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Cafes, London

January Detox at maple&FITZ, London

January is the month when we tend to think about detoxing and ‘eating clean’ that little bit more seriously, but I can see my love affair with maple&FITZ lasting all year-round.  If like me you’re always on the hunt for quick and healthy meals that are wholesome, filling and super-tasty, this little Fitzrovia cafe and counter should be top of your list.

Canadian Cordon Bleu-trained chef Adria Wu opened healthy eatery maple&FITZ just last year and already it’s become a hotspot for health-conscious Londoners.  Her philosophy is all about happiness, balance and nourishment, whether it’s refueling the body with a cleansing cold-pressed juice or indulging in a guilt-free treat.

Walking into maple&FITZ, my eyes lit up when I saw the counter laden with colourful, tempting dishes.  Everything is made fresh from the kitchen throughout the day using high quality seasonal ingredients, so you know it’s only full of good stuff.

Noticing that I was struggling to choose just one salad, the lovely staff suggested a large box with room for a few different tastes.  I enjoyed a rainbow of three salads – Julius Caesar, Sweet Caroline and Blackjack, topped with a few slices of grilled halloumi for good measure.

My favourite salad was Sweet Caroline – a crisp kale base, studded with vibrant shredded beets, juicy roasted sweet potato, celeriac and toasted pecans, finished with a tangy, sweet maple balsamic dressing.  This went exceptionally well with Blackjack – a warm, comforting salad of hearty black rice and roasted squash with winter sea salt, baby spinach and cinnamon, garlic and lemon dressing.

For something really light and zingy, try Julius Caesar – shredded kale, romaine, mangetout, toasted buckwheat, cabbage, toasted pumpkin and sunflowers seeds, Pecorino and Dijon-lemon tahini dressing.  It really complimented the other two salads, but if you’re going for a smaller pot, it’s worth choosing a salad with those glorious pieces of roasted sweet potato or butternut squash – they’re just so good!

I also recommend adding a protein for that extra bit of indulgence.  Grilled halloumi with sage was an absolute winner, but you can also add grilled chicken, turkey meatballs, grilled salmon, tofu or a poached egg.

I accompanied my salad box with one of two delicious soups – Take My Broth Away.  This light vegetable miso broth was subtle and not at all salty, filled with plenty of silky gluten-free buckwheat noodles, baby spinach, mushrooms and small pieces of smoky tofu.  If you’re in the mood for something more substantial, there’s the Love Root soup with carrot, sweet potato, toasted spices, green apple, onion and garlic.

To finish, I couldn’t resist a highly-recommended Gluten-free brownie with dark chocolate and salted caramel swirl.  It was absolutely divine – rich and sticky with a pleasant texture and an intense chocolate flavour.  It was the perfect match for my gorgeous Choco Dream raw cold-pressed drink made with almond milk, raw cacao, honey and sea salt – so decadent yet nourishing.

maple&FITZ is one of my favourite new discoveries and I was amazed at how much it energised my body and lifted my spirits.  I know I’ll be back soon to work my way through the salads and try the matcha energy balls and banana loaf.  Breakfast also sounds yummy with sunny dishes such as Maple porridge, Salted date caramel toast and Avocado chili toast.

To help you keep those New Year’s resolutions, maple& FITZ is offering a January Resetting Package including a choice of soup, salad and cold-pressed juice for £10.  For more information, visit: www.mapleandfitz.com

Chérie City was a guest of maple&FITZ 

Photos by Chérie City (interior by maple&FITZ)

Maple & Fitz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Kanada-Ya Ramen Bar Haymarket, London

Kanada-Ya made a big impact when it launched on St Giles High Street last year and it has remained my preferred London ramen bar since.  It hasn’t always been easy to grab a walk-in seat due to its popularity and petite size, but thankfully, Kanada-Ya has met demand and earlier this month opened a second ramen bar on Panton Street, just off Haymarket.

Kanada Kazuhiro’s new ramen bar is thankfully larger and set across two floors, with two bookable tables for groups of 5-7 as well as the usual walk-in tables and counter.  Designed by Spaced Out Ltd, Kanada-Ya Haymarket has a casual, minimal feel with simple light wood furniture and red accents.  It’s comfortable enough, but is definitely the kind of place for a quick and tasty refuel, rather than lounging over drinks.

The menu has also been modestly expanded to include two more side dishes and Japanese ice cream for dessert.  The focus remains on the ramen, which is quickly served up piping hot in large bowls with a number of extras, so you can customise it to your own taste.

We visited on Monday evening just before Christmas and arrived to find an orderly queue forming outside. It didn’t take long to be seated and we started by ordering iced Oolong tea – a lovely, refreshing drink in a can without any added sugar.  For something stronger, Kanada-Ya serves a good range of bottled cocktails, Japanese craft beer, rare Japanese whiskies and wine selection.

I was excited to try Kanada-Ya’s spin on one of my favourite Japanese bites – Chicken Kara-age.  The tender chicken thigh was well-marinated in ginger, garlic and soy and fried with a little more batter than I’m used to, but still delicious and satisfying.  It was not at all greasy nor in any way spicy but the seasoning certainly packed a punch.  There’s also a side of Paolo’s Spicy Kale to choose from, if you’re after something healthier.

To follow, Steven went for the Original Ramen, which made such an impression on us the first time we visited Kanada-Ya St. Giles.  It was exactly how we remembered, with a rich, creamy 18-hour pork bone broth, plenty of springy, hand-pulled noodles, earthy wood ear fungus, finely-sliced spring onion and a large sheet of flavoursome nori.

Of course, the star of the show was the chashu pork belly with a deep honey barbecue flavour and a silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture.  This house-marinated pork really is rather special and sets Kanada-Ya apart from other from rest.

