Category Archives: Food

London Food | Date Night Suggestion

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

If you’re looking for a fun place for your next date night, then I’ve got just the spot for you. Duck and Rice is a pub and dining room that serves some truly stellar Chinese food in Soho. Famed for founding Wagamama and Hakkasan, Alan Yau has struck gold again with his latest London eatery. In a box-shaped building with food stalls jostling the pavements outside the front door, Yau has created what no-one knew London was missing: a Chinese gastropub, and as incongruous as the combination might seem, it definitely works.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, SohoLondon Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

A week or so ago, I took my friend Arthur along for lunch, as we’ve shared a love for gossiping over crispy duck since our university days at SOAS. Fun as it is for lunch, though, I think Duck and Rice would be an especially good setting for a low-key date night (and have filed it away as such under my London restaurant recommendations).

The interior of the restaurant is sure to impress: downstairs is more pub like, with gleaming tanks of beer in the entrance, a sweeping bar and lots of cosy nooks.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

Duck and Rice offers a terrific selection of beers and wines, as well as some delicious sounding gin & tonics and even beer cocktails (beer negroni, anyone?). I’m not much of an ale drinker, I have to admit, so I was happy with my glass of wine. I really was impressed with the wine list, which offered a wide range of choice, from very reasonable (starting at £2.60 for a small glass), to more decadent options. The tea list got Arthur’s stamp of approval (he was President of the Tea Society at SOAS, after all), and we ordered a pot of tea to share between us, which was generously refilled throughout the meal.

For our meal, we decided to go for a selection of dishes to share, starting with salt and pepper squid, prawn dumplings, vegetarian lettuce leaf wraps and spring rolls. Crispy duck, accompanied by handmade pancakes and all the trimmings, arrived too, and our waiter shredded it in front of us. The duck was superb: perfectly moist with crispy skin, and it has been a long time since I had such delicious dim sum. The squid was excellently tender, and we thoroughly enjoyed every dish, polishing off every last morsel.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, SohoLondon Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho(Thanks for being my hand model, Arthur!)

We were seated at a table in the restaurant proper upstairs, which boasts another magnificent bar and beautiful interiors. I loved the blue and white decor with touches of gold. It would be lovely to sit out on the upstairs balcony on a warm evening, watching the heaving crowds of Soho from above.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

The restaurant, by the way, wasn’t at all empty over the lunch hour (it was packed), but by the time we’d finished eating at a leisurely place, it had emptied out a lot upstairs so I was able to get some clear shots. Heading back outside, we decided to walk off some of the excellent meal by winding our way through the streets to Holborn for iced coffee (sadly we were too full for any cake) at Fleet River Bakery. The perfect finish to a lovely afternoon!

Have you eaten at Duck and Rice? What are your favourite suggestions for a date night in London?

**This post was done in collaboration with citizenMag, and for another take on the same story, you can read their review of Duck and Rice. Of course, as always, all opinions (and those of my friends I bring along!) are unbiased and theirs and my own. 

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London Food | Theo’s Simple Italian

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

A couple weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Hotel Indigo in Earl’s Court for a pasta-making masterclass by Theo Randall and to try out the new Italian Brunch menu he has designed for his Theo’s Simple Italian restaurant at the hotel. This four course bunch menu is available from Saturday 24th September for £35 a head (and includes a glass of prosecco on arrival). I suggest booking pronto, as the food was incredible, and it was the most enjoyable tapas style sharing spread that I’ve had in a long time.

I was very excited to attend this event, as not only is Theo Randall an amazing chef (he was head chef at The River Cafe for over 15 years), but I had also been able to ask some other bloggers to join me. I contacted the lovely ladies I met in Paris and was looking forward to a little reunion!

London Restaurant Review | Best Italian Brunch

I’ve been to a few events at the Hotel Indigo before, and I always love returning. It’s a really gorgeous space; somewhere equally nice for a pot of tea, lunch or a cocktail in the evening. If I’m ever at a loose end and have time to kill when I’m in Earl’s Court, then I will inevitably find myself loitering over tea (and something carb-laden) at the hotel. There are plenty of cosy nooks:

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

As well as light, airy dining spaces:

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Yes, it’s definitely always a pleasure to pop into this hotel! My arrival on this occasion was made even more joyful, as I was immediately handed a glass of the most delicious peach bellini. On my first sip, I felt all the cares of the week slip away, and I settled down to enjoy a fabulous start to the weekend.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

As well as the lovely ladies I’d met in Paris, there were several other bloggers at the event, and it was a lot of fun to meet everyone and discover some new-to-me blogs. After chatting for a bit, we all gathered round to watch Theo demonstrate his recipe for fresh ricotta and spinach ravioli.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Theo had a brilliantly down-to-earth manner and was charming to everyone, giving some great tips on how best to cook pasta. I’ve already started incorporating his advice into my cooking and have been very pleased with the results! According to Theo, you should always undercook hard pasta by 2-3 minutes less than directed on the packet. Rather than draining the pasta over a colander, remove it from the water with tongs or a slotted spoon, adding it straight to your pan of sauce. Add a ladleful or two of the water that boiled the pasta to the sauce and stir through for a few more minutes. Your resulting pasta will have nicely absorbed the sauce and be perfectly cooked.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Theo was also kind enough to give his recipe for the fresh pasta dough he used for the ravioli. I couldn’t find the note I made of it, but I tracked down a recipe of his that’s very similar here. Now I just need a pasta machine!

After seeing one of the pasta dishes we’d soon be served prepared in front of us, our appetites were definitely whetted for the Italian feast ahead. It was certainly a good job we were hungry…to kick things off, enormous platters of antipasti, focaccia and bruschetta arrived, along with some white wine.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

I absolutely love this kind of spread, which is ideal for sharing, and we all tucked in, dipping our focaccia into bowls of olive oil, piling marinated artichokes, prosciutto di Parma and buffalo mozzarella onto our plates and exclaiming over the sweetness of the perfectly ripe tomatoes.

