All Posts By

cheriecity

Hotels, New York

Our New York Wedding

Things have been a bit quiet on the blog front recently, but there’s a good reason why – we got married!  We spent almost two magical weeks in New York and managed to squeeze in our wedding, honeymoon and my birthday – well, they say good things come in threes!

Steven and I got engaged in the Tuileries Garden in Paris last November and have since been planning our dream trip to New York, the highlight being our intimate wedding ceremony in Central Park.  As it was a small wedding, a dedicated planner wasn’t necessary and we handled every last detail ourselves (mostly online from the UK).  But more on planning a destination wedding later…oh, the planning!

Cherie City engagement Paris

Like I said, our wedding was super-tiny with just us and the ‘rents in attendance, so everything was easy to co-ordinate once we all arrived (we travelled a few days ahead to get our marriage licence at City Hall in Tribeca).  Our HQ for the wedding part of the trip was the WestHouse Hotel New York,  a five star residence just a few block south of Central Park and Columbus Circle.  We all LOVED this hotel and quickly felt at home.

WestHouse Hotel New York

The day before the wedding, I went with my mum to the Flower District on West 28th St to pick some flowers.  The choice of blooms is quite overwhelming, but we eventually decided on the most beautiful pink peonies for my bouquet and lily of the valley for the guest buttonholes.

Thankfully my mum is a crafts goddess and had packed all kinds of floristry accessories in her suitcase to make the bouquet look perfect.  She also made my wedding dress, just as my grandmother made hers.  It’s a tradition that I really wanted to keep and we both quite enjoyed the process, from designing and sourcing fabrics to the final tweaks.

New York peonies

We then all regrouped for a walk around Greenwich Village and a picnic in my favourite Washington Square Park with deli bites from Dean & Deluca.  Cakes for the reception were from the new spring collection at Ladurée Soho and I couldn’t resist adding a selection of macarons.

While everyone chilled out in their rooms, my evening was spent sweeping Henri Bendel for last-minute accessories and finally relaxing with an excellent mani-pedi at New York Nails, just a few steps away from the hotel.

On the morning of our wedding, we enjoyed a light breakfast on the terrace at The WestHouse and my mum and I hopped in a cab to Blo Chelsea for a blow-dry and up-do.  My stylist did a great job making my hair look all soft, romantic and not overly polished, finished with twinkling star and moon clips by Anthropologie to match the beaded silk of my dress.  There was some kind of sorcery in those pins – they barely moved all day!

Cherie City wedding hair

I did my own make-up with a complete Dior kit, using techniques and tips that I’d learned in my Dior make-up lesson a few weeks before.  After adding the finishing touches to my bridal look and having a mini pep talk with my mum, I met my groom in the lobby and off we all went in a cab to Central park.

Our wedding venue was Wagner Cove, a charming and peaceful spot with a rustic pavilion overlooking the lake.  The weather was absolutely spot on with blue skies and shimmering sun and the only noises were passing rowing boats, birds chirping and turtles jumping off the rocks.

Wagner Cove Central Park

Of course, Central Park is a public space and so many people stopped to say congratulations, hear our story and take photos with us.  It turned our small wedding into something much bigger and I have New Yorkers and the city’s friendly visitors to thank for that.

Cherie City wedding in New York

The wedding ceremony was simple and beautiful.  Our officiant Sarah Smart put together some heartfelt and poignant vows and conducted it all without too much fuss.  It was all captured by our wedding photographer Emilia Randler, who gave us helpful direction and made us feel comfortable throughout.  For a blogger, I’m ridiculously camera-shy but with Emilia’s guidance, I managed to pose my way through Central Park’s most picturesque landmarks for a good two hours.

Cherie City wedding New York

We took advantage of the quiet terrace at the WestHouse for our mini reception and finally got to taste those divine Ladurée cakes and macarons.

