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Cafes, Dublin, Shopping, Stores

Things To Do On A Weekend In Dublin

Last weekend, I took my mum on a luxury girls’ trip to Dublin, filled with sightseeing, shopping and plenty of eating.

It was our first time in the Irish capital and we were both absolutely charmed by the city’s culture, elegant architecture, friendliness and of course, the craic!

Our stylish base at The Westbury is well-located to see lots of the city, but there are still plenty of things on our list to bring us back.  Here are a few fun things to do on a weekend in Dublin…

Trinity College

Taking a stroll around Dublin’s impressive Trinity College is an absolute must.  Founded in 1592, Trinity College is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland (in good company with my alma mater, University of Glasgow).

It’s home to the Book of Kells in the beautiful, wood panelled Library of Trinity College and notable alumni include literary greats such as Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and more recently actor Dominic West.

Ideally, visit on a Sunday afternoon when the students are away studying (or nursing hangovers) and absorb the history and atmosphere of the classical buildings in the open quadrangles, Parliament Square and Fellows’ Square.

Drinks at The Temple Bar Pub

Temple Bar is a lively, historic part of town close to the River Liffey, known for its traditional Irish pubs.  On the weekend, it’s cobbled streets are filled with revellers and buskers, and the sounds of live folk music can be heard from the pubs.

Before visiting Dublin, my mum told me that she rather enjoys Guinness.  I wanted to put this to the test, so we popped into the famous Temple Bar Pub for an aperitif before heading back to Balfes for dinner.  True to her word, my mum ordered half a pint of Guinness and I played it safe with a suitably Irish Baileys on ice.

The Temple Bar was established in 1840 and named after Sir William Temple, the provost of Trinity College, whose house and gardens were built there in the early 17th century.  The pub has an extensive selection of rare and interesting whiskeys – you can even order a whiskey flight to taste three different kinds.

Shopping at Avoca

Avoca is a glorious lifestyle store with 11 outlets across Ireland only, so it’s a real hotspot for shopping.  Avoca is Ireland’s oldest handweaving mill, established in Avoca, Country Wicklow, back in 1723.  When the three Wynne sisters inherited the mill, they revolutionised weaving in Ireland by adding colour to their designs.

Today, the family-run business produces the most beautiful, striking throws and blankets alongside clothing, perfume, ceramics, glassware and gourmet food.  I discovered Avoca in Belfast and was delighted to find out that the 7-floor Suffolk Street Avoca store was just a short walk from our hotel.

At the top of the store is the Avoca Cafe with an all-day menu and vintage-chic interiors (it feels more like a restaurant than cafe) and there’s also the more informal food hall on the lower ground level where we had lunch.

The food hall has a deli, salad bar and counter full of baked goods as well as a separate rotisserie.  I enjoyed a tasty chicken Caesar wrap and my mum went for a spicy chickpea and quinoa cake with carrot salad and antipasti from the salad bar.  For dessert, we couldn’t resist sharing a slice of scrumptious lemon curd cake – one slice was more than enough for two.

To bring a bit of Avoca back home (along with as many scones as we could carry), we picked out a stunning wool throw each – so pretty and so cosy.

South Georgian Area

The Georgian area at the bottom of Grafton Street on the South bank was my favourite part of Dublin.  This elegant, affluent part of the city is characterised by its rows of townhouses with handsome doors and tall windows.

It’s home to Merrion Square, where artists sell their works on the railings on a Sunday and also the fantastic National Gallery of Ireland.  I fell in love with the ivy-covered Boston College on St. Stephen’s Square and enjoyed strolling around the tranquil St. Stephen’s Green with its duck pond and pretty gazebo.

Lunch at Fallon & Byrne

Dublin is a real foodie city and Fallon & Byrne is a great place to find the best Irish produce, delicious meals and fine wines.  The top floor features a popular restaurant while the food hall has a small cafe for lighter bites.

After a long walk in the cold, we were ready for a bowl of delicious carrot and coriander soup, served with thick slices of freshly-baked brown soda bread and butter.

You can also get meals, salads, cheese and cured meats from the deli to eat in at the cafe or do a spot of posh food shopping.

Have you visited Dublin?  Where are your favourites spots and things to do in the city?

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London, Shopping, Stores

Mast Brothers Chocolate Arrives in Shoreditch, London

Brooklyn-based chocolate makers Mast Brothers is finally here in Shoreditch and what better time to launch than on Valentine’s Day?

Brothers Rick and Michael Mast teased us with a chocolate pop-up at the nearby Ace Hotel and now London has the full experience at their sleek, minimal chocolate factory on Redchurch Street.

I made a pilgrimage to Mast Brothers London on its second day of trading after strolling around Spitalfields and Brick Lane to see what else is new (its neighbour T2 Tea is also not to be missed).

The factory window resembles an art gallery installation with ‘Mast Brothers is making chocolate here’ lit up in neon above stacked sacks of cocoa beans.  As you walk in, you notice the rich, malty aroma of hand-made chocolate that subtly fills the air.

Mast Brothers is London’s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker and you can watch the magic happen in the open factory behind a floor to ceiling window.

The chocolate brand is also a pioneer in chocolate drinks, which are offered at the cool chocolate bar, or to take away.  Instead of a flat white, try a signature Brewed Chocolate, using house-roasted cocoa beans and served either hot or cold.

There’s also a decadent Hot Chocolate or non-alcoholic Chocolate Beer to try, plus sourdough with chocolate spread if you’re feeling peckish.