Next came bowlfuls of pasta so tasty that I felt if I closed my eyes I could imagine myself twirling spaghetti round my fork outside a restaurant in Rome. Very Eat Pray Love style. The pastas served were the spinach and ricotta ravioli we’d seen Theo making, dished up with a sage and butter sauce, as well as a mouth-meltingly good pappardelle con ragu di manzo (fresh pasta with slow cooked beef in Chianti and San Marzano tomatoes) and seafood linguine.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Next up, we were served fish, pork and frittata, with red wine to accompany the pork. Theo’s passion for using top quality ingredients to create simple, authentic and flavourful Italian dishes really shines in this menu. Every plate was a beautiful example of a classic dish created with expert care and attention.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Finally, dessert arrived: a platter of tiramisu, Amalfi lemon tart and ricotta cheesecake with pears marinated in Marsala and vanilla. I am going back to Theo’s Simple Italian for the ricotta cheesecake alone. My favourite Italian restaurant on Long Island served the most delicious ricotta cheesecake I’d ever tasted (Mum and I sometimes used to stop off on my way to ballet class, just so I could have a slice of that cake!), and I’ve been searching for one just as good ever since we moved away 15 years ago. Now, I’ve finally found the equivalent (if not even a tiny bit better – the pears really add a lot), and I’m taking my Mum as soon as possible so she can try it too.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Feeling exceptionally full, I bemoaned the fact that I had to head off to the gym to do a weights session (not the pleasantest thing I’ve ever done, let me assure you), so I waved goodbye to the others and headed to the tube. It had been such a fun afternoon, and I really can’t recommend Theo’s Simple Italian enough. I don’t always enjoy sharing menus, but this one really is fantastic, and I like the way you can choose which Primi and Secondi dishes you would prefer. Importantly, the serving sizes are definitely plentiful too so there’s no danger of feeling hungry!

Are you keen to try Theo’s Simple Italian yourself? What are your favourite Italian restaurants in London?

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Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

E X P L O R I N G    W I N E    C O U N T R Y

Being in the land of wine, we of course wanted to sample some of it! Our gîte was within a fairly short drive of Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and we explored each of these beautiful towns, stopping by the local wine caves as we went to taste and buy their wines. We were, in fact, in time for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine festival and had a lot of fun witnessing the medieval parade and sampling some truly spectacular wine.

One of my very favourite days, though, was when we visited both Beaumes de Venise and Gigondas. I was surprised by how pleasantly un-touristy both towns felt, and the stunning views across the vineyards from Gigondas in particular were absolutely breathtaking.

B E A U M E S    D E    V E N I S E

Our first stop of the day was Beaumes de Venise. I have a particular love for sweet wines (rather disappointingly, not many people seem to share this taste), so I was very excited to sample one of my favourite dessert wines in Beaumes de Venise itself.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

We bought  a bottle to take back to the gîte, and the considerate man serving us gave me a great tip for using Beaumes de Venise as a delicious aperitif: simply pour a finger or so into the bottom of a champagne glass and then top with prosecco. Delicious, easy and even the non-sweet wine drinkers amongst us loved it! I’ll definitely be making these simple cocktails at my next dinner party in London.

After our stint of wine-tasting, we wandered along the steep, narrow lanes of the town, trying to decide where would be a good spot for lunch.

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We ended up back in the main town square, opposite the pretty church at a restaurant that offered a charming outdoor terrace and an inviting menu. I went for a salad with foie gras and smoked duck, alongside our beverage of choice for the summer: rosé!

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

The French really know how to make a salad spectacular.  Not for them indifferent lettuce and depressed tomatoes, with a few bits of chopped avocado and chicken thrown into the mix. Instead, you get a plate piled high with ingredients bursting with colour and flavour, arranged like a work of art. Delicious!

G I G O N D A S

After our lunch, we piled back into the car and continued our journey to Gigondas. Here, we tasted rosé and their famous red wine; again stocking up on bottles to bring back to the gîte and to my Dad’s flat in Geneva.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Gigondas was one of the towns I loved the very best from our time in Provence. It was heavenly to make our way through the beautiful streets, climbing higher and higher until we reached the herb garden that grows at the very top, above the church. I felt like I was on top of the world, seeing the French landscape stretched out beneath me, with the scents of rosemary and lavender wafting in the air.

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Yes, I think it’s easy to see why Gigondas was my favourite (the wine’s not bad either…).

Have you done any wine-tasting in France? Where did you go?

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Adventures in Paris

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

Arriving in Paris – my first thought is steak – party at the Hotel Molitor – I get a new smartphone – watching the sunrise over Paris

***

I’m taking a little break from my Provence posts for the moment to fill you in on another adventure in France I had a few days ago. I was thrilled to have been invited to Paris to attend the European launch of the latest Honor smartphone, and one morning last week saw me boarding the Eurostar at St Pancras International amidst a crowd of other bloggers, photographers and tech journalists.

I was lucky enough to sit next to Talitha, another London blogger, and between chatting to her and having a little nap, the journey passed like a dream!

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

W H E R E    T O    E A T    B Y    T H E    E I F F E L    T O W E R 

The big event was taking place at the Hotel Molitor later in the evening, but there were a few hours to kill before then, and – unsurprisingly – my mind turned towards lunch. Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Eiffel Tower, which meant that Rue Saint-Dominique was a 10 minute walk away. If you ever find yourself hungry, near the Tour Eiffel and don’t want to go anywhere too touristy to eat, then I suggest turning your feet towards Rue Saint-Dominique. It’s a little treasure trove of restaurants, all owned by the same Chef – Christian Constant. Within a few feet of each other, clustered on the same road, are Le Violon d’Ingres, Cafe Constant and Les Cocottes. Le Violon d’Ingres is Constant’s most well-known restaurant, as it has a well-deserved Michelin star. I had a fantastic lunch there years ago and had planned to go back (they serve a very reasonable set menu), but sadly missed the lunch hour (which ends at 2pm). Instead, then, I settled on Cafe Constant, which happily serves food all afternoon and looked just the sort of charming Parisian bistro that I fancied.  After a quick brush up in the hotel, I set off with Milly – another lovely blogger I’d met on the journey – for our lunch and a stroll around Paris.

We both decided we fancied steak and were very happy with our choice! Mine was perfectly pink, melted in the mouth and was served next to some of the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8 Adventures in Paris with Honor 8 Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

After our lovely meal, we felt like new women and set off for a brisk stroll towards the river, braving the heat-wave temperature and blazing sun.

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8Adventures in Paris with Honor 8Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

Soon, though, we had to dash back to the hotel to change for the evening. We were put up at the Pullman Hotel, which had wonderfully comfy bedrooms. Mine had a lot of space, was quiet and had good air-conditioning, so I was relieved to know I’d be getting a good night’s rest!

