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Marseille

A Weekend in Marseille with Eurostar

The highlight of my summer, without a doubt, was exploring beautiful Provence over a long weekend.  It was a jam-packed solo trip full of sun, culture and delicious food, in celebration of the new Eurostar direct route to the south of France.

As a massive fan of Eurostar, I was thrilled at the idea of hopping on a train at Kings Cross and arriving in Marseille around six hours later.

Sure, the journey time may be more than a flight, but its big advantages are arriving and departing in the heart of the city, a smooth journey with great views of the French countryside, generous baggage allowance and no liquid restrictions, so you can bring back as much rosé as you like.

Travelling in Standard Premier one way was an extra special treat, as I enjoyed a tasty French meal of stuffed roast chicken and vegetables, a decadent tarte au citron and wine, plus a very comfortable solo seat and a choice of glossy magazines – sheer travel bliss!

The hours flew by as the train passed through Lyon and Avignon with its picturesque sunflower fields and I arrived to glorious blue skies in Marseille.  The European City of Culture 2013 is very cosmopolitan yet charming with its own enduring identity complimented by Mediterranean and North African influences.  It’s also perfectly located to explore the Provence region, close to Cassis, Vitrolles and Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the second half of my weekend.

My base for two nights was Hôtel Résidence du Vieux Port, a cool design hotel with arguably the best location in Marseille, nestled on the old port and at the foot of historic district Le Panier.  I really loved this friendly independent hotel and will tell you all about it very soon…

For a breezy trip start to my trip, I met up with fashion blogger Julie Vandal for a drink on the terrace in bobo hilltop neighbourhood Le Cours Julien.  Julie then took me on a tour of good shopping addresses where local artisans produce stunning clothes, jewellery and homewares in their studio-boutiques.

Some of my favourites spots were Cherry Bones for delicate, colourful jewellery, Monstro Diva for beach-luxe accessories, Allika for stylish hand-made leather bags and Provencal homewares store L’Entrepot.

Le Cours Julien is also home to some of Marseille’s best street art.  Atelier Juxtapoz works with local shopkeepers to allow graffiti artists to beautify their shop fronts with creative murals – there’s even an annual Street Art Festival to celebrate the area’s creativity.

Look out for images of the bonne mère de Marseille and the poignant tribute to Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Cabu by local street artist JUIS.

A highlight of a trip to Marseille is the exquisite local produce, but you need to venture a little beyond the Old Port to sample these delicacies.  I enjoyed a gourmet tour with lovely guide Alexandra Blanc-Vea, who really knows Marseille inside out.

We started at Les Navettes des Accoules, a charming bakery in Le Panier that is said to offer the best navettes in Marseille (after tasting them, I truly believe it).  Shaped like traditional boats, navettes are fragrant, slightly sweet biscuits made with orange blossom water – perfect with a cup of tea.

The next stop was Le Glacier du Roi, another Marseille institution, where we were treated to a sharing plate of mouthwatering ice cream.  The signature navette flavour was out of this world and I also loved the tart, refreshing lemon sorbet.

Other foodie moments included fine wines and local cheeses at La Descente des Accoules, a tour of indoor market-restaurant Les Halles de Major and a tasting of fresh green olive tapenade in the courtyard cafe of La Vieille Charité.

A must-have souvenir is Marseille’s famous soap, hand-made with a high percentage of olive oil to moisturise the skin.  I picked up a few cubes of high quality soap at La Savonnerie Marseillaise, a stylish shop in Le Panier that offers soaps in every scent you can imagine.

Another fantastic shop in Le Panier is Maison Empereur – an upmarket quincaillerie (hardware store) that sells classic, nostalgic French lifestyle goods such as espadrilles, Breton tops, traditional tableware, Papier d’Arménie candles and Pierrot Gourmand lollipops.  I could have easily filled a basket with French knick-knacks here, but there was still so much to see and do.

A real highlight of my time in Marseille was a private tour of this summer’s must-see Aux Tableaux exhibition with Elodie Gaillard, press manager at Atelier Juxtapoz.  The former Saint Thomas d’Aquin School (closed in 2012) has been transformed into a creative wonderland by prominent and emerging artists from Marseille and across Europe.

