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Films

Film Review: Dying Laughing

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a comedian?  Are they jokers 24/7 and how do they handle the pressure of spontaneity at a stand-up show?

New British documentary Dying Laughing, directed by Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood, has the answers.  It delves into the psyche of the funniest minds in the US and UK and the roll call of talent is seriously impressive!  There can’t be many prominent comedians that weren’t summoned to the interview chair, from Jerry Lewis to Jamie Foxx.

Filmed in atmospheric black and white, Dying Laughing begins by examining the role of the comedian and what it means to them to make people laugh.  Chris Rock shares that his comedic process is all about those suspended moments of laughter while Jerry Seinfeld declares that comedy is “beyond art, it’s a magic trick”.

We then discover just how tough life on the road can be for emerging personalities, with original footage of America’s small towns.  Amy Schumer highlights the loneliness of yet another night at a cheap motel where “its 100% certain people were murdered” and Jason Manford adds that your audience could be the first people you actually speak to that day.

Falling flat really touches a nerve with all of the comedians, as Sarah Silverman reveals her mortification of being quietly heckled with a ‘bombing’ noise from the back of the room and Kevin Hart shares his early disappointment at being labelled unfunny by a promoter.  Most touching, however, is when Royale Watkins breaks down in tears remembering a disastrous gig compered by Bernie Mac and missing out on the chance to meet his idol Michael Jordan.

The documentary also take a look at the politics of race in comedy and there are some unnerving moments as Stephen K. Amos and Cedric the Entertainer recall how they reacted to being targets of racism at a gig.  It also touches on the idea of using jokes channeled towards specific races in different communities for comedic effect.

There are, however, some more positive moments as Tiffany Haddish tells how immersing herself in comedy saved her life following a troubled childhood.  You can also count on Omid Djalili to lighten the mood as he recalls his wife chanting “off, off, off” at him from the back table at a gig.

Dying Laughing is a dedicated and well-curated homage to the art of comedy with plenty of poignant moments.  The monochrome interview format can become a little repetitive and it tends to veer into self-indulgence at times, but I’m sure the comedians are more than aware of those typical traits and it’s still a very worthwhile watch.

Dying Laughing is in UK cinemas and on demand now.

Cafes, London

Breakfast at Panetteria by Fucina, London

Is there a better way to start a day out in London than a delightful Italian breakfast?  I’m not usually an earlier riser on the weekend, however the sun was shining and there were pastries with my name on over on the other side of town.

Our morning refuel was at Panetteria, a bijou Italian bakery, cafe and deli in Marylebone’s most fashionable part of town, among the likes of Monocle Cafe, Cire Trudon and Chiltern Firehouse.  Opened earlier this year, Panetteria is the casual little sister of the stylish Fucina by Kurt Zdesar the restaurateur behind Chotto Matte and Black Roe.

Run by ex-Princi head baker Massimilliano Porta, Panetteria feels like a real neighbourhood spot with its own downstair bakery, communal seating and super-friendly staff.  There is also a range of artisanal Italian produce to buy, for a bit of Italian good living at home.

For my morning caffeine fix, I ordered a pot of really good, aromatic English breakfast loose leaf tea while Steven went for a flat white.  As hoped, the coffee was rich roasted, creamy and potent – just as it would be made in Italy.

I started with the most amazing Granola and yoghurt – seriously the best I’ve ever tasted!  Made in-house, Panetteria’s nutty granola was studded with uplifting orange zest and cranberries and accompanied by thick, luxurious yoghurt and segments of blood orange.

Our choice of freshly-baked pastries – an Almond croissant and a Pain au chocolat – were flaky, buttery and ever so delicious.  Another hit was the delicious lemon loaf cake, drizzled with lots of tangy citrus syrup.  Eating cake for breakfast is very Italian, so we felt no guilt.

If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, there are authentic Italian foccaccia, mini buns filled with prosciutto, healthy porridge and decadent bomboloni.  You can also pick up a crusty baguette or rustic boule to take away.

Panetteria is a real gem in Marylebone with beautifully-crafted food and a friendly local vibe.  I’m now pretty curious to see what’s going on next door at Fucina too – the pizzas look rather tempting!

Photos by Chérie City

Chérie City was a guest of Panetteria

Flowers, London

London Flower School Opens at Kings Cross

Last week, I had the chance to take a look around the newly-opened London Flower School at Kings Cross. Housed in a beautifully-renovated former factory, London Flower School is an inspiring place to learn all aspects of floristry, from artistic techniques to the business side.

Founded by Wagner Kreusch, former Head Tutor at McQueens Flower School, and Helen Dyson, an experienced teacher and florist, the school brings something different to the industry with a unique approach.