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

P A R T Y I N G    P O O L S I D E 

However, first, it was time to have fun! I met up with Milly and Talitha downstairs, and we all piled onto the shuttle bus that drove us to the Hotel Molitor. I was very excited to get to see the inside of this hotel. I mean, just look at it:

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8Adventures in Paris with Honor 8Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

The pool was exceedingly tantalising, although, as the alcohol was flowing freely and there were lots of guests, swimming wasn’t allowed! We managed to grab a table poolside, though, and perched up on stools, happily admiring our beautiful surroundings.

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One of the nicest things about attending blogger events is the lovely people you meet. As well as Talitha and Milly, I got to know Simantha and Geraldine at the party, and it was so fun hanging out with these ladies, who all have the most beautiful blogs and instagram accounts to match (do check them out!).

H O N O R    8     I S    L A U N C H E D    I N    E U R O P E

After a bit, we were ushered inside for the main event of the evening: the launch of the latest Honor smartphone, the Honor 8. Honor are known for making extremely high-quality smartphones at incredibly affordable prices, and the latest phone is no exception. We were all lucky enough to receive an Honor 8, and I’ve been using mine steadily since I got back to London, as it takes much better photos than my iphone! The Honor 8 phone has a dual lens camera and brilliant, easy-to-use settings that allow you to manually control the ISO, AF, WB etc settings if you want to go that extra step (it’s a great way to improve your understanding of photography without investing in a super expensive camera). You can check out my most recent instagram photos of Notting Hill to get an idea of the crystal clear images the phone takes.

Adventures in Paris with Honor 8

We were given an introduction to the design and technology of the new phone and were then treated to a performance by Louane of some of her latest hit songs (you can listen to one of my favourites here). I’d heard these songs played all over Provence and Geneva whilst I was on holiday and had already added Louane to my itunes list, so it was a real treat to see her perform live! And that wasn’t the only surprise of the night…Talitha gave me a pat on the shoulder and drew my attention to the fact that David Beckham was part of the audience too (his son is an Honor brand ambassador). Swoon!

After Louane’s performance, we headed out to our table by the pool again to nibble more canapes, drink champagne and admire the special light show that rippled across the water.

It was fairly late by the time we got back to our hotel, but the four of us agreed to meet at 6.30am in the hotel lobby so we could set out and snap some photos of the sunrise in Paris before breakfast. Bloggers don’t need sleep after all, right?!

S U N R I S E    I N    P A R I S

Our pre-dawn wakeup call was definitely worth it! The sky was just beginning to turn the softest shade of pink as we strolled towards the river, and the light gradually deepened to a dazzling golden that made the Eiffel Tower gleam bronze in the sun.

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It was a stunningly beautiful morning, and made me think I should start everyday with a walk; I was amazed by how refreshed I felt! Soon, though, it was time to head back for breakfast and to catch the return train to London. My trip to Paris was such a whirlwind of fun, and I’m already planning my next trip back!

Have you been to Paris recently? Do you have an tips for what to do if you’re in the Eiffel Tower area?

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Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard InterviewWith the author Elizabeth Bard, outside her artisan glacier Scaramouche 

One of my most memorable days in Provence was visiting the charming little town of Cereste, where I got to interview Elizabeth Bard, the New York Times bestselling author of Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence. I first discovered Elizabeth’s books last summer and have been a huge fan of hers ever since. Lunch in Paris describes Elizabeth’s journey as a New York girl falling in love with both Paris and a handsome Frenchman, and is a must-read for any lover of the City of Light and French food. In Picnic in Provence, she writes about her family’s move from Paris to Cereste, experiences of motherhood and setting up the artisan glacier, Scaramouche. Their award winning ice-cream now attracts visitors from all over France and the rest of the world, and Scaramouche has just opened a branch in Paris as well. The flavours and food of France have always been an important part of Elizabeth’s fascinating story: both her books are littered with fantastic recipes straight from the kitchen table, making them even more appealing to my food-loving soul.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

You can imagine my delight when Elizabeth agreed to meet me for an interview in Cereste (scroll down if you’d like to skip straight to the interview – she’s fantastic!), and my Dad very kindly agreed to drive all of us to the town, where we booked a table for lunch before heading to Scaramouche for my interview and to sample their delicious ice-creams and sorbets.

Our drive to Cereste took us through the mountains, twisting along nerve-wrackingly narrow roads with incredible views. When we arrived in the town, we were pleased to see that we’d serendipitously timed our visit with Cereste’s annual summer fair, and we wandered through the market set up in the square, admiring the food stalls (there was even a little Scaramouche stand!) and handmade ceramics as we went.

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Cereste is a beautiful town; I loved its graceful old buildings, brightly painted shutters and inviting alleyways that are so typical of Provence. I could see why Elizabeth and Gwendal decided to stay!

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We’d booked a table at La Pastorale, a charming little restaurant with the most perfect balcony where we could sit out and admire the town.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard InterviewProvence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

To start, I went for one of my very favourite dishes: steak tartare. It was delicious! The seasoning was just right, and the fried quail’s eggs on top added an agreeable touch.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Next up: quail stuffed with foie gras (I was not dieting on this trip!!). I loved this dish; even with its luxurious ingredients it didn’t taste too rich, and the purple potatoes added a great depth of flavour and were a real treat.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard InterviewProvence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

We decided ice-cream at Scaramouche would be our dessert, and it was time for the interview so I hurried along as the rest of my family stayed on for coffee.

Isn’t Scaramouche completely charming? I’ve rarely seen such a pretty setting for ice-cream!

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Elizabeth came over when she knew I was there, and it was such a treat to meet her in person. If you’ve read the books, then I can confirm that she is just as delightful in person as you can imagine from reading her stories. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: What made you decide to write memoirs? Have you always kept a journal, and the memoirs became a natural extension from those?

EB: I’ve never kept a journal. I’m a terrible, terrible journal writer. I think I kept a journal for about 10 minutes when I was 13 and had a crush on someone; that was the extent of my journal writing! When I moved abroad, and when I came to France to be with Gwendal [Elizabeth’s husband], I knew that I wanted to write about the rollercoaster of international relationships and the discovery of international romance and international living and all the ups and downs of that. When I sat down to think about how I really discovered my adopted country, everything was done as the French would say autour de la table –  “around the table.” Every single real moment of discovery happened at a market, or at a restaurant or at a family meal, and so I started to structure the book around the recipes, and that’s how it came together.

