Category Archives: Food

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of MaidaSunday Roast at The Hero of Maida

Two questions I get asked with increasing regularity are: ‘where should I go for Afternoon Tea in London?’ and ‘which is your favourite place for a Sunday roast dinner?’

Afternoon Tea and a proper English Sunday roast are two quintessentially British meals that are delicious, steeped in tradition and certainly shouldn’t be missed by anyone visiting the UK. To my mind, a highlight of the weekend is always a roast dinner, but I’ve mainly lived in apartments with tiny kitchens, so it’s not a meal I often cook myself. Over the years, then, I’ve enjoyed tracking down some of the very best Sunday roasts in London. Many of my favourite pubs in Hampstead do an excellent roast, but a few weeks ago, when my Dad was visiting, we went to a pub in Maida Vale that soared straight to the top of my list.

The Hero of Maida is a beautifully restored Victorian pub that opened earlier in the spring, and its menu is overseen by the chef Henry Harris (formerly of Racine). The pub is a short walk from Warwick Avenue tube station, located on a quiet street in the heart of Little Venice. A walk along the canal would be a great way to work off those Yorkshire puddings after your meal!

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Downstairs is the bustling bar – a stylish space with exposed brick accents, wooden floors and a gallery wall. We arrived on a hot day, so the large doors were thrown open to let in a refreshing breeze. As I’d booked a table in advance, we were seated in the dining room upstairs, which was quieter and air conditioned (much appreciated, as it was one of the warmest days of the year!).

We quenched our thirst with glasses of Pimms (Mum and me) and a beer (Dad) as we looked at the menu.

My Dad (who’s Canadian) makes a point of enjoying English sausages and beer whenever he’s in the UK, as he says they’re the very best! A Sunday roast is generally on his list too, so it was no surprise that all three of us ordered the Roast Beef.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Oh my! Aside from my Mum’s cooking, this was definitely the best roast dinner I’ve ever had! Our beef was beautifully pink and succulent, and I loved that the sides arrived served in sharing platters, so we could all help ourselves, which made it feel more like a family meal at home. The gravy and horseradish sauce provisions were extremely plentiful, with extra jugs of gravy provided, and we all got a second serving of Yorkshire puddings (beautifully light, not in the least dry). We all enjoyed the selection of sides, which were very traditional: roast potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli cheese, cabbage and roasted root vegetables.

My Dad ordered a spectacular red wine, which paired perfectly with the meal, it’s full-bodied smoothness standing up robustly to the richness of our beef.  We raised a glass to our lovely long weekend together and my Mum’s return to good health.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Despite feeling rather on the stuffed side, none of us could resist a glance at the dessert menu. I gave way to temptation when ‘lemon posset and blueberry trifle’ caught my eye, Mum plumped for an Eton Mess (it’s hard to resist English strawberries this time of year!), and Dad chose two cheeses as a savoury end to his meal. Dessert was just as delectable as our mains, and we lingered over our plates as we finished the last of our wine and chatted.

Honestly, that’s a Sunday roast that’ll be hard to beat!

Tea & Tattle Podcast: Skye McAlpine Discusses ‘A Table in Venice’

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the food writer Skye McAlpine, who recently published her first cookbook, A Table in Venice. Although originally from Britain, Skye’s parents moved to Venice when she was a young girl, and she now splits her time between London and Venice.

For years, Skye wrote about her love for Venetian home cooking and simple, fresh ingredients on her blog and instagram account, building a large audience of  followers who appreciate her delicious recipes and exquisite photography. 

‘A Table in Venice’ by Skye McAlpine

I’ve been a fan of Skye’s blog for many years, and I was so excited to get my copy of her cookbook. It doesn’t disappoint! A Table in Venice is a thing of beauty, with marbled end papers, pale pink pages and full-page photographs featuring the very best food and scenery Venice has to offer.

Skye McAlpine

In our chat together, Skye tells me why she thinks Venetian cuisine is Italy’s best kept secret, how to avoid the common tourist traps of Venice, her favourite morning ritual and so much more.

This is the perfect episode to get you in the mood for long summer evenings spent lingering over dinner tables in the garden, and it’ll definitely make you want to hop on a plane to sample some of those special brioche buns yourself!

Listen to learn more about Skye’s cookbook, A Table in Venice.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses ‘What She Ate’

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses 'What She Ate'

One of the non-fiction books I’ve most enjoyed lately is What She Ate by Laura Shapiro. As a journalist and culinary historian, Shapiro has long been fascinated by what a person’s appetite says about who they are.

What She Ate explores the food stories of six very different women: Dorothy Wordsworth, devoted sister to her famous brother, William; Rosa Lewis, who cooked for the most distinguished of Edwardian society; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Hitler’s consort, Eva Braun; the British author Barbara Pym and Cosmopolitan editor (and chronic dieter) Helen Gurley Brown. These women were important influencers within the realms of literature, society or politics, but little else connects them, apart from a shared seat at a table. What She Ate highlights the complex relationship women have long held towards their meals, and shows that a person’s food story is rarely straightforward.

As someone with an eager interest in the domestic minutiae of people’s lives, I found What She Ate a compelling read and was delighted when Laura Shapiro agreed to answer some questions about her book.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses What She AteLaura Shapiro, photographed by Ellen Warner

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your own food story?