Ladurée wedding cakes

Then it was back in a cab to Tribeca for dinner at Andrew Carmellini’s latest restaurant Little Park.  Would you believe me if I told you that it took over six months of nightly online research to find the restaurant that would fit my exact criteria?  There’s an overwhelming number of fantastic restaurants in New York and I changed my mind a few times along the way, but Little Park ticked all of the boxes and didn’t disappoint.

Little Park - New York, NY

The menu was modern American with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients and beautiful presentation.  We enjoyed dishes such as Sullivan county chicken with morel, fava bean and garlic, Long island duck with rhubarb, broccoli rabe and confit leg and Rainbow trout with fingerling potato, celery and dill.

Little Park New York

Little Park New York

Desserts were Frozen Meyer lemon fluff with orange sorbet and sour candied ginger, Honey chamomile panna cotta with strawberry, lemon and amaro and our overall favourite – Cinnamon toast ice cream with brioche crumb.

Little Park desserts

We ended this magical day on the terrace at the WestHouse marvelling at the Manhattan skyline and sharing our favourite moments of the wedding.

View from WestHouse Hotel New York

After the wedding was over, we could let loose a little (ie. make up for lost time with the hotel’s daily afternoon tea) and explore New York without a schedule.  Then it was on to Montauk in the Hamptons for our honeymoon, before spending my birthday back in New York, staying in the beautiful Modern Art Suite at hotel Warwick New York.

Our New York wedding was an absolute dream and looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  If you’re tempted by a New York destination wedding or elopement, I’ll be posting about how to plan it, with a few helpful tips that we learned along the way.

Photos by Chérie City (wedding photos by Emilia Randler and restaurant interior by Little Park)

London, Restaurants

Taste of London with Celebrity Cruises

Last night, I headed to Taste of London in Regent’s Park to sample the latest food and wine offerings from Celebrity Cruises.

Taste of London

The cruise ship company’s signature Lawn Club was recreated specially for Taste of London and it was a calm retreat with live music, boules and an elegant wine bar.

Celebrity Cruises Taste of London

Celebrity Cruises Taste of London

Chef Tato Garcia was on hand to present a three course tasting menu with wine pairings by Oz Clarke from Celebrity’s finest onboard restaurants.  I had the pleasure of trying Luminae last year, but Xpedition and Blu were new to me, so that was quite a treat.

Chef Tato Garcia

Celebrity Cruises Taste of London

A common preconception about cruises is that the food won’t be interesting or high quality and catered towards the masses.  I can tell you from personal experience that this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Celebrity works with Great British Chefs, top food personalities and local producers to create exclusive culinary experiences at its speciality fine dining restaurants.

Celebrity Cruises Taste of London

For the first course of our tasting menu, we tried Luminae’s celeriac velouté with black truffle and toasted sunflower seeds.  The smooth velouté was very subtle and was punctuated by pungent black truffle cream, garlic oil-infused mushrooms, sweet and crunchy toasted brioche and plenty of shaved truffles.

Celebrity Cruises celeriac veloute

The second course was inspired by Celebrity Cruises destination The Galapagos  – Xpedition’s corvina sea bass with sage brown butter, cavolo nero and asparagus.  This dish was so fresh and summery with julienne vegetables, a smooth carrot purée and the most delicious piece of sea bass with golden, crispy edges.

Celebrity Cruises corvina sea bass

It was hard to pick a favourite, but I absolutely loved Blu’s pistachio crusted lamb loin with juniper rhubarb jam.  The lamb was slow-cooked to perfection and the tangy rhubarb jam and crumbled pistachio were a stunning accompaniment.

Celebrity Cruises pistachio crusted lamb loin

We finished with a mini Lemon meringue tart from the Lawn Club’s afternoon tea menu, but I still had a bit more room to try a few more dishes.

The divine aromas of robata-grilled meat drew me to Roka, where I tried Kobuta no miso yaki – slow-cooked pork belly with lemon, miso and garlic soy.  It was spicy, smoky, aromatic and ever so tender, plus the portion size was on the generous side.

