a performance of La Traviata.  Be sure to stop for an authentic Italian hot chocolate at Antico Caffè Greco – a bijou literary cafe (and famed haunt of Byron, Liszt and Goethe) that dates back to 1760.

Verona

For a truly romantic trip, visit the charming city of Verona in northern Italy.  The first thing to do is to make a pilgrimage to Juliet’s Balcony – the courtship scene of Shakespeare’s ‘star-cross’d lovers’ Romeo and Juliet.  Owned by the dell Capello family, the ‘Casa di Giulietta’ dates back to the 13th century and is set in a small courtyard with a bronze statue of young Juliet.

I loved visiting the beautiful churches and piazzas of Verona and soaking up the sun over lunch at a chic restaurant terrace on the Piazza delle Erbe.

For my next travels in Italy, I’d love to visit Milan to shop at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, visit the cultural Fondazione Prada and enjoy a leisurely aperitivo with a glass of Prosecco or the traditional Negroni Sbagliato at one of the many traditional bars.

Alghero – Sardinia

One of my favourite beach destinations is the quiet town of Alghero in north-west Sardinia.  The pretty, cobbled old town is filled with adorable restaurants, gelaterias and jewellery boutiques selling pieces made with local coral (Margherita Missoni is known to stock up when she’s in town).

Best of all are the miles of golden sand beaches with crystal clear waters, happily unspoiled and reasonably quiet.  The prime, secluded spots can be accessed with a short ramble through a pine forest – believe me, it’s worth it for the glorious views.

Where is your favourite place in Italy to drink a refreshing glass of Prosecco?  Where is next on your Italy travel wish list?

Photos courtesy of Citalia – Sorrento and Capri by Chérie City

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Bars, Hotels, London

Blooming Brilliance at The Rib Room, London

The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at Jumeirah Carlton Tower brings a floral touch to Knightbridge with its Blooming Brilliance summer pop-up bar.

A central London institution, The Rib Room is luxurious yet homely – it’s the kind of place that you could easily become a regular.

I discovered the bar at The Rib Room last year and loved its elegant, clubby atmosphere, exquisite cocktails and delicious bar plates – the famed crab and lobster burger with thermidor sauce is seriously indulgent.

To celebrate the arrival of summer, one of the cosy private rooms has been transformed into an exotic floral retreat with a statement wall bursting with botanical herbs, vibrant flowers and citrus shrubs.  The floral theme continues on the fabulous outdoor terrace where you can enjoy al fresco drinks and a spot of people-watching.

Saverio Vicari, Head Mixologist at The Rib Room, has created 17 botanical-inspired cocktails and seasonal light cuisine specially for Blooming Brilliance.  The tempting cocktail menu features English classics with a floral twist, made using summery, refreshing spirits such as Bombay Sapphire Gin and Grey Goose Vodka.

I visited with a small group of writers and we tasted a variety of excellent cocktails from the menu such as the Jack and Shrub made with Gentleman Jack Bourbon, Amaro Lucano and strawberry shrub served in a copper mug and the zingy Tea Break with Bombay dry gin, green Chartreuse, green tea syrup and cucumber shrub.

Undoubtedly the all-round favourite of our group was the Basil Sour – Beluga vodka, lemon juice, ginger syrup and a teaspoon of basil olive oil.  It was aromatic and invigorating with a typical agrodolce flavour.

We chatted away late into the evening and enjoyed the sultry sounds of the live jazz band while grazing on moreish canapes including sticky sesame chicken, lobster tartlets, asparagus and prosciutto in breadcrumbs and tempura tiger prawns.  Weekday nights in the Royal Borough don’t come much better than this!

Blooming Brilliance will host a series of showcase evenings including Cocktail Creations on the 25thJune, and a summer botanical food demonstration on the 2nd July for £30.00 per person.  Open every day from 4pm, now until 2nd August.

Chérie City was a guest of The Rib Room

All photos by The Rib Room

London, Restaurants

Taste of London 2015 with EATAPAS

This weekend, I visited Taste of London for the first time and it was just as fun and buzzing as I expected.