LS: My mother was a wonderful cook — she taught herself to cook after she got married, and became so good at it that eventually she started catering. My own cooking is much more haphazard, but what I did inherit was a fascination with food in all forms and at all times.

My favorite food memory from childhood is waking up early, the morning after my mother had catered a party, and going downstairs to find the refrigerator full of leftovers. She loved making hors d’oeuvres, so there were always lots of those packed up and put away — “party rye” with onion, mayonnaise and parmesan, little cream puffs filled with crabmeat, sauteed mushrooms on squares of toast — all cold, of course, and all so delicious. That is still my idea of a perfect breakfast, ideally eaten standing at the open door of the refrigerator in pajamas, picking out just what I wanted from each tidy package.

MN: In your book, you say ‘food talks’ and what a person does or doesn’t eat can say so much about them. In general, though, a person’s culinary history is largely ignored by biographers, even though all other aspects of famous people’s lives are examined under a microscope. Why do you think what people are cooking and eating so often gets left out of their personal histories?

LS: Traditionally, of course, food would not have been considered a dignified subject to include in the biography of a great man — and great men were the ones people wrote biographies about. Food had to do with the body, it came from women’s world or the world of servants, and it couldn’t possibly have any significance beyond nourishment.

And the second reason, which today would now be the first reason, is that there’s so little information out there. Until Instagram and food blogs came along, most people writing about their lives — writing diaries, letters and memoirs, that is — rarely mentioned what they were eating. So even if a historian or biographer is dying to know what someone ate, it’s going to be very hard to find out.

MN: It was reading about Dorothy Wordsworth eating black pudding that first sparked your idea for ‘What She Ate.’ Would you explain why that particular meal interested you so much, and how you came to write your book?

LS: When I stumbled across the mention of black pudding in a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew a little about her, and nothing in that picture even hinted that she would eat such a thing. Her social class, her own cooking as she described it in the Grasmere Journal, her history of colitis — black pudding for dinner would have been an affront to all of that. It was basically a sausage of blood and oatmeal, and although it had a longtime place on upper class breakfast tables, even that was starting to fade by the time this mention came along.

So I started to wonder, and I realized that if I could get a grip on this mystery, maybe I would learn something about Dorothy Wordsworth that I hadn’t known before. Maybe food would give me access to someone’s life in a new way.

MN: I loved a passage in your book when you wrote ‘our food stories…go straight to what’s neediest.’ You chose to examine women who in general had a complicated, and in some cases very insecure, relationship with food. How did you settle on which women to write about? Were you especially drawn towards food stories about women who saw food as troubling, more than delicious?

LS: So much of the food writing that’s appeared in the last ten or twenty years — popular writing, I mean, as opposed to scholarly — is about the same thing: Food is love. Food is emotional support. Food brings us together. Of course all those things are true — I’ve written them myself, many times — but I really wanted to get to something else in this book. I think all kinds of things happen at the dinner table, and plenty of them are not about food-brings-us-together. So I chose women with complicated, hard-to-decode relationships with food, women whose food stories lurked below the surface.

MN: Do you think men and women eat in a very different way? Would men’s food stories be largely different from women’s?

LS: I’m absolutely positive men’s stories would be different — but I have no evidence for it at all. I do think women have an immediate and instinctive relationship with food that comes from a billion years of physical nurturing of babies, so that’s one big difference between women and men, but I would never give myself the imaginative freedom to explore men’s food lives the way I’ve always explored women’s. For me, it would be like writing in a foreign language. There certainly are writers who can imagine other sexes — in fiction and in non-fiction — but for me it’s difficult.

MN: During the majority of the history you wrote about in ‘What She Ate’, a woman’s place was very much considered to be within the domestic sphere, and yet many of the women you wrote about wielded food as a weapon to gain power in worlds beyond their kitchen. I thought it was especially fascinating to read about Rosa Lewis’s incredible career. Would you tell me a little more about how food completely changed her life?

LS: Rosa Lewis was an amazing example of a woman who made food her career for a very specific reason that I don’t think had anything to do with food. She wanted to climb from working class to upper class, and she could see that in Victorian/Edwardian London, cooking would help her up the ladder.

What complicates the picture is that she didn’t really want to change who she was. What she wanted was to be accepted at the top of the ladder as exactly who she was — a former scullery maid named Rosa Lewis who could cook as well as Escoffier. And she succeeded, but only as long as she kept cooking. When she hung up her apron, after World War I, she lost her place on the ladder.

MN: Your book shows that there is a great deal of emotion – both positive and negative – attached to food, and yet Eleanor Roosevelt seemed most comfortable with food during her time at the White House when she could strip meal time from any emotive resonance and think of food as simply fuel for living. Why did she serve such dreadful food at the White House, and why did she seem to enjoy eating so much more later in life?

LS: Eleanor’s story is very much about her marriage to FDR. After his affair with Lucy Mercer, she was devastated, and from then on their marriage was basically a political partnership. She shared his ideals, but what she couldn’t bear was his luxury-loving side, the cocktails and fine meals and enjoyment of life that he had known while growing up and still relished when the workday was over. That was the side of FDR that gave rise to his flirtatious attentions to other women and of course the affair with Lucy Mercer. She didn’t want to feed that side of him — literally, I believe. So she made no effort to change the terrible food served by the mean-spirited housekeeper she had hired. But when she was out of the White House — travelling, or with her own friends, or pursuing her second career after FDR’s death — she was free to eat with pleasure.