Roka at Taste of London

Roka at Taste of London

I always like to finish a meal on a sweet note and it was the ideal weather for a hearty Warmer apfel strudel with vanilla sauce over at German Gymnasium.  The strudel was exemplary with lots of cinnamon, tart apples and delicate pastry and I loved the smooth and light vanilla sauce.  Happily Typhoo (the one that Nigella likes) was offering complimentary cups of tea – because cake should always come with tea.

The German Gymnasium at Taste of London

Taste of London was just as good as ever and the addition of the contactless payment option at the restaurants and some shops was particularly helpful.  See you at Taste of London Winter!

Chérie City was a guest of Celebrity Cruises

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London

Velvet Lattes at Palm Vaults, Hackney

Sure there are plenty of places in Hackney to indulge your artisan coffee and avocado toast craving, but how many can boast a sprawling, magical indoor garden?

Palm Vaults Hackney

House plant heaven can be found at independent cafe and coffee shop Palm Vaults, a curious new addition to the top of Mare Street.  The vibe is Miami meets Biba (and a dash of Ms Haversham) with dusky pink velvet seats, pink marble tables and touches of gold, framed by willowing palms.

Palm Vaults Hackney

Palm Vaults Hackney

As if that wasn’t girly and Instagrammable enough, one of its signature drinks is the magenta-hued Velvet Latte – a concoction of natural beetroot and steamed milk that tastes like a rather earthy red velvet cake. They also do a fantastic Matcha Latte, made perfectly with a generous amount of green tea rocket fuel (and happily no bitter taste).

Palm Vaults Hackney

I can’t tell you much about the coffee, as everyone was drinking colourful lattes during our visit, but you can expect the usual flat whites and long blacks as well as frappés, iced matcha, masala chai, hojicha and gourmet hot chocolates using high quality melted chocolate from Madagascar, Venezuela and the Ivory Coast.

Palm Vaults Hackney

There’s also a selection of pastries, big and beautiful cakes by east London-based Victoria Yum and of course brunch dishes like avocado and halloumi on toast.  I didn’t really notice food menus there, but perhaps there’s more to come?

Palm Vaults Hackney

Palm Vaults Hackney

It’s also worth popping by if you love vintage, as there’s a small but well-edited selection of designer pieces.  Marlene the adorable bulldog also holds court – she was off out exploring before I could get a pic of her.  Is that enough reasons to visit Palm Vault? I think so…

All photos by Chérie City

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Barbecoa, London

A steakhouse by Jamie Oliver with sleek black and gold interiors and incredible views of St. Pauls is a winning combination for me.  In fact, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to dine at Barbecoa and indulge in some heavenly grilled meats.

Located in The City’s One New Change, Barbecoa is all about modern, accessible luxury with design by Tom Dixon and a menu of high-end comfort food.  It attracts a smart post-work crowd and is a slick affair with well-choreographed yet friendly service.

Barbecoa London

Barbecoa achieves its ‘temple of meat’ status with an open kitchen boasting an arsenal of grills and smokers, including robatas, Argentinian grills, wood-fire ovens, Texas pit smokers and a tandoor oven.  All to get that delicious smokey taste!

Barbecoa London

We visited on a particularly hot day, so we cooled down with a refreshing Elderflower Collins (£3) and Seasonal Soda (£3).  The cocktail menu is pretty exciting though, with a good range of classic and unique drinks.

To start, I went for the summery and light Burrata with asparagus, peas, broad beans, mint and roasted hazelnuts (£9).  The julienne greens and crunchy hazelnuts really enhanced the subtle flavours of the fresh, creamy burrata, making a well-rounded dish.

Barbecoa burrata

Steven’s starter of Hush Puppies with Devonshire crab, British chorizo and burnt lemon crème fraîche (£10) was rather more indulgent and intensely flavoured.  Both starters were satisfying and just the right size without being overwhelming.

Barbecoa hush puppies

The main course is where it gets really exciting, with tempting low and slow dishes such as pit beef and pulled lamb, wood-roasted whole daily catch and a great selection of steaks.