MN: Was it the recipes that came first then, before the story?

EB: I think it was a mix! Writing about a memoir of adjusting to France without the food aspect soon becomes pretty dark. It would be a tale of administrative woes and language barriers and getting your driver’s licence! The recipes helped balance out the pleasure, and I’ve always used food to explore other cultures. Even though I’m trained as an art historian, I’ve always been that person who figures out where they’re going for lunch before heading to a museum! [Same here! – MN]. Food, then, has always been an important part of my discovery of a new culture, and I wanted to bring that to the book.

MN: How would you describe your own personal history in terms of food? Are there particular meals that sum up your childhood and your 20s, as well as your life now?

EB: From my childhood, the plat principal of my family gatherings was my Grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. My Grandfather was posted in Utica in upstate New York during WW2. Both my grandparents came from a Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and my Grandmother was a young married woman who didn’t really know how to cook. She hadn’t been taught by her mother, and so she learned how to cook standing in line at the butcher in Utica from these Italian ladies. They taught her a recipe for spaghetti bolognese that has two different kinds of meat in it, and there’s always pork! So my nice Jewish Grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce always included these huge pork ribs, which I always thought shows you how life can lead you to strange places, and we all learn something along the way [you can find this fantastic recipe in Lunch in Paris – MN].

There was one restaurant that was emblematic of my arrival in Paris and falling in love with Gwendal and falling in love with the city, and that was the Bistro Sainte Marthe (I don’t think it’s run by the same people now though!). We used to go and get things like swordfish tartare and moelleux au chocolat; dishes that were so simple and used very few ingredients, but they were combined in ways that were fresh to me. I have real memories of those first meals as an important part of my early adulthood.

With moving to Provence and becoming a mother, food has become a lot about family cooking. The French eat a lot of soup, and I’ve become a big soup person! It’s a great way to introduce children to the taste of lots of different vegetables. When we first arrived here, our neighbour left a basket of vegetables on our front doorstep – we didn’t even have the boxes unpacked – and he said ‘you must make soup for the baby!’

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: How did you set about writing about personal topics such as motherhood?

EB: I think writing about motherhood is a very fraught subject, because you feel very guilty and riddled with uncertainty just mentioning anything about it. Motherhood wasn’t as easy a transition for me as it is for some people; I think people live that transition very individually – for some people it’s easy and natural, and for me it was harder. I had to live through that transition, and I had to decide how to describe it. I wanted to have worked through it enough so that I could write it down in a clear and honest way. I find in writing memoirs, you have to come out the other side of whatever it is that you’re living through, in order to then be able to look back and decide how to structure the experience. And also, I know my son could read the book one day, and I feel responsible to him to express something in a true way and to have thought through how I wrote about it. It was by far the hardest and scariest part to write! I have had a very positive response for the honesty of it, though, so I’m pleased about it.

MN: Do you write from memory, or do you record significant happenings as they occur? How does your creative process work?

EB: I don’t have an excellent ear for dialogue – it’s my weakness as a writer – so if there’s a conversation that I hear and I think, ‘that’s such a culturally distinct conversation; I must write that down somewhere,’ then I will make a record of it right away. Generally though it’s about living through a certain period of your life and then going back and finding the narrative arc within that. Not every experience is worth setting down on paper, and although you’re telling a true story, you’re still telling a story: one that has a beginning, a middle and an end and that takes the reader on a journey.

When I’m writing a book, I try to write a little everyday. I usually write for 3 or 4 hours in the mornings (I’m better in the morning!), and then I either edit or recipe test in the afternoons. It’s a craft, though, like anything else: if I just sat in front of a blank page and waited for inspiration to strike, then I’d still be sitting here, many many years later, waiting for something to happen!

MN: Do you have any tips for people starting out with writing?

EB: As much as I admire people who have a whole fictional universe in their heads, I think most people start by writing about what they know and what they feel closest to and strongly about. Don’t be afraid to have an editor. I am somebody who comes from the world of journalism, and my writing has never gotten worse by having someone read it and edit it. Nobody writes in a vacuum. If things are getting difficult, then pick one person that you trust (too many opinions isn’t good either) who can give you feedback. When I’m really stuck, usually what I have to do is get rid of something – like a beautiful sentence that I love but just doesn’t belong there – and once I get rid of it that tends to unblock the process for me.

MN: What would be your top tips for people moving to a new country and adjusting to a different culture?

EB: When I first moved to France, my language skills weren’t great, and I saw that with such a level of frustration and such a level of anger because I couldn’t express myself, and I felt my personality was only half there. I felt half intelligent and half funny. I only realised afterwards that what that forced me to do was just shut up and listen a lot more to the culture around me and to the people around me. It can be exhausting and uncomfortable and even a little sad sometimes to be forced to listen and feel like you’re in the background all the time. In hindsight, though, I think it gave me valuable time to figure out what was going on around me and for other people to approach me slowly, rather than barging in like an American bull in the china stop. I also think that having a job or having hobbies – the French in particular love their hobbies! – that’s how you meet people, so it’s good to get involved in something.

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

MN: And what about your next book? Is it solely a cookbook, or will it continue your story of your life in Provence?

EB: It’s less of a narrative book, it’s going to be more tips and tricks on how to make your kitchen more French. It’s called Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining [That sounds absolutely marvellous; I can’t wait for it to come out next Spring! – MN]. There will be ingredients that I use in my French kitchen that North American audiences might not be as used to – things like lentils and almond flour and vanilla beans and others that people in France use all the time but were more of a discovery for me when I first came here. I’ve written about what I always have to hand in the fridge and ingredients I’ve discovered in Provence as well [you can preorder Elizabeth’s next book here – MN].

MN: Which cookbook writers do you especially admire?

EB: I love to read cookbooks, and the dirty little secret of writing French cookbooks is that after you’re done you don’t want to eat French food for 6 months! I’ve been testing creme brulee and yoghurt cake recipes, and don’t want to see another one for a while! At the moment, I’m obsessed with Ottolenghi, as everybody is. I was just in California and staying with a friend who is of Persian origin, and I love Persian food; eating at her mother’s table is one of the greatest memories of my life! I bought a Persian cookbook whilst I was there, as I love to cook that style of food in the summer [I recently got this great Persian cookbook – MN].

MN: Finally, who have been the most influential women in your life?