MN: Two women in your book seemed to derive the most pleasure from food by simply not eating it at all. Would you tell me more about how a lack of food shaped the stories of Eva Braun and Helen Gurley Brown?

LS: These were, of course, the two dieters in the book. I hasten to add that they had nothing else in common, but they did share a fixation on staying slim. They felt very competitive with other women, and they desperately wanted to appeal to what neither of them knew yet to call the male gaze.

Helen Gurley Brown’s single-minded focus on eating as little as possible throughout life did quite a bit of damage to her readers, since she was promoting an ideal of the female body that was unnatural and essentially unattainable. Eva Braun’s effect on her moment in history was subtler but more terrible. Sitting at the table with Hitler and his entourage, she was so sweetly and stereotypically feminine that her presence created, in effect, a guilt-free zone for Hitler and his entourage.

MN: In terms of my own attitude towards food, I most identified with Barbara Pym. I liked the unpretentious, but still appreciative, approach she took towards food, both in her books and in real life. Would you tell me more about how the food she wrote about reflected the world around her?

LS: Barbara Pym had a wonderfully healthy relationship with food — she just loved it, and it caused her no problems whatever as far as I can see. When it was delicious, she enjoyed eating it, and when it was awful, she enjoyed thinking about it. When she started on her life as a novelist after World War II, a whole spectrum of food was spread out in front of her — tinned soups and flabby blancmange, and perfectly roasted duck with peas from the garden.

All of it went into the books, which is why it’s possible to read her novels as a revisionist history of British cooking after the war. Pym was no fantasy-writer: her novels emerged from the world around her, and if she saw plenty of good food along with the stereotypically awful food of that time, I think we can believe her.

MN: Finally, Laura, what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on that you’re able to share at the moment?

LS: I wish I knew! I’m in that nerve-wracking state of testing new ideas, discarding and revising and fiddling and re-discarding and re-revising.

MN: If people would like to keep up with your news, where can they find you online?

LS: My website is laurashapirowriter.com.

~

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro is available on Amazon and all good booksellers.

Find me on instagram: @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

P.S. You may also be interested in my interview with Annie Gray on Queen Victoria’s life in food on Tea & Tattle Podcast. 

The Best of London Set Menus | Sardine, Hoxton

Sardine Hoxton | London RestaurantsPart of a series in which I bring you the best set menus on offer in London.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an event at Daunt Books, with Signe Johansen in conversation with Diana Henry about the latter’s just-released cookbook, How to Eat a Peach. Diana’s new book is based on her love for menus; not fancy, slaving for hours in the kitchen affairs, but simple dishes thoughtfully put together to create unforgettable gatherings around a table. It’s just the sort of cookbook I most enjoy: chatty, imbued with a strong love for culture, travel and literature (all of which influence Diana’s menus), and with recipes that inspire, rather than intimidate.

I also share a passion for a truly great menu, and not only for those served by the home cook, but also when dining out. I mean in particular the set menu. Set menus have so often enabled me to try the very best of local cuisine when traveling, and – always friendly to a limited budget – have been my ticket into many of London’s pricier foodie destinations. I love the element of surprise in a set menu, which are changed daily in the best places. The lack of a great deal of choice never bothers me: I like the fact that a limited range generally pushes me to try something new.

Before attending the How to Eat a Peach Event, I’d enjoyed just such a brilliant set menu at Sardine in Hoxton (there was a wonderful moment of serendipity during Diana’s talk when she mentioned Sardine as one of her favourite restaurants in London!). It was a particularly wet day, and, as the strong gusts of wind tried to tug the umbrella from my hand while I walked the 15 minute stretch from Old Street Underground Station, the thought of Sardine’s southern French dishes spurred me to hurry even more.

Sardine didn’t appear particularly prepossessing from the outside. Ironically, it looks directly onto a large McDonald’s, and road works have currently dug up the street in front of the restaurant, so it’s caged in by cones and trucks. As I neared the door, though, a delicious smell filled the sidewalk, which promised plenty of gastronomical delights in store. I met my friend, and we walked in and were shown to our table. 

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Being in a celebratory mood, we ordered two Lillet Spritzers and chinked our glasses, before turning our attention to the menu. Sardine’s set menu is available Monday-Friday 12-3pm and 6pm-7pm. It’s terrific value with two courses £16 and three £20, and I was told by the attentive waitress that they update it regularly, depending on the season and what looks particularly good in the markets. The food is unpretentious, relying on the best quality ingredients to make each dish shine, and is inspired by the South of France.

Our starters arrived quickly: radicchio, radishes, creme fraiche and herbs for me, and purple sprouting broccoli with anchoïade (a classic Provençal dip, made with anchovies, good olive oil, white wine vinegar and garlic) for my friend.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Every bite of my dish was a tribute to the fresh vitality of spring. The bitterness of the radicchio balanced well against the peppery sweetness of the raw radishes, and the perfectly seasoned creme fraiche provided just the right touch of richness. I didn’t taste the broccoli, but was assured it was exceptionally tasty.