I wanted to try something new and happily, the Chashu-Men was just as tasty and comforting as I’d hoped.  The ramen base was exactly the same as the original, but the bowl was lined with generous slices of succulent chashu pork collar.  The slices of pork were larger and leaner, with hardly any fat at all, and the portion size was almost double.  The pork collar still had that sweet chashu flavour, but it was much more subtle than the intense pork belly in the Original Ramen.  Both types of pork are absolutely delicious, it just depends on your mood and hunger levels.

It’s essential that you save some room for the dreamy Matcha Soft Serve.  The smooth, not overly sweet whipped ice cream was packed full of matcha green tea, giving it a bold flavour without any bitterness.  It’s the perfect light dessert to cool down after a bowl of hot ramen and leave you with a bit of a matcha high.

There are still so many ramen bars to work my way through in London and beyond, but Kanada-Ya has set a standard that will be hard to beat (although I’m up for the challenge).  If you’re in the mood for a ramen fix, or want to see what all the fuss is about, Kanada-Ya is where you need to be.

For more information, visit: www.kanada-ya.com

Chérie City was a guest of Kanada-Ya Haymarket

Photos by Chérie City and Kanada-Ya Haymarket

Kanada Ya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge

With so many renowned London institutions to strike off the list, it’s likely that a few will slip through the net.  After visiting this weekend, I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t experience the beauty that is Hawksmoor much earlier!

When I first started blogging in 2009, Will Beckett and Huw Gott’s British steakhouse Hawksmoor was on the lips (and keyboards) of London foodies, who raved about its superior steaks and burgers punctuated with small nuggets of bone marrow.  It’s fair to say that this grassroots acclaim has paved the way for Hawksmoor to expand to six locations across London and one in Manchester.  The original restaurant is based in Spitalfields, appropriately named after Nicholas Hawksmoor, the architect of nearby Christ Church.

After a leisurely afternoon of Christmas shopping, we arrived at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge for an early dinner.  Usually Saturday night dining in central London needs to be organised with military precision, but just a few days ahead, I secured our spot easily with Bookatable, dining from the set dinner at 5pm.

Subterranean Hawksmoor Knightsbridge is discreetly tucked away on Yeoman’s Row, just a short walk from Harrods, V&A and Hyde Park.  Designed by Macaulay Sinclair, the restaurant has a retro clubhouse feel with reclaimed walnut panelling, brass lamps, touches of grey marble and stunning amber-hued Art Deco windows.

It’s a slick, polished operation yet the ambiance cultivated is unpretentious with a cool indie soundtrack and friendly staff mostly dressed in plaid shirts and glasses.  There’s also an intimate cocktail bar away from the main dining room where you can graze on burgers, steak sandwiches lobster rolls.

Dining at the pre-theatre time of 5pm may seem early, but since Hawksmoor Knightsbridge is a popular restaurant, it was already buzzing and filled up quickly.  The set lunch or dinner is an excellent way to get a taste of Hawksmoor’s signature dishes at a very reasonable price – two course for £24 or three courses for £27.

I started with a very generous portion of Tamworth belly ribs with vinegar slaw.  The pork was so tender and flaky, with lean meat packed between layers of melt-in-the-mouth fat.  They were nicely charred on the outside and coated in a punchy dry rub with aromatic flavors of cumin, star anise and chipotle chilli.

The paper-thin ribbons of red cabbage doused in a tangy vinegar added freshness and helped offset the unexpected spiciness – my mouth was left tingling after I finished.

Steven tried the Potted smoked mackerel, which was a simple classic done well.  The mackerel had a bold, clean flavour with a layer of clarified butter on top and served with dill cucumbers and crispy toasts.  The other dish on the set menu was Roast beetroot salad with goat’s cheese, which looked colourful, fresh and inviting.

For the main course, I was happy to find two steak options, avoiding any potential squabbles over who would order the meat.  For a £5 supplement I enjoyed the most heavenly, medium-cooked Fillet tail (200g). The presentation was minimal without any leaves, herbs or garnish in sight, but that didn’t really matter, as the steak certainly impressed.

Fillet is my favourite cut of steak and this one was excellent with a pink, succulent centre graduating to smoky, chargrilled edges and with a pure, natural flavour.  I always ask for my steak medium, but with this thick cut, you could easy go down to medium-rare for a little more juiciness.

The set dinner also includes one side and I highly recommend the Baked sweet potato.  The potato flesh is so soft and tender, it simply falls off the buttery skin and is the perfect accompaniment for the steak.  The only thing missing is a choice of sauce, but you can order a side of Béarnaise, peppercorn or Stilton Hollandaise for an additional £3.

Steven’s Rib-eye (250g) was just as tasty and beautifully-cooked with a mature, aged flavour.  The layer of fat and softness of the meat gave it richness – well-suited to those who prefer a more complex taste.  The thick-cut Triple cooked chips were golden, hot and crispy and served with a delicious home-made tomato ketchup that had a sweet hint of cinnamon.  Other options are Hake or Ricotta dumplings with autumn vegetables, but really, it’s all about the meat.

We found the steaks to be just the right size for a filling, satisfying meal, however the steaks on the main menu go up to a whopping 500g!  You’ll need to loosen your purse strings a little more, but then again the quality is undisputed, with steaks from ethically-reared traditional British breeds.

For dessert, I went all out with the indulgent Peanut butter shortbread, which was even better than I expected.  A freshly-baked pastry star was filled with molten dark chocolate sauce and velvety peanut butter, finished with salted caramel ice cream and crushed peanuts.  It was simply heaven on a plate, ending my meal on the sweetest note.

