Tag Archives: dining_out

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

Written in celebration of ‘romance,’ February’s blog word of the month. 

This article is a contributor post by Claire Jones. As well as being a fantastic writer, Claire is known amongst her friends as always having exceptional food and book recommendations. I knew she’d be the perfect person to write about her most romantic London meals, and this fabulous list, from the most beautiful proposal to a perfect date night, definitely has my heart fluttering! – Miranda

The 5 Most Romantic Meals I’ve Had in London

by Claire Jones

The most personal of these romantic meals was a picnic in Kensington Gardens where my boyfriend – now husband – proposed. Picnics have always been special to us, marking several defining moments in our relationship, so it was the perfect way to pop the question in a semi-secluded area beneath a tree. London spoils us with a variety of romantic picnic spots and shops, delis, or restaurants that provide lush picnic food. We chose to go to the nearby Whole Foods for cheese, charcuterie, and pink champagne. We had brought our picnic bag from home that, unbeknown to me, carried new picnicware, our cutlery and napkins from home, and a surprise ring box. Even if the picnic is not going to be as momentous as a proposal one, it’s still a delightful way to while away a dry afternoon in London, spending quality time together.

Our engagement came in two parts: the following evening we celebrated at City Social, Jason Atherton’s Michelin starred restaurant in Tower 42. We toasted our future with quirky, imaginative cocktails while looking over the city at dusk; we moved from aperitifs to a secluded table that looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the Gherkin. A year later we celebrated our wedding in the private dining room, again looking out at the city lights.

A highlight of City Social is the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce to share – what’s more romantic than a dessert between two?! If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or you are simply not inclined to share food, then there is also a delectable cheese trolley.

Love is in the air. There are now several restaurants in London skyscrapers that provide breathtaking views of London, but Duck & Waffle is the highest and does so twenty four hours a day. Watching the sun rise together high above the city is a special experience to have but it helps that breakfast is great too! Order individual dishes but be sure to share a portion of the signature duck & waffle, the sweet and savoury components complementing each other as all good relationships should.

Whoever said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, has never eaten in Hawksmoor… Hawksmoor’s steak is the way to everyone’s heart. Purveyors of the best steak in London, it’s not a conventionally romantic venue but it makes for a wonderful date night. I prefer the ambience of the Seven Dials restaurant but each of the Art Deco outposts offer elegance, fantastic food and drinks, plus unsurpassed levels of customer service. Hawksmoor offers sumptuous, indulgent food and a well-stocked bar for pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks.

Situated in The Berkeley, Marcus is the eponymous two Michelin starred restaurant owned by Marcus Wareing. Whether you opt for the seasonal tasting menus or a la carte, both using British ingredients, Marcus is an unforgettable meal. It is a restaurant that creates memories while serving precision cooking and an extensive wine list. The Berkeley is an impressive venue and the restaurant is highly acclaimed and deservedly so. Desserts are especially sensual and well-recommended. Marcus is very much a special occasion restaurant and one to go to when romancing or being romanced, to wow or be wowed.

Paris may be considered the city of love but London is most certainly a city of romance.

***

Claire Jones is originally from Glasgow, but now lives in London and works in publishing. You can follow her adventures in London and beyond through her fabulous instagram account. If you like adorable pictures of cats and great food and book recommendations, then Claire should definitely be on your ‘following’ list.

***

Goodness, I can’t wait to try out all of these restaurants! I completely agree with Claire that Hawksmoor is the perfect setting for a date: steak is certainly a way to my heart, and one of the best dates I’ve been on was at the Covent Garden Hawksmoor branch. And Marcus sounds the perfect setting to get swept off my feet…. I love how in the end, though, Claire’s most romantic meal was a simple picnic in a London park.

How about you? What are some of the most romantic meals you’ve ever had? Are you keen to try any of the restaurants Claire recommends?

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London Food | Veneta, St James’s

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

A few weeks ago, my friend Arthur took me to lunch at the newly opened restaurant, Veneta, in St James’s. Veneta is the latest enterprise under the Salt Yard Group, and its menu is inspired by Venetian cuisine. The restaurant’s interior evokes the beautiful city too, with its watery green colour scheme, elaborate chandeliers and ironwork reminiscent of long, black gondolas.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

It’s been many years since I was in Venice, but I still remember ordering my first proper fritto misto there, which was delicious. There’s nothing so obvious as fritto misto on the Veneta menu, but there is plenty of fish and seafood, as well as imaginative pasta and risotto dishes.