Uncharacteristically, I’d gone for the vegetarian option when choosing my main course: artichoke, spinach, white beans and aioli. It wasn’t a choice I regretted, though! I was amazed by the robustness of flavour from such a simple dish, and it was a real treat to have artichoke. I had a nibble of my friend’s choice too – simply described as ‘braised lamb and lentils’ on the menu, but we both agreed it was one of the tastiest lamb dishes we’ve ever been served.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Although the dessert choice for the set menu was tempting (poached pears and nougat parfait), I couldn’t resist suggesting we go off piste when I saw tarte tatin on the à la carte. I always find tarte tatin is a good test of a restaurant, and to my mind it’s one of those desserts that’s classic for a reason: when done well, it’s perfection.

I took advantage of the fifteen minute wait to prepare our tarte to observe my surroundings a little more closely. I liked Sardine’s communal, comfortable feel, with its open plan kitchen, showing off stacks of glazed clay bowls and gleaming pots and pans. There’s a long communal table that stretches the length of the dining area, with other tables clustered around the walls. The sandy tones of the decor, offset by grey and mixed with pops of orange and blue and darker browns, reminded me of the café au lait coloured buildings and brightly painted shutters that I’d seen in the towns I’d explored on my last visit to Provence.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Our tarte tatin arrived on the table, ice-cream and caramel oozing into the cracks of the pastry and pooling on to the plate as we cut into it, slicing it up and helping ourselves to quarters. Is there anything that beats an exceptional tarte tatin shared with a friend on a cold, wet day? To my mind, it’s hard to better the combination of caramelised apple, hot pastry and vanilla ice-cream.

Sardine Hoxton | London Restaurants

Finishing our meal with chamomile tea and coffee, we chatted into the late afternoon, and then made our way back to the tube, where even severe delays on the Metropolitan line couldn’t upset my contented spirit.

Wellbeing | The Seven Wonders of Olive Oil

the seven wonders of olive oil

Rather than embarking on the typical ‘new year, new me’ routine of crash-dieting, I’m more interested in how small changes to daily habits can improve overall wellbeing. One of my health related ambitions is to consume more healthy fats, so I was intrigued when olive oil specialists, Alice Alech and Cécile le Galliard, sent me their book, The Seven Wonders of Olive Oil.

I’ve always loved olive oil – fresh bread and a little bowl of olive oil is surely one of life’s true pleasures, and one of my favourite ways to serve vegetables is roasted with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. In recent years, though, my favourite oil has been getting some rather bad press, and different oils, such as coconut, are often put forward as being the healthier option.

In their book, Alice and Cécile break down the research to showcase the oil’s numerous beneficial qualities, from reducing the risk of life-threatening illnesses to being an excellent make-up remover,  and many more surprising facts. I asked both authors to answer a few questions about their favourite subject, for anyone else who’s keen to incorporate more healthy fats in their diet and use more olive oil.

***

MN: To start off, would you tell me how you both became friends and decided to write The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil together?

Alice: We were ‘internet colleagues’ for a long time before we finally met. Cécile is a qualified olive oil expert and so is very knowledgeable on the practical aspects of olive oil. I often turned to her for additional information when I wrote for the American Review Olive Oil Times. When I suggested that we write a book, Cécile did not hesitate: her enthusiasm was instantaneous, so we proceeded. What’s great about working with Cécile is her energy and passion- we work and collaborate well. Her French/ Spanish background and my English/ French one were very useful for our research.

MN: How did your passion for olive oil begin, and what made you want to study the health benefits of the oil more deeply?

Alice: My interest started when I interviewed olive oil enthusiasts my for Olive Oil Stories; here were producers, growers, men and women who were passionate about their work and what they produced. I knew very little about this precious oil but soon became intrigued. As a health care worker (I am a radiographer specializing in breast work) it seemed important to go further. Interviewing the different specialists for this book was an amazing experience.

Cécile: I lived in Madrid, Spain for over six years and I fell in love with Spanish gastronomy and of course extra virgin olive oil. I’m from Brittany in France, where butter is predominately used for cooking, so it was a new experience for me to cook with olive oil. I was surprised at how tasty the dishes cooked with EVOO were. When I realized that it was also incredibly good for our health, I wanted to study these benefits more and more and to promote olive oil consumption.

MN: For those who haven’t read the book, would you summarise what the ‘7 wonders’ are?

Alice: Our research and writing covered the following benefits of extra virgin olive oil:
1. Slows Alzheimer’s disease
2. Reduces the Risk of Strokes and Heart Attacks
3. Strengthens Bones
4. Works as an Anti-Inflammatory
5. Reduces the Risk of Diabetes
6. Kills Cancer Cells
7. Protects, Rejuvenates, and Beautifies Your Skin

MN: Your book is meticulously researched! What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made about olive oil whilst researching and writing the book?

Alice: That’s a difficult question because I learnt so much from the different researchers and from everyone I interviewed. There was an awful lot to understand and to take in. Also, I was surprised at the enthusiasm and how willing the contributors were to share their knowledge. On the research side, I had no idea oleocanthal was such a powerful polyphenol, we could have written so much more on this natural component contained in extra virgin.

Cécile: Yes, Alice is right. It’s very difficult to choose one wonder among the seven we have listed! For my research on “Understanding fats” I worked with a nutritionist who is also a pharmaceutical technician. It was very interesting to understand the function of Fats and how important it is to select the best quality for your body.

