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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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Events, Hotels, London, Restaurants

Mark Hix Carving Master Class at Brown’s Hotel, London

One of my all-time favourite meals is a good roast, so I was thrilled to be invited to an exclusive Carving Master Class with Mark Hix at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.

HIX restaurants are known for their top notch British meat and seafood, so where better to learn how to wield a carving knife than at HIX Mayfair?

The master class was hosted in the elegant Clarendon Room with wall murals painted with verses from Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods and views over Dover Street.

I’d imagined the event would simply be a demonstration and Q&A but it was in fact a private dinner for a small group hosted entirely by Mark Hix for over two hours.  It was a rare treat to spend an evening with a renowned chef in this intimate setting and be able to chat freely.

We started the evening with a welcome drink before sitting down to get carving.  Mark spoke about the quintessentially British art of carving and introduced the cuts of meat that we’d be sampling during the dinner.

He then invited us to each come up and try carving a whole fillet of smoked salmon into thin slices for our sharing starters.  It made for a good ice-breaker and luckily there wasn’t too much pressure to be an instant carving pro.

The Albemarle smoked salmon ‘Hix cure’ was a million miles away from your regular supermarket smoked salmon with deep, oaky flavours and a melt-in-the-mouth texture –  I couldn’t get enough of it.

It was accompanied by some very moreish Whipped broad beans with Herefordshire goat’s curd and grilled flatbreads and a fresh, tangy Isle of Wight tomato and lovage salad with Sarson’s malt vinegar.

Our first main course meat was Roast Swainson House Farm barn-reared Indian Rock chicken served with Charlotte potato and green onion salad.

This is the signature Hix chicken – full of theatre and spectacle impaled on a spike with outstretched claws.  It is of course more natural than the usual trussed up chickens, but I can’t help thinking it has a rather comical Tim Burton-esque appearance.

I was the first in our group to carve the bird and I hesitantly got hold of the claw and sliced downwards to remove the leg, revealing the breast meat.  Once it was carved down to the bones, we all chose our cuts and helped ourselves to the side dishes served family-style.

This was one delicious chicken with flavoursome meat, golden, crispy skin and a tasty stuffing made with fresh sage, fried onions and chicken livers.  The potato salad was a nice summer alternative to the usual trimmings, but we still kept with tradition and enjoyed it with gravy.

I asked Mark the best way to make gravy and he told us that it’s difficult to get really good gravy if you prepare it at the same time as the meat from the roasting juices.  He advised simmering chicken wings and necks with some roasted vegetables in a pressure cooker and making large quantities in advance, storing in the freezer until the next roast.

The meat was paired with Mark Hix’s own wine (in collaboration with fellow restaurateur Mitch Tonks) - 2013 Tonnix White, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Portugal.  Being part of the YBA scene, he asked his mate Tracey Emin to etch a drawing for the label – it’s definitely the coolest bottle of wine I’ve ever seen.

I could have easily wolfed down more of the chicken, but it’s worth pacing yourself as there are still two other meats to indulge is and the portion sizes just seem to increase.

Next up was the Herb-baked leg of Launceston lamb with Minted cucumber, samphire and shallot salad.  The magnificent joint of lamb was cooked in hay to lock in moisture and keep the meat soft.  The lamb was incredibly succulent and juicy with a layer of browned, melted fat.  I’m not a fan of cucumber, but the salad looked colourful and fresh.

To round off the meat feast, we enjoyed Roast Boccadon Farm rib of veal with Broad bean and Wye Valley asparagus salad.  This was my favourite, as the veal was so lean and tender with a very clean taste.  By this point I think we let Chef handle the carving and were treated to chunky, substantial halved ribs each.

The veal was paired with another excellent HIX wine – 2013 Tonnix Red, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Portugal (there’s also a rosé wine in the collection).