EB: My mother has been my biggest cheerleader and my biggest support throughout my life. She never told me anything was too crazy or too badly paid! She’s really given me the support that allowed me to take risks and to live a life that is full of leaps to not feel so scary.

***

After our fabulous chat, I joined my family outside at the one of the pretty little tables, and we set about the serious business of ordering ice-cream. Elizabeth was kind enough to bring out many samples for us to try, and we also ordered a selection of sorbets and ice-creams. They were all incredible!! I am very hoping that one day a Scaramouche branch opens in London because I really need a regular supply of that apricot sorbet and strawberries & cream ice-cream! As we were thoroughly enjoying our ices, we were introduced to Scaramouchette, a stray cat who Elizabeth told us turned up at the ice-cream cafe a few months ago and never left (clearly the clever thing knows where the best supply of cream is to be had!). 

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

Adorable! And Scaramouchette definitely agrees the ice-cream is lip-smackingly good:

Provence Diary | Elizabeth Bard Interview

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with Elizabeth (and why wouldn’t you?!), then you can follow her blog, facebook and twitter. And if you haven’t read her books yet, I suggest they become your next treat to yourself; they’re the perfect choice to extend that summer feeling a little longer as we head into autumn.

Have you read Elizabeth’s books? Are you tempted to give them a go if not? What did you enjoy most about the interview?

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Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Market towns of Provence – the drive to Sault – hat buying at the market – I have the best goat cheese of my life – disaster strikes! – Sault at a glance

Having arrived in Provence (in Saint-Pierre-de-Vassols, to be exact) on Tuesday evening, I woke up bright and early on Wednesday morning, with the light streaming through my airy double windows, the thin white curtains rustling slightly in a refreshingly cool breeze. As I would do every morning, I hung over my tiny balcony, breathing in the air and delighting in the beautiful landscape, still hushed with sleep. I couldn’t wait to start exploring, and after tea in the garden we all piled into the car and headed to Sault (pronounced ‘so’ to rhyme with ‘go’), an old fortified village nestled high on a rocky promontory.

We’d decided that much of our discovery of Provence would revolve around visiting its many different market towns. With a little research, it’s possible to go to a different (and fabulous) market everyday (our most trusted resource was a little book called Markets of Provence by Marjorie R. Williams – fantastic!), and it’s a marvellous way to explore the countryside. Each market has a unique quality to it, reflecting its respective village or town, and the markets offer a wonderful glimpse into the customs and culture of Provence. Of course, the basketfuls of local produce and speciality foods that may be enjoyed back at the gîte every night are a major plus too!

The drive to Sault is almost as interesting as the destination. Steeply curving roads wind upwards, and peering out the window you can see Mount Ventoux rising high on the horizon, with a patchwork of gold and purple fields of wheat and lavender beneath. We couldn’t resist pulling over and jumping out the car to stand amongst the grapevines, snapping away with our cameras at the beautiful view.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Parking in Sault is most definitely not an easy task (it’s wise to get there as early as possible so as to nab a good place). After negotiating our way through the tiny streets with no luck, we managed to secure a spot along the main road that bends sharply into the town and then made our way on foot towards the town centre. Unlike my usual London pace, I found it impossible to walk briskly in Provence – there’s simply too much to take in and enjoy! I peered down every delightful side alley as we wound our way up through the streets, enjoying the pretty sand-coloured buildings with their brightly painted shutters and the sprightly hollyhocks clustered at doorways.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market TownProvence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

The market at Sault has been going since 1515, and the Count of Sault decreed in 1546 that it should always be held on a Wednesday. Hundreds of years on, it is easy to see why the market is still so popular with locals and tourists alike. On turning into the crowd of market stalls jostling each other for space in the pretty town square, I was first distracted by the scent of lavender wafting across the air from a particularly eye-catching stand. Bunches of the drying herb were tied upside down from its awning, more were laid in baskets on the floor and lavender soaps, sachets and shampoos were arranged artistically across the tablecloths. I couldn’t resist a couple of bunches of lavender (which made our living room smell wonderful when we arranged them in a vase back at the gîte), as well as a lavender sachet to bring back with me to London. Sault is in the heart of lavender country (a lavender festival is held each year on August 15th), so I felt it very appropriate to pick up a few lavender-related goods at its market.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Other local specialities are also proudly represented: enormous blocks of nougat made with roasted nuts and lavender honey tower over another table, and the goat cheese stall of Perig Belloin offers an exceedingly tempting mix of fresh and aged goat cheeses. We couldn’t resist the bulging, purple-tinged garlic bulbs, ruby-red cherries, rounded aubergines and plump tomatoes to bring home, as well as a selection of tapenade, olives, bread, lavender honey and cheese. Squares of fruit pastes beckoned at us from another stand, and we bought a slice of quince paste to go with our Comte. It was absolutely incredible – the best I’ve ever tasted! Markets are truly a feast for the senses: every way I turned there were fresh sounds, sights and smells to delight.

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Diving into a narrow street where market stalls continued uphill, I was entranced by a collection of straw hats, trimmed in cream and dark brown. I’d left my hat back in London and was regretting it already, but after some umming and ahhing over which style and shape I wanted, I settled on a pretty hat with a wide brim and bow at the back. Perfect protection against the glaring sun!

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Feeling in the need of refreshment after our shopping, we began to search for a nice spot for lunch. The cafes and restaurants immediately surrounding the market were incredibly busy and noisy, but we’d remembered a pleasant looking restaurant from our walk up from the car and thought we’d try our luck there. Le Petit Jardin is aptly named: the restaurant does indeed have a little (and very charming) garden at its side, which offers a perfect haven from the bustling market crowds.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

We were able to get a lovely table outside, and I’d noticed the plat du jour sounded particularly good: salade de chevre chaud au miel de lavande. Along with a bottle of (exceptionally good) rose, we ordered a starter to share between us, which featured another local specialty: petit-epautre. This ancient, spelt-like grain has been grown around Sault for centuries, and we couldn’t wait to try it. It was delicious served as a cold salad, mixed with a yoghurt-based dressing, finely chopped red pepper, plenty of fresh dill and sultanas. I later bought a box of petit-epautre at a local corner shop so I could have a go at recreating the dish back in London.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Next, my goat cheese salad arrived, and I couldn’t believe my eyes at the amount of cheese! A whole round of perfectly warmed, fresh goat cheese was served on a slice of toast, honey dribbled over the top. There was definitely a lot more cheese than salad, and I was in a fromage-lovers’ paradise! Apparently there is a fantastic goat farm in the hamlet Saint-Jean-de-Sault, owned by Perig and Cathy Belloin, hence the abundance of exceedingly good goat cheese in the area.