Arthur and I started off with some deliciously plump green olives as we perused the menu and caught up on each other’s news.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

The menu is tapas style, with a suggested 2-3 plates each to share. I have to admit, I’m getting slightly bored of tapas; to me it feels like the trend has been rather over done in London. However, it is a nice way to sample different dishes, and the Veneta menu certainly has a wide-range of options, so even if you’re dining with people with certain dietary requirements, you shouldn’t find your choice too restricted. Arthur and I decided to sample a dish from the raw bar first: Cornish mackerel tartare with fennel pollen.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

This dish was exquisitely done: the mackerel had a surprisingly delicate flavour (it’s quite a pungent fish when cooked!) and the light dressing was the perfect match.

I settled down to thoroughly enjoy my meal, soaking up the warmth and vibrancy of the restaurant, as it was a decidedly damp and cold day outside.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Next up was a bowl of steamed clams and cockles in a garlic, parsley, lemon and cinnamon broth, as well as wild mushroom and truffle risotto with gremolata (a chopped herb condiment made with parsley, lemon zest and garlic).

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's NotebookLondon Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Both Arthur and I agreed at the end that the stand-out dish of the whole meal was the risotto. Far from the typical second-rate offering many restaurants include as a nod to vegetarian diners, this mushroom risotto was a spectacular addition to our feast. The truffle brought out the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the addition of gremolata (usually served with meats) was sheer genius. The pesto-like herb mix both lightened the dish and gave it an extra boost of flavour. Delicious!

Sadly, the least successful dish of the meal was definitely the clams. I usually enjoy cinnamon, but it was rather overpowering in this dish, and I can’t say I like it in combination with garlic and slightly briny seafood.

Our next two orders were more successful: roast duck with peverada, pickled pear and radicchio and red prawn agnolotti, shellfish brodo and oregano.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Of these two, the duck was especially my favourite. It was perfectly cooked – blushing pink in the middle and crisp on the outside. The red prawn agnoletti were delicate, but still flavourful, and we happily tucked into both plates.

Feeling rather full, we decided to share a dessert, and settled on the Frittelle (Venetian doughnuts served during the Carnival) with cinnamon cream, hot chocolate sauce and fruit compote.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

The frittelle were a little dry (I think they would have been lovely filled with either the cream or the fruit compote, with the chocolate sauce for dipping), but we slathered on the toppings and still managed to polish off every one!

Overall, I very much enjoyed my lunch at Veneta, and I highly recommend ordering the mushroom risotto if you find yourself there for a meal!

Have you tried the menu at Veneta yet? What did you think of it? Do you love tapas restaurants, or do you also feel they’ve been a little over-done in the last few years?

P.S. Making pumpkin pie next week for Thanksgiving? Make sure you download my recipe!

London Food | The Gate, Islington

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

I was put off vegetarianism / veganism at a very young age, when my family was on holiday in Vermont, and we stopped off unsuspectingly at what we soon found out was a vegan restaurant. This was a good 20 years ago (goodness, that makes me feel old), when veganism was far from the relatively mainstream diet it is today, and vegetarian/vegan cuisine has certainly improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. I still remember the plate of strange tasting, cold noodles, served with a drizzle of olive oil and nothing else that so unimpressed my 10 year old self (I’d spent the past 5 years in California after all; sushi was my favourite food).

Ever since then, I’ve tended to view vegetarian/vegan restaurants slightly suspiciously; however, when I had the opportunity to try out The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant in Islington, I leapt at the chance, as I’d read so many rave reviews of it in the past. First opened in 1989, The Gate has long been topping the lists of the best vegetarian restaurants in London, and I was soon to find out why!

Earlier in the week, I took my friend John along with me for what I thought would be a fairly quick lunch, but in fact our meal turned into one of the most leisurely and delicious I’ve had for quite some time. It was wonderful, and a particularly great half-term treat to be able to spend so long over a mid-day meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, LondonThe Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

The Gate Restaurant’s original branch is in Hammersmith, but as well as the Islington location, it’s opening a Marylebone branch in December, which is super news for me as Marylebone Village is always a favourite area of mine. I chose to try the Islington restaurant, as I noticed how nearby it is to Sadler’s Wells, and I always find it so useful to know of good dining options close to a favourite theatre. The Islington branch is a large, attractive space, with plenty of natural light streaming in from from a wall of windows.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John arrived, and we decided to order a carafe of wine to share between us (I always appreciate restaurants that offer you the choice of a carafe, as it’s definitely a more lunch-friendly option, and I generally wouldn’t want more than a carafe to share between two people anyway). Our waitress helpfully suggested a wine she thought we would particularly enjoy – the Picpoul de Pinet, Mirande – but also said she would bring it for us to taste, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc, to see which we preferred. She was right – her recommendation was by far our favourite and proved to be the perfect accompaniment to our meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

Apart from the food, what really stood out for me at The Gate was the exceptionally good service. All the staff were so friendly, knowledgable and attentive, which added a great deal to the pleasurable experience of our meal. The quality of service can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss in London, so it was really refreshing to be in a restaurant where the staff hit just the right note.