Steven’s Lemon and yoghurt cheesecake was zingy and refreshing, but I found it too creamy.  The whipped cheesecake filling was a bit overwhelming and lacked the tartness that a cheesecake should have, plus the biscuit base was mixed in so there was no crunch.  Go for the Peanut butter shortbread (or perhaps the other option of Passionfruit pavlova) instead.

I can safely say I’ve been initiated into the cult of Hawksmoor and am already planning our next steak jaunt, perhaps to the Spitalfields restaurant closer to home.  The set dinner is excellent value with a great selection of winning dishes and you’re sure to leave feeling happy and well-fed.

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

Chérie City was a guest of Bookatable

Photos by Chérie City and Hawksmoor Knightsbridge 

London, Restaurants

Weekend Lunch at The Richmond, Hackney

A truly memorable pub lunch isn’t always easy to find, but Hackney is hiding a little gem that you need to know about.  Opened just this year, The Richmond is nestled between Dalston, Haggerston and London Fields – slightly off the beaten path, making it a bit of an insider’s address.

Its previous incarnation was an eccentric Egyptian-themed restaurant, but now co-owners, Australian chef and restaurateur Brett Redman and stylist and fashion consultant Margaret Crow, have turned it into a stylish, cosy hotspot.

Not only is The Richmond a welcoming bar and restaurant with an exciting menu, but it’s also east London’s first raw bar.  It offers fresh, light seafood dishes such as tuna tartare, scallop carpaccio and Portuguese prawns, but its speciality is oysters sourced from across the UK.  There’s even a £1 oyster happy hour from Monday to Saturday, so you can easily sample them all.

Far from a typical boozer, The Richmond has a dining room set-up with an open kitchen and a cool bar for cocktails and bites.  Its period features have been lovingly restored alongside contemporary furnishings by interiors designer and antiques dealer Adam Bray (without a hieroglyphic in sight).  Even on the bitterly cold Saturday afternoon that we visited, it still has a warm atmosphere (and thankfully some heavy velvet curtains to keep out the chill).

We started with a refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail of elderflower, lime and soda, however you can go all out with a detox-retox Kale Mary, Quince Bellini or Irish coffee.

When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than a warming soup, so I started with the Crab bisque, samphire and aioli (£7).  The velvety smooth bisque was full-bodied and packed with plenty of juicy crab, punctuated with salty sprigs of samphire.

The creamy, potent aioli on top made it even more luxurious, although I didn’t stir in all of it for fear of overpowering that bold seafood flavour.  Every last drop of bisque was mopped up with slices of springy, crusty sourdough boule from a little bakery in Borough Market – definitely the best I’ve ever tasted in a pub.

Steven went for one of the raw dishes – Smoked salmon with avocado, creme fraiche and pickled onions (£9).  The oaky smoked salmon simply melted in the mouth and was perfectly matched with silky avocado, tangy pink onions and a light emulsion.

I followed with Spit-roast poussin, pumpkin & sage stuffing, marsala gravy (£18). The poussin was ever so succulent and flavoursome, with a crispy, sticky skin.  The pumpkin and sage stuffing was aromatic yet subtle and the rich, meaty marsala gravy brought everything together nicely.

Equally delicious and autumnal was Steven’s Hampshire pork, delica pumpkin, trompettes and port.  The nicely browned pork fillet was complimented by caramelised pumpkin and smooth pumpkin purée, slow-cooked trompettes and slivers of soft shallot with dots of port reduction.  Both main dishes were so delightfully tasty, with portion sizes that satisfied while leaving a little room for dessert.

Desserts stray from the typical pub formula into French territory and our waiter recommended the two hot desserts to keep us toasty warm.  I got my sweet fix with the Apple beignets with caramelised apple and ricotta sorbet (£7).  The warm, golden choux fritters were light as air and filled with a sour apple compote and rolled in powdered sugar.  While beignets are usually paired with a dipping sauce, I liked the sweet and sour apple contrast and the tartness of the ricotta sorbet.

The dessert with the slight edge, however, was the Brown butter financier, cinnamon poached pears and crystallised almonds (£7).  The heavenly financier had a moist, dense texture with an extra treat of whisky sugar syrup poured over the top.  The juicy, fragrant pears were dusted with sweet candied almonds and the dish was finished with a glossy crème anglaise.  The portion sizes may appear on the small side, but these desserts really pack a punch.

The Richmond is a real asset to Hackney’s dining scene, offering exceptional, creative food that is worthy of the high praise it receives.  I’m thrilled to make it my new ‘local’ and can’t wait to see what’s in store at Brett Redman’s new Dalston yakitori restaurant, Jidori.  Hopefully an east London restaurant empire could be on the horizon.

Lunch is served at The Richmond from 1pm-3pm on Saturday and 1pm-4pm on Sunday.  For more information and booking, visit: www.therichmondhackney.com

Chérie City was a guest of The Richmond

Food images by Chérie City and interiors by Ed Reeve

The Richmond Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Events, London

Pierre Marcolini Christmas Pop-Up Store, London

It’s not often that you can get away with eating chocolate for breakfast, but that’s exactly what I did this morning at the launch of the Pierre Marcolini pop-up store on Regent Street.

Pierre Marcolini has been on my luxury chocolate radar for a while – I’ve admired his collaborations with Kitsuné and Olympia Le-Tan – yet this was my first tasting experience.  Haute chocolatier Pierre Marcolini founded his maison in Brussels 20 years ago and the first stand-alone London store opened this summer in Marylebone.

Nestled in the charming Quandrant Arcade, the Regent Street pop-up has the signature contemoporary elegance of a Pierre Marcolini store with a special winter touch.  It showcases seasonal products such as the sculptural, spiky Christmas tree, Father Christmas and Christmas bauble in frosty dark and milk chocolate.  Other winter delights include the stunning Ice Crystals collection, candied chestnuts, gourmet hampers and decadent hot chocolate.