MN: I know you always recommend buying extra virgin olive oil. Would you share some more tips on how to shop wisely and buy the best oil?

Cécile: You should always buy extra virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil and not another name or category because these two are genuine olive juice.

the seven wonders of olive oil

MN: I especially appreciated your chapter about olive oil being a wonderful product for skincare, and I now like to remove my mascara using it (it’s so gentle!). Do you have a favourite beauty ritual that involves olive oil?

Cécile: For my baby, I used a mix of olive oil and lime water every day to protect and nourish her skin especially for diaper rash. You can buy this in pharmacies, but it’s so much more convenient to make it at home.

Alice: I used to suffer terribly from brittle nails. Ever since I started rubbing my nails with olive oil, they have improved wonderfully.

MN: I love cooking with olive oil, as well as drizzling it over salads. I was relieved to learn in your book that it’s healthy to use it for frying, as I know there’s been a trend lately for swapping to coconut oil instead. Do you have a favourite dish that involves olive oil as a star ingredient?

Cécile: I love EVOO at breakfast, something I got from living in Spain. Olive Oil with bread and honey is delicious, and with it, you have all the energy you need to begin your day.

MN: You share so much valuable information in the book, but if people could only take away one factor lesson from the book, what would you want it to be and why?

Cécile: Extra virgin are the two most important words! Ignore other labels for olive oil; they are not as tasty and as healthy as the pure unadulterated juice of the olives.

Alice: So many people think that you cannot cook with olive oil. That is, of course, a myth. Part 3 of 7 Wonders — Olive Oil in the Kitchen explains smoke point of cooking oils and the latest research on cooking with Olive Oil.

***

Thanks so much to Alice and Cécile for their informative responses to my questions. If you’d like to learn more about them and their research, do check out their website, where there are also some signed copies of The Seven Wonders of Olive Oil available.

If you’re trying to make any positive health changes this year, good for you and good luck!

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva Covent Garden

Godiva has always been one of my special treats. One of my favourite things to do (a habit started as a teenager!) is to choose just two of their truffles, have them tied up in a little bag, and then enjoy each small bite whilst reading a magazine and a cup of tea. I was certainly delighted, then, to be offered a Godiva gift voucher in exchange for a blog post about my shopping spoils at the Godiva Covent Garden branch.

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

My voucher was certainly enough to get me far more than two truffles, and a lot of the joy in my expedition was in deciding what treats to get for friends and family. Of course, I wanted to get a big box of chocolates for my Mum, but I also had a friend’s birthday in mind, as well as stocking up on some useful hostess gifts.

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

There was so much to tempt, I spent a lot of time dithering! In the end though, I settled for the Chocolate Truffle Delight Gift Box for my friend’s birthday, three boxes of milk chocolate biscuits for hostess gifts, or be stashed away for when friends pop by for tea, and a gold box of hand-selected truffles for my Mum. I couldn’t resist a cone of chocolate-dipped strawberries, which are only available in the shops, for myself! The strawberries have tiny, Hercule Poirot-like chocolate moustaches, in a nod to Godiva’s Belgian roots. Isn’t that adorable?! I think the Great Detective would have approved – he had a sweet tooth after all!

London Stories | A Trip to Godiva, Covent Garden

After my shopping, I decided to have a wander around more of Covent Garden, which was still dressed up in all its Christmas glory (is it Scrooge-like of me to feel Christmas decorations look rather tired after the 6th?!).  I stopped by Aesop to pick up a new cleanser, and then headed to Petersham Nurseries for a cup of tea and to admire their flowers.

When I got home, I unpacked all my purchases, stopping to take a few photos, of course!

I hope my friend will like her chocolate box – isn’t the blue and pink pretty? And here’s a shot of some of the truffles I chose for my Mum (who’s being very generous with sharing them! ).

I like the chocolates with little bows on especially – they’re so pretty, as well as being delicious! If you’re a fan of coconut, I particularly recommend the yellow ones….

Thanks very much to Godiva for the fun afternoon out!

Find Godiva on Instagram at:
@govidauk #alwaysgodiva #godivauk

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

Child-Friendly Seaside Luxury

After our night at the Scarlet Hotel, Mum and I made the very short journey a little further along the coast to the Scarlet’s sister hotel, the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa. Our bags had already been transported for us and were waiting in our hotel room, which I thought was a very nice touch, and I was relieved not to carry them myself, especially considering the number of books I’d purchased in Penzance!

Having had such a wonderful experience at the Scarlet, our standards were high for Bedruthan, and I was eager to compare the two hotels. The main difference is that Bedruthan is the ideal choice for a family holiday. Whereas the Scarlet is more suitable for adults only, the Bedruthan hotel is exceedingly child-friendly, with day-care options available for when parents are having spa treatments, fun play areas and suggested activities for families to enjoy both within the hotel and in the surrounding area.

Comfortable Spaces

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

Even if you don’t have any children with you, however, Bedruthan is a glorious place to relax and unwind, and there is an adult-only bar, as well as restaurant, which are excellent options for guests without young families.