Helen told me that the school’s signature style is ‘modern and fresh with arrangements that are quite open and free, rather than a typically rounded shape”.  Not only are their floral designs wild and vibrant, but the flowers are simply exquisite.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced florist seeking inspiration, London Flower School offers a range of expert-led courses.  Start with an intensive one-week foundation course, learn how to create eye-catching displays for weddings and events or take floristry to a professional level with a four-week career course.

London Flower School has only just opened, so keep an eye out for more courses and events.  They’re also super-friendly and happy to chat all things flowers to see what takes your interest.

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

All photos by Chérie City 

Berlin, Theatre

Scotch & Soda, Chamaeleon Theater Berlin

Berlin is one of my favourite destinations for a weekend city break and I was thrilled to be invited back to the wonderful Chamaeleon Theater to discover the latest show, Scotch & Soda.

I was blown away by the theatre’s previous show UNDERART by Swedish company Cirkus Cirkör and really fell in love with contemporary circus, so I knew I was in for a treat.

Chamaeleon Theater is a rare gem, tucked away in Berlin’s historic Hackesche Höfe – a large complex with eight curious interconnecting courtyards.  Berlin may be famed for its cabaret shows, however Chamaeleon Theater is all about contemporary circus, presenting the very best shows by leading companies around the world.

Currently in residence is Australia’s super-talented Company 2 with their magnificent show, Scotch & Soda.  It’s also part of Australia Now Germany 2017 – a year-long programme to showcase Australian culture in Germany.

Scotch & Soda is a raucous, booze-soaked soirée that makes you feel like you’re at the best party of your life. As the name suggests, the show is an intoxicating blend of circus and jazz created by two groups of artists and friends – Company 2 led by David Carberry and Chelsea McGuffin and The Uncanny Carnival Band.

Set inside a bohemian spiegeltent, the show opens with plenty of energy and chutzpah as the group get merry, balancing on Champagne bottles and having drunken fights.  James Kingsford Smith steals the moment as an incoherent, rowdy Scotsman and yes, you do see what’s under his kilt!

However, it’s not all just larking around as the mesmerising acrobatics make your jaw quickly hit the floor, where it’s likely to stay for the rest of the evening.  Skip Walker-Milne balances atop a number of precariously-stacked suitcases while sisters Alice and Kate Muntz perform a captivating balancing routine and gang up on David Carberry, sending him hurtling down a flight of steps.

Other highlights include the ‘morning after the night before’ aerial straps act performed by a hungover James Kingsford Smith, Matthew Ottignon being given a comical bathtub wash and the spectacular finale that surely breaks records for how many people can ride just one bicycle.

Live jazz is also at the heart of Scotch & Soda and composer Lucian McGuiness’ original score is just so uplifting, infectious and at times poignant.  The musicians also have their own sketches in the show, from Lucian’s eyebrow-raising ukele-playing to Eden Ottignon ‘marrying’ his double bass.

Scotch & Soda is so joyful and awe-inspiring that I really didn’t want it to end and was literally on the edge of my front-row seat the whole time.

Following the show, we had a chance to meet some of the performers before they headed out to play an impromptu gig at a nearby bar.  They’re such a friendly, tight-knit group and Chamaeleon Theater really invests in their wellbeing and happiness while living in Berlin.

Afterwards, we were treated to a lovely, relaxed dinner at Hackescher Höfe just next door to the theatre.  It’s a classic Berlin restaurant in style with a large dining room and the cuisine is a good mix of German favourites and international dishes.

I started with a delicious Caesar salad and followed with the most enormous steak with lashings of tangy Béarnaise sauce and a super-indulgent, buttery potato gratin.

For dessert, it just had to be a traditional warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce – what better way to finish a meal when you’re in Berlin?

The food at Hackescher Höfe was perfectly-cooked and so hearty and generous.  It’s a great spot for a post-theatre treat, especially in the warmer months where you can dine on the terrace under the parasols.

Our base for the trip was the stylish and contemporary Hotel NH Collection Berlin Mitte Friedrichstrasse.  It was the first time I’d experienced the NH Hotels brand and there were so many things that I liked about this stylish and comfortable hotel.

Firstly, it’s in a great position for visiting Chamaeleon Theater, as it’s just 7 minutes away by tram (the stop is literally on the hotel’s doorstep), or a pleasant 15-minute walk over the river and through Monbijoupark. Then there’s the sleek, minimalist design and the feeling of zen throughout the hotel.