The full range of Mast Brothers chocolate bars are neatly presented, as though they were accessories in a designer boutique.  The display is so perfect that I found myself instinctively reaching to rearrange the bars after they’d been ruffled!

Not only is the packaging beautiful, but reading the labels is like taking a tour of the world with cacao from some exotic destinations.  The Origin Collection includes Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Dominican Republic, Peru, Belize or the original Brooklyn Blend.

Other interesting bars are Stumptown Coffee, sheep’s milk, vanilla and smoke, cacao nib, sea salt and almond.  The samples Belize and vanilla and smoke were fantastic, but it was a bar of Maple Chocolate that we bought to enjoy at home.

The 70% cacao dark chocolate has real depth of flavour with fruity tartness and a pleasantly grainy texture from the maple sugar.  It’s pure indulgence and definitely a treat to be savoured – we made ours last for three nights.

£8 is the most I’ve ever spent on a bar of chocolate, but the quality, design and artistry makes it a cut above the rest.  I’m sure I’ll work my way through the other bars gradually, but top of my Mast Brothers list is a cup of hot chocolate at the bar.

For more information, visit: www.mastbrothers.com

All photos by Cherie City 

Art, Cafes, Cruises, Miami, USA

Wynwood Arts District, Miami

Miami’s Wynwood Arts District was high on our list of sights to see and even a tropical storm couldn’t deter us from visiting.

Wynwood is a semi-industrial neighbourhood north of Downtown Miami where derelict warehouses have been given a new lease of life as art galleries, artist studios, restaurants, cafe-bars and shops.  It’s become known for its riotously colourful, large-scale street art and is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon discovering local talent.

Wynwood is a huge part of Art Basel, hosted annually in Miami, with a number of gallery events, parties and open studios.

The best time to visit, however, is for the Wynwood Art Walk on the first Saturday evening of each month, when there’s a real party atmosphere.  There’s even a direct shuttle bus from South Beach to make getting there even easier.

On Sunday afternoon, we crossed the enormous Julia Tuttle Causeway from our base on South Beach and started from the top at North 36th Street and 2nd Avenue.

Immediately we encountered cool graffiti, vintage clothes stores, coffee shops and a number of Puerto Rican shops and restaurants (Wynwood has been known as ‘Little San Juan’ since the 1950s).  If you hadn’t already guessed, Wynwood is Miami’s hipsterville.

At the heart of the district is the Wynwood Walls, a permanent outdoor mural exhibition, featuring work by over 50 artists from around the world including Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Aiko, Faith47 and Retna.

Created by the late Tony Goldman in 2009, Wynwood Walls has become a revolutionary platform for street art and the murals now extend far beyond it.

A highlight of our trip to Wynwood was seeking shelter from the storm over lunch at Zak The Baker.  I’d read about Miami born and bred baker Zak Stern before our trip and the bakery was just as good as I’d hoped.

Housed in a converted warehouse with a large open-plan kitchen, Zak The Baker is a rustic-urban bakery and cafe that Zak states ‘happens to be kosher’.

Zak has quite an intriguing background – he turned his back on a pharmaceuticals degree to travel the world and learn how to bake bread.  His travels took him to an ashram in India and farms in South America, Israel and across Europe.

Zak The Baker is a popular spot for lunch and serves hearty stews, home-made soups, gourmet sandwiches and tempting cakes.  I ordered a fantastic sourdough toast topped with sage pesto, roasted calabaza and fontina.  The combination of simple flavours was incredible and the ingredients were of such high quality.

Steven went for an equally delicious toast topped with tuna, cranberry, cilantro and grated carrot.  If we have the chance to return, we’d try one of the more substantial sandwiches and an indulgent chocolate and almond butter toast.

We finished on a sweet note with a double chocolate cookie and a cup of Earl Grey tea. The heavenly cookie had a rich, fondant-like centre and a delicate, crumbly crust – a perfect way to brighten a rainy day.

Another Wynwood hotspot is Panther Coffee – a Miami-based speciality coffee roaster with a second cafe on Miami Beach.  They have some pretty cool coffee-making apparatus and there’s a good selection of bites to choose from.  It’s a small cafe and seemingly home to the laptop brigade, but there’s plenty of space on the terrace on brighter days.

Wynwood is such an inspiring, unique creative hub and it should be high on your list of places to visit in Miami.  Unfortunately Sunday was our only option on this short stay in Miami, so quite a few galleries and shops were closed.

Then again, Zak The Baker is closed on Saturday – and that’s an experience you won’t want to miss – so perhaps visit midweek and take a closer look on the Saturday evening Wynwood Art Tour.

Chérie City started and finished a Celebrity Cruise Eastern Caribbean Cruise in Miami.  Join Celebrity Reflection on a nine-night Eastern Caribbean Getaway fly/cruise from £1,650 per person (based on two people sharing an ocean view stateroom).

Price includes return flights from London Heathrow, transfers, one night pre-cruise hotel accommodation and a seven-night cruise departing from Miami (Florida) and calling at San Juan (Puerto Rico), Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) and Philipsburg (St. Maarten) before returning to Miami for the flight home; meals and entertainment onboard the ship and all relevant cruise taxes/fee.  Price based on 23 January 2015 UK departure.  

For more information or to book, call 0845 456 0523 or visitwww.celebritycruises.co.uk 

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London, Restaurants

Dinner at L’ETO Caffe Brompton

L’ETO Caffe is a boutique chain of cafes that I always recommend to friends looking for a stylish, cosy place to enjoy exquisite tea and cake in London.

