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Hotels

A Good Night’s Sleep In Oxford

I love a good UK weekend break.  Not only are they relaxing and time-efficient but as a Northerner in London, I get to know destinations close to where I live that little bit better.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Oxbridge university towns and this month, I had the opportunity to explore Oxford with an overnight stay at Hawkwell House, courtesy of Tempur.

Oxford

Academia rules in Oxford – the prestigious University of Oxford is official the oldest university in the English-speaking world (teaching records date back to 1096) and the city boasts over 30 colleges.  So, you can expect to find an abundance of academic book shops, quirky boutiques, bicycles and students taking tea with visiting parents.

Oxford

Oxford shopping

What I didn’t expect to see, of course, were morris dancers around every corner!  I’m not sure if it was festival time or a typical weekend in Oxford, but it was lovely to see this olde English pastime in full, jolly swing.

Oxford morris dancers

After a great afternoon of strolling around Oxford, we took a short cab ride over to Hawkwell House.  This 19th century country house in Iffley, a leafy part of Oxford, is well-placed for exploring the city’s numerous colleges while in a tranquil garden setting for a good night’s sleep.

Hawkwell House Oxford

Our double room was comfortable with a modern bathroom, flatscreen TV with lots of channels, super-fast free wifi and tea and coffee facilities.  We relaxed in our room for a few hours, enjoying the peace and quiet, and headed down to the hotel’s excellent restaurant Iffley Blue.

Iffley Blue restaurant Oxford

We feasted on Onglet steak with skinny fries and a rocket and parmesan salad, a decadent Hawkwell burger, a side of Green mac ‘n’ cheese and a Rum and raisin baba to share.  The food was really delicious and comforting on a cold day – we rolled back up to our rooms feeling full and ready to crash out.

Iffley Blue Onglet steak and fries

Hawkwell burger

The sign of a good hotel for me is the quality of the bed and happily our queen size bed, complete with Tempur memory foam mattress and memory foam pillows fit the bill perfectly.  Covered in crisp white linen, the bed was soft as a marshmallow yet still supportive for the back and shoulders.

Hawkwell House Oxford

We couldn’t resist a Sunday lie-in and tore ourselves away from our bed for an indulgent breakfast of Maple pancakes with chocolate, bananas and cinnamon crème fraiche and a proper Full English, with toast and pastries on the side.

Our weekend trip to Oxford was so relaxing, cultured and interesting – I’ll definitely go back again to explore the city’s sights further.

All photos by Chérie City

This post was written in collaboration with Tempur

Hotels, London

Vegan Afternoon Tea at La Suite West, London

Afternoon Tea in London is such an indulgent treat, but it can also be light and healthy.  Yesterday, I headed over to La Suite West – a stylish independent hotel close to Hyde Park – to try its new Vegan Afternoon Tea.

La Suite West London

Designed by the renowned Anouska Hempel, La Suite West is a calm urban retreat on a quiet residential street with sleek minimalist interiors and a feeling of zen.  Afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s health-focused RAW Restaurant and on the terrace – a delightful spot to soak up the sun.

La Suite West London

RAW Restaurant has cleverly devised a super-tasty Vegan Afternoon Tea, doing spectacular things with vegetables, nut butters and dairy-free mylks.  While I’m not vegan myself, I’m a fan of healthy food done well and love the idea that almost everyone can enjoy this afternoon tea without the hassle of requesting dietary substitutions (however, note that it’s not gluten or nut-free).

La Suite West Vegan Afternoon Tea

The afternoon tea begins with a selection of colourful finger sandwiches in flavours such as Scrambled tofu with mustard cress, Lemon & thyme tahini with cucumber, Avocado chilli mousse with rocket and Roast tomato with sunflower seed pesto.  I particularly enjoyed the bite-size, moreish savouries – Asparagus tart with pesto and almond cheese and Truffled mushroom pastry.

La Suite West London

Of course, afternoon tea isn’t complete without scones and these ones were moist and springy, accompanied by the most heavenly whipped coconut ‘cream’ – it actually tasted cooler and more luscious than the typical clotted cream.

La Suite West London

Those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed with the Chef’s Selection of baked and raw desserts.  We tried a sumptuous Carrot cake with vegan frosting, Coconut lemon cake with chocolate nut butter and my favourite Sticky toffee pudding chocolate brownie – pure decadence.

The Vegan Afternoon Tea is accompanied by a glass of non-alcoholic fizz and a selection of fine JING Teas.