Financiers are some of my favourite cakes, so I was delighted to try the Pierre Marcolini raspberry and chocolate chip flavours, made even more heavenly with a slick of velvety smooth hazelnut spread.  The financiers were some of the best I’ve ever tasted – golden, buttery and slightly crispy on the outside.

I also tried the signature Macaron Pierre Marcolini – grand cru chocolate with a hint of vanilla.  I would place this sumptuous, classic macaron somewhere between whimsical Ladurée and complex Pierre Hermé.

Somehow I found some room to enjoy a Paris-Brest éclair and found it light as air and not overly sweet, with an intense hit of hazelnut praline.  I’ll definitely be lured back soon to try the caramel, crème brûlée, milk chocolate and rice pudding flavours.

For Christmas gifts that are sure to impress, I recommend picking up a limited edition Tom Dixon by Pierre Marcolini ‘London Brick’ macaron selection box or Les Coeurs heart-shaped chocolates.  What could be better to find under the Christmas tree?

The Maison Pierre Marcolini Christmas Pop-Up Store is open until the end of January 2016 at 80 Regent Street, London W1B 5HH.  For more information, visit: www.eu.marcolini.com

All photos by Chérie City

Events, London

Taste of London Winter 2015

Taste of London Winter brought plenty of festive spirit and merriment to east London’s Tobacco Dock over the past few days.

I visited on the opening night and was curious to see how it would compare to the outdoor festival atmosphere of the summer event in Regent’s Park.  In fact, I ended up liking the winter edition even more, as it felt cosier and more sociable (being conveniently located in my part of town also helped).

Our first stop was T2 Tea at its slick, colourful pop-up store – we were lured in with samples of hot, spiced chai.  As I’ve said before, T2 is my happy place and I was pleased to see the friendly staff from my local Redchurch Street store.

Just like the T2 stores, there were a number of freshly-brewed teas on hand to sample – Lamington, Crème Brûlée, White Rose and many more – and the staff shared new recipes and tea combinations for some inspiration.  I took home a box of smoky London Breakfast Tea and will be indulging in a pot or two with cake to stay all warm and fuzzy this week.

One of my favourite parts of Taste of London is meeting food producers and hearing the stories behind their companies.  We took some time to browse the stalls and discovered artisan cheeses at Snowdonia Cheese Co. Ltd, colourful Indian-inspired Sari Cakes, tasty cured meats at Bellota Spanish Foods and a sunny taste of the south of France at Le Saint Tropez Rosé Company.

Meanwhile, esteemed chefs Steve Groves, Anna Haugh and Tom Kerridge were sharing their top tips for the festive season at the Taste Theatre.  Another highlight was a chef demonstration at the roaring Fire Pit, set to the sounds of DJ sets from Club de Fromage and live music from the brilliant Kelvin Jones.  There really was so much going on that it was difficult to squeeze it all in.

Of course, Taste of London wouldn’t be complete without grazing on some tasting dishes from the city’s top restaurants.  This year, it was a tough choice with tempting menus from the likes of maze Grill, Pont St, The Truscott Cellar and Michelin-starred Ametsa with Arzak Instruction.

Tom’s Kitchen Truffled Macaroni Cheese was posh comfort food at its best with perfectly-cooked macaroni, a silky truffle cream sauce and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs.

At Taste of London in the summer, I ran out of time to try any dishes from Kurobuta, so this time we scheduled our slot with military precision.  Hot Crispy Duck Ramen was an absolute dream – right up there with my favourite pork belly ramen at Kanada-Ya.  The rich, meaty broth was so intensely flavoursome and packed with springy noodles, a generous amount of succulent roast duck and topped with spicy crushed peanuts and sliced spring onion.  Based on this yummy dish, Kurobuta has made it to the top of my foodie wish list.

After being plied with slices of hot sourdough pizza and copious amounts of cheese walking around the halls (yes, people want to feed you at Taste of London), we ended our foodie adventure with a HIX Sugar Pit Beef Rib Slider with kimchee slaw.  It was bigger and even more tasty than I expected, with juicy, tender flakes of beef topped with a subtle, fresh kimchee slaw packed in a glazed brioche bun.

Taste of London Winter is such a delight for foodies, with so much to discover and plenty of surprises.  Now the countdown is on for the summer edition!

Chérie City was a guest of Taste of London Winter

All photos by Chérie City

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Tapas Revolution Shoreditch

Tapas is such a joy when it’s done well, especially when grazed on leisurely in the sunny climes of Spain.  London has some fantastic tapas restaurants, but there is certainly a lack of neighbourhood drop-in tapas bars that are such an integral part of Spanish culture.

That’s where Omar Allibhoy comes in, bringing a taste of the Madrid tapas bar scene to London with the excellent Tapas Revolution Shoreditch.  This boutique group of casual, modern tapas bars had humble beginnings in Westfield and Bluewater shopping malls (stay with me here), but the latest outpost is its first standalone tapas bar, occupying a prime spot in between Shoreditch High Street and the top of Brick Lane.

Chef Omar Allibhoy excelled in the world of innovative fine dining at elBulli under Ferran Adrià and at Maze with Jason Atherton before joining Elpirata in Mayfair as executive chef and then opening Tapas Revolution.

I visited on a mid-week evening and immediately liked the warm design and lively yet chilled out atmosphere at Tapas Revolution.  You can park up at the spacious bar or grab a table overlooking the open kitchen and counter.

The friendly, welcoming staff explained the menu to us and made some good recommendations.  We chatted about Spanish gastronomy with our waiter and he told us that everything is made completely from scratch in the kitchen.