I went for my favourite cut – Fillet steak with bone marrow, smoked Béarnaise and herb salad (£35/8oz). The chunky and lean fillet steak simply melted in the mouth and was nicely charred and seasoned with plenty of sea salt and with a tender centre.

I’m not a fan of bone marrow and this one topped with garlic breadcrumbs was very oily and unappealing, but I loved the velvety smoked Béarnaise and the punchy fresh tarragon and chervil toast with tangy pink onions.

Barbecoa filet steak

Steven tried the Sirloin steak with slow-roasted tomatoes and morello olive oil (£34/12oz).  The high quality sirloin steak was juicy and succulent with a mature flavour and the tomatoes with fresh basil were an ideal accompaniment.

Barbecoa sirloin steak

Choosing our side dishes was difficult, as they all sounded yummy, but a real winner was the light and flavoursome Charred broccoli with miso and almonds (£4).  It went perfectly with the proper skin-on Beef-dripping chips with Vopaia vinegar and Cornish salt (£4).

My only criticism of the main dishes is that there is nothing for vegetarians (unless they eat fish), only the burrata starter and side dishes.  Perhaps demand isn’t high for dedicated veggie options, but it could be an issue for group dinners.

Barbecoa charred broccoli

Somehow we managed to find room for the beautifully-presented dessert tasting plate, featuring every sweet dish on the menu.  My favourite was the Snickersphere – a heavenly mix of milk chocolate ganache, smooth caramel, crispy biscuit and crushed peanuts.

Other decadent bites were the glossy and rich Barbecoa brownie, zesty Lemon meringue, Gooseberry goat’s milk cheesecake, Panna cotta with English strawberries, Lemon honeycomb mousse, Chocolate macaron, Bourbon jelly and Strawberry and vodka truffle.

Barbecoa dessert plate

Barbecoa is ideal for a stylish night out in The City with fantastic food, great views and a buzzing atmosphere.  If you’re in the mood for a truly sumptuous steak – whether it’s a blow-out Chateaubriand with truffle butter or a more modest butcher’s cut from the well-priced set menu – it’s sure to hit the spot.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Barbecoa

Photos by Chérie City

Barbecoa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Sakura Garden at Sake no Hana, London

Last year, I visited Sake no Hana for the first time to discover its special Sakura menu, so I was delighted that it has returned for another spring.

To celebrate the season of cherry blossom, Sake no Hana has transformed its ground floor bar into a stunning cherry blossom garden with boughs of tiny white flowers and a tumbling blossom projection on the walls.

Sake No Hana London

It’s an ancient, much-loved tradition in Japan to feast and drink sake under the blooming sakura trees either during the day or at night when the boughs are lit with twinkling lights.  It’s my dream to stroll through the sakura parks of Tokyo and Kyoto, but until then, it was a pleasure to indulgence in the heart of Mayfair.

Inspired by this visual and sensory experience, Head Chef Hideki Hiwatashi has created a fabulous Sakura menu, bringing the art of Japanese hanami to London.  It has a similar ‘urban picnic’ concept as last year’s offering but with exciting new dishes and bites.

Sake No Hana Sakura

Our Sakura experience started with a dreamy Kaori Arpège cocktail – Beefeater 24 Gin, yuzu sake, cherry liqueur, peach bitters, grapefruit juice and agave.  The refreshing, citrusy cocktail was accompanied by three perfume atomisers – red cherry, black cherry and cinnamon, elderflower and jasmine and violet – to fragrance the air and enhance notes in the cocktail.

Sake No Hana Sakura cocktail

We started with the delicious Shiro Misoshiru Uguisu Tofu – steaming hot miso soup filled with spring onion, wakame seaweed and a fluffy flower-shaped piece of tofu made from edamame peas.  Its spongy texture and slightly sweet flavour made it an interesting addition to the usual classic miso soup.