La Suite West Vegan Afternoon Tea

RAW Restaurant at La Suite West is perfect for an intimate, relaxed afternoon tea with a difference.  Not only is it very good value but it will leave you feeling light and happy – I can’t wait to go back!

The Vegan Afternoon Tea is priced at £27 per person.  For more information and booking, visit: www.lasuitewest.com

Chérie City was a guest of La Suite West

Photos by Chérie City (hotel images by La Suite West)

Art, New York

Frieze Exhibition: ArtSpeak at The Surrey, NYC

Frieze Art Fair is one of the most prestigious international art events in the social calendar, with must-see fairs in London, New York and Berlin that bring together the industry’s movers and shakers.

To celebrate its fifth year in New York, Frieze has partnered with Upper East Side Relais & Châteaux hotel The Surrey as the only official hotel partner.

The Surrey New York

Drawing on its reputation as a notable art hotel, The Surrey launches ArtSpeak curated by Natasha Schlesinger, Art Expert in Residence and founder of Art Muse.

The lobby and public spaces will be transformed into a mini gallery with art installations by eight emerging and mid-known artists, presenting 11 works that will be on show in the lead up to Frieze until the end of August, so there is plenty of time to catch them.

ArtSpeaks at The Surrey NYC

The line-up of featured artists includes Ryan McGinness, Faile, Desire Obtain Cherish, Annabel Daou and Leila Pazooki.  Their works were chosen to fit the installation theme of “cultural influences of media” and explore the use of language and symbols in art to comment on culture, society and personal reflections.

ArtSpeaks at The Surrey NYC

There’s also an exciting rooftop garden botanical piece by Peter D Gerakaris and daily ArtSpeak tours with curator and Art Expert Natasha Schlesinger.

The Surrey NYC rooftop terrace

ArtSpeaks at The Surrey NYC

The thought-provoking pieces also compliment The Surrey’s most prominent permanent artworks including Jenny Holzer – You are My Own, Claes Oldenburg – Study for Sneaker Lace – White, Richard Serra – Promenade Notebook Drawing III & V and Chuck Close – Kate Moss.

The Surrey NYC

Best of all, you don’t need to be part of the art elite or even a hotel guest to view the works, as the exhibition is open to the public.  With its prime location close to Museum Mile and its see-and-be-seen Café Boulud and Bar Pleiades by Daniel Boulud, The Surrey is the place to take in the best of the New York art scene.

ArtSpeak at The Surrey runs from 4th May to 31st August.  For more information, visit: www.thesurrey.com

Beauty, London

Murad Facial at House of Fraser, London

Facials are one of my favourite beauty indulgences, but I rarely find the time or discipline for regular appointments.  With my New York wedding just one month away, I wanted to get my skin in order and followed the advice of a friend who had weekly 20-minute facials in the run up to her wedding.

To kick-start my skin programme and make up for lost time, I booked a Murad Blemish Control Facial (6o mins) at House of Fraser Beauty Rooms on Oxford Street through Treatwell.

Murad Beauty Room House of Fraser

At the age of 31, I have hardly any wrinkles or fine lines but struggle with break-outs and pigmentation in some areas, so I was after a targeted, clinical facial that would show significant results.

The House of Fraser Beauty Rooms on the lower ground floor are a bit of a hidden gem, featuring two leading skincare brands – Murad on one side and Décleor on the other.  They’re also dangerously close to the very tempting and shiny shoe department – you’ve been warned.

As I was visiting on a quiet Tuesday mid-morning (Treatwell often offers special off-peak discounts), I was pleasantly surprised to have such an experienced, senior practitioner as Natasha De Almeida, Dr Murad Skin Specialist and Treatment Manager.  Natasha has been performing Murad facials for a number of years and was previously a beauty therapist at The Lanesborough.

If you’re not familiar with Murad, it’s an American skincare brand founded by Dr Howard Murad, whose Inclusive Health philosophy promotes a dermatological and also nutritional approach to skincare.

Dr Howard Murad

I answered questions about my skincare routine, skin concerns and desired results before quickly getting started.  Natasha customised my Blemish Control Facial with elements of the Aha Rapid Exfoliator Anti-Ageing Facial to help treat the areas of pigmentation and revitalise my skin.

My facial started with a deep cleanse, tone and massage while the steam kept my pores open.  Next was a glycolic peel, which felt intensely cool and tingly but not at all painful.  Natasha asked how strong it felt on a scale of one to ten and swiftly distracted me with a heavenly head massage before I could consider the leap from five to seven as the acid began to develop.  This may sound alarming if you’ve never had a glycolic peel before, but I knew I was in safe hands and my skin could handle it (if you’re unsure, let your therapist know).