The artists took residence for four months in the desolate institution, which included kindergarten, primary school and high school on the same premises.  Each room has been redesigned by an artist, taking inspiration from their own memories of childhood and themes of school days gone by.

Some rooms are whimsical, nostalgic and otherworldly while the high school rooms explore teenage rebellion, rock ‘n’ roll and sex.  Allow a few hours to fully explore the rooms by artists including Remi Rough, Stephane Moscato, Lilli B, Veenom and Neurone.

There’s also a peaceful courtyard where you can reflect on the installations over an ice cold drink, or visit on Wednesday night party with live DJs.

One of my evenings in Marseille was spent strolling around the Old Port, enjoying the balmy weather and street market stalls, then stopping to watch an impromptu Arabic music concert that drew quite a crowd.  I could even absorb the promenade’s buzzing, frenetic atmosphere from the comfort of my own balcony.

I grabbed a light dinner of sushi and miso soup, but for something more romantic, you can enjoy fresh seafood at famous seafront restaurant Le Miramar or tapas and live music at Bar Manolo in Le Panier.  Of course, I couldn’t pass up a rose-shaped gelato cone from Amorino for a sweet fix and a spot of people watching.

The next night, I checked out the restaurant at Mama Shelter Marseille near the Cours Julien.  The interiors are signature Philippe Starck, however the atmosphere was more subdued than at the lively Mama Shelter Paris – perhaps because it was a quiet Sunday evening.

The menu by chefs Jerome Banctel and Matthieu Devaux was full of tempting dishes and I really enjoyed my French-Asian Half roast chicken, caramelised soya sauce, coriander, mesclun salad and mushrooms.

My time in Marseille ended with an idyllic three hour cruise of the calanques, along the coast towards Cassis and back.  The scenery was breathtaking and unspoilt with tranquil bays and crystal blue waters.

Leaving the port, we had great views of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, MuCEM, Palais du Pharo and Fort St Jean.  The waters can be rather choppy at times, so take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness, then simply relax and enjoy the ride.

Marseille is a wonderful destination for a south of France city break, whether you’re exploring the winding cobbled streets of Le Panier, watching the world go by at hip Cours Julien or indulging in fresh moules frites on the terraces of the Old Port.  With such a convenient Eurostar route from London, Provence is almost impossible to resist.

Explore Marseille with City Pass, offering benefits such as free access to the city’s museum, a visit to the Chateau d’If, tourist train to Notre-Dame de la Garde or Le Panier, free access to subways and buses, free tastings and 10% discount at certified boutiques.  City Pass is valid for 24hrs, 48hrs or 72hrs and is priced from 24 Euros. 

Eurostar fares start at £99 for Marseille (from £199 in Standard Premier).  For more information and booking, visit: www.eurostar.com

Chérie City was a guest of Eurostar and Bouches-du-Rhône Tourist Board

All photos by Chérie City

 

Art, London

Red Dog, Black Wolf. Will You Remember Your Name?

A few weeks ago, I attended the opening of cool new art show Red Dog, Black Wolf. Will You Remember Your Name? – the second of three exhibitions in the summer programme at the London outpost of Yesim Turanli’s Istanbul gallery, Pi Artworks.

Curated by Isabel Dexter, this striking exhibition features works by British artists Rae Hicks and Charles Sandford, as well as one site-specific collaborative piece – a red and grey chequered carpet.

The show’s intriguing name is inspired by the French phrase ‘entre le chien et le loup’, denoting a curious time during dusk when a dog cannot be distinguished from a wolf.  It’s a moment of almost supernatural uncertainty and ambiguity, bringing an anxious state where not everything is as it seems.

This concept unifies the exhibition, which includes a mix of painting, installation, sculpture and performance.  Rae Hicks’ paintings, such as Double Glazing (2015) take a different look at everyday domestic objects that we often take for granted.

Through Hicks’ art process, the objects – a gas cooker, TV and books – adopt a different function to what we expect of them.  They become two dimensional, purposely limited models of themselves.

Charles Sandford explores the theme broadly with installations including a small single bed covered with a duvet print of an aristocratic huntsman and a theatrical red velvet curtain moving erratically to suggest sinister, clandestine fumbling.