We each had a fabulous Terrace Room on the eight floor, which has its own dedicated penthouse elevator. My room was bright and spacious with thoughtful touches such as a Nespresso machine and plush bathrobes and a real highlight was the large terrace with views over the city.  I was also kindly welcomed with handmade chocolates and strawberries and a bottle of San Pellegrino.

The hotel is located in a busy shopping area so there are useful things nearby and I was really pleased to find dean&david in the same building.  It’s a cool healthy fast food place that Berliners love for its aromatic Thai curries, cold-pressed juices and gourmet salads with meat or seafood grilled to order.  I ordered my favourite salad combo and enjoyed a peaceful lunch on my terrace in the sunshine.

Another perk of staying at this hotel is the excellent breakfast, which is served in an enormous, futuristic atrium – it’s just so impressive!  Among the usual breakfast items was a chef station for fresh egg dishes, an overwhelming choice of breads, macarons and an exciting selection of loose leaf teas to start the morning nicely.

The hotel also features a sauna and steam room, complimentary sweets and juices in the lobby and if you stay on the weekend, a special Lazy Sunday offering with breakfast served until noon and a late check-out of 5pm.

Before heading back to London, we had some time to explore Berlin.  I took a stroll around the Hackescher Markt, along the River Spree and over to Alexanderplatz, enjoying the bright and sunny day.

There’s always something new to see in the hip Mitte neighbourhood and one of my favourite new discoveries was Zeit für Brot, an artisan bakery with cinnamon buns in lots of flavours.  I also loved shopping at CRUBA, Paper & Tea and Record Store Berlin.

I had such a wonderful weekend in Berlin and cannot stress enough just how memorable Scotch & Soda at Chamaeleon Theater really is.  Berlin is beautiful at this time of year and there’s still plenty of time to see the show – book a flight immediately!

Scotch & Soda runs until 20th August at Chamaeleon Theater.  For more information and booking, visit: www.chamaeleonberlin.com

Thanks to Chamaeleon Theater, NH Hotels, Hackescher Höfe and Berlin Card for a wonderful Berlin trip.

Photos by Chérie City (Scotch & Soda images by Andy Phillipson)

Cafes, London

Brunch at Cafe Miami, East London

Clapton in east London has some strong food game at the moment and Cafe Miami is definitely one of my new favourites.

It’s in good company too, with French bistro Les Nénettes serving up a magnificent Croque Madame, Red Velvet Lattes at nearby Palm Vaults, amazing Danish baked goods at Charles Artisan Bread and from what I’ve heard, top class tacos at DEL74.

More than just a fun name, Cafe Miami takes inspiration from its location inside the Strand Building, a striking Art Deco gem that’s more South Beach than Lower Clapton Road.  It was originally built as the Hackney Electricity Demonstration Hall and Offices in 1925 and has since been converted into flats with an enviable courtyard terrace.

Cafe Miami is a petite all-day spot that draws a good crowd for weekend brunch with tempting American comfort food.  It’s simple yet welcoming, designed in dreamy pastel hues with a counter laden with cakes. The soundtrack is 90s R’n’B, the staff wear Cafe Miami logo tees with stone wash jeans and there’s a cheeky wifi passcode that’s too rude for them to say aloud.  OF COURSE I was going to like this place!

We started by ordering some hot drinks and were given some vanilla-scented popcorn to graze on while waiting for our food.  My Matcha latte with almond milk was absolutely perfectly (with plenty of high quality matcha and no bitter taste) and Steven’s Flat white, made with Workshop Coffee, was potent and milky with a nutty flavour.

Everything is freshly-cooked with care at Cafe Miami and we were really wowed when we saw the size of our dishes.  My Nutella-filled pancakes topped with banana (£8.50) included three giant, fluffy pancakes stuck together with gooey Nutella and finished with sliced banana and a good ole’ drizzle of maple syrup.  They were just heavenly and I managed to get through two thirds before sliding the rest across the table in defeat.

Steven went for a diner classic of American waffles with bacon, maple syrup and blueberries (£9).  The heart-shaped, golden waffles were nice and thin and loaded with the most delicious Canadian maple-cured bacon, fresh blueberries and lashings of maple syrup.  The savoury waffles had quite a neutral flavour and made an ideal base for the bold, in-your-face smokiness and sweetness.

Obviously, we had more than enough for a filling brunch, however if you’re feeling really indulgent, Cafe Miami also offers snacks like Pop Tarts, Grilled grapefruit and Toasted banana bread with Nutella.

Cafe Miami definitely scores points for its mouthwatering food and cool interiors, but it’s also really chilled and the staff are friendly and laid-back.  I can’t wait to go back and try their toasted sandwiches, avo toast and fish finger tacos.