With my skin feeling all icy and fresh, it was time for the flashlight interrogation and plenty of extraction.  I can’t help feeling a touch of guilt inflicting spot goop on my therapist, but it proved a very worthwhile step as Natasha managed to clear a stubborn cluster of hormonal blocked pores around my jawline and other congested areas around my t-zone.

Murad Beauty Room House of Fraser

After all that hard work, a soothing mask was applied and I enjoyed a glorious massage on my arms, hands, neck, shoulders and décolletage.  My face was then finished with eye cream, toner, serum and a light moisturiser and I was ready to go.

There were so many different steps and products used that the facial felt like a real journey and professional experience.  My skin was instantly calmer and refreshed and the results lasted for days.  Even a week later, the tone, surface texture and oil levels are much more balanced.

Natasha prescribed a Dr Murad skincare programme for me – a mix of the Blemish Control range with a few key Anti-Ageing Blemish Control products (this is particularly helpful for those with adult acne or blemishes).  I’ve just started using the Time Release Blemish Cleanser and Anti-Ageing Moisturiser Broad Spectrum SPF 30 and am excited to see the results, given how effective the facial was.

Murad Anti-Ageing Blemish Control

I highly recommend making an appointment with Natasha for a Murad facial – there are so many different ones to choose from and they can also be tailored to your requirements.  It was without a doubt one of the best facials I’ve ever had and I’m looking forward to booking my next appointment.

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

Beauty, London

Thai Square Spa, London

It’s rare to find a spa in London that’s opulent yet still accessible, but that’s the beauty of Thai Square Spa. This well-established spa was previously based in Covent Garden, but recently moved to an elegant building that was once a Victorian bathhouse on Northumberland Avenue, just a few steps away from the River Thames and Trafalgar Square.

Thai Square Spa London

It has the feel of a wellbeing townhouse with an impressive number of facilities – a separate hair salon, nail and make-up studio, 12 treatment rooms and the fabulous Sen Space with hot and cold zones.

I visited on a quiet midweek morning and was pleased to find that I had the Sen Space facilities all to myself for an hour before my treatment.  I changed into a super-comfy Thai Square Spa robe and slippers in the bright red changing room before heading downstairs to start my spa journey.

Thai Square Spa London

The spa was much larger than I had expected with rather grand interiors – a mix of Thai, Roman and Turkish decor elements with hand-painted classical murals, rich silks and hundreds of traditional wood-carved statues.

Thai Square Spa London

My favourite Sen Space facility was the high-powered jet jacuzzi covered entirely in shimmering gold mosaics – what could be more decadent than that?

The sauna is immaculate and has a subtle eucalyptus aroma while the steam room is large enough to really kick back and enjoy the heat.  There’s also an active ice fountain to cool down and rainfall showers with excellent water pressure.

Thai Square Spa London

My therapist Nina came to collect me when it was time for my treatment and showed me through the softly-lit maze to the cosy treatment room.  I experienced the So Sen Uplifting Ritual Massage – 60 minutes of pure bliss and deep relaxation.

Thai Square Spa London

It began with a soothing foot cleanse and was followed with a brisk yet very gentle squeezing of pressure points around my body to get the energy flowing.  Nina then worked on my back, using a number of techniques to knead out the knots and tense areas with a light, comfortable pressure.

She also gave my legs and arms an invigorating massage and I almost drifted off a few times when my shoulders and head were given attention.  By the end of the massage, I felt rejuvenated and stress-free and my skin was ever so soft and nourished from the light jasmine oil – Thai Square Spa has its very own iMantara range of products.

Thai Square Spa London

Making the most of my dreamlike state, I enjoyed a hot cup of secret blend Thai tea and grazed on banana chips and nuts on a lounger in the plush relaxation area.

I left feeling supple and energised and was impressed with spa experience and the quality of my treatment. Thai Square Spa offers a wide range of tailored treatments, but I highly recommend the So Sen Uplifting Ritual Massage as a reviving treat for the whole body.

The So Sen Uplifting Ritual Massage is priced at £80 for 60 minutes.  For more information and booking, visit: www.thaisquarespa.com

Chérie City was a guest of Thai Square Spa

Photos by Thai Square Spa

Bars, London

Sakura Season at ROKA with Suntory Whisky

London is at its prettiest in the spring, when the trees are adorned with tumbling, soft pink cherry blossom (known as Sakura in Japan).  Of course, you can find it in abundance in Kew Gardens, Regent’s Park or lining the streets of Notting Hill, but why not experience it over cocktails and bites?