The meal got off to a great start as we were presented with the most visually-pleasing Gambas a la plancha (£7.95).  One of my favourite indulgences when in Spain is fresh seafood, so this dish brought back memories of happy days in the sun.  The majestic king prawns had a lovely smoky taste and were doused in a punchy garlic, herb and olive oil sauce.

I can never resist Croquetas de jamón (£5.50) and these ones were very authentic and moreish.  The golden, hand-rolled croquetas were filled with oozing, silky bechamel but only a few tiny flecks of jamón, so that flavour was rather muted.

Patatas bravas (£3.75) are a must-order staple of any tapas meal, in my opinion, and these ones were exemplary.  I’m not a fan of the spicy ketchup breed of patatas bravas, but here, the fried potatoes had a naturally sweet flavour and were drizzled in a bold, piquant tomato sauce and a yummy, intensely garlicky aioli.

Tortilla de patata (£5.25) was served as its own lightly golden cake, rather than a large slice.  It was filled with layers of soft potato and caramelised onion and had a typically runny centre that made it even more of a comfort dish.  It could’ve been seasoned with a little more salt, but the aioli made up for it.

Carne a la parrilla (£6.75) was a tasty dish of succulent, medium-grilled flank of beef with slim slices of crispy potatoes on a bed of juicy roasted red peppers.  The acidic red peppers brought out the rich flavours of the beef and the herby potatoes were a perfect accompaniment.

Albóndigas en salsa (£5.50) was a beautifully-cooked, homely dish with the kind of recipe that you can imagine a Spanish grandma would pass down through generations.  The tender, melt-in-the-mouth beef meatballs were coated in a sweet, slow-roasted tomato sauce studded with soft carrots and peas, topped with fresh chives.  Be sure to order these meatballs for the table and mop up the heavenly sauce with some bread.

Tapas is a crafty kind of cuisine – the concept of small plates can make you feel virtuous but in fact, the dishes tend to be rather rich to make a lasting impression.  Napoleon complex, perhaps?  Of course, I always find a tiny spot of room for dessert and there can be none greater than Torrijas.  This traditional dessert, usually eaten at Easter in Spain, is similar to French Toast.  A thick slice of brioche is soaked in milk and fried, then topped with orange blossom-scented Crema Catalana and a generous dusting of cinnamon.

It’s the most delightful sharing dessert to end the meal, but would also work well as an indulgent afternoon treat.  I’m definitely tempted to try and make it at home, or better still, go on a hunt for the perfect Torrijas in Spain!

Tapas Revolution Shoreditch is a great spot to enjoy authentic Spanish bites over a few glasses of Sangria with friends.  With a nightly happy hour and menu rapido including a drink for just £7.95, there’s no reason not to!

For more information, visit: www.tapasrevolution.com

Chérie City was a guest of Tapas Revolution

Photos by Chérie City and Tapas Revolution

Tapas Revolution Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beauty, London

HPM Scent School with Annick Goutal

Fragrance is one of my favourite indulgences, so what better way to spend an evening that discussing scents with some of the industry’s most esteemed leaders?

Last week, I attended Handpicked Media’s debut Scent School in partnership with The Perfume Society and PR gurus Kenneth Green Associates, held at the shiny Condé Nast College in Soho.  For this very special event, we were treated to an audience with Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen – the brains and noses behind quintessentially Parisian perfume maison, Annick Goutal.

Handpicked Media’s Krista Madden kicked off the evening, as we finished refueling on Zeo and Propercorn (the new smooth almond and peanut butter flavour is so addictive), and introduced Jo Fairley, co-founder of The Perfume Society.

Jo has had a dream career – magazine editor, co-founder of ethical chocolate company Green & Black’s and Judges Bakery, as well as brand consultant and inspirational public speaker.  In person, she is warm, down-to-earth and speaks about perfume in a refreshingly accessible way.

The Perfume Society is an online fragrance appreciation community that hosts workshops and events for members and offers Discovery Boxes and the Jasmine Award-winning e-magazine, The Scented Letter.  Jo led us in a special ‘How to Improve you Sense of Smell’ workshop that is available complimentary to members up and down the country.

Fragrance blotters were handed out and we were encouraged to write down our thoughts and feelings about the scents, rather than trying to detect the notes.  What was most interesting about this fun group activity was the diverse spectrum of emotions and memories incited through the fragrances – it’s true that we all experience aromas differently.  I was particularly drawn to the luxurious Cartier La Panthère, which transported me to nighttime in Paris, partying with Yves Saint Laurent and Pat Cleveland on the Left Bank.

Having trained our noses with the workshop, we were prepped to listen to Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen in conversation with Nicola de Burlet, head of press at Kenneth Green Associates.

Camille shared anecdotes about her late mother Annick Goutal, who was a pianist, top model and antique shop owner before falling in love with fragrance on a trip to Grasse and founding the perfume house on rue de Bellechasse in 1980, at the age of 30.

Annick’s philosophy was to create emotions through fragrance like a puzzle and her perfumes have become timeless classics.  The curvy, elegant bottles adorned with touches of gold are staples of every well-heeled Parsisienne’s boudoir.  Annick’s disinterest in fleeting trends and big marketing campaigns has kept the brand forever relevant and something of a luxury insider’s secret (outside of Paris, as least).

We explored a few signature Annick Goutal scents, beginning with the much-loved Petite Chérie, created as a gift to Camille.  It’s a gourmand fragrance bursting with luscious, juicy pear and reminds me of childhood innocence and happy times.

Next up was Eau du Sud, a chypre inspired by Annick’s birthplace Aix-en-Provence, where she grew up among the intoxicating aromas of her father’s chocolate shop.  We then travelled to Italy with Ninfeo Mio, a sun-kissed yet earthy blend of fresh figs and quince, inspired by Camille and Isabelle’s trip to the Ninfeo Gardens.