Sake No Hana Shiro Misoshiru Uguisu Tofu

This was followed with a beautifully-presented Sushi and Sashimi Box – it was almost too pretty to devour. Thick slices of hamachi, akami and salmon sashimi simply melted in the mouth and were served chilled over ice in a bamboo box.

Sake No Hana Sakura

Just as delicious was the trio of nigiri – medium-fatty chu toro caviar, silky salmon kizami wasabi and fresh ama ebi nigiri.  Okura shiso maki was very unique – the okra maki was tender yet crunchy and finished with purple-hued dried sweet plum.  Another tasty bite was the Suzuki Sasazushi – flavoursome seabass sushi wrapped in a bamboo leaf to give it an aromatic taste.

Sake No Hana Sakura

The new Sakura menu also includes a choice of three tempting main courses.  Chicken Sumiyaki with spicy shichimi sauce was a generous amount of succulent, lightly caramelised pieces of grilled chicken thigh with crispy skin.  The shichimi sauce had a deep honey-soy flavour and I found it milder than I’d expected.

Sake No Hana Sakura

Salmon Miso Yaki with egg mustard sauce was meaty and satisfying with a punchy, slightly creamy dipping sauce.  Both dishes were accompanied by a leaf salad lightly dressed with refreshing yuzu and crunchy fried lotus chips.

Sake No Hana Sakura salmon

Dessert is not to be missed, especially if you love macarons!  Cherry Chocolate Sake Mousse not only looked exquisite but it tasted divine.  The dessert plate featured an intense, bitter-sweet cherry chocolate mousse and a cherry sake mousse with a softer creamy vanilla flavour.  It was made even prettier with yummy chocolate crumble and little cubes of sake jelly.

Sake No Hana Cherry Chocolate Sake Mousse

We finished the meal with the most amazing Cherry Blossom Macarons and a pot of jasmine tea.  The freshly-baked vanilla macarons were delicately hand-painted and filled with plenty of velvety cherry blossom tea ganache.

Sake No Hana cherry blossom macarons

It was such a delight to enjoy this beautiful feast under the cherry blossom and I love how chilled out the bar is, even when the restaurant upstairs is busy.  Go quickly, before the blossom disappears for another year.

The Sakura Menu at Sake no Hana is priced at £34 per person and is available until 18th June.  For more information and booking, visit: www.sakenohana.com

Chérie City was a guest of Sake no Hana

Photos by Chérie City (interior image by Sake no Hana)

 

Drinks

A Lazy Sunday with Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

Before the arduous task of packing for almost two weeks in New York, we wanted to enjoy a proper lazy Sunday and make the most of the glorious sunshine.  On a warm day in east London, everyone flocks to the park (especially those of us with baking hot apartments and no outdoor space) and we’re very fortunate to have London Fields right on our doorstep. 

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

Armed with a hamper full of ice cold Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails and some scrumptious Eton Mess Tarts, we scored a great spot in the park to chill out, watch a local cricket match and spot French bulldog puppies tumbling around the grass – what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

My summer drink of choice has often been a Rekorderlig Swedish flavoured cider over lots of ice (there are so many different ones to try), so I was excited to taste the recently-launched cocktail range.

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

A trio of original flavoured ciders are blended with premium spirits to create classic cocktails with a modern twist.  There’s the zingy Passion fruit Gimlet made with gin and a hint of lime, a Wild Berries Bramble bursting with dark fruit and white rum and a cool, citrusy Swedish Punch mixing strawberry-lime cider with vodka, mint and elderflower.

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

The cocktails are so refreshing and really awaken the senses, plus the spirits give the cider a real kick.  Best of all, they come in a slim can for easy opening and drinking – just add a cute straw for the finishing touch.

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

They’re the perfect fruity tipple to bring to a festival or serve at a garden party or a barbecue with family and friends.  I like the idea of having three completely different cocktails ready to drink, saving time and effort on mixing and stocking up on a hundred different bar ingredients (really, how often would you use that bottle of Blue Curaçao).

Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails

Have you tried Rekorderlig Cider Cocktails yet?  Which flavour tempts you the most?

This post was written in collaboration with Rekorderlig 

All photos by Chérie City

 

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Suvlaki, Soho

Last year, I visited Greece for the first time and was wowed by the fresh, comforting local food.  I’ve been craving proper Greek grilled meat since and was thrilled to discover Suvlaki – a fabulous modern Athenian grill in Soho.

This bijou restaurant and take-away grill may be petite (with just 34 tightly-squeezed covers), but it really packs a punch, from its exquisite food to its vibrant graffitied exterior and buzzing atmosphere.

Suvlaki Soho

This spot on Bateman Street has long been a Greek restaurant, but Suvlaki recently relaunched with a fresh new look courtesy of Greek designer Afroditi Krassa.  It feels urban and sleek with ink-hued walls, pendant lamps, satirical graffiti on the walls and even a backdrop of classical-style stone columns – far from a typical Greek taverna.

There’s also a new menu for spring by chef Alfred Prassad with a bigger variety of dishes and a focus on simplicity and great produce.

Suvlaki Soho

We visited Suvlaki earlyish on a mid-week evening and it started to fill very quickly.  We ordered bottles of Loux Greek lemonade and started with a Cheese nibble – grilled mastelo cheese with fig marmalade on pita. The cheese was springy and nicely browned with sweet stickiness from the fig marmalade, wrapped in slices of soft, fluffy pita, which comes all the way from Chasiotis bakery on the outskirts of Athens.

Suvlaki Soho grilled mastelo cheese

Another tasty snack was the very moreish Fava dip, made with smooth fava beans, salty capers and extra-virgin olive oil, served with more of that delightful pita.

For the main course, I couldn’t resist the trio of Suvlaki skewers (there is a choice of five), cooked over charcoal on the robata-style grill.  The pork skewer was ever so tender and finished with a subtle honey glaze while the chicken thigh marinated in Florina peppers and tarragon was juicy with crispy edges and a slight aromatic flavour.

Suvlaki Soho skewers

The lamb mince was very different to the other two, almost like a Greek burger seasoned with bold Athenian spices.  It was so tasty and satisfying and it kept the dish varied and interesting.  Of course, it came with even more pitta – lightly brushed with traditional mastiha liqueur – as well as a piquant tomato sauce, cool tzatziki and a wedge of lemon to season.

Steven enjoyed the trio of Suvlaki wraps, including the same choice of grilled meats or mastelo cheese with vegetables, plus the addition of plum tomatoes, parsley-glazed red onion, lettuce and tzatziki.  They each came individually wrapped and were just as delicious as the skewers.

Suvlaki Soho wraps

While Suvlaki is all about the mouth-watering locally sourced grilled meat, it also focuses on meze sharing plates.  We loved the Lentil salad – a fresh and zingy dish made with florina pepper, spring onion, crumbled feta and balsamic vinegar.

Suvlaki Soho lentils with florina pepper

The Fresh chips sprinkled with oregano are also a must – they’re golden, crispy and served piping hot, just as they should be.  Suvlaki recommends ordering two side dishes each, but we were rather full by this point and couldn’t manage any more plates.  If you arrive with a rumbling tummy, go for the full works with the Suvlaki exuberance for two to share – it offers a generous taste of Suvlaki’s offering.

Suvlaki Soho fresh chips

Desserts are typically Greek but with a twist and you can try the famous fig spoon sweet (dried fruit drenched in sweet syrup) with rustic buffalo milk mastiha ice cream.  I really liked the dense, rich Chocolate biscuit cake (usually served with home-made Greek coffee ice cream, but I ask for it without), but the two slices were difficult to finish – one to share is more than enough.

Steven’s Samos to Soho cheesecake was a light and refreshing mix of Greek wild honey, candied ginger, mastiha and citrus meringue.  Both desserts were pleasing and finished the meal off perfectly, but you may be tempted instead by the many savoury snacks.