There are now six branches across west London and central and the latest opening - L’ETO Caffe Brompton – is perfectly located for a leisurely refuel when visiting the V&A, Natural History Museum and Harrods.

The eye-catching display of colourful salads and tempting cakes is enough to lure you in, but that’s not the extent of L’ETO Caffe’s offering.  The main menu boasts some creative, mouthwatering dishes and the cooking is truly accomplished.

We visited on a chilly evening just before Christmas and watched the skaters beneath the twinkling lights at the Natural History Museum ice rink before heading on to dinner.  This part of London is just so romantic and charming during the holidays.

L’ETO Caffe Brompton has the same elegant townhouse feel as nearby L’ETO Caffe Kings Road, with homely furnishing and cosy nooks.  The new menu launched that evening, so we had the chance to try the chef’s latest creations.

I started with Burrata, heritage carrots, olive crumble and basil oil (£12.95).  The very generous portion of burrata was cool, creamy and silky while the rainbow of lightly pickled heritage carrot ribbons added a fragrant, sweet and sour flavour.  The varied tastes made the dish exciting and the olive crumble took me back to summer in the Mediterranean.

Steven tried Tomato and mozzarella stuffed gnocchi, pesto and pine nuts (£8.90).  The gnocchi was light and fluffy with a rich, smooth filling and served with the most delicious fresh pesto.  It was beautifully presented and was just the right size for a satisfying starter.

For my main course, I couldn’t resist the Slow-braised veal cheeks, lemon-potato crème, butter shallots and five-spice jus (£16.95).  This dish was an absolute delight and winter comfort food at its very best.  The slow-braised veal was so tender, flaky and plentiful, covered in a rich, meaty jus with a very subtle hint of five spice and topped with sweet caramelised onions and pistachio dust.

The smooth lemon-potato crème worked surprisingly well, with a good amount of zest, and the butter shallots finished it off nicely.

Steven went for the lighter option of Black leg chicken supreme, giant cous-cous, Putanesca sauce (£17.95).  The succulent, juicy chicken was cooked on a charcoal grill, so it had a lovely smoky taste.  The giant cous-cous cooked in the chicken juice was a fantastic accompaniment (one I’ll now be trying at home) and the puttanesca sauce added a spicy, fragrant kick.

It would be crazy not to leave room for dessert and bespoke tea infusions at L’ETO Caffe.  The traditional Russian Honey Cake is the cafe’s signature dessert (it really is heavenly), but we went for something different this time.  My dreamy Strawberry Napoleon was pure indulgence with layers of soft pastry and vanilla custard, topped with fresh strawberries.  The cake was so big that I had the remaining half packed up to enjoy later at home.

I accompanied it with a calming Fresh Mint and Lemon Tea – how pretty are the glass teapots!

Steven’s Rose and Lychee Cake tasted just as good as it looked.  The golden sponge cake was layered with rose raspberry jam and fragrant lychee buttercream frosting.  He washed it down with a potent, warming infusion of ginger, honey and lemon.

L’ETO Caffe Brompton is a fantastic addition to this historic, cultural neighbourhood and it’s sure to make a trip to the V&A that little bit sweeter.

For more information, visit: www.letocaffe.co.uk

Chérie City was invited by L’ETO Caffe Brompton

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by L’ETO Caffe)

Barcelona, Beach, Cafes, Cherie Soleil

Eyescream and Friends, Barcelona

Eyescream and Friends in Barcelona is one of the coolest ice cream parlours that I’ve ever seen.

Nestled on the Paseo Joan de Borbo – the main street leading down to the Barceloneta beach – Eyescream and Friends is a tiny concept store with minimalist, laboratory-style interiors.

Designed by Estudio m Barcelona, the slick space is brought alive with colourful eyescream monsters and a counter of little pots filled with tempting toppings and sauces.

Eyescream and Friends opened in 2012 and is inspired by the shaved iced desserts that its owners experienced when visiting Taiwan.  However, the ice cream served here is based on artisanal Italian gelato and frozen yoghurt.

Ordering is simple – just pick up a stylish, eco-friendly tray and fill it with two topping pots, then choose the ice cream base.

The staff take a block of ice cream and use the high-tech machines to shave the ice cream into slim shards.  The ice cream is shaped to look like the characters and is finished with a pair of crunchy meringue eyes.

There are seven flavours to choose from with occasional new ones to try.  I ordered the fruity, silky mango ice cream with sides of sweet strawberry sauce and gummy bears.  Steven went for a more indulgent cheesecake ice cream with crushed Oreos and nutty chocolate sauce, which tasted like liquid gianduja.

Both ice creams were delicious and generously sized, plus the shaving gave them a light, airy consistency.

There isn’t any seating available inside, but you can make a dash to the beach or one of the many nearby benches to dig in.  The clever cardboard packaging comes in handy when the sun is scorching, avoiding any messy melting.

Eyescream and Friends is a fun spot for cooling down by the beach – the only hard part is deciding which flavour to go for.

For more information, visit: www.eyescreamandfriends.com

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London

GAIL’s Artisan Bakery Ice Cream Sandwich Pop-Up

The sun may be hiding right now, but GAIL’s Artisan Bakery is keeping the summer vibes going with its ice cream pop-up at its Soho bakery.