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

Even though feeling rather full after my cheese, I decided I could still enjoy a salted caramel fondant for dessert, and I’m so glad I did! Just look at that caramel oozing from the centre:

Provence Diary | A Guide to Sault, An Ancient French Market Town

It was absolutely delicious, and I polished off every bite!

Feeling exceedingly satisfied after our meal, our happy state was alas rather short-lived. On returning to our car, we’d discovered the back window smashed in, and bags (containing passport, laptop and other valuables) taken. The same had happened to the car next to us; a horrified American couple turned up just after we’d called the police, exclaiming over the loss of their own passports and laptops. The rest of our afternoon was primarily spent in the police station, or on the phone dealing with the consequences of the theft. It was definitely a sad end to the day, but we determined not to let it spoil the rest of the holiday, and I tell the tale now to serve as a warning: never leave valuables in the car, no matter how public and safe somewhere seems!

Sault At A Glance

WHAT: ancient hillside town in the heart of lavender country.

MARKET: held on Wednesday mornings. Get there early to get a parking space!

BUY: lavender, nougat, goat cheese and the ancient grain petit-epautre are local specialities.

IN THE AREA: Aroma Plantes, a lavender farm and distillery open to the public. The Belloin goat farm in Saint-Jean-de-Sault.

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Brunch and Blooms in Kensal Rise

Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook

Birthday celebrations – London’s best bargain? – mimosas and eggs – delighted by Kensal Rise – awestruck at Scarlet & Violet – buying peonies 

 As well as our trip to the William Morris Gallery, Mum and I celebrated her birthday with brunch and flower shopping in Kensal Rise. I’ve just started exploring Kensal Rise properly, as it’s only a few stops on the overground from me, and there’s much in the area to tempt! I’d read about Parlour and had put it on my ‘must try’ list a few months ago, but had promptly forgotten about it until it popped into my head again as a fun sounding brunch option close to home.

Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's NotebookBlooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook

Parlour is a lovely restaurant with a relaxed, cosy atmosphere: the perfect spot to enjoy lazy weekend mornings. I loved the squishy red leather seats, rustic tables and stools and pretty outdoor terrace. Allpress coffee is served and ‘yesterday’s bread’ (as well as – on our visit – a loaf of delicious, not at all stale gingerbread) is laid out on a communal table, alongside tempting displays of butter, jam, marmite etc, which diners can help themselves to unrestrainedly for £1. The best bargain in London? Quite possibly!

Mum and I ordered our coffee, tea and mimosas (we were celebrating, after all) and felt we were having a rather good start to the weekend.

Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's NotebookBlooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook

It was hard to decide what I wanted from the menu – did I fancy smoked salmon? Hash-browns? A full English? In the end I was rather boringly predictable and went for avocado toast & poached eggs (the smashed avocado trend certainly hasn’t died in my world). Mum branched out a little and went for hash-browns, also with poached eggs.

Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook Blooms and Brunch | Parlour in Kensal Rise via Miranda's Notebook

Both were delicious, and I loved how my toast came with a tasty and beautiful salad, complete with edible flowers.

After eating our fill, we went on to explore surrounding Kensal Rise. I’d been to Kensal Rise once many years ago, and it seems to have changed quite a bit since my last visit. There are so many nice looking cafes and restaurants (I’ve already checked out their Borough Wines branch, and it’s lovely!), and I was also very excited to discover a ballet studio that does proper adult ballet classes for a reasonable price. I’ve already been to a couple and have had so much fun – who knew I could still pirouette?!

The real excitement, though, was discovering Scarlet & Violet (aka the most beautiful florist I’ve ever seen). I’d first noticed S&V when Rachel Khoo posted a shot of their shop on instagram, but I hadn’t realised it was in Kensal Rise, so it was wonderful to stumble across it by chance. Being my floral loving self, I was in absolute heaven…

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I picked out a bunch of stunning coral peonies for Mum, and then we hopped on the bus to Westfield so I could buy her a dress from Laura Ashley. It’s always so fun to spoil people you love, don’t you think?

Have you been to Kensal Rise? Do you have any favourite places in the area, or are you now looking forward to exploring it yourself? 

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Le Cordon Bleu Scholarship Final

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

You may remember me blogging some little time ago about my fabulous day doing a vegetarian cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu and finding out all about their scholarship, which gives one lucky winner a year’s accommodation in London and entrance to the famous Diplôme de Pâtisserie, as well as many other exciting perks.  Last Thursday, I returned to Le Cordon Bleu on Bloomsbury Square, this time to witness the scholarship final and see the winner announced!

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

I arrived in the early afternoon and was quickly ushered upstairs into one of the demonstration rooms, which was set up with a kitchen area at the back and rows of chairs in front. Mirrors and TV screens were arranged over the counter and throughout the room so that everyone would be able to see the chef at work. I could feel the nerves as the 14 scholarship finalists filed into the room, looking very neat in their Le Cordon Bleu uniforms, long hair tied back and hats on. Their test was a tough one: first, they watched one of the school’s head chefs prepare a flawless tarte au citron, Italian meringue and creme anglaise (and then plate it all exquisitely). The finalists were then sent off to recreate it all themselves, with only the most basic of recipes.

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's NotebookJust before the finalists turn their hands to creating their own tarte au citron! 

Happy in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to spend my afternoon worrying about the flatness of my pastry bottom or how to pipe a herringbone pattern, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Chef Julie’s demonstration. The whole set up (despite the absence of Paul & Mary) made me feel like I was on an episode of the Great British Bake Off, and I was very relieved that all I had to do was sit back and relax. I love baking, but I’m one of the world’s slowest cooks, and the very idea of having to create a flawless dish in limited time under tense conditions fills me with dread. I’ll stick to pottering in the kitchen whilst sipping on a glass of wine and listening to a podcast at the same time!

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's NotebookTwo of the finalists with their spectacular tartes au citron.

It was clear, though, that this year’s candidates were all exceptionally talented and had a real passion for their craft. They all looked incredibly calm as they were sent off to their work stations, and when I got a peak at their tartes au citron later, I was impressed by each and every one!