At the private view, a hearse was also parked up outside.  The formally-dressed driver meticulously polished the shiny black car and anticipated his next fare.

Red Dog, Black Wolf. Will You Remember Your Name? is a thought-provoking, highly conceptual exhibition that challenges how the viewer perceives objects and processes eerie, uncomfortable sensations.  I’m looking forward to seeing what these talented London-based artists come up with next.

The exhibition runs until 3rd September at Pi Artworks.  For more information, visit: www.piartworks.com

Photos by Pi Artworks and Chérie City

Glasgow, Restaurants

A Foodie Trip to Glasgow

I fell in love with Glasgow when I lived there as a student for four years, so when I was asked by People Make Glasgow to revisit to explore the Scottish city’s thriving foodie scene, it was a no-brainer.

I already had more than a few favourite food spots (and far too many bars), but a lot has changed in the eight years that I’ve been away and I was excited for a whirlwind weekend of new discoveries.

After a very civilised and stress-free British Airways flight from City Airport, we swiftly checked in to our shiny, high-tech rooms at citizenM Glasgow.  The plush king-size corner bed, iPad-controlled mood lighting and pod-style rainfall shower made for a fun, comfortable stay.

Then, it was straight back out for a late supper and drinks at Hutchesons with my Glasgow pal, Katie Chutzpah.  This stylish Merchant City restaurant and bar is housed in the striking 19th century Hutcheson Hospital and boasts some opulent interiors.

We nestled in a corner booth in the cosy ground-floor bar and grazed on the most amazing Scottish prawns on ice, dressed crab and skinny fries.  Our libations of choice were a Parma Violet, Twinkle and Bollinger Champagne, however there is also a collection of £5 signature cocktails – as if we needed any more reason to love a night out in Glasgow.

The next morning, our epic foodie day in Glasgow started with a spicy kick at Babu Bombay Street Kitchen just a short walk from our hotel on West Regent Street.  Owner Rachna Dheer found Glasgow lacking in authentic, healthy Indian street food, so she introduced Babu at farmers’ markets around the city before setting up this basement kitchen gem in the city centre.

Babu serves freshly-prepared roti wraps, dahls and curries all day and the morning offering is an Indian take on typical Scottish breakfast dishes.  The pungent aromas are intoxicating and the kitchen is filled with fresh herbs, spices – this place is the real deal.

We basked in the sun and enjoyed a selection of dishes including Spicy scrambled eggs on a Mortons roll (Scotland’s famous everyday bakery) and Bacon chapatti wrap with fresh salad.  I was in the mood for something sweet and tried the most delicious, aromatic Chai brownie washed down with warming ginger tea.

This set us up well for a morning of foraging with Monica Wilde at Boden Boo urban wood in the shadow of the Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde.  This was my first time foraging and I was truly amazed by the copious plants and flowers that can be eaten or distilled to benefit the body.

Monica guided us through the wood, highlighting useful plants and plucking pieces for us to taste.  She also had a well-stocked forager’s bag full of alcoholic botanical tinctures for us to taste along the way, while the chefs from the acclaimed Riverhill Restaurant & Bar filled a basket in preparation for lunch.

Feeling inspired by nature, we headed back to Riverhill in the city centre for our special Boden Boo’s Bounty four-course lunch, complete with potent cocktails.  We were all impressed with the chefs’ high end, flavoursome vegetarian creations and how they utilised our foraged (and completely free) ingredients.

My favourite dish from the menu was the Aviemore girolles & Lanark oyster mushroom fricasse, chicken of the woods & parmesan powder, fermented wild garlic puree and deep-fried Luss duck egg.  I also loved the fragrant, delicate dessert of Dog rose jelly, meadowsweet sabayon, wild berries, gorse sable & yellow raspberry sherbet.

Scotland has long been synonymous with whisky, but gin is having quite a moment there, so off we went to an industrial estate on the Southside to discover the first gin to be produced in metropolitan Glasgow.

The Glasgow Distillery Company was originally founded in the 1770s and was revived just two years ago, debuting its first new product Makar Gin.