From 20th August for just two weeks, GAIL’s will become a stylish ice cream bar with plenty of sweet treats to stay cool.

‘Ice cream sandwich’, always makes me think of the classic American scoop wedged between two chocolate chip cookies, but GAIL’s also offers a more European dessert option.

GAIL’s baker Roy Levy has created a short menu of tempting ice cream sandwiches.  Choose from cinnamon brioche toast with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel or chocolate sauce and salted peanuts or a fruity cinnamon brioche toast with creme fraiche ice cream, mixed berries and raspberry coulis.

Then there’s Roy’s favourite – fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, toasted pistachio ice cream, a dollop of sour cherry compote, fresh cherries and chopped pistachios.

Morgan Cannon will also be bringing summery tunes to the ice cream bar with a live DJ set every evening.

Roy’s monster two-scoop ice cream sandwiches look so tantalising and yummy – definitely a decadent treat come rain or shine.

GAIL’s Artisan Bakery ice cream sandwiches are priced at £6 each.  For more information, visit: www.gailsbread.co.uk

Photos by GAIL’s Artisan Bakery

Cafes, London, Restaurants

Persian dishes at dindin kitchen, Holborn

dindin kitchen is the new Persian ‘fine fast food’ restaurant in Holborn that I’ve been raving about to anyone who will listen since visiting recently.

Being Persian, I’ve grown up on a diet of slow-cooked stews and Basmati rice studded with vegetable or dried fruit.  Typically, I have the Persian obsession with making the perfect rice in my genes, so I was curious to see whether dindin kitchen would be able to serve up great rice in a quick dining environment.

Dubbed as ‘the Persian Itsu’, dindin kitchen is a slick affair with fridges of bright meze pots and healthy juices, clear menus noting the dishes simply in English and arty shots of pomegranates adorning the walls.

The force behind dindin kitchen is Persian entrepreneur Vida Tayebi, who saw a gap in the market for home-cooked Middle Eastern food served quickly.  In fact, no one in London is doing what she is to the same professional level.

 Before visiting, I carefully planned what to order to get the best overview of dindin kitchen.  Little did I know that Vida would bring us a spectacular feast of pretty much everything on the menu – that’s the Persian way.

We started with a rainbow of delicious meze pots served with chewy, airy Persian Flatbread and a fresh, bitter Endive, Pomegranate and Walnut Salad (£2.80).  My favourites among the selection were the moreish Aubergine and Lentil Salad (£1.60) and a rich, flavoursome Smoked Aubergine and Tomato Salad (£1.60).  Other tasty meze pots include Beetroot and Parsley Yoghurt Dip (£1.60), cooling Baby Spinach, Dill and Yoghurt Dip (£1.50) and a traditional Persian Chicken Salad with mayonnaise, pickles, peas and egg (£1.95).

The meze pots make perfect starters or light bites and it’s best to order a few different ones to share.

To follow, we tried a Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Soup with added meatballs (£3.95).  The soup was thick and comforting with tangy, mouthwatering flavours and soft pieces of meatball crumbled in the soup.  The Noodle Soup with lentils and fresh vegetables (£3.50), known as Ash-e Reshteh in Farsi, was herby and aromatic with plenty of spinach, mint and parsley.

Chicken and Lemon Saffron Soufflé (£3.80) is a must-try dish, either as a starter, side or accompanied with rice.  The large soufflés were packed full of shredded, marinated chicken breast and the saffron gave them a slightly sweet, fragrant taste.  ’Soufflé’ is the best English description for the classic dish known as ‘kookoo’, however the filling is usually the main part and the texture is less airy than a regular soufflé.

Stuffed Meatballs with split peas and barberries (£4.95) were juicy and substantial with sweet dates at the centre.  The tomato sauce was deliciously rich and slow-cooked with flavours of zesty dried kaffir lime – I really enjoyed this dish.

The grilled dishes at dindin kitchen are really fantastic and quite a healthy choice.  Chicken Skewers (£6.75) were succulent and tender, lightly marinated in yoghurt, lime and saffron and cooked on a charcoal grill.  The Lamb Fillet Skewers (£6.95) were also lean, flavoursome and substantial.

Mostly importantly, the accompanying rice was out of this world.  The delicate Basmati rice was steamed with saffron and plenty of barberries.  Often these little red berries can be very sour and sharp, but dindin kitchen managed to soften the flavour, making the rice ever so slightly sweet and rather addictive.

Both dishes came with some saffron mayo and a side of mild pickles and a tomato, red onion and cucumber salad.  The grills were perhaps my favourites of all the dishes we tried – it’s quite hard to beat good charcoal-grilled meat.

We were feeling rather full by this point, but managed to squeeze in a few wraps, which are available on their own or as a daily deal with soup for just £4.95.

The Minced Lamb wrap (£6.25) included a tasty flatbread filled with well-seasoned, smoky meat, sumac, tomatoes, pickles, fresh parsley and saffron mayo.  The Beef Falafel wrap (£4) is also worth trying, particularly if you like a wrap with a slightly spicy kick.

For dessert, we were excited to finally try a CroDough (£3.95) from Rinkoff Bakery.  There were four flavours to choose from and we went for the raspberry CroDough, filled with jam and topped with fresh raspberries.  It was pleasing enough (if a little underwhelming) and is a fun sweet item to offer, but I much preferred the more Persian-influenced Raspberry and Pistachio Cake (£2.35)

The dense, fragrant sponge was studded with chopped pistachios and pieces of dried raspberry and was a delightful end to the meal.  We finished with cups of fine Earl Grey tea, however a glass of typical Persian brewed tea would have been a welcome addition.

dindin kitchen is without a doubt my favourite new casual dining opening this year.  For me, it’s the ultimate childhood comfort food and for those who haven’t yet tried Persian cuisine, it provides an authentic yet uncomplicated introduction.