Suvlaki chocolate biscuit cake

Suvlaki is a top quality neighbourhood spot with sensational food, modest pricing and above all, plenty of charisma.  I know that I’ll be heading back this summer for a pita burger or to attempt the Suvlaki exuberance – the aromas of smoky grilled meat lingering through Soho are too hard to resist!

For more information and take-away ordering, visit: www.suvlaki.co.uk

Chérie City was a guest of Suvlaki

Food images by Chérie City and interiors by Suvlaki 

Brussels

A Weekend in Brussels

Brussels is a destination that really surprised me when we visited recently.  My initial impression was that it was mostly a connection city for travelling to Bruges or Ghent and must be super-serious and business-like as the centre of the European Union.

Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Firstly, the Belgian capital city wins points for its enthusiasm for chocolate, waffles and really good beer, but after spending some time there, I was also charmed by its history, grandeur and friendly culture.

Brussels

Our visit came at a time of intensity in Brussels and fortunately we were back in London before the devastating attacks.  During our stay, there was a reassuringly strong security presence on the streets and the weekend revelry carried on in a fun, good-natured way.

Grand Place Brussels

We were kindly invited by Accor Hotels for this weekend city break in Brussels and we had the most fantastic time exploring the city.  Our base for two nights was the shiny new four-star Mercure Brussels Centre Midi, located conveniently close to the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Midi and a short 15-minute walk into the heart of Brussels.  While I always plan my Eurostar departure meticulously, I’ve been known to scramble like a madwoman to make the train back home with mere minutes to spare, so I found the hotel’s location handy for that last-minute dash.

Mercure Brussels Centre Midi

The Mercure Brussels Centre Midi is contemporary and sleek with stylish interiors.  We found our Double Room very comfortable with a plush bed, large LCD TV, tea and coffee facilities and a spacious, modern bathroom.

Mercure Brussels Centre Midi

A special perk of staying there is the relaxing spa with a well-maintained sauna, steam room and whirlpool.  It was the perfect way to unwind after a day of sightseeing before heading out to dinner.

Mercure Brussels Centre Midi

Breakfast is also a real treat with everything you could possibly want for breakfast, including hot dishes, smoked salmon, mini pastries, freshly-baked waffles, crepes, charcuterie, Continental cheese and squeeze-your-own orange juice.  There’s even a slab of Belgian chocolate to be cracked with a hammer, if you want to start the day on a sugar high – you’re on holiday, after all!

Mercure Brussels Centre Midi breakfast

There are so many things to see and do in Brussels and there are still a number of sights and neighbourhoods still on my list, but here are some of the highlights of our weekend trip…

The Grand Place & Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

The most iconic spot in Brussels is the Grand Place (Grote Markt), a majestic square lined with exquisite gold-embellished guildhalls dating mostly from the late 17th century.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site houses the city’s Town Hall and the Museum of Brussels and in August, the centre becomes a spectacular Flower Carpet.

Grand Place Brussels

Grand Place Brussels
Just off the Grand Place is the beautiful Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – an elegant shopping arcade filled with designer boutiques, cafes and plenty of chocolate shops.  For unique gifts, check out the charming Belgian lace and Italian glove stores and be tempted by the tantalising window displays at artisan chocolatiers Pierre Marcolini and Mary.

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert Brussels

Manneken Pis

One character you won’t be able to miss in Brussels is local hero the Mannekin Pis (‘the little pissing boy’).  You can find him relieving himself in front of a crowd in the centre of old Brussels and every day he wears a different outfit.

Manneken Pis Brussels

Poechenellekelder bar is just opposite the statue, serving Belgian beers in horn glasses with meat and cheese plates, so it’s a great spot to have fun.

Manneken Pis

Museum of Costume and Lace

Brussels has been world-renowned for its unique hand-made lace since the 15th century and the Museum of Costume and Lace pays tribute to this traditional craft.