Sakura Season at ROKA

Suntory Japanese Whisky brings the Sakura season to London at the Shochu Lounge, the subterranean cocktail bar with manga-style murals by artist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl and Gorillaz) at ROKA Charlotte Street.

Sakura Season at ROKA

Guests can engage in Hanami – observing the transient beauty of flowers – under a stunning cherry blossom installation by floral designer Veevers Carter and sip on Sakura-inspired cocktails:

Match a Rack – an elegant fusion of matcha-infused Arrack and Hibiki Japanese Harmony, umami spirit and mango cordial, served straight up in a nick-and-nora martini glass.

Suntory Blossom – a short concoction of Hibiki Japanese Harmony, ume sake, blood orange and Sakura tincture. Served in a rock glass with carved ice, garnished with a dry blood orange wheel and Sakura blossom.

Happo Harmony – a sweet and spicy, refreshing amalgamation of oriental flavours, combining Hibiki Japanese Harmony, rhubarb and ginger syrup, soda water and sprayed lemon flower essence. Served in a highball glass with carved ice, garnished with a rhubarb twist.

Sakura cocktail at ROKA

The Match a Rack cocktail is paired with a small plate of Hokkaido snow crab with tapioca crisp and nori, created for the occasion by Hamish Brown, ROKA Group Executive Chef.  However, just one taste will leave you wanting more, so I recommend ordering some grazing plates to accompany your drinks. 

Hibiki Whisky at ROKA

At the buzzing launch party, the cherry blossom was electrified with pink lighting, free-flowing whisky and a seductive house and disco set by Portuguese DJ Rita Maia.  What could be better for a stylish (and highly Instagrammable) night out in London?

The Sakura Cocktails are priced at £10.90 and are available until 30th April at ROKA Charlotte Street and its three other locations – Aldwych, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.  For more information and booking, visit: www.rokarestaurant.com

Photos by Benjamin Eagle

London, Restaurants

Made of Dough Pop-Up at Market Yard

Authentic Italian pizza is one of my major weaknesses and I’m always on the lookout for new ones to try. Last week, I got my pizza fix at the launch of the Made of Dough six-week residency at Market Yard Kitchen in Shepherd’s Bush.

It’s not easy standing out when London foodies are firing up some pretty amazing pizzas, but founders Ed and Henry are doing something different – proper Neapolitan pizza with a nod to southern Spain. Growing up on a Mediterranean diet, they found inspiration from their heritage (Campania and Andalusia) and eating their way around Europe.

Made of Dough pizza

The 2015 London Pizza Festivals Champions have a permanent home at Pop Brixton, but they’ve taken their trusty Raffaela oven truck on the road to offer the full sit-down pizzeria experience in west London.

I usually test how good a pizza is with a Margherita, as there aren’t any toppings to distract or hide behind.  Made of Dough’s Margherita has a bubbly, chewy and lightly charred base and is topped simply with crushed San Marzano tomato, silky fior di latte, basil, extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan.  The pizza was cooked to perfection with a woody, smoky taste and pure flavours from clearly top notch ingredients.

Made of Dough Nutella Pizza

I also loved the simple and delicious Serrano pizza with cherry tomatoes, mature serrano ham, fior di latte, peppery wild rocket and creamy stracciatella.  Most indulgent of all is the rich Truffle pizza bianca with portobello mushrooms, fior di latte, fragrant white alba truffle oil and velvety burrata.  A nice touch is the selection of gourmet dipping sauces for the dough crusts – Olive and anchovy tapenade, Spicy romesco and Basil aioli.

Wash your pizza down with a sunny Amalfi Negroni, Blood Orange Sangria, Staibano Spritz, Prosecco, Peroni or San Pellegrino.  If you have any room left, end the night in chocolate heaven with a hot and gooey Conchiglia a Nutella.

Made of Dough London

Made of Dough pizzas not only look the part, but they’re super-tasty, very filling and reasonably priced (from £6.50 to £12).  Make a pizza date right away, you don’t want to miss this one!

Made of Dough is at Market Yard Shepherd’s Bush from Wednesday to Sunday, until 1st May 2016.  For more information and booking, visit: www.madeofdough.co.uk

Photos by Made of Dough

York

A Weekend in York

This month, I had the pleasure of visiting the historic city of York to attend the York Literature Festival and spend some time exploring.  I’ve been there many times for day trips, usually driving down from Newcastle, but this was the first time I’d stayed in York and could really find my way around town.