All photos by Chérie City

Hotels, Spa

Galgorm Resort and Spa, Northern Ireland

Maeve O’Lynn discovers the luxurious new Thermal Spa Village at the award-winning Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland…

Despite only being an hour from Belfast, Galgorm Resort and Spa feels like another world entirely. The drive up takes you along winding, tree-lined roads until you reach the elegant swooping driveway to the hotel, situated right on the banks of the River Maine.

We were greeted on arrival by a natty gent in a tweed suit who ushered us into a decorously appointed lobby with high ceilings. Light poured in through the windows, while couples lounged on opulent sofas by an open fire; a team of concierge staff were on hand to fetch our luggage from the car.

As we were staying in a Deluxe Riverview Room, we got to take advantage of the VIP Deluxe Reception down the hall, which not only made the whole experience quick but totally seamless. The cucumber water and canapés on arrival were a classy touch.

We arrived early in the afternoon, so our room was not quite ready but this posed no issue to the staff who were genuinely warm, professional and welcoming in every respect. Bags were whisked away, and we were straight off to the spa downstairs.

The Spa and Thermal Village are the ultimate in luxury and serenity, but with a laid-back feel, best encapsulated by the staff member with whom we booked in for the Celtic Sauna Ritual. On being told where to rendez-vous with our sauna master ahead of the commencement of the Ritual, I asked if one was to address him as “Master”. Without batting an eyelid, I was informed that I could certainly try…but I may find it difficult to keep a straight face, as he would be wearing a sarong.

I should mention, however, that this Celtic Sauna ritual takes place in a beautiful log cabin sauna with a stunning river view, it does indeed involve a sarong and a mindfulness meditation and it comes highly recommended by me.

Elsewhere in the stunning riverside Thermal Village, you can find numerous outdoor jacuzzis, hot tubs, a fire pit, elegantly appointed sculptures, a hydrotherapy pool, steam room, aroma grotto, laconium, heated loungers and Snow Cabin.

You could (and we did) easily spend a full day just enjoying the different thermal experiences, reading on the loungers, taking in the view of the river and refreshing in the sumptuous, newly-opened Orangerie space, which serves up delicious light lunch items and drinks to spa guests. There’s also a gym with personal training services, golf and tennis for those more actively inclined.

The Spa, adjacent to the Thermal Village, offers a wide programme of treatments, from massage therapy and a full beauty menu to packages for couples. I opted for the Quartz Bed signature treatment, a new addition to the Spa line-up, and the only MLX Quartz Treatment Bed to the island of Ireland. From Moroccan tea and truffles on arrival, to a full walk-through of the treatment by my therapist, and finishing with a glass of Prosecco, the whole experience was a cocoon of bliss.

After an afternoon of pampering, we were then able to go directly up to our room in our robes and take the lift straight up, which deposited us in a spacious, light and classically stylish space.

The room design is under-stated but every possible desire has been catered too – Aromatherapy Associates products in the bathroom, a lavish walk in shower, low level LED lighting in the bathroom and a fully-stocked complimentary mini bar with everything from Galgorm’s own malt beer (Steamin’ Stag!) and soft drinks to oat biscuits and artisan crisps. We had a juliette balcony overlooking the river and thermal village, a huge TV with access to a music library, free WiFi and glossy magazines.

I was almost overwhelmed and considered just eating crisps for dinner overlooking the river, but the promise of the Gin Library in the Conservatory downstairs eventually lured me from my reveries. They have such an extensive variety of gin and corresponding tonics that there are, apparently, 8000 different combinations on offer. I couldn’t try them all in one evening but I did visit the library (it’s an actual room!) to verify their existence. I never wanted to leave!

But first we adjourned to dinner in Gillies, the bar and restaurant at the heart of the resort. Fine dining is available in The River Room and Fratellis offers Italian fare, but Gillies seems to be the most popular spot both with hotel guests and many locals who seemed to be there to celebrate family events and birthdays too, so it was a lively and fun spot.

The menu is varied with sections dedicated to the Wok, the Pan and the Grill and we ordered a broad selection of choices to taste them all to be thorough! I can report back that the Potted Duck was sublime: salty, sweet, rich and tangy.

Equally impressive was a seared Rib Eye, perfectly cooked and tender enough to dispense with the need for a steak knife, served up with a piquant Sriracha butter. We were also quite taken with their Monkfish curry, which was filled with fresh produce and an excellent, subtly spiced sauce.

We rounded off the evening in The Conservatory, checking out a few botanical-filled volumes from the Gin Library and enjoying the live entertainment.