Set in the open-air surroundings of beautiful Regent’s Park, Taste of London is a showcase for the best London restaurants, local and national food producers and innovative new companies.

It’s the perfect day out where you can watch live cookery demonstrations and talks with top chefs, nibble your way around the stalls and pick up some gourmet produce to take home.

A highlight of the event is the line-up of London restaurants where you can mix and match small taster dishes that show off the chefs’ creativity yet leave you curious to try more.

I was invited as a guest of EATAPAS, a UK-based start-up that sells authentic Spanish tapas ingredients online.

Launched just seven months ago, EATAPAS offers luxury food products that can only be found at high end stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols – they even persuaded one artisanal brand to export to the UK for the first time through them exclusively.

EATAPAS shares the story of all our their food brands online, making you feel more connected to the producers.  A particularly interesting brand to look out for is Museu de la Confitura – a small Catalonian company set up by Georgina Regàs where the jams are made by a group of 60-year-old grandmas.

I enjoyed a tasting plate of the most delicious, flavoursome Manchego cheese with crunchy Picos Camperos while perusing the products and devising Spanish-style recipes in my head.  EATAPAS very kindly gave me a bag full of exquisite Spanish tapas ingredients and I can’t wait to get cooking with them.

After discovering EATAPAS, I browsed the stalls and procured plenty of samples along the way.  I tasted almost every coconut water in existence (definitely a prominent trend at Taste of London), dipped pieces of sourdough into the sweetest Seggiano balsamic vinegars and grazed on tiny cubes of fudge in every flavour.

Celebrity Cruises recreated its signature Lawn Club with tasting events and live music while the VOSS Water stand brought a holiday vibe with cool sounds by live DJs.

One of the prettiest spots was the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Lounge, which was ever so elegant with pastel furnishings, pink roses and flowing rosé Champagne.

There were some top notch restaurants present and my thinking was to try dishes from restaurants that I haven’t yet visited.  The truffley aromas around The Palomar stall were too good to resist, so I went for the Polenta Jerusalem style with asparagus, mushroom ragout, Parmesan and truffle oil.  It must’ve been a favourite that day, as one of the servers predicted my order as I approached and they weren’t wrong.

The rich, creamy polenta was perfectly complemented by the truffle oil and I loved the addition of the slow-cooked, garlicky mushroom ragout.  I’ve heard great things about The Palomar and this divine dish has definitely made me want to visit for a proper dinner.

To follow, I had my eye on a Kurobuta BBQ pork belly steamed bun or a Chinese special roast duck and hoisin mantu bun by Chai Wu, but sadly it was not meant to be.  While procrastinating and wandering, 4pm struck and I didn’t realise that at this time, almost everything shuts down and we would be ushered out with a quick turnaround before the next four-hour session.

Not even a hopeful smile of flash of the crowns could score me a morsel, so when you go, be sure to pick up your dishes in good time and leave shopping until the end.  Here’s the Kurobuta pork belly sizzling away, so near and yet so far…

However, all was not lost as I managed to spend my remaining crowns on a very indulgent chocolate chip brownie from Olivier’s Bakery and a box of T2 New York Blend to add to my ever-growing T2 collection at home.

Taste of London is a great way to dine around London’s top restaurants and meet new food producers and companies.  It was such a fun event and I’ll definitely be heading back next year.

For more information, visit: london.tastefestivals.com and www.eatapas.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of EATAPAS

All photos by Chérie City

London, Stores

RossoTerrazza at John Lewis, London

Summer is here and the sales are on, so where better to take a break from the Oxford Street crowds than a rooftop oasis in the heart of it all?

The sixth floor rooftop at the flagship John Lewis Oxford Street department store has been transformed into a tropical Summer Retreat, complete with palm trees, pastel beach huts furnished with John Lewis summer products, colourful lanterns and parrots aplenty.

The entire terrace is decked out with astroturf and there are turquoise picnic tables and cosy nooks, so you can really make the most of being outside.