The food is excellent, prices are very reasonable and everything is available to take-out and eat on the go.  For something completely new in London, dindin kitchen should be top of the list.

For more information, visit: www.dindinkitchen.com

All photos by Chérie City

Chérie City was invited by dindin kitchen

Dindin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Afternoon tea, Cafes, Istanbul, Restaurants

Dining in Istanbul

A highlight of a trip to Istanbul is the fantastic food.  The streets are filled with the mouthwatering aromas of delicious ocakbasi chargrilled meat, honey-drench fresh baklava and freshly-pressed pomegranate juice.  Here are some top picks for eating out in Istanbul…

Antiochia

Tucked away on a side street in Asmalimescit, Antiochia is an intimate, low-key neighbourhood restaurant that offers dishes inspired by the city of Antakya in Turkey’s sourthern Hatay region.

Owned by celebrity chef Jale Balci, Antiochia attracts a hipster crowd and the interiors are as unfussy as the simple menu (just around ten meze dishes and a few kebabs).  The restaurant is tiny with less than 20 covers, so we were very lucky to score a walk-in table.

We started with two amazing meze dishes – Houmous and Aubergine with Yoghurt and Garlic – served with the most delicious, seemingly unlimited, flatbread rubbed with chilli.  If you’re extra peckish, or are dining with a bigger group, a mixed meze plate is a good choice (the staff tried to push us towards this).

My Chicken Shish was marinated in spices and fresh herbs, then grilled to perfection on the charcoal grill.  It was served on a thin chili wrap with a fresh tomato and sumac salad, a grilled tomato and green chili.  Steven’s Beef Durum Wrap was filled with tender pieces of beef, onion and grilled tomatoes with a good dose of spice.

Having already filled up on sugar with afternoon tea earlier that afternoon, we thought it best to skip dessert.  However, Antiochia is the place to try some authentic Turkish sweets such as Künefe (a cheese pastry soaked in syrup) or a walnut and eggplant dessert served with home-made ice cream.

Otherwise, you could grab some baklava or mastic ice cream from nearby Istiklal Caddesi, where cafes and sweet shops are open into the late evening.

Mama Shelter Istanbul 

Staying and eating at Mama Shelter Paris was one of my favourite hotel experiences, so obviously we just had to check out Mama Shelter Istanbul.  Located on a side street just off the bustling Istiklal Caddesi, Mama Shelter Istanbul has all of the eccentricity and character that you’d expect from the forward-thinking brand with cool interiors by Philippe Starck.

Alain Senderens and Jérôme Banctel’s Franco-Turkish menu is full of innovative yet comforting dishes and there is also a pizza menu.

The stylish restaurant features a number of dining areas with a centre island bar and an outdoor terrace.  As we visited during a religious holiday, it was very quiet, however I imagine it is the place to be in Beyoglu during the summer months with the open roof terrace and weekend DJ sets.  There is even a glass cabinet of musical instruments to really get the party started.

I started with a zingy Mama Lemonade (9 TL) and Steven tried a punchy Gingerapple (13 TL), which were both served long and topped with fresh apple and strawberry.

Refusing to break my Istanbul food habit, I ordered the Marinated Chicken Skewers with Carrot Puree (33 TL).  The two large skewers of chargrilled chicken breast and thigh were tender and succulent (though less spicy than others I tried in Istanbul) and I really loved the smooth, rich and tangy carrot puree.

Steven tried the Yoghurt Kebab (34 TL) – tasty chargrilled lamb patties in a spicy tomato sauce served with torn pieces of flatbread, a hot green chili and cool saffron yoghurt.

With fond memories of the indulgent chocolate fondant at Mama Shelter in Paris, we couldn’t resist trying Mama’s Chocolate Souffle (19 TL).  Served in a mini cast iron pot, the Chocolate Souffle had a soft cake texture with a gooey, molten middle and was accompanied by light vanilla ice cream and a peanut brittle crisp – so decadent and delicious.

Miyako at Swissotel The Bosphorus

Miyako is a great choice for authentic Japanese food in Istanbul.  I recommend starting with some Ebi Tempura and Beef Tataki, followed by teppanyaki Grilled Chicken or Beef Tenderloin.  Be sure to leave some room for Chocolate Pudding with Coco Banana Sauce and a glass of Umeshu Plum Wine.  Read the full review here.

Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah

Afternoon tea in Istanbul is an absolute must and the grand dame of tea and cake is the historic Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah.  Enjoy a fabulous buffet afternoon tea in splendid surroundings to the sounds of a live pianist.

Tea is served in elegant silver pots and the selection of exquisite cakes, sweets and biscuits is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to try them all (a challenge for the most die-hard afternoon tea fans).  Read the full review here.

Karaköy Lokantasi 

Istanbul’s hip Karaköy neighbourhood is not to be missed and we were delighted when the brilliant concierge at Shangri-La Istanbul was able to secure us a reservation at the immensely popular Karaköy Lokantasi.

