Category Archives: Food

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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

T&T 40 | The Greedy Queen

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

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m learning all about Queen Victoria’s eating habits from the food historian, Annie Gray. Annie’s recently published book, The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria is an unconventional biography of the Queen, examining her life in food.

Annie Gray is an historian, cook, broadcaster and writer, who specialises in the history of food and dining in Britain from about 1600 to the present day. In our chat, Annie explains how her interest in food and history developed, and how she first came to examine the role of meals in Queen Victoria’s life. It was so interesting to learn more about the complex relationship Victoria had with food, how she used meal-times as a way to exert power and the culinary legacy she left behind.

Annie Gray

I read The Greedy Queen a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed Annie’s engaging, witty style of writing that brought historical figures and events so vividly to life. In today’s episode, Annie’s vivacious conversation will be a delight to lovers of food and history alike.

Listen to learn more about Queen Victoria’s life and relationship with food

T&T 37 | West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

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

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m chatting with the food writer and chef, Lopè Ariyo, about her debut cookbook, Hibiscus. Lopè was named the Observer’s Rising Star of Food for 2017 and has been praised as one of the UK’s leading voices in West African cuisine. Her cookbook, Hibiscus, was published in June and has a delightful variety of mouthwatering recipes featuring traditional West African ingredients. I can’t wait to try my hand at Lopè’s hibiscus and coconut cake!

West African Cuisine With Lopè Ariyo

In this episode, we chat about how going to boarding school in Nigeria influenced Lopè’s cooking when she moved back to London and tried to recreate the dishes she’d loved best from her childhood. Lopè also shares how winning a food competition whilst studying Maths at university (and writing her food blog on the side) changed her life, landing her a cookbook deal and catapulting her into the food industry.

West African Cuisine With Lopè AriyoLopè Ariyo, Image © Ellis Parrinder

Lopè’s love for entertaining and cooking is clear, and I asked her for some tips on being a brilliant hostess, as well as a menu for a dinner party inspired by her book. Be warned – listening to this episode is bound to make you feel rather hungry!

Listen to learn more about West African cuisines and the story behind Hibiscus.

P.S. Next week on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the writer and critic Lauren Elkin about her fabulous book, Flâneuse

A Chat With | The Hardihood

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewDaisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers, founders of The Hardihood

I’m always keen to hear about female-led businesses, especially when they’ve been successfully founded by best friends. When I stumbled across the story of The Hardihood, which produces raw cakes as beautiful as they are nutritious and tasty, my interest was definitely piqued.  Daisy Kristiansen and Leah Garwood-Gowers were housemates who gave up sugar together one year, and, uninspired by the sugar-free dessert options available, decided to start making their own. The Hardihood was born, and quickly garnered a huge amount of success, with the cakes now stocked in Harrods, Planet Organic and Daylesford Stores, as well as available to order online.

Daisy and Leah’s first cookbook, Raw Cake, came out at the start of 2017, and their brand is clearly going from strength to strength in a remarkably short space of time. I took the opportunity to ask Leah some questions about her growing business.

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Would you tell me a little about your background? How did you both meet?

Daisy and I have been friends for years; we met at a dinner party in West London and became pals on the bus back to Hackney together that night. We later went on to live together and have many years of fun under our belts. Although we no longer live together, we’ve been running The Hardihood together since late 2015. Before we founded the business, Daisy worked in fashion and styling and I worked in hospitality and journalism.

How did the idea for The Hardihood originate? What made you decide to go into business together?

We’d both always leant towards the creative side of entrepreneurial spirit before starting The Hardihood, having had many ideas but little clue as to how to get them off the ground. The fact that The Hardihood’s success grew through social media almost overnight forced us to get serious about the world of business. There’s been a lot of faking it until you make it, and although we’re still learning on the job, we’re very confident about our vision for the future and feel grateful that, between the two of us, we have the passion and skills to stick at it.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewAfternoon treats: ripe cherries and a Hardihood raw salted caramel cake

The Hardihood was born out of a number of factors. The first was creativity; we both wanted creative freedom over the project we’d be working on. The second was the desire to make the world a better place, which sounds dramatic, but it was around the time of founding The Hardihood that people were really waking up to the perils of refined sugar, and we wanted to make a dessert option that addressed this. We wanted to make a dessert that looked good, tasted good and felt good too. The third was building a lifestyle for ourselves and our employees that actively supported work-life balance; for example, having a work schedule that’s flexible enough for female employees to return to work after baby number two or in which male employees are able to take a generous amount of time off for paternity leave.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewRaw cakes from The Hardihood

It’s wonderful to see an inspiring example of female friendship and business partnership. What is your advice to women who may be thinking of going into business with a friend? How do you make sure that your friendship remains a priority, and that you both feel heard and valued within the business?

It’s funny, we often say that we have to approach our relationship like a marriage these days. When things get tough it’s not like either of us can just leave the room, we’re both hugely passionate about The Hardihood being a success so whatever disagreements – professional or otherwise – we have, we have to face them head on, which I believe is hugely helpful for personal growth. It’s important to make space for honest and direct conversation, but it’s equally important not to get into the habit of treating each other too familiarly. When you’re spending such a lot of time together it’s easy to start speaking to each other as offhandedly as you would to your siblings and this can sometimes be inappropriate within a professional environment. You’ve got to be patient with each other and remember that you’re growing together, so your inputs are both equally valuable. Even though we’re only a small team of 3, we often sit down and talk about our company culture in ways that would support the size of the company we want to grow to. We value transparency, a can-do attitude, a good sense of humour and efficiency above all else, and so we push ourselves and each other to behave in a way that reflects this. At the end of it all, we’re still the best of friends and make time to discuss our lives like we would if we weren’t tackling the pitfalls of running a small business together daily.

What are your top tips for people who want to give up refined sugar, or create more general healthy eating habits?

Even switching your ordinary sugar to coconut sugar is a great place to begin. Or begin by getting in to the habit of reading the back of anything you buy that is packaged. A lot of the time sugar is sneaked into things that you’d consider savoury, like pasta source or hummus. It’s one thing indulging decisively in something, but eating something savoury and then discovering that you may as well have just had a donut is frustrating.

A Chat With The Hardihood | Beautiful Raw Cakes | Miranda's Notebook InterviewDaisy and Leah’s new cookbook

Would you tell me a little about your book, Raw Cake?

We always hoped the book would be an insight for beginners into the world of raw cake. It’s beautiful enough to be a coffee table book and accessible enough for everyone. We were both self taught raw chefs and we found that a lot of the books we read in the beginning were hugely complicated and contained ingredients that even google couldn’t find. We use a lot of repeating ingredients with the option to add superfoods throughout. We’re particularly proud of the glossary at the back – it tells you a little bit about each ingredient and what we find it good for.

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Follow The Hardihood on instagram, twitter and facebook.

Get the Raw Cake cookbook here.

All images, apart from the second listed, which is my own, courtesy The Hardihood.