Bedruthan hotel is extremely spacious, and there are many different lounges where you can sit and chat over a drink, or simply admire the view. Like the Scarlet, there’s also a strong emphasis on art and design, with a gallery of paintings to see downstairs, and a nice gift shop filled with an extremely tempting display of Orla Kiely products, as well as lots of other beautiful things!

I liked the Scandinavian inspired decor, which matched the seaside setting so well. Children would love the many outdoor decks and play areas too, and there are lots of fun, creative projects to try out, like a taster session at the Bedruthan pottery studio, or booking a craft workshop. The huge spa and indoor and outdoor pools are also extremely impressive.

Spectacular Scenery

Like its sister hotel, Bedruthan offers breath-taking views of the spectacular Mawgan Porth, and there are wonderful coastal walks to take, as well as plenty of outdoor spaces from which to sit and take in the scenery.

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, NewquayI was rather impressed by the idea of reserving one of the seated campfire areas, where guests can stay warm by an outdoor fire and watch the sun set over the water.

Sea View Double Room

It was marvellous to pull back the curtains in the morning and look out at the sunrise over the cliffs and sea. We were given a spacious double room with a seaside view, and I liked the bright, cheerful colours (very Marimekko, I thought!). Our bathroom was small, but still had a bath as well as a shower, and as I made use of the hotel’s incredible spa facilities, I didn’t miss having a big bathroom.

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

We ordered a yummy breakfast in bed (yoghurt, juice, croissants, fruit salad and tea), and it was wonderful to eat a leisurely meal whilst looking out to sea.

Sensory Spa Garden

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

One of the many delights of the Bedruthan is their sensory spa garden, and I was very excited to get to try it out. The sensory garden is meant to trigger all your senses and is inspired by fire, earth, water, air and space.

A theme running through the hotel is playfulness, and this is reflected in the colourful decor, wide-range of activities and spa treatments. The sensory spa garden is a place where you can reclaim a childlike sense of excitement and discovery in nature. Laid out in a secluded garden sheltered from the wind, guests are invited to work their way around the garden, experiencing the benefits in going from hot to cold to back again.

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

I started off with a rejuvenating oatmeal scrub and shower, before stepping into the sauna to sweat it out for 10 minutes and breathe in the wood-scented air. Next, I had to nerve myself to tackle the ice-water bucket ‘shower,’ which was very cold! Happily, after that, I got to enjoy a long session in the hot tub, which felt amazing. Finally, after one last shower and seaweed and salt scrub, I was given a delicious mug of ginger and lemon tea and a warm blanket and sat by the smouldering open fire, my feet in a warm water bath, feeling wonderfully refreshed and glowing. I hadn’t had so much fun in ages!

Herring Restaurant

UK Travel | Bedruthan Hotel and Spa at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

We had supper booked at the hotel, which I felt very much ready for after my sensory garden experience. The Herring is the main restaurant at Bedruthan, and has floor to ceiling windows showcasing the panoramic views of the ocean.

In the evening, candles flickered on the tables, encircling us in a warm, cosy glow of light.

The Herring offers a daily changing, seasonal 3 course menu for £37.50. We started off ordering a bottle of house white wine, which arrived with some crusty brown bread and Cornish butter.

For my first course, I ordered cured sea trout with yuzu and mirin, mooli, pickled cucumber and salmon eggs. Mum chose pan fried scallops with Moroccan couscous, tea soaked raisins and preserved lemon puree.

Both dishes were fantastic. Trout is always a favourite of mine, and this dish was beautifully light, and yet packed with flavour.

We each settled on Cornish lamb rump for our main, which was tender and delicious, and served with celeriac fondant and puree, sprouting broccoli and rosemary jus.

For dessert, I had gingerbread panna cotta with spiced orange, sorbet and white wine poached pear. It was a brilliant combination of flavour and one of my favourite desserts from the trip. Mum polished off baked yoghurt with apple jelly, poached apple and blackberry sorbet.

We both agreed the food was spectacular and a real highlight of our stay at Bedruthan. I was so impressed by both the Scarlet and Bedruthan hotels on this trip. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a family holiday than a stay at the Bedruthan, but it’s also a great option for a luxurious, child-free holiday too.

For more information, check out the Bedruthan Hotel & Spa website.
Room rates at Bedruthan Hotel & Spa are from £156 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.bedruthan.com/stay/rooms, email stay@bedruthan.com, or call 01637 861 200.

Note: our stay at Bedruthan Hotel and Spa was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

P.S. You may also wish to read my review of the Scarlet Hotel, only a few minutes away from Bedruthan.

UK Travel | The Scarlet Hotel at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

UK Travel | The Scarlet Hotel at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

After our sojourn in Penzance, we made our way to The Scarlet Hotel at Mawgan Porth, very near Newquay airport. I think this has to be the most beautiful, tranquil hotel I’ve ever been lucky enough to stay in.

The Scarlet is built right on the cliffs, and the gorgeous architecture means there’s as little division between sea and building as possible. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer a constant reminder of the stunning cove just outside, and there are numerous balconies from which to admire the view.