Named after the Scots word for bard or poet, Makar Gin is a juniper-led botanical dry gin that’s made in small batches of 300 in a copper still called Annie.  We tried this bold, vibrant gin both on its own and as a typical G&T and as if that wasn’t enough, we were treated to a wee sip of the distillery’s other produced spirit, Prometheus Whisky (a cool £500 per bottle).

We spent our Saturday night dining around Glasgow’s hip new foodie quarter Finnieston in the West End. This was my neighbourhood for four years and so much has changed since it was simply a low-key residential area with students occupying the grand tenement buildings just a stroll away from beautiful Kelvingrove Park (how lucky we were to live there).

I would never have expected to see pugs and Mulberry Bayswaters in this area, but that was the vibe at our first stop of the night, The Finnieston.  Graham Suttle’s popular Scottish seafood bar and restaurant opened just last year and is designed like an urban fisherman’s tavern.

The Finnieston is known for its extensive gin collection, so of course we kicked things off with a Scottish gin cocktail made with Caorunn Gin, Fentimans Tonic and Red Apple.

We grazed on a selection of starter dishes including Fresh Pacific oysters, Heritage carrot, orange & kipper salad and Double dived scallops with roast baby aubergine & courgette, crowdie stuffed courgette flower and Romesco sauce.

The main course was served next door at The Finnieston’s slicker and more relaxed sister restaurant Porter & Rye, a temple of fine dry-aged meats.  We were treated to a succulent, perfectly-cooked Porterhouse steak and literally all of the side dishes on the menu to share.  I particularly enjoyed the Ayrshire potatoes with smoked Abernathy butter and the indulgent Mac and cheese with thick-cut smoked bacon.

A brisk walk back towards the centre of town was very much needed before our final foodie stop of the night, the renowned Two Fat Ladies at The Buttery.  Two Fat Ladies is a real Glasgow institution and its romantic, old world Scottish decor – complete with tartan and oak panelling – is just irresistible.

We were seated in a beautiful private room with Scottish thistle wallpaper by Glasgow design company Timorous Beasties and various ornaments lovingly collected by the general manager.

We finished the night on a sweet note with the Two Fats grand dessert tasting plate, an impressive cheeseboard, petit fours and of course a Scottish whisky tasting.  It was lovely to get a glimpse of Two Fat Ladies, but I would love to revisit on another trip, as the fine dining experience seemed quite magical.

The next morning started with a caffeine kick at Gordon St Coffee Roastery, conveniently located inside Glasgow Central Station.  Well-known on the Glasgow coffee scene, Gordon St’s beans are roasted and ground in-house on the mezzanine level – there’s even a special Glasgow Blend.  I could only inhale the delicious aromas enviously due to my coffee intolerance (mine’s an Earl Grey), but I can report that they do a fantastic bacon roll and posh giant blackcurrant marshmallows served on pretty floral china.

Our next stop was a real adventure, visiting the Plan Bee hive at privately-owned home Haggs Castle.  Plan Bee provides and manages bee hives for Glasgow businesses (including Two Fat Ladies) and arranges visits for schools to connect children with nature.

We got kitted up in protective overalls, veils and wellies and chief beekeeper Warren Bader opened the hive, filled to the brim with over 60,000 honeybees.  At first it was a little daunting, but the bees were quite calm and good-natured, allowing the most courageous in our group to take a close look at the frames covered in honeycomb.

Once the bees were safely back in their home before the rain came, we tasted the fruits of their labour.  We tried the most delicious honey in flavours such as cinnamon, Italian truffle and vanilla and the good news is they can be bought directly online.

For our final meal in Glasgow, it was posh comfort food all the way at The Vintage at Drygate Brewery.  A collaboration between Williams Bros. and Scotland’s famous beer company Tennents, Drygate Brewery is an ‘experiential’ craft brewery, restaurant and event space that hosts gigs, comedy nights and marketing – very cool and very Glasgow.

Most of us went for the awesome Drygate beef burger with jerk ox cheek served with triple cooked chips and house slaw.  It’s a meaty, satisfying burger and the jerk ox cheek is a great addition, but if you come with an appetite, it’s also worth ordering some punchy Sobrasada beans and potatoes, bacon and oats for the table.  Wash it all down with a chilled Gladeye IPA, Outaspace Apple Ale or Bearface Lager and watch them being brewed through the transparent glass.