Owned by Aylin Okutan and Oral Kurt, and designed by Autoban, Karaköy Lokantasi is a casual, affordable eatery with the boutique guesthouse Karaköy Rooms above.  The atmospheric two-floor restaurant features pretty turquoise tiles inspired by the Topkapi Palace offers traditional Turkish meze and kebabs with a contemporary approach.

Of course, we had to start with some Houmous, which was smooth and full of flavour, topped with fresh chick peas and mint.  I was a little disappointed that they serve wholemeal sliced bread rather than traditional Turkish flatbread, but it was tasty nevertheless.

Fried Shrimps (18 TL) were plump and ever so fresh, cooked in the most delicious chili, garlic and olive oil sauce – absolutely divine.

My Grilled Meatballs (15 TL) were tender, satisfying and nicely charred on the outside.  I found the small slice of potato rather dry and uninteresting, particularly as there was no sauce or yoghurt to perk it up.  Steven’s Grilled Chicken (15 TL) was juicy and smoky, marinated with spicy chili and herbs.

Service had been swift throughout, but tailed off towards the end of the meal, so we ended up missing out on the chocolate pudding.  Instead, we settled for the Semolina Cake with Cream (7 TL), which was a light and grainy sponge soaked with delicious sugar syrup.

Bej Karaköy

We found ourselves back in Karaköy at lunchtime and had heard good things about the Bej Karaköy.  The cosy interiors are cool and arty and it seems to attract a creative crowd taking a break from visiting the nearby art galleries.

My Chicken Schnitzel (22 TL) was absolutely delicious, served with chunky fries and a slice of lemon.  Steven’s Grilled Cheese, Pesto and Tomato Sandwich (12 TL) was tasty and simple, served with a fresh green salad and cherry tomatoes.  We washed them down with some Turkish tea (6 TL) served in a small glass on a pretty blue china saucer.

Service at Bej Karaköy was unfortunately rather charmless during our visit, which I hope was a one-off, as the place itself is great.

ADA Cafe & Bookstore

We spent our last few hours in Istanbul picking up some Turkish tea, baklava and Turkish delight on the Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu.  Having spotted ADA Cafe & Bookstore earlier in the week, we stopped there for a quick bite before heading to the airport.

ADA Cafe & Bookstore is a slick book and music store with a casual restaurant serving Turkish and international dishes.

We ordered two Turkish teas and were served quickly by the friendly, efficient staff.  My Chicken Shish (21 TL) was succulent and nicely charred, served with some average potato wedges, tasty Asian style vegetables and BBQ sauce.

Steven’s ADA Cheeseburger (18 TL) was cooked Turkish style on the charcoal grill and came with American cheese, potato wedges and a fresh sweetcorn and black olive salad.

ADA Cafe & Bookstore is a handy spot in Beyoglu’s busy shopping area for a relaxing lunch or afternoon Turkish tea and cake, plus there is a selection of English language books available.

Shake Shack 

Why go to Shake Shack when Istanbul does grilled meat so well?  Well, Shake Shack happened to be useful when we needed something quick and easy for a very late lunch after getting lost in Sultanahmet.  Shake Shack hasn’t quite yet invaded Europe at present, with outlets only in London, Moscow and Istanbul, so it’s worth visiting if you want to try the now famous New York burger.

We visited the Tünel branch on Istiklal Caddesi, just a few minutes away from our hotel, and there was no queue so we were served immediately.

As expected, our ShackBurgers pretty much the same as the others we’d tried in Manhattan and London, but there are some fun local touches such as the Pistachio in Tünel and Tramway Treat concretes.

Perhaps because of the exchange rate, but it’s also somewhat cheaper than the London branch, so it’s not a bad bet for a speedy lunch fix.

Are you a fan of authentic Turkish food?  Where is your favourite dining spot in Istanbul?

All photos by Chérie City

 

Cafes, London, Restaurants

Vivo Italian Bakery & Restaurant, Islington

Italian bakery and restaurant Vivo brings a touch of Milanese chic to Islington with authentic regional food and slick, minimalist design.

Vivo is in good company with Upper Street’s Ottolenghi and Fig & Olive, but the all-day dining spot’s concept is quite different, taking inspiration from northern Italy’s high end pasticcerias and designer bakeries.

Owners Will and Ben Thompson travelled extensively through Italy to research their first food venture, plus most of the chefs and staff come from Italy and Sicily, so authenticity is a high priority.

Vivo’s bright and airy interiors are urban-rustic with stone covered walls, granite counters, timber panels, concrete communal tables and soft tan leather seats.  The newly-opened heated outdoor terrace with chalet style wood panelling is sure to be a popular spot for a summer spritz or an al fresco lunch.

The stylishly presented salads, pizza al taglio, hearty mains and artisan cakes not only look tempting but are exceptionally tasty.  Best of all, the relaxed, counter service concept makes it easy to choose as much or as little as you like, setting your own pace and sharing dishes.

We started with a Spritz Americano (£4.80) – a perfect mix of Martini Rosso, Campari and soda water – which was served with a slice of orange and plenty of ice.  The bar also serves a good range of Italian wines, beers and cocktails, all of which are very reasonably priced.

To start, we ordered a slice of Pizza Bianco with Prosciutto, Scamorza, Potato and fresh Rosemary to share.  The excellent pizza base had an airy, chewy texture and the toppings were authentic with bold flavours.

My only criticism is that the denser potato-filled pizza slices should be heated in the oven for longer, as it was a little cold in the middle.