York

York Minster

I hopped on a Virgin East Coast train from London Kings Cross and arrived comfortably in the very centre of York less than two hours later.  The great thing about York is that it can be easily accessed from the north or south, making it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway.

Virgin East Coast Trains

My mum and I stayed at Hotel du Vin York on Blossom Road, just a short walk away from the city’s main sights.  Hotel du Vin properties are always in locations of character and this grade II listed building, dating back to the 19th century, was once a private home and an orphanage.  Today, it’s a cosy 44-room hotel with an elegant outdoor terrace, open top courtyard and even a cute coffee and Champagne van and cigar shack outside.

Hotel du Vin York

Hotel du Vin York

Our Gaudium room (all rooms are named after wine regions rather than numbered) was atmospheric and homely with luxurious sleigh beds, a large LCD TV, Nespresso machine and a good-sized bathroom with a deep-soaking tub and bespoke Terre du Vin bathroom products by Miller Harris.

On the first evening, we enjoyed a sumptuous French dinner of Frisé salad with poached egg and lardons, Onglet steak frites and Apple tarte tatin in the hotel’s stylish Brasserie du Vin.  I always feel well-fed and nourished when staying at a Hotel du Vin – the food is top notch with a focus on provenance and authenticity.

Onglet Steak Frites Hotel du Vin York

Breakfast each day was also excellent – we indulged in delightful Eggs Benedict, French toast with bacon and maple syrup, Crêpes with Nutella and Omelette with fine herbs, as well as fresh juices, French set yoghurts, flaky pastries and a selection of juices from the country table.

Eggs Benedict Hotel du Vin York

Our first stop for the York Literature Festival was an evening talk with Michael Portillo at the spectacular National Railway Museum.  The author and former MP regaled us with tales from parliament and anecdotes from filming his popular Great Railway Journeys series, even ending by comparing politics’ Iron Lady to a dominant meerkat.  I’m also pretty sure his outfit for the evening was inspired by his earlier Virgin Trains journey – maybe we were even on the same train.

Michael Portillo York Literature Festival

The next evening’s audience with ‘wit, raconteur, playwright, grumpy old man and Leonard Cohen fan’ Arthur Smith at York Grand Opera House was just as entertaining but worlds apart from Portillo.

After a curious performance from support act Mike Barfield, also known as ‘Mr Paper’ (very apt for the Literature Festival), Arthur Smith took us through his biggest pet peeves, pranking Blur’s Damon Albarn and what to say if you even get arrested, as well as a rather convincing performance of a Leonard Cohen song.  He was so engaging and a real character, with so many stories to tell, many of which can be found in his memoir, which I’m now dying to read.

Arthur Smith at York Literature Festival

In between the York Literature Festival talks, we had time to go exploring, with the help of the fantastic York Pass.  This card gets you free entry to over 30 top attractions in York and the surrounding area.

A highlight was taking a closer look inside beautiful York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe.  Walking through the spectacular, decorated nave and examining the medieval stained glass is quite a mesmerising experience.  Look out for the celebrated Rose Window, featuring red Lancastrian roses alternating with red and white Tudor roses, symbolising the union of Lancaster and York through the marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York.

York Minster

A real gem in York is Bar Convent, England’s oldest living convent located on Blossom Street (just a short walk from Hotel du Vin York).  It was established as a Catholic girls school in 1686 but due to religious persecution at this time, it existed in absolute secrecy.

The 18th century Grade I building now houses an interactive exhibition dedicated to the story of Bar Convent, however the most intriguing feature is the ornate hidden chapel.  Building this exquisite chapel without rousing the suspicion of neighbours and the authorities was quite a triumph.

Bar Convent York

Bar Convent is still active today and the sisters run guest accommodation, a cafe and a peaceful, beautifully-maintained garden.  It’s such a tranquil spot and is sure to be even more attractive in the warmer months.

Bar Convent York

To see York’s Georgian splendor, pay a visit to Fairfax House.  This elegant 18th century townhouse was the winter home of Viscount Fairfax and his daughter Anne.  Many of the well-restored rooms display exquisite stucco work and a rare collection of original furniture and antiques.  You can see the dining room set up for a banquet, the preparations for the family’s voracious appetite in the kitchen and also Anne’s stunning bedroom and their red-hued sitting room where they would play music and cards.

Fairfax House York

A stroll down the Shambles and its surrounding cobbled streets is a must, with its independent designer boutiques, gourmet food and sweet shops, tea rooms and restaurants.  It’s one of York’s oldest streets, dating back to the 14th century, and most of the timber-framed buildings were originally butcher shops.