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

Speaking of tarte au citron, I decided that the best use of my time whilst the candidates were sweating away over their stoves, was clearly to nip down to the Le Cordon Bleu cafe and order a lemon tart to eat myself. Solidarity, don’t you know. It was amazing! Honestly, I can’t recommend the Le Cordon Bleu cafe enough: if you’re in the Bloomsbury / Holborn area, you should definitely check it out. The patisserie is – understandably – incredible, and there’s a delicious selection of foods available for breakfast or a light lunch. The doors at the back of the cafe open onto a quiet courtyard, which is set out with chairs on a sunny day. Across the courtyard is London Review Bookshop, which I nipped into for a browse after demolishing my cake.

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

I’d also found out that Le Cordon Bleu have a rooftop herb garden, which both the chefs and students use for their cooking, and I was kindly escorted up to see it. The rooftop garden was charming, with a selection of interesting herbs and edible flowers. Le Cordon Bleu also keep their own bees, and a small bee hive was nestled picturesquely amongst bushes of lavender and rosemary.

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful view across London, and if hadn’t been rather windy I could have happily stayed on the rooftop for much longer. It was time, though, to head back downstairs to have a chat with some of the candidates and then get ready for the cocktail reception where the winner would finally be announced!

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

I’d invited my friend Arthur to join me for the reception, and as we sipped our glasses of English sparkling wine, I filled him in on the day and we eagerly anticipated the announcement of the winner. We didn’t have long to wait: after a few brief speeches, all the finalists were called to the stage…

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

and the winner was announced…

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

Keiron!

Many congratulations were certainly in order! Coincidentally, Keiron had been randomly selected as one of the candidates I’d got to speak to earlier, so that I could ask a little bit about their ambitions and the interview process for the scholarship. Although I only spoke to Keiron for about 10 minutes, his real enthusiasm for baking and food simply radiated from him and obviously impressed the judges too! It was definitely a situation where you wished everyone could have won, as clearly all the candidates were incredibly talented, but sadly these things don’t work that way. I’m sure Keiron has a fabulous year ahead of him and will make a huge success of whatever culinary adventures await!

Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook Le Cordon Bleu Final Scholarship | Miranda's Notebook

The winner announced, we were left to tuck into the many trays of delicious canapes on offer and catch up on each other’s news. It was such a fun evening, and I was so glad that I was a part of it.

If any of you are keen to try your hand at winning the Le Cordon Bleu scholarship next year, then keep your eye out: details will be announced the beginning of 2017.

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Restaurant Review | Fischer’s, Marylebone

Restaurant Review | FIscher's, Marylebone

I must have walked past Fischer’s on Marylebone High Street dozens of times without ever really paying it a great deal of attention. A few weeks ago, though, Mum and I were in Marylebone Village doing some shopping when we realised it was well into the afternoon and high time we stopped somewhere for lunch. I thought it would be fun to try somewhere new, and as we’re both fans of Austrian food, we settled on Fischer’s.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I knew I’d been missing out on a truly spectacular spot for far too long. Fischer’s is a stunning place inside and out, with wood panelled rooms, Art Deco designs and an extremely inviting array of cakes displayed at the front of the restaurant. It looks exactly like the interiors of the rather grand hotels I visited daily for kaffe und kuchen when I went to Vienna, and it’s a wonderful place to enjoy either a slice of cake or a full-blown meal (I’ve yet to sample the breakfast menu, but I’m sure it’s fabulous too!). The restaurant does get crowded at the weekend, and as we hadn’t booked, we grabbed a couple stools at the bar and waited for a free table.

Restaurant Review | FIscher's, MaryleboneIf I could get away with it, I would live off bar snacks and dessert.

Of course, wine and bar snacks always make waiting much more fun, so we happily nibbled on some brötchen: slices of rye sourdough with an assortment of toppings (we went for beetroot and herring, smoked salmon and goats’ curd and artichoke and minted broad beans). All the toppings were delicious (I think the smoked salmon was my very favourite) and thoroughly whetted our appetites for what was to follow.

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Having finished our canapes, we were soon shown to a table, and I set about the important tasks of choosing what to order and taking in my surroundings a little more closely. The beautiful clock (reminiscent of a train station’s) at Fischer’s hangs low over the heads of diners, and the rooms lined with tiles, paintings and artwork transport you to the Continent of the 1930s. I felt like I could be in the middle of one of my favourite Eva Ibbotson novels as I ordered a wiener schnitzel, complete with anchovies, capers and a fried egg. Mum went for a rösti type dish that looked thoroughly satisfying in the way that only a fried mix of potatoes, cheese, meat and egg can be. In a slight nod to healthy, I also ordered a side of paprika buttered green beans to complement my medium cut chips.

Restaurant Review | FIscher's, Marylebonefishers_4Mum got the lucky (double yoked!) egg!

I ordered the small schnitzel size (there’s a choice between small and regular), and I was glad I did, as it was still rather massive! It was very authentic and tasted just as good as the (several) I’d sampled in Vienna. The chips and beans were amazing too, although I was getting so full I couldn’t make much of a dent in the chips (a pity, as they were pretty perfect: crisp on the outside and fluffy within). Knowing that it’s unwise ever to miss the chance to have a proper Viennese dessert, though, I nodded my head when asked by our attentive waiter if I’d like to see the dessert menu. I had no idea what a Cherry Scheiterhaufen was, but the waiter explained it was a kind of bread pudding made with croissants and cherries and topped with meringue. He had me at ‘croissant bread pudding’, so I said I’d try one, and Mum went for an old favourite of hers: Franz Joseph Kaiserschmarrn, a sweet pancake that’s chopped up and served with plum compote.

Restaurant Review | FIscher's, Marylebonefishers_5

Oh my! The Cherry Scheiterhaufen was essentially heaven on a plate, and I want to go back just so I can order it again. I adore cherries, and the contrast between the croissant pudding and the meringue was delicious. Mum pronounced her pancake equally good, and we both made plans to return for another meal asap.

Restaurant Review | FIscher's, MaryleboneThe gorgeous staircase at Fischer’s.

Is Viennese food a favourite of yours too? Have you been to Fischer’s? What did you think?

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A Chat With: David Herbert

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's NotebookDavid Herbert: food writer, cookbook author, art collector, Bloomsbury Group specialist and ceramicist. 