Museum of Costume and Lace Brussels

We visited for the Crinolines and Cie exhibition, which featured two floors of exquisite costumes, including an ethereal, contemporary crinoline by the talented Belgian designer Olivier Theyskens.

Olivier Theyskens crinoline

The Atomium

It’s worth venturing out of the centre of Brussels to visit The Atomium in the north of the city.  We took the Hop On Hop Off Bus straight there and marvelled at the stunning Laeken Estate with its Royal Palace, Royal Greenhouses, Chinese Pavilion and Japanese Tower.

The striking building was originally constructed for Expo 58 and the top sphere offers panoramic views over Brussels (not for us, sadly, as access was restricted due to a national football match).

Atomium Brussels

Palais des Beaux-Arts

A must-see for art lovers is the impressive Palais des Beaux-Arts (also known as BOZAR) in the museum district.  It hosts an overwhelming number of exhibitions, but we only had time to see Theo Van Doesburg (running until 29th May).

It was an extensive survey of the works of the lesser-known co-founder of the art movement De Stijl, alongside key pieces by his contemporaries Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck, the Dadaists and the later Bauhaus architects.  I really loved this multi-disciplinary arts centre and will definitely be keeping an eye on future exhibitions for an excuse to return.

BOZAR Brussels

 Waffles, waffles, chocolate and cake…

The place to indulge your waffle craving in Brussels is the original Maison Dandoy tearoom on Rue au Beurre, just off the Grand Place.  Established in 1829 by young baker Jean-Baptiste Dandoy, this historic maison is famous for its hand-made speculoos biscuits, but we were in the mood for a delicious Brussels waffle smothered in rich chocolate with a pot of Chantilly cream (there’s also a choice of the sweeter Liège waffle).

Maison Dandoy Brussels waffle

A real highlight of our trip was afternoon tea and cake at Meert in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert.  This bijou patisserie and tea room is absolutely dreamy with marble counters, sumptuous red velvet banquets and an unbelievable selection of meticulously-crafted cakes.

Meert Brussels

It’s all about the small details at Meert, from the charming and elegant service to the monogrammed china – and of course, the cakes are out of this world.

Meert Brussels

We always manage to find the hipster neighbourhood in every city we visit and I wish we’d had more time to stroll around Sainte Catherine, home of the wonderful Chicago Cafe.  With just a few hours before taking the Eurostar home, we popped by for one last waffle, topped with molten chocolate and sliced fruit.

Chicago Cafe Brussels

If you have more time to enjoy a leisurely lunch or brunch, there is a tempting menu of enormous gourmet salads, tartines, croques, quesadillas and burgers.  It’s super-friendly for kids too!

Chicago Cafe Brussels

For the two nights, Mercure kindly booked us in for dinner at L’Escale, a wonderful local brasserie just a short walk away – it’s quite the hidden gem (and is recommended by Guardian).  We enjoyed Belgian specialities such as Beef Carbonade, Waterzooi (a rich, creamy chicken stew), shrimp croquettes, fried Brie wedges, Flemish meatballs and rotisserie chicken.

L'Escale Restaurant Brussels

The food was so delicious and comforting and the portion sizes were hefty, to say the least.  It’s perfect if you want to try authentic Belgian dishes in a friendly, neighbourhood setting – the staff take good care of you too.

L'Escale Brussels Carbonade

Brussels is a city that seeks to impress and we were thoroughly charmed by its beautiful sights and cool culture.  It certainly leaves you wanting more – I can’t wait to return to explore the neighbourhoods of Ixelles and Louise, visit more museums and discover more of its eateries.

Exploring the city was made so much easier with the fantastic Brussels Card.  There are so many museums, attractions and tours to experience with this card and you can use it for 24hrs, 48 hrs or even 72 hrs.  Just be sure to carefully examine the opening times in the handy booklet, as many Brussels museums can be closed on Mondays.

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

All photos by Chérie City

Thank you to Accor Hotels, Visit Brussels and L’Escale for making this trip possible

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