Of course, the experience is made even better with the addition of Neapolitan street food and cocktails by Rossopomodoro and healthy juices from Joe and the Juice.

RossoTerrazza features a cute, wood-panelled ‘beach shack’ with a well-stocked bar and food counter where you can order from a menu of tempting Mediterranean bites.

We started with some suitably Italian cocktails – mine was a tall and refreshing Aperol Spritz while Steven enjoyed a rather potent, sweet and sour Godfather.  The cocktail list is quite extensive, balancing aperitivo classics with summer crowd-pleasers such as Pina Colada, Sex on the Beach, Shark Bite and Tutti Frutti.

We both ordered Rotolini pizza wraps, which were fresly made to order and served in cool boat-shaped recycled wood plates.  I went for Nduja, made with chicken breast, spicy nduja, mascarpone cheese and mixed peppers.

Instead of a regular flour tortilla (which wouldn’t be very Italian), the wraps are made from thin, soft and ever so tasty pizza dough.  My wrap was packed full of high quality roast chicken, red and yellow pepper marinated in olive oil, just enough piquant nduja to give it flavour and plenty of silky, oozing mascarpone cheese.

It’d expected it to be small but it was surprisingly substantial and filling – perfect for a hearty lunch.

Steven went for Salmone – smoked salmon, buffalo ricotta, sun-dried tomatoes and rocket.  His wrap was big on taste with bold cooked salmon flavours, peppery rocket and authentic, creamy ricotta.  The pizza wraps come highly recommended, but you can also try Saltimbocca pizza panini, Spiedini mozzarella skewers and fresh salads.

RossoTerrazza is open all day, but it seems best to visit not too late in the evening, as two of the three salads had run out by the time we arrived at 6pm.

I can’t resist Italian cakes and RossoTerrazza’s Pastiera is an absolute must – it’s simply heavenly.  The dense, buttery tart was filled with set ricotta custard studded with candied orange and lemon peel and scented with fragrant orange blossom.  I can see myself being lured back to the terrace for a slice with a pot of tea – in fact, it’s a good excuse to go shopping.

Another hit was the home-made Pistachio Ice Cream, which was so smooth and rich with a natural taste of roasted pistachio nuts a subtle colour (not the usual bright green shade).

The cocktails and food at RossoTerrazza were excellent and a lighter, creative way to enjoy a taste of pizza.  The John Lewis Summer Retreat is already a popular spot in central London, so go and grab a spot in the sun and enjoy the summer from above.

For more information, visit: www.rossopomodoro.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of RossoTerrazza

All photos by Chérie City

 

Hotels, London

A Stay at The Nadler Kensington

Nadler Hotels is one of the most guest-friendly boutique hotel groups, offering a real home away from home experience.

I really enjoyed my stay at The Nadler Soho last year, so I was keen to check out The Nadler Kensington, its sister hotel on the other side of town.

The Nadler Kensington is located in an elegant converted townhouse in a well-heeled, leafy neighbourhood just a short stroll away from Earl’s Court Road.

It’s the ideal base for a weekend in London, with museums and sights such as V&A, Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace & Gardens on the doorstep.  Designer and vintage shopping, cool bars and great restaurants can also be found in nearby Notting Hill and Portobello Road.

I stayed at The Nadler Kensington the night before travelling on a morning coach from Victoria (just four stops away on the tube) and it’s also conveniently placed for both Gatwick and Heathrow airports, taking extra time off your journey in and out of London.

Nadler Hotels are all about affordable luxury, providing everything you need in your room for a comfortable, low-key stay with none of the additional hotel facilities that can push up the price (which you might not even use).  There is no fitness centre, spa, hotel restaurant, bar or breakfast room, however the hotel is pleased to arrange in-room dining from good local restaurants or a continental breakfast to order.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the team of Local Ambassadors who checked us in and offered a map and information about London, should we wish to go exploring.  The Lobby has the feel of an elegant Kensington home with comfy sofas, bookshelves and bay windows with floor-to-ceiling views over Courtfield Gardens.