There’s also a retail shop with an unbelievable selection of rare and interesting craft beers.  If only we weren’t restricted by the flight carry-on liquid allowance, I would’ve brought home a few bottles, especially since the labels are designed with stunning artwork by Glasgow Art School students.

My weekend in Glasgow was so memorable and exciting and I loved seeing how vibrant the city has become. It’s a real haven for foodies with top notch restaurants doing wonderful things with the best Scottish produce and a community that’s so passionate about good eating and hospitality.  But don’t just take my word for it, get yourself up to Glasgow for an amazing weekend.

For further information for booking your trip to Glasgow, visit: www.peoplemakeglasgow.com

Chérie City was very happily invited by People Make Glasgow

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by The Finnieston & Two Fat Ladies. Plan Bee by People Make Glasgow)

Beauty, Salon

ESHK Hair Clerkenwell, London

Last week, I escaped the madness of the tube strike in the relaxing surroundings of ESHK Clerkenwell.

ESHK Hair was established in 2005 with salons in Shoreditch and Barbican and the new Clerkenwell salon has been open for just three months.

I usually like to be organised with my hair appointments, but realised I’d been paying too much attention to my colour (more precisely, camouflaging those pesky grey hairs) and had neglected the ends.  Perhaps it’s psychological, but I felt compelled to give my hair and spirit a lift – in fact, it was playing on my mind for days.

So, I hit Wahanda to browse London hair salons and decided on ESHK Clerkenwell for a Cut and Blow-Dry (£31.50) as it’s reasonably close to me and I’d read good things about the salon – ESHK won Time Out’s ‘Best Hairdressers in London’ award three times in a row.

You can’t miss ESHK with its sleek black exterior and bold sign on the corner of Grays Inn Road.  It’s a beautifully-designed boutique salon with an urban retro feel and nice touches such as Cire Trvdon candles and vintage furniture.

I was around 20 minutes early after allowing extra time for tube strike traffic and was immediately seated in the cool, bright ground floor cutting room.  I refueled with a cup of tea served with Italian biscuits and was soon greeted by my lovely stylist Gianluca.

After a quick consultation, I was taken downstairs to the wash basins and Gianluca prescribed a combination of two different Kevin Murphy shampoos for fine and colour-treated hair and a conditioner thick, curly hair that also works well on fine hair like mine.

Vanessa washed my hair and gave me a delightful scalp massage, which is always my favourite part of the salon experience.

Gianluca refreshed the lengths and cut long layers back into my hair.  We chatted about Italy and had a laugh about how out of shape my hair had become, in the safe knowledge that I’d be leaving with a much better ‘do.

My hair was then blow-dried straight and dry cut to complete the shape.  To finish, the lengths were straightened to combat frizz, curled on the ends and combed through for a soft, wavy look.

I was thrilled with my new bouncy, lighter style and the blow-dry that looked fresh and glam (I can’t be bouffant styles that make me look older than my years).  Before leaving, I asked Gianluca’s advice on how to improve my current hair colour and I’ll definitely be going back for colour soon.

I was really impressed with ESHK and loved its friendly, neighbourhood boutique salon vibe.  It’s also very affordable for central London (there’s the option for a free rough dry with colour services), so you can easily make it your regular ‘go to’ salon.

For more information and booking, visit: www.eshk-hair.com

All photos by ESHK

Hotels

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, West Sussex

Have you ever wanted to live like a Medieval princess, looking out over your manor from the comfort of an opulent four poster bed?

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa in West Sussex is the place to step back in time and immerse yourself in ye olde England.

Part of Historic Sussex Hotels, Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa in fact dates back to 1927, rather than the Middle Ages.  Lord and Lady Moyne commissioned antiquarian and architect Amyas Phillips to model the house on a Medieval country residence, indulging Lady Moyne’s love of this age.  There is of course a true relic of the Medieval era to be found at Bailiffscourt in the form of a 13th century chapel in the grounds.