We finished with an invigorating Middle East-inspired fragrance – 1001 Ouds from Les Absolus d’Annick Goutal.  Camille has strong opinions when it comes to ouds, explaining only a few of these woody, aromatic fragrances on the luxury market bear resemblance to the natural oud that she is familiar with as a perfumer.

1001 Ouds is a unique, authentic take on the classic oud scent – it’s deeply spicy and has prominent equestrian leather notes that reference Camille’s love of horseriding.  Most interestingly, it resists the temptation of being too sweet, but develops a soft warmness that makes you dream of the mystical Arabian Nights tales and wandering through spice markets.

The inspiring evening ended with a few helpful words from Nicola on the relationship between beauty bloggers and PRs – how to form lasting connections, impress their brands with your writing and manage expectations on both sides.

A thought echoed by all of the experts was that it’s easy to overthink writing about fragrance.  Any old website can list the fragrance notes and state whether it’s in the illusive chypre or fougère family, but articulating your unique emotional connection to the scent is golden.  As Camille explained, ‘no one buys a fragrance based on the notes, it’s all about how it makes them feel’.

In our goody bag, we were generously given a year’s subscription to The Perfume Society, as well as their latest Discovery Box packed full of new and classic fragrances, instructive postcards, blotters and a stylish notebook for recording our fragrant thoughts.

Also included was a stunning Annick Goutal gold purse fragrance – mine is the divine L’Ile au Thé.  It’s a clean, fresh, calming scent that immediately made me think of springtime and my travels in China and Hong Kong.  In fact, the citrus fragrance was created following Camille and Isabelle’s trip to the Korean paradise island of Jeju.

The fragrance paints an idyllic fragrant landscape of mandarin tree orchards, tea plantations and beautiful osmanthus in bloom – a real treat for lovers of Asian tea ceremonies and delicate, almost celestial scents.  I can’t wait to take this fragrant to Paris next week and will definitely be paying at visit to the Annick Goutal boutique.

For more information, visit: www.perfumesociety.org and www.annickgoutal.com

Photos by Annick Goutal, The Perfume Society & Chérie City

London, Restaurants

Dinner at Bombay Brasserie, Kensington

Curried Thoughts by Isabel Dexter

 After fish and chips, and possibly roast dinners, Indian food is the most British food you can think of. Although I feel that’s not complimentary enough to India. My favourite restaurant in Weston Super Mare is an Indian. And when I go back to see my parents in Derby I always petition to go to the BYOB Indian where my mum, sister, our astrologer friend Gill and I always went for girls’ nights. Apparently the Pisces-with-Leo-ascendent means worldwide cuisine is top of my list. That and an identity crisis apparently. Personally I never liked fish anyway.

Bombay Brasserie in Kensington is just that little bit fancier. And by a little bit I mean a whole lotta fancier. Blending the diverse cooking styles of Goa, Bengal and Gujerat with imperial Mughal, Raj and Portuguese influences the actual Bombay (now called Mumbai), is considered India’s financial and entertainment capital.

Meanwhile, Bombay Brasserie the restaurant has been an iconic eating destination since 1982 and it has all the swank and plushness of a five star dining experience. We went on a Friday night and it was pleasantly busy but not overwhelmingly so. The clientele was happily varied, with everything from families with well-behaved yet excitable children to business entertaining, groups of well-heeled friends and dates. This would be a great date restaurant actually, it’s impressive looking and the menu is varied and appealing. It probably has a Good Sense of Humour too.

I arrive to find The Blond Mr Bond-ing it up in the luxe bar area. Low lighting, a roaring fire and brightly lit bar with a frankly mesmerising spirit wall were a good distraction from my tardiness. There was a good cocktail selection too and it would be a perfect place for after-work drinks or pre-date cocktails. The Blond was impressed by the beer choices, which is no mean feat. This Man Knows Good Beer. All those cocktail bars and craft beer establishments in Shoreditch could take note. A bar that wants to give Members Club vibes needs to be like decent cashmere. Expensive-looking but also laid back. There’s no need to try hard and Bombay Brasserie’s bar looks like the lovechild of a Rolling Stone and an Upper East Side supermodel. The sort of place that you go for one drink and end up cuddled up in front of the fireplace four martinis later. Four? Who am I kidding? One martini. No shame in being a cheap date.

The Blond salivates at the mere mention of ‘curry’ so despite the cosy ambiance we pretended to saunter (read jog) into the restaurant area – separated by huge wooden doors and much more brightly lit. We agreed that it was a little too bright, although nice to be able to see the food, which was incredibly visually pleasing.

For starters I had Malai baby corn and  broccoli, which was a simple griddled baby corn and stem broccoli topped with a cheese sauce. Nice and al dente but would have worked better as a side dish. There was a certain awkwardness in ploughing through them as a starter but that could be because I’m a die-hard carnivore and generally think vegetables are like the colour-coordinated window displays at Selfridges. Fun to look at and they certainly brighten things up but I don’t actually want to consume them.

The Blond had the Khada Masala scallops, which were (and I quote) ‘delicate’ and ‘clearly expertly done’.

For mains I happily devoured the Tandoori Raan, a braised lamb shank with cinnamon, black cumin and vinegar. The lamb was perfectly cooked and gorgeously succulent. The sauce was delicious and super smooth. The Blond went for the Goa Halibut curry with coconut, red chillies and tamarind, which was rich and complex in flavour although he said he’d have preferred it a little more ‘roughed-up’ in texture. Daniel Craig rather than Sean Connery I presume. The heat level was excellent and the fish was perfectly meaty and thick in texture but still very fresh-tasting.