The other week, I was lucky enough to be invited to David Herbert‘s beautiful home to have a chat about his latest project designing and creating Bloomsbury Group inspired ceramics. I’ve long been a fan of David’s work: I first knew about him as a cookbook writer, having worked my way through one of his numerous cookbooks, The Really Useful Cookbook (his most recent book – Best Home Cooking – has just been released in the UK), but I also soon became an avid reader of his former blog, It Started With a Jug, where David showcased some of his incredible collection of Bloomsbury art and ceramics.

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's NotebookA snapshot of some of David’s incredible shelves, with plates originally designed by Duncan Grant (and now available to buy) in the foreground.

Being a huge fan of the work of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, it was such a treat for me to see some of David’s pieces in person and to find out more about his fascinating life and future projects. We chatted over a pot of freshly made tea and delicious cheese scones, and I was enthralled by David’s stories about his first move from Australia to London, landing a job working as a private cook for a grand estate in Norfolk and his friendship with the artist Peggy Angus and his visits to her at Furlongs (made famous by Eric Ravilious’ paintings, Furlongs and Tea at Furlongs).

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's NotebookThe most delicious cheese scones!

I was also very excited to see the first of David’s gorgeous teacups & saucers, plates and tiles that he has designed and made himself. Having been one of his many instagram followers clamouring for him to offer the ceramics for sale (check out the website to see what is currently listed), it was such a treat to admire them in person. His designs really are beautiful and perfectly evoke the Bloomsbury spirit, and I love the delicacy of the fine china. The story of how David came about designing his own ceramics is fascinating, so without further ado I’ll skip straight to the interview!

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook

***

MN: Can you tell me a little about your background in collecting ceramics and your love of the Bloomsbury Group?

DH: I’ve collected ceramics since I was a kid; there’s always been that fascination. My Grandmother used to reward me with Shelley cups and saucers for when I did some gardening for her, and the collection gradually grew. I suppose collecting tableware (I like things that are still functional and useful) has played into my love of food as well.

There was a wonderful bookshop, not far from where I worked, and the woman there told me about a book she’d just read and that she thought I’d like as there were nice ceramics in it. It was Frances Spalding’s biography of Vanessa Bell; I thought it seemed British and arty which appealed to me. Another book followed about Bloomsbury interiors called Omega and After which was about Charleston before it reopened, and it had lots of wonderful images. The decorative schemes and colours appealed to me, and that’s where my interest really started. The Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide had a wonderful collection of Omega pieces and a big Bloomsbury selection which was on show all the time, and I went to see it and loved it.

From there my interest just evolved. I came to London in the late ‘80s and worked in a little art gallery that specialised in Bloomsbury stuff. I also worked for an art dealer as a cook, and he had really fantastic Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant works – he had everything from Stanley Spencer and so on – so that was a real education in British pictures.

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook

MN: And how did your love of food and cooking come about? Did that stem from childhood as well?

DH: That was from childhood, yes. My parents always worked, so I was the one cooking at home, and it just developed from there. I used to work as a private cook at this big country house in Norfolk – we used to have the Queen Mother for afternoon tea. It wasn’t quite Downton Abbey, but there were about 20 staff, and we’d do dinners for 16 or so, with things like pheasant brought back from a shooting trip. Then when I went back to Australia I had a reputation as a private cook and so got a job cooking for the Prime Minister at the time. After a while, I also got a job as a food editor, and after that started writing a food column in a newspaper. When I moved back to the UK, I continued working for magazines and writing about food and recipes.

MN: What first sparked your interest in creating your own Bloomsbury ceramics?

DH: I like to hold Bloomsbury Tea Parties at home, and I wanted Bloomsbury style cups and saucers that were safe to put into the dishwasher, as the real things have to be hand washed and can break too easily. I noticed this course at City Lit called ‘Designing Ceramics With Photoshop,’ and I thought ‘Uh-oh! I want to do this!’ So the plan started with me just wanting to make cups and saucers I could use for my tea parties, and I made a few to see what I could do. But then people started saying ‘Oh I like those! Where can I buy them?’ so I decided to make a whole range.

MN: What’s your design process like in creating the ceramics?

DH: I buy the blanks, then I sketch and paint the patterns and size them up to fit on Photoshop (that’s the hardest part!), then I send them off to Stoke on Trent, and they make transfers and send them back. I bought a kiln, so I fire them up on the kiln here. It really is a from the kitchen table operation!

A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's NotebookSome of David’s beautiful teacups & saucers

MN: How do you go about sourcing items to add to your collection?

DH: I scan auction rooms and auctions online, and I tend to find things that other people might not pick up on because I really know what I’m looking for. There’s a teapot there [pointing to a nearby shelf] that’s part of a tea service Vanessa Bell designed and made for Virginia Woolf. The teapot went missing about 20 odd years ago, but I bought it at a little salesroom in Salisbury a few months ago because I knew immediately what it was. It’s about being in the right place at the right time.

MN: Who in your life has influenced you the most?

DH: Peggy Angus was one of my biggest influences. I think Peggy Angus was a real motivator, and I think there’s something about Peggy that anyone who knew her and loved her was left with a kind of creative spell that became a part of you. I admire Duncan Grant and Roger Fry too – I think they were the most extraordinary people.

MN: How did you first meet Peggy Angus?

DH: I met her on the train going to Charleston; it was my first time going to Charleston, and I met her at the train station at Lewes. I noticed this elderly woman in a William Morris-type patterned dress and a red cap, and I thought she looked interesting so I sat down next to her, and it was Peggy. We got chatting, and she told me all about herself and her friends (I’d never heard of Ravilious in those days). She told me about her wallpaper-making business, and she was always after volunteers to help! Our friendship grew from there. She was an inspiring person, and when I went back to Australia there wasn’t a day where I didn’t think of Peggy Angus, because she was just incredible – the things she did, and the way she did it, and the fact that she never stopped doing stuff until the day she died.

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A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's Notebook A Chat With David Herbert | Miranda's NotebookI adore the tiles David designed – they make the perfect rest for a teapot!

To follow along with David Herbert’s latest adventures and receive updates about his ceramics and projects, do check out his: Instagram, Twitter and Blog. Also, David is currently involved in curating an exhibition at Victoria Gallery in Bath (which will show June – September 2016) on lost Bloomsbury Rooms (1914-1930), which sounds absolutely fascinating, so make sure to make a note in your diary! I can’t wait to go myself.

Are you a fan of Bloomsbury Group art and ceramics? What did you enjoy most about David’s interview?

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