We arrived just as a rather dramatic storm had blown up, with the sea thundering against the rocks, but happily the next day dawned crisp and golden so I was able to enjoy some invigorating walks along the beach. But let’s start at the beginning, with a tour of the hotel:

Reception and Lounge Areas

UK Travel | The Scarlet Hotel at Mawgan Porth, Newquay

The Scarlet is quite unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed in, and it sets the tone of indulgence and effortless comfort from the moment you step into its elegant interior. Rather than hauling your bags to a Reception desk (I failed completely, by the way, to pack with my usual lightness for this trip, and in a fit of madness seemed to bring my entire autumn wardrobe with me), you’re invited to take a seat in the spacious entrance way (pictured above). We barely had a chance to catch our breath over the remarkable view, when one of the hotel managers appeared as if by magic, whisked our bags away to our room and took us on a tour.

I was impressed by the spaciousness of the hotel, with its many lounge areas for guests to sit and relax, the large spa and swimming pool, coastal gardens and decks. Every inch is truly lovely, with carefully chosen art and sculpture decorating each space in a tasteful homage to Cornwall’s artistic heritage.

Our ‘Just Right’ Double Room

After our tour, we were shown to our room, which had a lovely view of the sea and had a minimalist, muted decor. I appreciated the generous size of the room, with plenty of space for chairs, a desk and large bed. The bathroom was also large, and we were both very pleased with the walk-in shower and separate bath tub. I noted a dish of bath salts, which I thought was a nice touch – too often I find hotels with lovely baths, but nothing to put in them (hence why I’ve taken to traveling with my own bath oil!).

This was the view that greeted me when I rose the next morning and stepped out onto the balcony:

The rising sun cast a rich pink glow in the sky, and the blue of the sea faded to a pretty shade of lavender on the horizon. Oh to have a view like that every morning!

Breakfast in bed was provided at no extra charge, and I went for a cheese and mustard toastie with a fried egg, a side of fruit and yoghurt, a berry smoothie, orange juice and tea. Mum ordered the Full English. Both breakfasts were absolutely scrumptious, and it felt so decadent to eat my first meal of the day in bed with a magazine.

Coastal Garden, Spa and Seaside Walks

I couldn’t wait to take advantage of the sunshine to get out and explore the hotel’s pretty coastal gardens, accessed through their gorgeous spa, as well as the beach itself. Although I didn’t take a dip in the heated pool during our say, I did have a session in one of the cliffside hot tubs (mine was the middle hot tub in the above picture).

Unfortunately, my session was scheduled for our first day, when it was pouring rain, so I couldn’t get any decent photos, but the view from the hot tub was incredible, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience of sitting in a hot tub, feeling perfectly snug, but with the rain lashing down and the waves roaring and frothing against the cliffs immediately before me.

When the sun shone, I scrambled down the cliff path to the beach. Mum had joined me for a wander around the gardens, but she decided to sit on one of the covered benches on the cliffs and admire the view whilst I went down to dip my toes in the sea.

There were only a few people walking their dogs on the shore. I can imagine that this coast must be packed with tourists in the summer, but travelling in the off season meant that I got to experience the luxury of hardly anyone else being on the beach. I always feel at peace when I’m by the sea, perhaps because my Mum’s family came from Dorset, so I have sea in my veins, so to speak.

Bar and Restaurant

Another huge perk of staying at The Scarlet is the fantastic food and wine list. All the sea air definitely made Mum and me rather peckish by supper time, so we were definitely looking forward to our evening meal.

The restaurant is a lovely room, with large windows looking out to sea, and there is a stylish bar that juts out just above it. We were shown to a table next to the window and brought menus and some delicious crusty sourdough bread to nibble as we made our choices.

We had the three course menu with accompanying wine flight. The wine flight changes daily, allowing guests to discover new and delicious European wines, hand-picked by the sommelier, each evening.

To start, I went for the roast pigeon breast with black pudding, roast figs and beetroot, and Mum chose Cornish fish and shellfish stew with saffron potatoes, spinach, rye crostini and rouille.

My dish was paired with an exceedingly smooth Tempranillo, and Mum very much enjoyed her Burgundy white. The sommelier brought round each bottle to pour for every course, explaining more about the wines and why they were selected for each dish as she did so.

The food was just as palatable as the wine. I loved the autumnal flavours of my dish and thoroughly approved the combination of pigeon breast and roast fig. Mum always enjoys a good fish stew and pronounced hers excellent.

For our mains, I went for the pan fried trout with shellfish risotto, parmesan, chives, cucumber, mustard and dill and Mum ordered slow cooked lamb rump with broccoli puree, crispy belly, mint dauphines, ricotta and braised fennel. My fish paired excellently with a crisp Rioja, and Mum’s Bordeaux stood up very well against the richness of her lamb.

I adore trout, and generally always order it if I have the chance, so this dish was a great treat for me. It was a really excellent piece of fish, beautifully cooked, and I loved the creamy risotto and slightly mustardy sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking of it again! My Mum enjoyed her lamb as well, which was beautifully tender.

For dessert, I – predictably! – went for chocolate: a dark chocolate cremeux with blackberries, lemon curd and blackberry sorbet, to be exact. Mum chose coffee panna cotta with vanilla sponge, coffee granita and candied walnuts.

I know it isn’t very fashionable to say so, but I adore sweet wine, so this was the part of the wine flight I was anticipating most eagerly! I’d never tried a red sweet wine before, but it was a brilliant choice to accompany chocolate. My mum’s more traditional sweet wine brought out the sweetness in her coffee panna cotta superbly. A fabulous end to a memorable meal!

