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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

Beauty, London

Thai Square Spa, London

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

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

Thai Square Spa London

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

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

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

Chérie City was a guest of Thai Square Spa

Photos by Thai Square Spa

Bars, London

Sakura Season at ROKA with Suntory Whisky

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

Sakura Season at ROKA

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

Sakura Season at ROKA

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

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

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

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

Sakura cocktail at ROKA

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

Hibiki Whisky at ROKA

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

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

Photos by Benjamin Eagle

London, Restaurants

Made of Dough Pop-Up at Market Yard

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

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

Made of Dough pizza

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

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

Made of Dough Nutella Pizza

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

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

Made of Dough London

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

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

Photos by Made of Dough

York

A Weekend in York

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

York

York Minster

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

Virgin East Coast Trains

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

Hotel du Vin York

Hotel du Vin York

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

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

Onglet Steak Frites Hotel du Vin York

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

Eggs Benedict Hotel du Vin York

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

Michael Portillo York Literature Festival

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

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

Arthur Smith at York Literature Festival

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

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

York Minster

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

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

Bar Convent York

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

Bar Convent York

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

Fairfax House York

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

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

The Shambles York

York market

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

Betty's Cafe Tea Room York

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

Betty's Cafe Tea Room York

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

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

Betty's York Caesar Salad

Betty's York Chicken Schnitzl

Rhubarb Cake Betty's York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurants

A Baking Masterclass at Le Pain Quotidien

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

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

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

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

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

Chérie City was a guest of Le Pain Quotidien Bicester Village

All photos by Chérie City