I couldn’t resist treating myself to a navy leather saddle bag from the Zatchels factory shop on the Shambles that offers big discounts of around 50% off – there’s also a Mulberry factory shop nearby where you can score a serious bargain.

The Shambles York

York market

Of course, a visit to York wouldn’t be complete without dining at the famous Betty’s Cafe and Tea Rooms. This historic mini empire across Yorkshire was founded by Swiss baker Frederick Belmont in 1919 and it’s still family-owned today.

Betty's Cafe Tea Room York

There are six Cafe Tea Rooms, but my favourite is Bettys York with its stunning Art Deco interiors, which Frederick Belmont commissioned in the style of luxury liner the Queen Mary, after he travelled on the ship’s maiden voyage.

Betty's Cafe Tea Room York

It’s one of the few places to enjoy insanely decadent Swiss specialities such as alpine macaroni, rosti and gratin laden with cream, raclette and bacon (a healthy appetite and a brisk walk needed), but most popular, particularly on the weekend, is its afternoon tea.

For lunch we ordered my favourite Betty’s Caesar salad and Chicken schnitzel and were tempted by the heavenly Rhubarb frangipane tart and Raspberry macaron.  It’s almost impossible to leave without picking up some treat for the counter – Betty’s Fat Rascals (enormous fruit scones with a naughty glacé cherry and almond face) are the stuff of legends and utterly moreish.

Betty's York Caesar Salad

Betty's York Chicken Schnitzl

Rhubarb Cake Betty's York

I had the most fantastic time in York and have plenty of places still on my list to visit next time, like Castle Howard, York Art Gallery and a closer look at the National Railway Museum.

Have you been to York before?  Where are your favourites spots to see/eat/shop in York?

For more information and destination inspiration, go to: www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk and www.visityork.org.

“Virgin Trains East Coast operates 72 weekday services between London King’s Cross and York, including a non-stop service each hour through the day, taking as little as 1 hour 49 minutes to complete the journey. Virgin Trains East Coast also has direct trains to York from Scotland, North East England and the East Midlands.

I travelled from London to York by rail with Virgin Trains East Coast: book via www.virgintrainseastcoast.com, call 08457 225225 or visit any staffed station. 

Thanks to York Literature Festival, Visit York, Hotel du Vin York and Virgin Trains East Coast for making this trip possible. 

Photos by Chérie City (room and bistro photos by Hotel du Vin York)

Restaurants

A Baking Masterclass at Le Pain Quotidien

I never need an excuse to visit Le Pain Quotidien or Bicester Village, but I do need a little more encouragement to bake my own loaf.  Fresh, home-baked bread is such a pleasure, but I tend to just leave it to the pros.

A few days before I was heading to Brussels, it seemed appropriate to pay a visit to the new Bicester Village outpost of Belgian restaurant and bakery Le Pain Quotidien for a special baking masterclass with Pastry Manager Didier Tayoro.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Le Pain Quotidien founder Alain Coumont welcomed our group straight from the train with Champagne and madeleines and shared the story behind his successful, forward-thinking brand.  A frustration at not being able to find the rustic bread of his childhood inspired Alain to open his first bakery in Brussels in 1990.  Since then, Le Pain Quotidien has brought its superior bread and communal table concept to over 200 locations around the world.

I thought I knew LPQ pretty well, but I didn’t realise that around 90% of the products are baked fresh everyday each store, rather than in an off-site kitchen or factory.  Also, all of the breads and most ingredients are organic and there’s a real focus on vegan, plant-based cooking.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

We gathered at our baking stations, where all of the ingredients were helpfully weighed out and ready for mixing.  With Didier’s instruction, we each made a Five seed grain sourdough boule followed by Spelt quinoa scones, which were then taken away to be baked while we indulged in a three-course lunch – how easy is that?