Our stay at The Scarlet was a wonderful taste of luxury and felt so rejuvenating. I would highly recommend booking a stay for a special occasion, a romantic getaway (I think spending your honeymoon here would be idyllic), or simply if you’re in need of a thorough rest, with good food, great wine and gorgeous seaside amply provided. A friend messaged me whilst I was staying at The Scarlet, saying she and her husband plan a holiday there every winter, and I can see why! It’s the perfect retreat from the world for a few days, whatever the weather.

For more information, check out the Scarlet Hotel website. Room rates are from £240 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast, taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.scarlethotel.co.uk/stay/rooms, email stay@scarlethotel.co.uk, or call 01637 861 800.

Note: our stay at the Scarlet Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

London Restaurants | Ikoyi, St James’s Market

Fans of my podcast, Tea & Tattle, may remember my interview with Lopè Ariyo, author of the cookbook, Hibiscus, which celebrates West African food and culture. During the interview, Lopè mentioned that she was about to start a job as a chef at a newly opened restaurant in Mayfair: Ikoyi, which specialises in West African dining.

After hearing my interview, my friend Claire, who’s a true foodie and always knows about the latest hot restaurants in London, suggested that we try out Ikoyi together. Of course, I said yes!

Ikoyi is situated in St James’s Market, a rather curious mix of chilly corporate aloofness, with its rising towers of office buildings, and an increasingly interesting food scene. Veneta, which I reviewed last autumn, is just around the corner from Ikoyi, as is the Scandinavian cafe Ole & Steen, which boasted a truly enticing window display of freshly baked buns and cakes (I’m planning a return trip to try them asap!).

Unlike its environs, Ikoyi manages to strike a welcoming, stylish interior. I liked the mustard yellow cushions and vibrant artwork. The restaurant is intimate, with a striking bar along one wall and a glimpse into the kitchen where the gastronomical magic occurs. I spotted the lovely Lopè working away, and had a chance after our meal to say hello and how much we’d enjoyed the food.

But let’s start at the beginning, with the cocktail list. Claire ordered a Roast Plantain Old Fashioned, and, on the waiter’s recommendation, I went for the Kunnu Punch. Drinks in hand, we caught up on each other’s news and perused the menu, which is small, but well-chosen.

It was a warm, sunny day, and the punch was the perfect refreshment – light and tasty. Claire said she enjoyed her cocktail a lot too, although it was decidedly stronger than the punch.

On looking at the menu, we agreed on some nibbles to share alongside our cocktails, followed by mains and dessert. We settled on the chicken oyster, tamarind and penja pepper and the buttermilk plantain and smoked scotch bonnet. It was my first time eating plantain, so I was particularly excited to try it.

Both snacks were delicious, and the plantain was much as I thought it would taste: rather like a banana, but more savoury. The spice of the topping gave it a real kick, and for a moment I was worried that all the food would be spicy, which I never handle very well. Happily though, the spice of the plantain dish soon settled down, and by the time our mains had arrived, my mouth had stopped burning.

I’d heard that the pork dish was something special, so I’d ordered it for my main, and Claire had gone for chicken, benne and okra. We also ordered a side of jollof rice and smoked bone marrow to share.

My pork was the tastiest I’d ever had and truly melted in the mouth. I was pleased that it wasn’t spicy either. Claire said her chicken was exceedingly good, with the okra cooked to perfection. We both agreed our side dish was out-of-this world as well. We were instructed to scoop the marrow from the bone and mix it into the rice – honestly, it was sublime! I would have polished off every last grain if I hadn’t been worried about leaving room for dessert. I definitely wanted dessert!

Claire and I both settled for the special of the day: milk bread pudding with white peach sorbet and apples. Oh my! This was one of the best desserts I’d had for a long time – the white peach sorbet especially was heavenly.

I certainly plan on going back to Ikoyi again soon – it’s a great destination for either a full meal, or a drink and snacks at the bar.

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What was the last great meal you enjoyed?

T&T 41 | Joyful French Eating with Elizabeth Bard

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m chatting with the bestselling author, Elizabeth Bard, about Elizabeth’s new cookbook, Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining.

Elizabeth lives in Provence with her family, and she has also written two culinary memoirs, Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence, about her move from America to France and how she fell in love with the country, the food and a Frenchman! I love Elizabeth’s humorous and insightful descriptions of adapting to the French way of life, as well as the delicious recipes that accompany her words.

Dinner Chez Moi is less of a memoir and more a handy guide to the French style of eating and living, with plenty of Elizabeth’s favourite recipes to enjoy. I had a fabulous time asking Elizabeth all about what she stocks in her Provençal kitchen; how to shop wisely for delicious, but affordable meals and some of the French secrets to keeping a trim waistline (I think I’ve got the tea-drinking part down at least!).

It was so fun to catch-up with Elizabeth on the podcast, as I’d met her last summer when I was in Provence, and arranged an interview with her at Scaramouche, the artisan glacier Elizabeth runs with her husband.

With Elizabeth Bard outside Scaramouche

This episode is perfect for summer and will inspire anyone, I’m sure, to dash to their local farmers’ market and start buying up juicy tomatoes and other fresh produce!

Listen to learn more about eating, cooking and living the French way.