I was immediately drawn to the colourful Pumpkin & Ricotta Salad (£4.80), which I was told is a best-seller at Vivo.  Crisp lettuce, rocket and radicchio were mixed with chunks of soft, roasted pumpkin, just the right amount of high quality, creamy buffalo ricotta, large pieces of walnut and finished with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

It was a deliciously light yet indulgent salad that works well as a light bite or accompanying a slice of pizza.

For the main course, I was tempted by the Pollo alla Milanese (£9.20), which was served with rosemary potatoes and roasted butternut squash and red onions, plus a half lemon garnish.

The chicken escalope was succulent and generously sized, covered in fine, crunchy breadcrumbs.  The flavoursome roasted vegetables were a perfect accompaniment and much lighter than pasta or fries.

Steven’s Beef in Red Wine (£8.60) was rich and satisfying with large pieces of tender, flaky beef in a thick, slow-cooked sauce.  It’s an ideal dish to order when you’re craving some comforting home cooking.

Vivo’s eye-catching cakes are hard to resist and there is an overwhelming selection to choose from.  The Bavarese was made up of three decadent layers of silky white, milk and dark chocolate mousse, on a thin biscuit base.  It’s heaven for chocolate lovers while not being overly sweet and is definitely big enough to share.

The Chocolate Raspberry Dome was filled with dark chocolate mousse and fresh raspberry, covered in a glossy dark chocolate ganache with a layer of biscuit crumbs.  The cake was rich and indulgent but the fresh raspberry lifted the flavour and complemented it perfectly.

Vivo is a great addition to Islington and it appears to already be a hit, particularly with Italians, as we noted during our visit.  The relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and reasonable prices make it a fun, buzzing place to come for a quick slice of pizza, evening cocktails with friends or an afternoon treat of coffee and cake.  I absolutely loved it and am sure to be lured in again soon by those delicious cakes.

For more information, visit: www.vivotaste.com

Chérie City was invited by Vivo

Photos by Chérie City and Vivo

Vivo on Urbanspoon

Cafes, Paris, Restaurants, Stores

American Burgers at Ralph’s, Paris

On my recent trip to Paris for the European launch of Detroit watch brand Shinola, we continued the ‘Americans in Paris’ theme with  lunch at Ralph’s on the Left Bank.  Really, what could better celebrate ‘Made in America’ than Ralph Lauren?

Ralph’s is housed in the impressive Ralph Lauren flagship store within a renovated 17th century townhouse on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.  Opened in 2010, it’s the second Ralph Lauren restaurant, following the RL Restaurant in Chicago.

Ralph’s features a stylish dining room, cosy bar and a pretty courtyard, which is the place to see and be seen in the warmer months.

The design of Ralph’s is New England country club chic with refined Parisian touches.  It is full of old world charm with dark wood panelling, oil paintings of animals, equestrian accessories, worn leather banquettes and quirky highlights of leopard print and tartan.  On each table are the most exquisite red roses and Ralph Lauren tableware, plus the waiting staff look dapper in striped blue and white shirts and pinstripes.

Ralph’s has been well-received in Paris (Ralph Lauren was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, after all) and it attracts a crowd of well-heeled locals, fashion industry folk and home-sick Americans.

We were seated close to the limestone open fireplace and were swiftly brought bowls of scrumptious deep-fried green olives to snack on.

Ralph’s is known for its authentic American-style burgers and there are six to choose from on the menu.  Some of our group went for the spicy Santa Fe Burger (€33) with tobacco onions, sliced jalapenos, Cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce and I went for the classic Ralph’s Burger (€29).

My medium-cooked burger was juicy and lean, packed between fresh red onions, pickles, heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, gooey Cheddar cheese and flavoursome crispy bacon, served on a toasted sesame bun.  The substantial burger was served with crunchy American Farmstead Garden Slaw and a generous amount of well-seasoned ranch style fries.  Little pots of Heinz ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a silver pot were placed on the table without the need to request them.

Unlike the current trend for ‘dirty burgers’ oozing with meat juice, Ralph’s burgers are refined and high end, made with the best quality Black Angus beef sourced from Ralph Lauren’s Colorado ranch.

None of us had room for dessert, however, Stateside delights such as Ralph’s Brownies, Key Lime Pie and Ralph’s Favourites (an American take on a café gourmand) certainly looked tempting.

We finished our lunch with a pot of Fresh Mint Tea, which came served in an engraved silver teapot with pretty blue and white Ralph Lauren china cups.

We were treated to an enormous pot of sticky caramel popcorn to accompany our teas and coffees – a fun alternative to the usual petits fours.

Ralph’s is the perfect spot for delicious American comfort food and a bit of people watching in a stunning setting.  It’s certainly pricey (considerably more than Chicago’s RL Restaurant), but for a taste of the East Coast on the Left Bank, it’s worth splashing out.  Look out for the next Ralph Lauren restaurant in New York at his upcoming Polo flagship store in 5th Avenue at 55th Street.

For more information, visit: www.ralphlaurenstgermain.com

Chérie City was a guest of Shinola

All photos by Chérie City

Cafes, London, Patisserie

Krug Kreperie, Covent Garden

Krug Champagne gets December off to a sparkling start with the arrival of the pop up Krug Kreperie at Covent Garden’s East Piazza.

Created in collaboration with renowned, three Michelin star chef Pierre Koffmann, the Krug Kreperie brings a luxury après-ski vibe with French chalet inspired dining pods, complete with sheepskin rugs and wood log banquettes, inside giant Krug crates.  A little corner of Chamonix in the heart of Covent Garden.

For an indulgent winter treat, the Krug Kreperie offers six sweet or savoury crepes with flavours including crab, caramel apple crumble and pistachio with caramelised pistachio nuts. Each crepe is paired with a glass of Krug Grande Cuvée for £35.

What could be better than rounding off an afternoon of Covent Garden Christmas shopping (hello Dior beauty boutique, Opening Ceremony and Jo Malone) than with a sizzling hot crepe and a glass of the world’s finest fizz?

The Krug Kreperie is open in Covent Garden from 2nd December to 8th December, before moving to Koffmann’s at The Berkeley from 9th December until mid January.  For more information, visit: www.krug.com

All photos by Krug

Cafes, London, Restaurants

Dinner at L’ETO Caffe, Kings Road

L’ETO Caffe has recently opened its sixth London cafe-restaurant in a prime spot on Chelsea’s Kings Road.

The colourful display of cakes in the window and the cafe’s warm glow are inviting and it already seems to be a hit with the west London crowd.

The two-floor cafe feels bright and airy as you walk in and the downstairs dining room is intimate and pretty, with grey and white wood panelling, an open fire-place and retro bird prints.  It’s the kind of cosy place where you could spend a few hours and really make yourself at home.

I visited L’ETO Caffe on its opening night and was wowed by the fabulous display of gourmet salads, roasted meats, cakes and truffles.  We feasted on miso salmon, turkey frikadelle, cod fishcakes, mushroom and spinach quiche, broccoli with chili and garlic, grilled aubergine in yoghurt and green bean and potato salad.

We tried a selection of indulgent cakes and particularly enjoyed the Chocolate Cinnamon Cake, Wild Cherry Cake and Orange Polenta Cake.

It was also difficult to resist choosing some hand-made truffles to go with a pot of fresh mint tea.  The Green Tea, Raspberry, Jasmine and Sea Salt Caramel truffles are unbelievably tasty and just melt in the mouth.  There is even a selection of home-made L’ETO Caffe jams and spreads – the Dark Chocolate and Rasberry Jam is divine.

I went back to L’ETO Caffe a few weeks later to try the a la carte menu, which is also available alongside the salads.  When we arrived on a midweek early evening, it was already busy upstairs, so we sat downstairs where it was quieter and cosier.

I started with the Sweet Chilli Ginger Beef with wok-fried vegetables (£16).  Thin slices of lean, well-marinated beef were tender and covered in a scrumptious sweet chilli, soy, sesame, ginger and garlic sauce.  It was served on a bed of steamed bok choi, wok-fried carrots, cabbage, edamame beans and sliced cucumber (the only vegetable I really dislike, but I was able to remove them easily).

Steven went for the Crab and Avocado Salad with soy and lime dressing (£16).  The shredded crabmeat had a fresh, clean taste and was mixed with chunks of cool, creamy avocado, torn coriander and toasted black sesame seeds.  Both starters were delicious but rather overpriced considering the portion sizes.

L’ETO Caffe has a tempting selection of soft drinks, so we tried a Rasberry Lemonade and a Caramel Lemonade.  Both drinks were refreshing and just sweet enough, served ice cold with fresh mint.

For my main course, I was tempted by the Duck and Chestnut Tortelloni (£16).  Five plump parcels were filled with well-seasoned shredded duck and sweet, roasted chestnuts.  They were covered in a light butter sauce with pieces of chestnut and scattered lingonberries.  The quality of the pasta was exceptionally good and obviously home-made.  It was a rich, tasty and comforting dish – if only there were just a few more tortelloni.

Steven ordered the Steamed Sea Bass with lime and ginger broth (£20).  The succulent fillet of sea bass was perfectly cooked and served on a bed of steamed bok choy in a light and fragrant lime and ginger broth.  It was a tasty, healthy dish with fresh, aromatic flavours.

We accompanied our mains dishes with a side of Crush Potatoes with Herbs (£4.50).  The flavoursome crushed new potatoes were buttery and decadent, mixed with plenty of fresh herbs.  The portion size was enormous and best shared between two or more.

Of course, dinner at L’ETO Caffe wouldn’t be complete without tea and cake.  My decadent Caramel Layer Cake (£4.50) consisted of layers of pastry densely packed together with sticky, sweet caramel and topped with crushed walnuts.  It was substantial and heavenly – a perfect way to end the meal.

Steven went for L’ETO Caffe’s signature Honey Cake (£4.80), another layered dessert made from soft, spiced honey sponge and fresh vanilla cream.  Both cakes are big enough to be shared, but you might like to be greedy and keep them all to yourself.

L’ETO Caffe stands out from other high end cafes with its extensive selection of custom-blend teas and infusions, beautifully served in tall glass teapots.  I tried the winter special of Rose Leaf Tea with natural vanilla and caramel (£4.95).  Made from whole dried rose buds, the tea was fragrant, delicate and sweet from the vanilla and caramel.

Steven ordered a custom-blend Ginger Tea (£4.95), which was punchy and warming – perfect for keeping winter flu at bay.

L’ETO Caffe is a cosy, elegant place to enjoy excellent food or an artisan cake with custom-blend tea.  While some of the prices could do with being revised, there is real attention to detail and the stylish surroundings make it a real treat.

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

Chérie City was a guest of L’ETO Caffe

Photos by Chérie City and L’ETO Caffe

L'Eto Caffe on Urbanspoon