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

The big communal table was dressed perfectly for spring with bright daffodils and scattered vegetables – so pretty and uplifting.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

We grazed on a selection of signature starters – Avocado toast, Salmon tartine, Smoked chicken cobb salad, Organic lentil and avocado salad and crisp, organic baguette with French butter.  My favourite was the fresh, aromatic avocado toast with a subtle citrus and cumin kick – it seemed to be the most popular choice and was polished off swiftly.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

A family-style feast of nourishing hot dishes and tasty sides followed.  Most indulgent were the typically Belgian Chicken and veal meatballs served in a creamy sauce with super-buttery mashed potato.  Vegetable and quinoa gratin was delicious and healthier than I expected and I couldn’t get enough of the accompaniments of roasted butternut squash mash and glazed carrots and romanesco.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Dessert was the most heavenly, authentic Tarte Tatin, indulgent Carrot cake muffins and a yummy Chia and coconut pudding with raspberry compote.  I was amazed to discover that this light, vegan pudding is simply chia seeds soaked and set in coconut milk – it’s so easy to make and only filled with good stuff.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

After lunch, we were presented with our own baked goods to take away, along with a bag of treats including the excellent Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook, so we could recreate our delicious lunch at home.  I wasn’t sure how much faith to have in my breadmaking skills, but I followed Didier’s instructions to the letter and the bread and scones were just fabulous.  Good enough to share with friends and family and collect plenty of compliments.

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

The rest of the afternoon was ours to march around Bicester Village in pursuit of designer bargains.  There’s always a new outlet or eatery open every time I visit Bicester and this time the pretty, wood-panelled store fronts were adorned with giant flowers for spring.

My favourite new discovery, however, is the new railway station at the heart of Bicester Village (no more minibus shuttle from Bicester North) and the very plush guest lounge where shoppers can wait for the train while flicking through Vogue, sipping fruit-infused water and spritzing perfume.  It has a real VIP feel but is open to everyone and there’s even a concierge service to make the shopping experience even more enjoyable.

Le Pain Quotidien at Bicester Village is a fantastic spot for lunch, whether you’re resting weary feet over a hearty Coq au Vin or grabbing a gourmet salad to go.  I also highly recommend taking a baking class at Le Pain Quotidien Borough in London – they’re fun, sociable and will give you the confidence to try baking bread at home.  Now I’m armed with the cookbook full of bread recipes, I’ll definitely be baking up a storm.

Chérie City was a guest of Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

All photos by Chérie City

Fashion, Shopping

Trend: Men’s Watches

One of my sartorial goals in life has always been to invest in a really good watch, the kind that gets passed down through the family.  Unsurprisingly, this inspiration came while ‘watching the clock’ at Zurich airport, Switzerland being the spiritual home of the timepiece and all.

The thing is, like sneakers and cashmere sweaters, I tend to prefer men’s styles, as I like a bolder, more striking look.  And I’m not alone – Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston, Sofia Vergara and blogger Disneyrollergirl are all fans of the oversized, boyfriend-style watch.

Here are some stylish men’s watches from The Watch Gallery that are on my wish list…

I love that on The Watch Gallery you can find everything from affordable fashion watches by brands like Meistersinger and Junghans, through to the most luxurious timepieces by Chanel, Cartier and Breguet.

Given the chance, I would complete my watch wardrobe with a sporty Shinola Runwell or Burberry City with rose gold during the day and an elegant Frederique Constant Slimline or Uniform Wares C35 for evenings and special occasions.  No more scrambling in my bag to check the time on my mobile phone, that’s just not chic.

Do you like wearing men’s watches?  Which high end men’s watch would be on your top pick?

This post is written in collaboration with The Watch Gallery 

London, Restaurants

Dalloway Terrace at The Bloomsbury Hotel

Early March may seem like a crazy time for terrace dining, but the newly-launched, toasty warm Dalloway Terrace in Bloomsbury is a delight all year-round.

Located in the chic Bloomsbury Hotel, Dalloway Terrace has the feel of a charming secret garden but with the comforts of powerful outdoor heaters, stylish wool blankets and of course, a retractable roof.  It definitely wins the prize of London’s prettiest new restaurant and I love the reference to Virginia Woolf’s literary heroine Clarissa Dalloway (I can’t count how many times I read Mrs Dalloway at university).

We visited for a sneak peek before its opening and it was already a slick affair with friendly, attentive staff and a warm ambiance.  The all-day, seasonal menu is filled with a good selection of tempting dishes and there are also daily specials and small plates for sharing.

Our meal started with some delicious cocktails – a refreshing jasmine tea and elderflower cocktail for me and a potent, sophisticated Honeycomb Old Fashioned for Steven.

I thoroughly enjoyed my starter of Grilled tiger prawns, harissa aioli and lime (£15/£22).  Four plump, succulent whole tiger prawns were perfectly grilled with a slightly smoky taste and served with a subtle, aromatic harissa aioli that wasn’t overly heavy on the garlic.

Steven’s Longcut organic smoked salmon, Guinness bread and lemon (£9) was ever so tasty and flavoursome. The high quality smoked salmon had an oaky flavour and was well complimented by the springy, sweet Guinness bread and punchy capers.