The hotel has 65 rooms ranging from a Standard Single Room to the spacious Deluxe Room that accommodates up to four people and is ideal for families.

Our King Double Room on the first floor is accessible via grand staircase or by lift and overlooks quiet, cobbled Morton Mews at the back of the hotel.

We found the room petite and cosy with plenty of natural light.  The design is contemporary yet homely with a warm, neutral palette and light wood highlights.

The king-size bed was very comfortable with crisp white sheets, plush cushions and the same tactile faux fur throw as seen at The Nadler Soho.  The 26-inch HDTV at the foot of the bed is suitably high-tech with free internet, web radio and music library with over 6000 tracks.

The highlight of the room is the mini-kitchen, neatly hidden behind a sliding door with sensitive lights that switch on when you approach.  The kitchen includes a microwave, mini fridge, sink with a Britta tap for filtered drinking water, kettle, Nespresso machine with plenty of capsules and a selection of teas.  Also provided is a draw full of cooking utensils, a full set of luxury china and glassware and handy trays.

I was particularly pleased with the large teapot, so we could enjoy a proper cup of tea (just pick up some fresh milk from M&S at Earl’s Court on your way).

The room also features an ample-sized wardrobe, working desk, an iron and ironing board under the bed, air-conditioning and free unlimited wifi.

The bright and airy beige-tiled bathroom has a bath and shower with powerful water pressure, extra-large towels, bathrobes and slippers, heated towel rail and a full set of Gilchrist & Soames bathroom products.

That evening, we enjoyed a relaxing pampering session in our bathrobes with a hamper of products kindly provided by the hotel – who even needs a spa?  We sipped on chilled Bellinis while wearing gel eye masks and making good use of the Gilchrist & Soames products (the delicious home-made biscuits were swiftly devoured earlier with a pot of Earl Grey).

We ate locally on Earl’s Court Road, picked up some snacks for the room and really made the most of our London staycation and the peace and quiet that we can’t usually find at home – it truly was blissful.

The Nadler Kensington is a great place to stay if you enjoy exploring and going out in London, but with essential home comforts back in your room.  While The Nadler Soho is a slick and tech-focused hotel in a vibrant part of town, The Nadler Kensington is sophisticated and discreet with an enviable SW5 address.

This autumn, Nadler Hotels expands further with its fourth hotel, The Nadler Victoria, located next to Buckingham Palace.  With Victoria becoming an increasingly interesting and buzzing area (Jason Atherton and Bone Daddies will soon move in), I’m looking forward to seeing what Nadler Hotels has planned for its 73-room hotel.

Rooms at The Nadler Kensington start from £138 per night for a Standard Single and a King Double Room is priced from £194 per night.  For more information, visit: www.thenadler.com/kensington

Chérie City was a guest of The Nadler Kensington

Photos by Chérie City and The Nadler Kensington

Accessories, Designers, Fashion, Shopping

Summer in the South of France Wish Lyst

My first big trip of the summer season is to Aix-en-Provence via Eurostar in July, so I’ve been looking at street style in the South of France for inspiration.  It’s the perfect excuse to update my summer wardrobe and add a little je ne sais quoi.

Summer fashion in Aix is chic and breezy with a touch of bobo cool since it’s a popular university town.  To look the part in the South of France, I compiled a wish Lyst inspired by French brands and Riviera style.

Lyst is a fantastic online shopping tool that I use to plan outfits, create bespoke wish Lysts and discover new brands.  It’s particularly helpful before travelling so you can get organised and buy any last-minute pieces to enhance your capsule wardrobe without trawling around the shops in a panic.

If you’re stuck for ideas on what to wear for a country wedding, a week of sun in Ibiza or skiing in Chamonix, Lyst regularly features edits by the likes of Moda Operandi, Mary Katrantzou and Rebecca Minkoff to get you inspired.

One of my favourite features is the handy email alert to notify you when an item in your Lyst has gone on sale.  It means never missing out on a must-have piece and scoring a good bargain.

Do you plan your outfits on Lyst?  What would you add to your wish Lyst for this summer?

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