Having fallen asleep on the largest king-size bed I have ever laid eyes upon to the sound of the river outside, the morning was equally tranquil with a delectable breakfast in the The River Room. Coffee came in a cafetiere, the orange juice was smooth but freshly squeezed, pastries were buttery and light and the choice of hot breakfast items extended from Eggs Benedict, to more adventurous fish dishes and the traditional River Grill. I can’t go past a sausage I am afraid to say, and these certainly did not disappoint.

The early morning sunlight on the river was a beguiling sight to enjoy and it was difficult to leave, but, as with arrival, reception and concierge staff made this saddest of tasks utterly seamless and relaxing, even driving our car round to meet us at the front door. The resort staff at every level deserve so much credit for the multitudinous ways in which they make each guest feel welcome and ensure you are relaxed.

Twenty-four hours in Galgorm does not feel like long enough to fully discover every aspect of the resort but it somehow conspires to bend time to make you feel as relaxed as if you had been away for a fortnight.

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

Maeve O’Lynn was a guest of Galgorm Resort and Spa

Photos by Galgorm Resort and Spa and Maeve O’Lynn

London, Restaurants

A French Brunch at Les Nénettes, London

Bank Holiday weekends are made for brunching and happily, I didn’t need to go far for a bit of a treat.  Just a short walk from where I live in Hackney is Les Nénettes, a little gem of a French bistro and terrace that only opened just over a month ago.

It has a lovely neighbourhood vibe and it’s easy to get lured through the door with the aromas of good coffee and freshly-baked pastries on the counter.  The design is ever so stylish too with a typically French bar, chequered floor, an illustrated mural L’Hexagone, retro chalkboards and plenty of French wine bottles.

It was super busy when we arrived (obviously everyone else had the same idea), but the staff were so welcoming, efficient and charming.  Shortly after ordering, we were served a deliciously smooth and creamy Latte and a proper pot of English breakfast tea.

The menu is quite varied, with a big focus on eggs, and you can choose between brunch and lunch dishes up until 5pm.  However, we knew exactly what we were coming for, as we’re always on the hunt for an authentic Croque Madame!

Steven’s Croque Madame was exemplary with slices of rustic white bread, juicy ham, nutty Gruyère cheese, béchamel spiked with a bit of nutmeg (the magic ingredient) and a soft fried egg on the top.  It was rich, gooey and really satisfying – everything a Croque should be but most often isn’t.

My Eggs Benedicte were also a hit – in fact, they were the best I’ve tasted in a long time.  The eggs were perfectly poached with bright orange yolks and were accompanied by thick slices high quality roast ham, golden toasted English muffins and a tangy, velvety Hollandaise sauce.

Of course, even brunch should end on a sweet note, so we shared some Warm Madeleines, which were baked fresh to order.  They were absolutely exquisite – springy and crisp on the outside with tiny vanilla seeds and orange blossom flavours.  They’re sure to put a smile on your face!

Les Nénettes is great spot in Clapton for affordable, delicious French dishes in a cosy, relaxed setting.  I can’t wait to go back for dinner and try the steak frites, duck magret, gratin Dauphinoise and maybe a cheeky Ile Flottante.

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

All photos by Chérie City

Food, Shopping

Biscuiteers Green Fingers Tin For Spring

Biscuiteers never fail to impress me with their creative and delicious iced biscuits.  Really, I reckon there’s a Biscuiteers tin to celebrate every possible occasion – they really are that clever!

Since spring is the time when flowers start to bloom again, now is the time to think about tending to the garden.  However, if you’re a city-dweller like me, the closest you might get to managing a garden is devouring an edible one.

The Biscuiteers Green Fingers Tin is a colourful treat and a tasty journey through a leafy allotment.  The family-sized tin includes an assortment of 16 delicious chocolate biscuits in different sizes depending on how decadent you’re feeling.

The gardening-inspired theme includes tomatoes, carrots, sunflowers, butterflies, Wellington boots, watering cans, garden hoes and even wiggly worms!  It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I think these cheekily healthy-looking carrots are super-cute, and you know what they say about getting your ‘five a day’…

Not only do the Biscuiteer Green Finger biscuits look utterly charming but they taste seriously yummy – perfect with a pot of tea for an afternoon indulgence.  No gardening skills required!

The Biscuiteers Green Fingers Tin is available to buy in the London store and online.

Photos by Chérie City

Food, London, Restaurants

Le Pain Quotidien Goes Carbon Neutral

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that Le Pain Quotidien is one of the best all-day chain restaurants for a healthy lunch on the go.  There are no less than 30 across London and the latest opening is at Monument – an oasis of calm in the City with rustic interiors and the relaxing sounds of classical music.