Feeling our stomachs beginning to rumble, we perused the menu. I should mention that all dishes are clearly marked as being vegetarian or vegan, as well as gluten free. Some vegan dishes can be made vegetarian, and vice-versa, and there are options to have nuts or not in a dish, depending on your preference. The restaurant is also child friendly, with a menu offering kid friendly options like potato and cheddar croquettes and the pasta of the day.

We decided to start with the mezze platter: an inviting dish to share between two people, offering a taster of the a la carte starters. The mezze selection takes about 15 minutes to prepare (and is marked as such on the menu), so our waitress suggested we enjoy some bread, tapenade and olives whilst we waited.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

The homemade warm, crusty bread was perfect for dipping in the olive oil and tapenade mix (we both love tapenade so particularly enjoyed this over the more usual plain bread and butter offering). The olives were tasty as well, and we nibbled happily away, catching up on each other’s news and exchanging recommendations for TV shows and books we were enjoying (I’m currently gripped by The Missing – anyone else?!). Our platter arrived, looking stunning, and John got his first proper taste of what it’s like to dine out with a blogger: lots of camera snapping and me exclaiming ‘oh! I must post this as an instagram story!’

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

We tried: miso glazed aubergine (my favourite!), three lentil pate terrine, hazelnut and honey crusted goat cheese with beetroot carpaccio, couscous fritters with a Moroccan style carrot puree and a three onion tart. Everything tasted so fresh and flavourful and looked so pretty on the plate (I always think food should be pleasing to the eye, as well as the stomach!). The miso glazed aubergine was the standout for me: the mix of sweet and salty was just right, and the scattering of nuts and sesame on the top gave a pleasing contrast in texture to the meltingly soft aubergine.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

I loved sharing the platter: it was such a fun way to start the meal, and it was nice to get such a different variety of mezze from the more typical mix of dips and salads. John pronounced everything as exceedingly good too, and we managed to polish off so much we began to worry we’d have enough appetite for our mains!

I liked the sound of the butternut rotolo: layered potatoes stuffed with butternut squash, Italian sundried tomato and basil, served alongside celeriac puree, apple and celery salad, sweet potato crisps and a creamy sorrel sauce.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

It was a wonderful autumnal dish, and despite my fears, I managed to polish off every bite! The sweet potato crisps were delicious – I insisted John try some too – and I loved the butternut rotolo, which somehow managed to not be too starchy. The celeriac puree was perfectly seasoned, and the salad provided a welcome freshness and bite. When done well, I love how vegetarian food tastes luxurious and delicious, and yet doesn’t leave you feeling too heavy and sleepy at the end of a meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John went for tortillas filled with black bean, sweetcorn, soft onion and coriander in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, with guacamole, green tomato and sweet pepper salsa. He had the non-vegan version, opting for a topping of sour cream. A confirmed meat eater, he still thoroughly enjoyed this dish, as he did all the food, and neither of us missed the presence of meat at all.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

For sides, we had some mixed steamed greens (I always love getting as many greens into a meal as possible!), and our waitress told us the chunky herb polenta chips with garlic aioli were a must-try. Again, her recommendation was spot-on: the chips were beautifully crispy, with just the right amount of salt, and were exceedingly more-ish. We both loved them!

Of course, when the dessert menu appeared, I found I couldn’t resist. I love anything with almond in it, so settled on the apple and almond tart, with apple and calvados sorbet.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John, as I could have predicted, ordered the sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice-cream (I have yet to know a man who doesn’t say yes to this pudding whenever it’s on a menu!). We sampled each dessert and pronounced them both delicious!

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John and I agreed that we’d both had the most lovely lunch, and if you find yourself in Islington, Hammersmith or (from December!) Marylebone, then I definitely suggest planning a meal at The Gate.

I would equally recommend the restaurant for a quick, working lunch break, as well as more leisurely meal in the day or evening. There is a shorter lunch menu that is offered, which lists extremely reasonable dishes (£7-£8.50) that are ideal for a healthy, satisfying mid-day meal if you work in the area and fancy popping out for your lunch break. The Islington branch is where I’ll be booking for a pre or post theatre supper next time I’ve got tickets to see a show at Sadler’s Wells or The Almeida. I would also suggest The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants as ideal places to book if you’re planning a meal with friends who you know have specific dietary requirements. With a flexible menu and wonderful service, you’ll all be guaranteed to enjoy a lovely meal (even the die-hard meat eaters amongst you!).

Have you been to any of The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants? Which dish would you most like to try from the ones we ordered?

** This meal was complimentary, but as always, my opinions (and those of my friends) are my own and theirs. It is my policy to share only the best on Miranda’s Notebook! 

** Want to read more of my restaurant reviews? Check them out here.

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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:

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

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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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.

paris_22

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

fishers_8

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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