To follow, I tried the Grilled poussin with lemon and rosemary (£18) with a side of mashed potato (£4.50). The tender, juicy poussin had a golden, well-seasoned skin and I loved the creamy, comforting mashed potato.  The dish could however be improved by adding a light salad or vegetable garnish for a contrasting flavour – it definitely requires ordering a side.

Steven went for a classic with a twist – London Meantime beer battered sea bass and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce (£16).  The seabass was so fresh with a more distinctive flavour than the typical cod or haddock and the batter was crispy and light.  The slim home-cooked chips were so moreish and the dish was finished perfectly with tasty mushy peas and an intense tartare sauce.

I couldn’t resist a final bit of indulgence with the Valrhona dark chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream (£3.75).  The freshly-baked fondant had a yummy cake texture with a decadent oozing centre and was presented nicely with smooth ice cream, biscuit crumble, chocolate sauce and nut brittle.

Steven’s Bloomsbury Bakewell tart and pistachio ice cream (£3.75) was just as delicious, with buttery pastry, fluffy almond frangipane and sweet strawberry jam.  We finished our (well-priced) desserts with pots of Earl Grey tea, which were served elegantly in pretty china cups with a silver tea pot.

Dalloway Terrace is a real hidden gem in historic Bloomsbury and I can’t wait to go back for breakfast or lunch, hopefully while basking in the spring sunshine.  It’s also a prime spot for a quintessentially British afternoon tea with sweets by pastry chef Mariatu Kargbo (formerly at The Dorchester and The Lanesborough) – see you there!

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

Chérie City was a guest of Dalloway Terrace

Photos by Chérie City (interior images by Dalloway Terrace)

Beauty

Penhaligon’s Launches Equinox Bloom

Spring is just around the corner and the newly-launched Penhaligon’s Equinox Bloom is the perfect fragrance to embrace the new season.

This uplifting, luxurious scent is particularly special, as it’s the very first gourmand scent by Penhaligon’s. While Penhaligon’s was established back in 1870, perfumes with mostly ‘edible’ notes are still relatively new – Edmond Roundnitska started the gourmand trend with Diorissimo in 1956.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the British heritage brand’s first foray into gourmands is magnificent and ever so stylish.  Master perfumer Olivier Cresp was inspired to create a modern gourmand fragrance after having his senses stirred by an elegant brunch in a refined setting in London.

He says that Equinox Bloom evokes memories of “quintessentially English tradition of afternoon tea, and the transitional moment when day turns to evening and when cold Winter yields to Spring”.

The fragrance opens with a vivid burst of Neroli Bigarade Essence, Violet Leaves Absolute and Chantilly Accord.  It leads to a delicate, vintage floral heart of Frangipani, Orange Blossom Absolute and Jasmine Sambac Absolute. As the perfume develops, it becomes sumptuous, warm and creamy with a base of Ambrox, Benzoin Siam Absolute and Brown Sugar Accord.

To me, this is the ideal fragrance for when you’re wearing fine cashmere, grazing on exquisite pastries and looking polished after a visit to the salon – even on less glamorous days, you can still feel dreamy.  While many gourmands can be overly sweet and girly (and headache-inducing), Equinox Bloom is sophisticated and the soft blend of brown sugar and Chantilly is subtle rather than sticky.  I also can’t get enough of neroli and orange blossom – they remind me of summer in the south of France.

At the recent launch event, we were treated to afternoon tea at the Penhaligon’s Tea Parlour hosted in By Appointment Design Florists on fashionable Chiltern Street, Marylebone.  On arrival, we each ordered a bespoke bouquet made with a choice of beautiful fresh flowers while we sipped rose-hued Bloom Gin cocktails and grazed on mini scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

It was a stunning, whimsical setting to get that first look of the fragrance and handily it was just a few steps away from Chiltern Firehouse for Champagne and gossip at the bar.  When you’re enveloped in a delicious scent with flowers in your hand, it would be a shame not to!

For a special Mother’s Day treat, Old Bengal Bar is offering a special Penhaligon’s cocktail menu, featuring the Equinox Bloom – Mount Gay Black Barrel, Violet Liqueur, Jasmine Syrup, Lime, Orange Blossom Water and Aphrodite Bitters (until 31st May).

In addition, guests will receive an invitation card entitling them to a complimentary fragrance profiling appointment and 15% discount off any purchase made at Penhaligon’s Royal Exchange boutique.

For more information and to buy online, visit: www.penhaligons.com

Photos by Conor Beary