Of course there’s always room for dessert and this one was a very boozy Oakchurch Farm strawberry and Tonnix white port trifle.  It was light and fruity with vanilla-scented cream, velvety custard, sponge soaked in copious amounts of white port and jelly studded with fresh strawberries.

Usually a big roast might end with an afternoon snooze, of which lucky Brown’s Hotel guests will have the privilege, but we finished with a round of espresso (Jasmine tea for me) and exquisite Cider brandy truffles.

Before leaving, we had the chance to select a Mark Hix cookbook, which he kindly signed and personalised.  I chose the HIX Oyster and Chop House book and look forward to trying some of the recipes.

As if that wasn’t enough, we were kindly given a goody bag packed with Cornish sea salt, hillfarm rapeseed oil, some insanely decadent Hix Fix morello cherries in Somerset cider brandy, a copy of the first HIX Magazine and a Brown’s Hotel apron.

The Mark Hix Carving Master Class was such a fun, friendly private dining experience and I highly recommend it for carnivorous foodies looking for something a bit special.

Two-hours classes are hosted by Mark Hix every month (priced at £185 per person) and include a feast of sharing starters, all of the featured cuts of meats with wines to match, dessert and a goody bag including a signed cookbook and Brown’s apron.

Forthcoming dates: Wednesday 24th June, 29th July, 30th September, 28th October & 18th November 2015.  For more information and booking, visit: www.roccofortehotels.com

Chérie City was a guest of Browns Hotel

Photos by Chérie City and Browns Hotel

 

Beauty, Shopping

Travelling with the ghd IV Styler

When travelling, my itinerary is usually jam-packed, so my grooming routine needs to be efficient and fuss-free.

Having naturally curly hair, I would usually simply wash and go for a busy day out in Singapore, Valencia or at a festival – it’s not worth even trying to fight the humidity.

Here are some of my care-free curl moments on my travels – as you can see, I’m at my happiest when keeping it low-maintenance and breezy.

However, for a night of dinner and cocktails in New York, Paris or right here in London, a more polished look is required.

I’ve always simply blow-dried my hair and made the ends wavy with ceramic curling tongs, but I’ve recently been introduced to the power of ghd with the original multi-award winning ghd IV Styler.  Since hotel hairdryers can rarely be relied on and luggage space can be limited, ghd hair straighteners can be a beauty life-saver.

Even if an inferior hotel hairdryer does little to tame my tresses, I’ve found that the ghd IV Styler can add the smoothness needed for a straight-hair look.  Most importantly, the straighteners can shave vital time off hair styling and I can often go from curly to straight in less than 20 minutes if I’m in a rush.

So far, I’ve used my ghd IV Styler on trips to Paris, Dublin and two cruises – now I can’t quite imagine travelling without it.

So, what makes ghd straighteners so special?  Firstly, it’s suitable for all hair types and can create not only poker-straight locks but also loose curls and waves.

The aluminium plates covered with a thin layer of ceramic coating and are are fully heated in less than 30 seconds.  Also, the round barrel and swivel cord make it easy to really work on the hair and style it with ease.

Another bonus is that they’re very slim, light-weight and very sturdy, so they don’t take up much suitcase room and travel well.

Here are the results of my express ghd hair straightening.  I could go further with a more sleek, smooth look but I like it when the natural curl adds a soft wave and a touch of volume.

I’m really impressed with my ghd hair straighteners and now know why my friends have always stayed loyal to the brand.  I’m tempted to start a mini ghd collection and invest in a ghd professional hairdryer (to improve my blow-dry skills) and perhaps a creative curl wand to refresh my curls when going natural.

Have you tried ghd hair straighteners?  What are your tips for a quick and chic style on the go?

The ghd IV Styler is priced at £99 and is available to buy online here: www.ghdhair.com

Sample

Hotels, Paris

A Left Bank Stay at Hotel Saint-Dominique, Paris

It’s been a few years since I stayed on Paris’ Left Bank, so what better way to rediscover the area with a stay at the stylish Hotel Saint-Dominique?