It’s fair to say that the Belgian brand is pretty influential in how we enjoy casual dining – first there was the communal table with the generous pots of speculoos and chocolate spreads, then they embraced great home-style vegan cooking and now all of their UK outlets are carbon neutral.  Major high five on that eco initiative – hopefully more restaurants will follow!

Last week, I was invited to celebrate this great achievement with the movers and shakers of the brand over a relaxed vegan dinner at Le Pain Quotidien Monument.

But before I rave on about the yummy food, what exactly does being a carbon neutral restaurant mean?  For Le Pain Quotidien, it’s about calculating their carbon emissions and making them as low as possible.  This was started by using energy-efficient lighting, recycled wood for furnishings, compostable take-away packaging, managing food wastage and even arranging night deliveries from local suppliers to reduce transport miles and congestion.

Unavoidable emissions are then offset by investing in a carbon-reducing project in Uganda.  This sustainable practice has resulted in all of Le Pain Quotidien’s UK oulets being certified carbon neutral by the climate advisory organisation CO2logic and founder Alain Caumont’s next target is to implement this globally.

To start, we grazed on a Hummus Menage à Trois (try ordering that with a straight face) and it was absolutely divine.  The fresh and cooling hummus bowls were filled with sweet roasted carrot with a hint of cumin, earthy beetroot and garlicky chickpea, served with chunky crudités and LPQ’s signature freshly-baked bread.  I will definitely be ordering this for a light and healthy lunch in the summer – even better if you have someone to share it with.

We then followed with Chilli Sin Carne, which I’ve wanted to try for a while but couldn’t tear myself away from my regular LPQ avocado toast.  This hearty, slow-cooked dish had a lovely blend of spices but wasn’t too hot and the soya was nice and tender.  The accompaniments of fresh guacamole and soya sour cream gave it a touch of indulgence.

The next tasting dish was an Organic Vegan Pot au Feu – a quintessential French stew.  Without its usual beef, it resembled more of a rustic broth with chunky root vegetables, springy quinoa and piquant harissa on the side, but it was super-tasty and comforting.

A fresh and uplifting Organic Lentil and Avocado Salad was then served.  It’s a French tradition to have salad before dessert or cheese, but for me it’s a hard one to get onboard with and I was ready for my pud.  Not just one but two – a bit of a treat for those of us with a sweet tooth.

My big slice of Cocoa and Pear Cake was moreish and not overly sweet, while the Organic Chia Seed & Coconut Milk Pudding was cool and creamy with a hint of vanilla.  I first tried chia seed pudding at a baking masterclass at Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village and have since started making it at home using their cook book recipe – it’s so delicious!

Le Pain Quotidien really impressed me with its vegan menu and I can’t wait to try more plant-based dishes on the menu.  All of the restaurants do actually serve meat and I personally enjoy the high quality smoked chicken and prosciutto, but it’s helpful that LPQ has a balanced menu with vegetarian and vegan dishes that are just as enjoyable and flavourful.

For more information and menus, visit: www.lepainquotidien.co.uk

Photos by Chérie City 

Hotels, Madrid

A Stay at Hospes Puerta de Alcalá Madrid

Not many hotels in Madrid can boast such wonderful views as Hospes Puerta de Alcalá.  This contemporary five star hotel is perched on an elegant curve on the Plaza de la Independencia overlooking the magnificent Puerta de Alcalá.  The monument is older than the Arc de Triomphe and the Brandenburg Gate and marks the entrance to Retiro Park.

I first discovered Hospes Hotels staying at the excellent Hospes Amerigo in Alicante years ago, so I was excited to see if the brand’s Madrid hotel would be just as impressive.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the super-friendly staff and were offered a much-needed welcome drink of Prosecco, juice or chilled mineral water.  The lobby had a bright and lofty feel and it led on to an atrium-style guest lounge – a quiet spot for relaxing.

Our Deluxe Alcalá Room had a modern, cosmopolitan feel and was very spacious and calm.  Best of all, it featured two flower-filled balconies with fabulous views of the Puerta de Alcalá.  We were also kindly welcomed with a beautiful fruit plate and two large bottles of water, which was a nice touch.

The style was a cool blend of minimalism with clean white walls and polished floors and touches of opulence with an attractive cornice ceiling, Louis XVI-style chair and an ornate silver-painted headboard. Interestingly, there was also an original black iron archway bridging the bedroom and the hallway – just one of the clues that the hotel was once a 19th century townhouse residence.

We loved the comfortable seating area with two plush corner sofas with a wall-mounted TV, fast free wifi and handy tea and coffee facilities.  The king-size bed was also dreamy with crisp Egyptian cotton bed linen and plenty of high quality pillows.