I visited with my Mum for an overnight stay the night before our two-night sailing onboard the Celebrity Eclipse in nearby Southampton.  It only seemed right to break up our train journey and discover beautiful West Sussex for the first time.  We arrived at Littlehampton Station from London Victoria and the hotel was just a short 10-minute taxi ride away.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa is surrounded by 30 acres of land with luscious green fields, wildlife such as roaming peacocks and nearby pebbly Climping Beach.  Sadly the weather was not on our side and we were battling powerful gales that prevented us from exploring the hotel’s picturesque surroundings (we did have a stunning view from our window, though).

The hotel features 39 charming rooms and suites located in the Medieval House and a series of smaller building, some of which can be accessed through an underground tunnel.  We checked in and were taken through the maze of lounges with open fireplaces to our signature Junior Suite in the Medieval House.

The large, period-style room was certainly impressive, designed in warm ochre with bright floral and dark wood highlights.  Its interiors felt very authentic with a grand four poster bed, stone walls, mullioned windows, oil paintings and tapestries.

Other room features include a separate comfy seating area, large flat-screen satellite TV and posh tea and coffee facilities with a beautiful Polish pottery tea set and cafetiere.  We were delighted with the selection of proper ground coffee and a selection of black and herbal teas, as well as a glass pot containing delicious home-baked biscuits.

We were also kindly welcomed with a bottle of Champagne on ice and a hand-written note, as well as bottled mineral water.  There were even some board games provided, in case we felt like a rare digital detox (the hotel offers free wifi, but the signal is rather weak).

Happily, the large bathroom wasn’t in the slightest bit Medieval, in fact, it appeared to be very new.  It features a fabulous walk-in shower, roll-top bath, extra-wide towels, plush bathrobes and slippers, colourful Pip Studio accessories and two full sets of Temple Spa bathroom products.

The gem of Bailiffscourt Court is the amazing spa, where you can easily spend hours unwinding.  The spa is a real contrast to the historic interiors of the hotel, housed in a contemporary barn with high ceilings.

We loved the 12-metre indoor pool that was just the right temperature (I often find hotel pools too cold) and spent a long time in the hot, bubbling jacuzzi.  There’s also a fabulous sauna and steam room, plenty of pool loungers and a relaxation room with refreshments.

I enjoyed the most heavenly Drift Away Massage (55 mins) using lovely Temple Spa products.  It really was one of the most effective, enjoyable massages I’ve ever had and I was so deeply relaxed that I almost did drift away.  My friendly, intuitive therapist Laura worked on my back, legs and with medium pressure and then finished with a dreamy shoulders, scalp and face massage.

In the evening, we dined at the hotel’s Tapestry Restaurant, which serves a modern British menu by head chef Russell Williams.  I would’ve liked the restaurant to have the boisterous atmosphere of a Medieval banquet hall, but perhaps as hotel guests, we were all just too polite and chilled out from the spa!

I started with the Grilled scallops with cauliflower soup, baby spinach and Parmesan crisp.  The scallops were well-cooked but the cauliflower soup lacked seasoning and the dish needed another flavour such as chorizo or pancetta to add some saltiness.

The tastier choice was my mum’s Poached duck egg with artichoke puree, chargrilled ciabatta, baby spinach and wild mushrooms, which was rich and well-balanced.

We both really enjoyed our main courses – they were indulgent, colourful, well-presented and had plenty of flavour.  I loved my perfectly medium Honey glazed duck breast with braised chicory, confit duck leg and prune faggot, potato puree, spiced plum sauce and parsnip crisp.

My mum went for a lighter but equally yummy Beetroot and ricotta ravioli with barbecued winter squash and red onion, toasted pinenuts, sage and squash puree.

My dessert of Hot chocolate souffle, white chocolate cream and Bellini sauce was pleasant but much too big for one person.  However, my mum’s Glazed lemon tart with gin and tonic sorbet was zesty, fresh and just the right size.

After a glorious night’s sleep in our four-poster bed, we enjoyed a tasty breakfast in the Tapestry Restaurant.  The breakfast selection was very good with hot dishes, glazed carvery ham, cheeses, pastries, mini muffins, granola, porridge, Greek yoghurt with fruit compote and seeds and fresh juices.  In the warmer months, guests can take all meals in the pretty courtyard filled with roses.

Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa is an idyllic retreat in beautiful surroundings and the highlight of our stay was the outstanding spa.  For a weekend of pampering and fresh sea air just a short train ride away from London, Bailiffscourt offers the perfect escape.

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

Chérie City was invited by Bailiffscourt Hotel

Photos by Chérie City and Bailiffscourt Hotel

London, Restaurants

A Taste of Ling Ling Mykonos at Hakkasan Hanway Place

Summer in Mykonos just got even hotter with the opening of Ling Ling, Hakkasan’s hip new nightspot.

It brings Asia’s popular izakaya concept to Greece’s chic party island and is the place to indulge in dining, drinking and dancing.

Ling Ling is a lighter take on Hakkasan’s renowned Chinese fine dining and is complete with an open-air restaurant, bar, private dining and lounge.

I would need no excuse to hop over to Mykonos for a night of dim sum and sundowner cocktails, but conveniently, Hakkasan Hanway Place is offering a taste of Ling Ling Mykonos right here in London.

I visited the one Michelin star Hakkasan Hanway Place for the first time last week and was wowed by the heavenly food, cool design and superior service.  Hakkasan really excels in creating a seductive atmosphere with moody, dimmed lighting and a cool soundtrack curated by the restaurant’s London resident DJ Pathaan.

We started our foodie journey with a Ling Ling Collins – a long cocktail made with Beefeater Gin, Green Chartreuse, cranberry, grapefruit, elderflower and lemon juice poured over crushed ice.  It was refreshing, summery and very easy to drink with a tart, zingy citrus flavour.

The limited edition Ling Ling menu is offered with three set menus to choose from – fish and seafood, meat and seafood or vegetarian.

We both went for the meat and seafood menu  and were presented with a Trio dim sum platter served piping hot in a cute little basket.  These high end dumplings were truly mind-blowing and definitely the best I’ve ever had.  Our selection included Prawn har gau, Scallop shumai topped with red tobiko and Chinese chive dumpling with prawn and crabmeat, finished with a goji berry.

The large parcel were tightly packed with fresh, well-seasoned seafood and coated in a delicate, moist dumpling skin.  I sometimes find that dim sum can become overwhelming quickly if the dough is too thick or steamed for too long that it becomes sticky, but Hakkasan’s dim sum were exemplary – I can’t stop raving about them.

Jasmine tea smoked organic pork rib was a real highlight and without a doubt the best I’ve ever had. Carved ceremoniously at the table, the ribs were so succulent and tender with a generous amount of meat and a layer of fat that simply melted in the mouth.  The glaze was very pleasant and subtle with just the right amount of smoky sweetness (no flavours were overstated).

Spicy prawn with lily bulb and almond was an unexpectedly piquant yet moreish main dish.  Five plump, juicy steamed prawns sat atop an aromatic, slightly creamy curry sauce studded with yummy toasted almonds and cooling, sweet lily bulbs.  The chili kick made my lips tingle, but I couldn’t resist adding more and more sauce to my bowl of fragrant jasmine rice.

Hakkasan is renowned for its exquisite desserts and our menu ended on a simple and sweet note with a Selection of macarons.  We grazed on the most delicious rose, pistachio and vanilla and jasmine macarons, beautifully served in a dim sum basket and adorned with a pretty orchid flower.

The macarons were freshly-baked with a light, crispy meringue shell and velvety smooth ganache – my favourite was the delicate vanilla and jasmine which had a lovely hint of white chocolate.

The Ling Ling menu at Hakkasan Hanway really was spectacular and a great way to taste a good range of signature dishes in one delightful meal.  With Hakkasan’s cool atmosphere, creative dishes and fine attention to detail, I can’t wait to see what Ling Ling Mykonos has in store.

The Ling Ling menu is available at Hakkasan Hanway Place until 31st August and is priced at £35 per person.  For more information and booking, visit: www.hakkasan.com

Chérie City was a guest of Hakkasan Hanway Place

Photos by Chérie City and Hakkasan Hanway Place

Click to add a blog post for Hakkasan on Zomato

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 expert 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 on the go.

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 utterly 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)

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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)

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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)

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