I always keep a close eye on the Paris hotel scene, but it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across this beautiful gem on rue Saint-Dominique in the seventh arrondissement.

Hotel Saint-Dominique is a four star independent boutique hotel with a focus on contemporary design.  It’s a small, cosy hotel with friendly staff and a number of thoughtful features to really make you feel at home.

As the name may suggest, Hotel Saint-Dominique is housed in a former 17th century convent built during the same period as Les Invalides for a religious order.  It also boasts a picturesque view of the Eiffel Tower from the street and is just a short walk away from the Champs de Mars, Les Invalides and Pont Alexandre III.

Our Junior Suite on the top floor overlooking rue Saint-Dominique was enormous and I loved the minimalist interiors with quirky design touches.

The super-comfy king-size bed with reading lamps is covered with high quality linen and a grey felt throw and cushions with a purple trim.

Other features include a long corner sofa, executive writing desk, air-conditioning, free wifi, loan of a mini iPad, Nespresso machine with plenty of espresso capsules and a separate kettle for making tea.  A highlight is the complimentary minibar stocked with Evian and Badoit, Granini orange juice and a can of Coke Zero.

I couldn’t help thinking that a room this size should have a slightly larger wardrobe than the multi-functional mirror one, but it did the trick for a short stay.

The suite is sophisticated and furnished to a high standard, but it also has a playful side with colourful bedside tables, cool rope-mounted photos of the Sacré-Coeur and a plush carpet trimmed with yellow crosses (or ‘bisous’, if you’re a romantic).

We were kindly welcomed with some delicious macarons and a delightful book – The Best Places to Kiss in Paris.  It was a lovely touch and totally in tune with our rose-tinted view of Paris – even after countless trips it still feels like the most magical city for us.

The white tiled bathroom has a cool urban feel and is an adequate size with a powerful walk-in shower, rectangular marble sink, fluffy towels, bathrobes and a full set of Azzaro bathroom products.

We weren’t so lucky with the weather during our trip, but happily the hotel has plenty of posh umbrellas, which kept us a bit drier on the walk over to the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Galliera.

On the way back to the hotel, we warmed up with a delicious bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée at neighbouring Bar du Central – a casual, stylish bistro just a few steps away.

That evening, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc at The Peninsula Paris. Hotel Saint-Dominique doesn’t have a restaurant, however it has a reasonably-priced, tempting room service menu if you fancy a cosy night in.

Of course, the 7th arrondissement is filled with foodie delights that you won’t want to miss out on.  For a memorable dinner on the doorstep, visit Brasserie Thoumieux by Jean François Piège just a few doors down, or Stephane Jego’s much loved L’Ami Jean, known for its outrageously decadent salted caramel rice pudding.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, rue Saint-Dominique has a number of excellent Parisian boulangeries and patisseries, including one of my favourites, Aux Merveilleux.

After a lovely, peaceful night’s sleep, we went down to the breakfast room for a leisurely Parisian breakfast.  I loved this bright, Scandi-style breakfast room with comfy seats and flowers on the tables.

The buffet was filled with a generous morning offering of fresh baguette, mini pastries, crepes, pancakes, granola, cured meats, cheeses and yoghurts.

Hot items are also included and are made to order.  I was in the mood for croissants and jam but the friendly French-speaking lady who was looking after us for breakfast cooked up a fresh plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for Steven.

Everything was nicely done and in the warmer months, it would be a delight to have breakfast in the pretty Parisian courtyard.

Hotel Saint-Dominique is the perfect base for a stylish city break with great design, an inspiring location and affordable rates.  It feels like a secret address in Paris where you can live like a Parisian on the elegant Rive Gauche.

For more information and booking, visit: www.hotelstdominique.com

Chérie City was a guest of Hotel Saint-Dominique

Photos by Chérie City and Hotel Saint-Dominique