The impressive open-plan bathroom around the corner was on a raised level, which seems to be a Hospes Hotels signature design feature that also appeared at Hospes Amerigo.  There were two silver-painted double sinks opposite each other, a luxurious walk-in shower, fluffy towels, bathrobes and slippers and a full set of lovely herbal Olivia bathroom products created exclusively for Hospes Hotels.

The hotel’s central location was perfect for an afternoon of exploring and we just loved this chic, boho part of town.  The renowned art institutions on the Paseo del Prado are within walking distance and there are so many boutiques, bars and artisan bakeries in nearby Recoletos and Chueca.  Be sure to visit the San Anton Food Market and bijou pasteleria La Duquesita.

At the end of a busy day sight-seeing, guests can unwind in the Bodyna Spa, complete with jacuzzi pool, chill-out patio and treatment rooms for facials and massages using Cinq Mondes products.  It’s a great spa, but the changing rooms are tiny, so you might want to change in your room and shuffle down in your bathrobe and slippers (that seemed perfectly acceptable during our stay).

That evening, we headed out for dinner at Bar Tomate, a hip urban-rustic Italian spot by Grupo Tragaluz. The food was great (particularly the wood-fired pizza), but the service was remarkably hurried and it was uncomfortably hot inside so it didn’t quite hit the mark.

The dining scene on the doorstep, however, is pretty lively with the hotel’s Independencia restaurant and terrace by chef Alex García, as well as the fashionable Philippe Starck-designed Ramses Life – a three-floor conceptual restaurant/club/bar bar – just next door.  It can get a little noisy on the weekend if you’re in a front-facing balcony room, but it was just a low hum of music and not too bothersome.

In the morning, we enjoyed a buffet breakfast of fresh bread, pastries, cakes, cured meats, cheeses, yoghurt and cereal.  There was a generous selection, however things really got exciting with the menu of chef’s dishes that were included with the breakfast.  I was delighted to start the day with pancakes drizzled in chocolate sauce with a cast iron pot of proper tea – the egg dishes looked rather tempting too.

Hospes Puerta de Alcalá is a stunning hotel in a picturesque and happening location.  The staff went above and beyond to ensure our stay was comfortable and it really did feel like a relaxing retreat in the middle of the city.  For style-conscious travellers, it’s the ideal five star hotel for a memorable city break in Madrid.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Hospes Puerta de Alcalá

Photos by Chérie City and Hospes Puerta de Alcalá

London, Restaurants

Pan-Asian Dinner at Chi Kitchen, London

Chi Kitchen, the contemporary Pan-Asian restaurant by MasterChef winner Ping Coombes has been on my ‘must try’ list for a while.  Described as a ‘journey through South East Asia, I was pretty excited to try a diverse selection of cuisines all in one meal – what could be better than that!

The restaurant was created specially for Debenhams Oxford Street, however Chi Kitchen has its own street entrance and feels slightly removed from the ebb and flow of the busy department store.  It’s a slick affair with calming interiors inspired by the five elements, complete with cosy leather booths, an open sushi kitchen and a champagne bar.

The menu features signature dishes that are the size of main courses, however to try more dishes you can graze on smaller bites such as sushi, dim sum and robata barbecued meat and grilled fish.  Dishes tend to arrive as they are cooked and the friendly staff are on hand for you to order more as you go – it’s a casual affair.

We started with the most wonderful Spider soft-shell crab maki roll.  It was a harmonious mix of crunchy tempura soft-shell crab and tender asparagus, rolled in vibrant wasabi tobiko and finished with creamy Japanese mayo, pickled ginger and punchy wasabi.  The maki rolls were so moreish and fresh with really high quality ingredients.

Chicken Yakitori was a real treat with three perfectly grilled skewers of chicken thigh in a deliciously sticky and rich marinade.  Once again, I could happily indulge in plate after plate of them.

Wagyu beef siu mai were tasty but the marbled fat in this expensive speciality meat made the dumplings a little too oily.  I think this excess juiciness also affected the presentation of the dish, so perhaps a more lean type of beef might work better.

I couldn’t resist ordering Aromatic crispy duck pancakes, as they are a childhood favourite that always feel so decadent.  These ones were exemplary with a generous amount of succulent and well-seasoned shredded crispy duck, plenty of thin steamed pancakes and garnishes of julienne cucumber and spring onion. What really gave them that luxury edge, though, was the tangy hoi sin and the mouthwatering garlic truffle sauce – a winning combination.

With a little bit of room left, we tried Prawn Cha Keow Teow – tiger prawns stir-fried with asparagus, spring onion, topped with deep fried shallots.  This noodle dish was hearty and surprisingly piquant with pillowy rice noodles, but I couldn’t help finding it a little too oily and one-note.