To finish, we shared (and I mean that euphemistically. He ordered it. I ate it. Gender stereotypes are alive and well in South Kensington) the Trio of desserts. Cue a very indulgent raspberry chocolate, chocolate samosa and chocolate brownie all stabbed with a crackle of orange. I couldn’t fault it. The service was excellent too and the general mood was fun rather than formal, despite the starched white table cloths and five star cutlery. Sometimes the world is enough.

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

Isabel Dexter was a guest of Bombay Brasserie

Photos by Isabel Dexter and Bombay Brasserie

Bombay Brasserie - Millennium Gloucester Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars, London

Cocktail Chapter at The Royal Horseguards Hotel

Horsing Around by Isabel Dexter

I have a confession to make. Despite sipping my first cocktail on a cruise ship with my grandparents at the tender age of 12 (it was a Grasshopper by the way and I chose it because I thought the green would make a nice contrast to my purple silk Topshop dress) I only really got into cocktails in the last year.

A combination of reasons conspired to make this the case; the fact that I have the alcohol tolerance of a small woodland creature, low funds and the misguided belief that if a drink didn’t come in a pint glass it wasn’t really a drink. Oh youthful naivety. Suffice to say, I am now eating (or rather drinking) my words.

So when the five-star hotel The Royal Horseguards invited me to review its new seasonal ‘cocktail chapter’ menu I obediently trotted along in heels and a trench coat. I’ve always felt that something about a hotel bar demands heels and a trench coat. Don Draper meets Audrey Hepburn, you get the vibe. I brought The Brunette because she has proper taste buds that recognise things like elderflower infused vodka and grounded sage leaf spices rather than Tracker bars and Pernod. She also appreciates elegance and has finally forgiven me for making us habitually meet in a pub with sticky carpets in New Cross that I love.

Greeted by an abundance of candles in the majestic lobby of the hotel we were led to the dark and seductive Equus Bar with the quintessential baby grand piano and lowly lit shelves of liquor.

There’s something about hotel bars that huskily whispers illicit sex and this was no different, although I’m sure the international business men and women talking deals and (in one case) the merits of various brands of carry-on luggage had no such thing in mind. Indeed the hotel has always had an air of mystery as the former headquarters for the British Secret Service and filming location for Bond films Octopussy and Skyfall.

Anyway, there was plenty to keep us amused with the cocktails, priced at a very reasonable £7.95 for such a luxe London location. The Aperol Sorbet Spritz was possibly my dream date in cocktail form. An Aperol and prosecco mix with a delicious orange Cointreau sorbet in the middle of the glass, it was half-dessert, half-kiss.

The Brunette’s fave was the Inverness, an intriguing combo of lime, kraken and plantation rum with fresh coconut water, ginger beer and orange bitters. I thought it was strong, she said it was actually mild but perfect. The ginger and coconut pairing gave it an LA twist. Probably best enjoyed by a pool with a David Hockney aesthetic but also, it has to be said, damn good in this moody, chic bar.

While The Brunette got her kicks from the elderflower infused vodka (told you) mixed with tequila, soda water and freshly muddled blackberries in the Berry Crush, I indulged my inner 10 year old (the one who didn’t care about Topshop dresses or Grasshoppers) with the adult equivalent of eating the jam straight from the jar.

The Royal Horseguards Hotel’s Gin & Jam is probably the most English cocktail you’ll ever taste. Served in a large jam jar-style glass with a stripy straw, it’s a fizzy, strawberry sensation. It’s also very sweet, which is fine if like me you never outgrew the thrill of strawberry sherbet but if you like your drinks on the bitter side then try the Berry Crush instead.

Now at this point in alcohol consumption I would probably have outdone the Dalai Lama with my love for the entire of humanity but I maintain that the staff at this hotel are some of the nicest in London. And that makes all the difference when you’re craving a few hours of cocktail indulgence in a city where sometimes ordering a drink seems like an exercise in survival-of-the-fittest guerilla tactics. For an after-work hideaway or a pre-dinner drink, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Also, look out for the new Seven Deadly Sins cocktail collection available at Equus for the month of October.

Photos by Jessica Butler and The Royal Horseguards Hotel

London, Restaurants

Supreme Saturdays at Yauatcha City

Yauatcha City is the hottest restaurant to open in the City this summer and is without a doubt the jewel in the crown of new Broadgate Circle dining destination.

Living east, I’m thrilled to have the likes of Yauatcha City, José Pizzaro, Aubaine and Shoryu Ramen almost on my doorstep, without having to venture into central London.

While it’s likely to be suitsville during the week, Yauatcha City is all about leisurely indulgence on the weekend, hence the launch of its exquisite new Supreme Saturdays menu.

It’s a real feast – and a boozy one at that – highlighting Yauatcha’s most luxurious dishes.  Not only is it insanely good value (not exactly cheap, but what I would call a ‘clever splurge’), it’s an ideal introduction to Yauatcha with a number of different tastings.

We were seated at a cosy table in the centre section of Yauatcha City’s striking crescent-shaped dining room and warmly welcomed by the immaculately-presented staff.

The meal starts with a pre-lunch cocktail of a Thea martini, Lychee martini or a Negroni, followed by half a bottle of wine.  I wasn’t quite ready to drink on an empty stomach at noon (I know, letting the side down), so instead we sipped on delicious Strawberry and vanilla iced jasmine tea packed with fresh fruit and vanilla seeds.

Our waitress humorously warned us that we were in for a lot of food and she wasn’t wrong, as the Steamed dim sum platter was presented with six piece each.  We were literally in dim sum heaven!

The traditional Pork and prawn shui mai and Har gau were my favourites, however I also appreciated the comforting, autumnal flavours of the Crystal dumpling wrap with pumpkin and pine nut.

Black pepper and wagyu beef dumpling was a parcel of pure decadence, balanced out with a simple and tasty Wild mushroom dumpling.  I wasn’t crazy about the Vegetable and truffle wrap as I found the winter melon casing and glossy sauce made it a little too juicy.