It’s worth saving some room for dessert, as they are seriously tempting.  The Baked green tea Alaska was magnificent with creamy, aromatic matcha ice cream on a delicate joconde sponge and encased in airy, meticulously-scorched meringue.  I can definitely see myself popping by for a quick matcha fix with a pot of jasmine tea to escape the chaos of Oxford Street.

Mango Crème Brûlée with mango ice cream was luscious, fruity and intense – a perfectly refreshing dessert for the warmer months.

Chi Kitchen is a great spot for some Pan-Asian bites in a stylish setting and it’s certainly authentic with some solid cooking.  Some of the dishes are priced quite highly, particularly for the style of restaurant, but you can avoid that by ordering wisely.  I will definitely give it another try for a quick refuel when I’m out shopping in central London to try more of Ping Coombes’ dishes.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Chi Kitchen

Photos by Chérie City and Chi Kitchen

Hotels, Madrid

Only YOU Hotel Atocha Madrid

Only YOU Hotel Atocha is one of Madrid’s coolest new hotel openings and I was thrilled to stay there on my first trip to the city last month.  Following the boutique hospitality group’s first opening in Chueca, this hotel is conveniently located near Atocha Station and is within walking distance of Retiro Park, Paseo del Prado and the Reina Sofia Museum.

Designed by Catalan designer Lázaro Rosa Violan, Only YOU Hotel Atocha has a hip sports club theme with boxing and athletics-inspired posters, locker room-style furnishings, red striped walls and appropriately a 24-hour gym.  It also takes inspiration from New York and has already hosted residencies from Manhattan’s Dead Rabbit, Betony and Blue Note since its launch in December.

The hotel really feels like an urban resort with everything you need for a great stay right there.  The open-plan lobby, with its circular bookshelves and luxurious leather banquettes, was buzzing yet chilled throughout our stay and attracted a fun crowd of both hotel guests and locals.

The hotel’s stylish Trotamundos restaurant serves inventive dishes inspired by Latin America, Asia and Spain, created by Chef Javi Mora in collaboration with the team behind Spoonik in Barcelona.  Also in the lobby is a barber shop modelled on Frank’s Chop Shop on Lower East Side Manhattan, a bright yellow NYC taxi cab and jars of childhood sweets like red & blacks, marshmallows and red liquorice laces that you can graze on.

As if that wasn’t enough for those of us with a sweet, there’s also an outlet of the chic Madrid bakery Mama Frambroise, offering exquisite cakes, pastries and much-needed caffeine all day.  We made sure we were back at the hotel for an afternoon treat of the most heavenly Chocolate raspberry tart and Carrot cake with pots of tea.  A hotel with its own bakery is definitely the key to my heart!

Our loft-style Deluxe Room was an absolute dream with exposed brick walls, polished wood floors and a number of quirky design features to discover.  It featured a stylish designer chair, writing desk, large fitted wardrobes, an illuminated dressing room vanity mirror, large wall-mounted smart TV, free wifi, minibar with healthy snacks and juices, plus tea and coffee facilities with very Instagrammable stainless steel mugs.

The king-size bed was extremely comfortable and was covered in high quality linen and a statement tartan wool blanket.  In fact, if you don’t want to leave your fabulous bed, you can order room service from Trotamundos restaurant or indulge in a movie night package with posh nachos, chocolate and ice cream.

The white and black tiled bathroom was spacious and pristine with a powerful walk-in rainfall shower, fluffy towels, cosy bathrobes (one in a funky zebra print pattern) and slippers, a proper hair dryer and even hair straighteners!  I was also impressed with the full set of bathroom products by Calming Park, a gorgeous music and fragrance brand with organic scented candles made in Grasse.

We were really excited for breakfast in the morning and it didn’t disappoint.  The enormous dining room on the seventh floor was flooded with sunlight and served up great views over the city with breakfast.

There was a good selection of hot dishes and a live cooking station where you could order freshly-made egg dishes and even steamed gyoza.  We also enjoyed freshly-baked pastries, cakes, doughnuts and smoothies but best of all was the copious stack of delicious Jamon Iberico, which I couldn’t resist.

Only YOU Hotel Atocha is a fabulous design hotel and everything has been well-considered, from the eye-catching design to the great amenities and perfect branding.  There were a few guest procedures that could have been slicker, but the hotel is still in its launch period and the staff were all courteous and welcoming.

I booked for the first time with Preferred Hotels (and used the $100 voucher that I won in their #PreferredChat Twitter chat a few months ago towards the room rate) and was pleased with the overall experience and perks such as a room upgrade and late check-out that come with the free membership.

All photos by Chérie City