Of course there was still room for more light bites – this time a Fried dim sum platter each.  Venison puff, a Yauatcha speciality, featured buttery, glazed pastry filled with tender venison in a sweet, rich gravy.  I found the Lobster roll pleasant with small chunks of fresh lobster and scallop in an interesting sauce that was both creamy and tangy, while Mushroom spring roll was a vegetarian-friendly classic done well.

I particularly enjoyed the Sesame prawn toast, which was a big juicy prawn ball covered in sesame seeds with just a slim piece of toast – I’ll definitely be ordering a plateful of them next time.

For the main course, there is a choice of three dishes – so, the only one that we didn’t try was the Foie gras diced beef, which appears to be garnished with an oversized pastry puff.

Lobster vermicelli pot was a luxury take on the typical Chinese hot pot, cooked slowly and served fresh out of the oven.  There were copious amounts of succulent, high quality lobster that had to be extracted from their shells.  I knew the day would finally come when I’d be presented with a lobster cracker and attempt to hide my inexperience, hoping to avoid a re-enactment of the restaurant scene in Pretty Woman.

Once I had my lobster under control, I tucked into the thin, glass-like vermicelli noodle, which had a dry, springy texture and absorbed the seafood flavours, punctuated with a slight hint of curry spice.

A much easier dish to navigate was the Truffle pork belly rib.  The gloriously sticky, lacquered pork ribs were ever so tender and the meat elegantly slipped away from the bone.  There was a good mix of flaky lean meat and melt-in-the-mouth fat and the glaze was sweet enough without being cloying.

They were topped with uniformly lined-up enoki mushrooms and truffle crumbs and I regret being too distracted by the pork to sample those lovely little asparagus spears.

The accompaniments of Jasmine steamed rice and steamed Chinese vegetables worked well with both dishes, although we were too full by this point to finish them.

Yauatcha is famed for its exquisite French-Asian patisserie and it’s impossible to walk past without admiring them sitting majestically in the glass cabinet.  The best thing about this menu is that you can choose any of the desserts (no fooling around with exotic fruit plates) and take a much-needed stroll over to the counter to see which catches your eye.

Is it wrong that I tried to choose the most Instagrammable cake?  They all look like works of art, but the Raspberry delice tempted me with the promise of raspberry, Madirofolo chocolate and lychee – all of my favourite dessert flavours.

I was later told that this dessert won an award for ‘best tea cake’, so it was definitely a good choice. Velvety bitter-sweet chocolate mousse sat atop a layer of light chocolate sponge and was covered with a fine layer of highly-pigmented raspberry dust.  The final flourish was the secret filling of rose-scented lychee gelée at the centre – desserts don’t come much better than this.

Steven went for another showstopper – the elaborately-designed Malted milk.  This included layers of smooth milk chocolate mousse flavoured with malt and caramelised honey, slim chocolate discs and a crunchy, nutty Anzac biscuit base.

With full stomachs, we savoured these sweet gems with a pot of jasmine tea, however if you’re not already on the floor, you can wash them down with the included digestif – a Manhattan, Amaretto Sour or an Espresso martini.

Yauatcha City was everything I hoped it would be and this fabulous Saturday offering is sure to draw in the crowds.  It was such an overwhelming foodie experience that we walked all the way home in the sunshine – a weekend well spent!

Supreme Saturdays lunch menu is available every Saturday from 12pm to 5pm and is priced at £49 per person for a minimum of two guests.  For more information and booking, visit: www.yauatcha.com

Chérie City was a guest of Yauatcha City

Photos by Chérie City (interiors by Yauatcha City)

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

Cafes, London

Melt Room Soho, London

When the week starts with weather as dismal as this, the most appealing mood elevator is gooey, melted cheese – and a lot of it!

Luckily, this craving can be indulged quickly and efficiently at Melt Room in Soho.  The petite grilled cheese sandwich shop brings the New York deli classic to London and believe me, it’s more than just a posh toasty.

Melt Room has a seriously tempting menu of gourmet toasted sandwiches including Pastrami with porcini mushrooms, horseradish & sparkenhoe red Leicester and BBQ Chicken with red cabbage slaw and coastal cheddar.  Or, you can also keep it simple with the classic sandwich – a special cheese blend on sour dough bread, which I imagine would go well with the home-made vine tomato soup.

On my visit, I couldn’t resist the Pulled Pork Shoulder with Pommery mustard, real ale and apple chutney & sharp cheddar (£5).  The sandwich was filled with a good amount of juicy, slow-cooked pork, which was perfectly complemented by the rich, oozing cheddar and the sweet, tangy chutney.

Another favourite was the Slow & Low Lamb Shoulder with Romaine lettuce, Pommery mustard & melted Swiss (£5).  The lamb was ever so tender and Swiss cheese was a well-considered choice, so the flavours weren’t too overwhelming.

Of course it’s all about the melts, but there’s also a tempting daily special of mac and cheese as well as soups, salads and healthy breakfast dishes.

It’s an absolute must to finish with a sweet Nutella & Mascarpone Melt (£3.50).  This combination of velvety chocolate, nuts and cream sandwiched between thin slices of milk bread is just heavenly.  It would also work well as a decadent breakfast or an afternoon treat, although I do believe Nutella is a good idea at any mealtime.

Melt Room is a fun addition to Soho and it definitely hits the spot for a yummy cheese fix at any time of the day (it’s open until 9pm most nights).  It has a quick ‘in and out’ feel, but with decent prices (nothing is over a fiver) and good quality ingredients, I can see it becoming a local hit.

For more information and the menu, visit: www.meltroom.com

Chérie City was a guest of Melt Room

Photos by Chérie City

Melt Room Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato