Sunday, 29 December 2019

A GUIDE TO CHRISTMAS IN LONDON (AND HOW TO MAKE IT PARENT FRIENDLY)



My mum, for the second year running, made the trip over to London to celebrate Christmas with me and despite an argument (or four) this was for sure our best Christmas to date. Why? Well I made sure we really made the most of London at Christmas and never got too bored sitting around my flat. What was on the agenda you may ask? Well below are a few highlights of our 6 days together and although my mum may be far from perfect this festive period made me love her (and London) even more, so I hope you can pick up a tip or two when it comes to entertaining your parents in my favourite city, be it Christmas or not! 


EXPLORE LONDON ON FOOT! 

I don’t get to take long walks in London enough when I’m working so I loved showing my mum areas I don’t usually venture to. We started off on her first full day in London going West and having a wonder around South Kensington and Knightsbridge, taking in the beautiful ice rink outside the National History museum and Harrods’s always impressive food hall along the way. It is an area that is super pretty during this time of the a year and which I can once in a while tolerate with its masses of tourists. 

We then headed towards central and explored the classic shopping spots like Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Soho’s little side streets.

Luckily my mum was there over a weekend so the next day we embarked on another beautiful walk from mine in Hoxton to Borough market via Spitalfields, which now with its new food court and great selection of boutiques is always worth checking out, and London Bridge.

I love walking through this stretch near Liverpool street, with its tall and shiny skyscrapers, during the holidays or on a Sunday, so eerily quiet yet impressive to look at, offering a total different way of seeing the city.

Borough Market was unsurprisingly heaving but the atmosphere when the market is on is always so great plus there is a permanent store selling German groceries called ‘The German Deli’ that allowed us to pick up the goodies from my homeland that my mum forgot or couldn’t find for the Christmas days. 


From Borough Market you almost have to continue your walk down by the Thames towards Southbank, especially if the weather is as nice as we were lucky enough to experience, as you get to take in some pretty amazing panoramic views of the city. I always like to cross back into central via the bridge just outside the Tate which takes you straight to St Pauls cathedral and soon towards Covent Garden.



I think we averaged about 25,000 plus steps each day but it really didn’t feel like it. Right before Christmas London quietens and calms down and gave us the chance to see the city I call home from a new perspective, discovering corners I had never seen before.


DRINK AND EAT AT COOL BUT PARENT FRIENDLY PLACES!

There are cool restaurants and there are parent friendly AND cool restaurants. Not to say that my mum wouldn’t appreciate some underground supper club but I wanted to take her to slightly fancy yet affordable spots where she didn’t feel like the only person over 35 and which also made her feel a little spoiled.

My top picks on this occasion were the Wigmore (my new favourite fancy pub discovery, thank you Maddie!) which is a pub with a difference, being attached to the snazzy Langham hotel and which wins with its gorgeous interiors as well as serving the most amazing Bloody Mary salt chips, Circolo Popolare because heck any Big Mamma restaurant is here to wow no matter the age and a divine roast at the super cosy Exmouth Arms



I have of course been to the Exmouth Arms many times before, it being the preferred watering hole on a Sunday of me and my partner in crime Maddie, but had not eaten there yet for some reason. Well I am happy to report that their roast dinner offering was outstanding and very good value for money. My mum loved her roast beef while my mushroom and butternut squash wellington was perfectly cooked and seasoned, not a given considering the many, many bland and soggy wellington I have endured in my time. Trimmings were also great, plenty of cabbage to get a bit of green, an excellent Yorkshire Pudding, cauliflower cheese (one of my favourite side dishes), roast potatoes and roast root vegetables and the whole vibe was absolutely lovely on the Sunday afternoon we went, with a diverse and friendly crowd that gave my mum an excellent taste of Sunday lunch pub culture at its best. 





BE CULTURED!
I put my hands up, I don’t make enough of an effort to experience the amazing culture London has to offer. Yes, my lovely friend Henry and I share the guilty pleasure of musicals and see at least a couple a year but that is about the extent of effort I make, which is of course lazy and ridiculous, especially when one considers how many amazing theatres, museums and other cultural institutions London has to offer. 

Indeed it was walking past Sadler’s Wells theatre for about the millionth time on a weekend stroll through Clerkenwell that I thought ‘why the hell have I not been?!”, particularly as they are known for their inventive ballet performances. After a bit of research back in October I realised 'The Red Shoes' ballet by Mathew Bourne was going to be on over Christmas and I immediately bought two tickets, reasonably priced if you book ahead.

Now, it was not the best ballet I have ever seen but that really did not matter, the whole experience of getting dressed up and going to the theatre was utterly enchanting and, my mum being here or not, I will try and take in a lot more of the amazing culture I fortunate to have at my front door in 2020 that is for sure.


TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF CHRISTMAS DAY!

Of course I also had to consider what to do on the big day. Last year we spent Christmas day with a friend of mine and her mum which was lovely but made me realise it is always going to be a little odd joining another family’s festivities unless you are very, very close to them.

Hosting at mine could have been an option but I think cooking for two always means loosing a bit of the grandeur that a Christmas feast should be all about plus it makes the one on one time in my small flat inevitably more intense with nothing to diffuse possible arguments.

Instead I started to look into which hotels and restaurants were open on Christmas day and what their menus were like. You can get some decent offers at places like The Hoxton for around £80 a head, though everything on their menu sounded pretty meh and standard. I nearly booked the Ham Yard hotel who were offering a very nice sounding modern European inspired 4 course menu with a glass of champagne and canapés but then had a brain wave as I chatted with Maddie about the most impressive and old school dinner venues in London…both of us concluded it would have undoubtedly be The Ned!

For those that don’t know The Ned is a hotel, members club and multi restaurant space, located in a beautifully converted bank, and is also part of the Soho house group. It has awe inspiring and grand interiors that effortlessly carries a certain level of luxury which you can find across all Soho house operation and which for me made it the ideal spot for an indulgent Christmas day.

I was even more convinced when I saw their dining concept for the day: a 3 hour unlimited buffet plus a glass of Prosecco for £110 per person. I know its not cheap but considering the amazing set up and that the buffet included lobsters, smoked salmon, any kind of meat you’d want and a whole cheese table, yours to demolish for a total of 3 hours I was sold. I would hundred percent go back not only because of the amazing atmosphere with a life band playing all evening, the incredible buffet which is about as luxury of a buffet you are ever going to get and the attentive service but also because of the overall amazing vibe, with a room full of people wanting to celebrate Christmas day in the best of ways.

A word of warning: book early. I booked our table at the end of October and was lucky to get a space at all (and it was a late one at 6:45pm too) and also be aware you have to pay the full sum right there and then, for me hundred percent worth it though and trust me I will be the first one to pick up the phone when their reservations for 2020 open. The Ned is one of a kind and their Christmas dinner the most indulgent and stress free way to spent the 25th December with your loved ones.


COOK TOGETHER!

Or at least have one of you watch the other. I will do a post soon on our little German feast which was so fun to do. From planning the menu, to go the the supermarket to gather ingredients, to getting the table all set up, I loved every aspect of our day of planning this feast.

My mum cannot cook to save her life but she did her best to contribute- mainly through cleaning dishes and setting up the table, but it still felt like a collaborative effort and without the pressure of it being Christmas day made for a festive feast where the prep was as much fun as eating the final end result plus it also was a lot cheaper than eating out which I love doing in London but doesn’t need to be done every day!


AND REMEMBER YOU ONLY HAVE ONLY HAVE ONE FAMILY!
They can be annoying, know how to push your buttons and expect a lot, but you know what cherish every second with your family even if just on this one occasion a year. I have spent Christmas alone and it really truly sucks. No one is perfect so be willing to compromise over Christmas and not let the little things ruin the days in which it is about good food and spending quality time with your family and friends. You may need a break from them after it (and I do for sure from my beloved mother) but enjoy it while it lasts, heck it is only once a year!

Friday, 27 December 2019

MY KIND OF CHRISTMAS JUMPER


Puffer / GAP
Jumper / & Other Stories
Trousers / The Chords
Shoes / ASOS
Bag / Staud

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

FESTIVE CINNAMON & RAISIN COOKIES



I don't tend to bake a lot, mainly because I don't own scales or a mixer (London house share minimalism as I would call it) but also because I usually lack the patience and time required to master the art of making cakes, pastries and the like. I love cooking and the instant results you get but make me wait two hours for some yeast to rise and I am out.

However with some time out of the office before Christmas and still lusting after Crème's incredible raisin cookies, I wanted to try and recreate something similar at home. After some searching on the world wide web I stumbled across this super easy recipe for gooey and soft cinnamon and raisin cookie and to make things even better no scale or mixer is required to make them!

All you need is a cup measure which you can pick up in just about any Poundland or the like, some bowls and a bit of elbow grease to mix all the different components together before baking! Take your time when soaking the raisins in the butter, sugar and cinnamon juice as this helps make the cookies extra soft and gooey. You could add chocolate chips but I don't think its needed - they taste like pure Christmas joy with the raisins, the cinnamon and buttery dough and are a delight to eat whether straight out of the oven while still warm or the next day with a lovely glass of almond milk!

Give these a go over the festive days, even a baking novice like me managed to get them impressively right and they have been firmly added to my recipe repertoire.

INGREDIENTS
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (or triple to amount of baking powder)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup golden brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

METHOD
  • Add the butter to a medium-sized sauce pot and place it over low-medium heat. 
  • Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to low. 
  • Add the raisins, vanilla and cinnamon and stir to blend. Cover and let this gently simmer for 10 minutes. 
  • Turn the heat off, keep the pot covered, and let it sit for 50 minutes.
  • While the raisins are soaking, preheat the oven to 175 celsius.
  • Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, set aside, and adjust two racks towards the centre of the oven.
  • In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside. 
  • Add both sugars to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  • Once the raisins have soaked in the butter for 50 minutes, add the mixture to the bowl with the sugar and mix to blend. Then add the eggs and mix until they are fully incorporated. 
  • Fold the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just until you no longer see any dry spots.
  • Use two big spoons to drop the batter onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. There should be a couple of centimetres between them. 
  • Bake in the preheated oven until they're set and slightly golden along the edges, 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Let them cool a little and enjoy!

Friday, 20 December 2019

BIG SHOULDER ENERGY


Set / Zara
Shirt / ASOS
Boots / Mango

Thursday, 19 December 2019

CRÈME - THE BEST COOKIES IN LONDON?






I have a sweet tooth, there is no denying that and while I am not a big cake person I LOVE a good cookie which is why I got VERY excited when I heard about a brand new bakery opening up in Soho that was going to specialise in baking hefty, gooey and delicious cookies that also pushed the boat out in terms of flavour combos and ingredients used.

It also helps of course that I am a total marketing victim and their beautifully curated Instagram feed and well designed packaging made me even more determined to check Crème out (they already have a very decent Instagram audience of nearly 24k despite only opening their doors to the pubic in September). 

As I saw a queue sneak out of the tiny bakery space, which only has seating space for two by the window so be prepared to takeaway unless you are very lucky and don’t mind a constant stream of people walking in and out, clearly I was not the only one that had gotten wind of this place. However I am happy to report that here the social media hype was fully worth it and I may have had my favourite cookie in London EVER here, and that is saying something considering how many cookies I have tried since living here.

Why are they so great you may ask? Well at Crème they have nailed the perfect gooey inside to crumbly outside ratio and the flavours are also out of this world good. There aren’t many, in fact they only do 4 types of cookies, but you really don’t need more when the classics are done so well. 

Not that they don’t add their own twists - alongside your classic double chocolate and milk chocolate cookies you also get my absolute favourite- white chocolate and miso which may sound an odd flavour combination but here works an utter treat. I don’t quite know how to describe the flavour combo but it was just about the best white chocolate cookie of my life and I have been back several times to get my hands on more. 

On my second visit I also tried their fourth and last cookie flavour on offer, oat and raisin, which was perfectly soft and was made from an incredibly delicious spiced cookie dough, speckled with juicy raisins, and was able to just about blow any other oat and raisin cookie I have ever had out of the water.

Disclaimer: they are not cheap, in fact it's £4 for one cookie or £22 for a box of 5 which is a lot, I have to admit, especially considering that a Ben’s cookie is still under £2, but at Crème I wasn’t actually outraged to be spending this kind of money. I guess for me Crème is the Laduree of cookies, an artisanal product, baked fresh on the premises that is a real spectacle to eat and to be honest one would happily spent that much on an amazing slice of cake so I don't see why the same can't apply to a cookie!


I have been back every weekend for a treat cookie since my first visit, literally craving them, and I urge you to go to Crème ASAP - yes the place and the cookies are Instagram gold and their branding is fab but boy the cookies are a straight 10/10 and that is saying something coming from this self proclaimed Cookie Monster.


OTHER GREAT COOKIES

BEN'S COOKIES

You can’t go wrong with a Ben’s Cookie and once in a while nothing is better than a lovely red box of mixed cookies from them. Quality can vary depending on which of their branches you go to (I’ve had a few slightly “off” tasting cookies before) but generally these cookies are iconic for a reason! My favourites: white chocolate macadamia nut and dark chocolate.


AND IF YOU GO SUPERMARKET: SAINSBURY’S TASTE THE DIFFERENCE WHITE CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY

If you want a good and cheap supermarket cookie fix then I can’t recommend these Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference cookies enough. They are miles better than any other supermarket cookie and are baked daily at the in-store bakeries so taste super fresh. They strike the perfect balance of sweet from the white chocolate and a little tart from the freeze dried raspberries, have a great texture AND are only £1.65 for a pack of four. These have rescued me on more hungover occasion than I’d like to admit and have never failed to fulfil my cookie cravings!

Monday, 16 December 2019

POP ART STRIPES



Jumper / Lazy Oaf
Skirt / 5Preview
Boots / Mango
Beret / Itchy Scratchy Patchy

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Monday, 9 December 2019

KILN - IS IT REALLY THE BEST RESTAURANT IN LONDON?





This week I am reviewing Thai small plates hot spot Kiln which Time Out deemed to be London’s number 1 restaurant right now. It’s a review shorter than my usual essay length posts as I simply was not convinced by Kiln’s offering, not only because my expectations were pretty high to start with but because here I think the hype fully outweighs the actually merits of the restaurant, particularly when you consider that waiting times for a table can be up to three hours.

Luckily we didn’t make quite such a time investment, attempting to score a dinner spot for two around 10pm on a Friday night after we had just watched the brand new musical & Juliet (cheesy as hell but very fun and with affordable ticket so recommended to any fellow musical fans). However even arriving this late in the evening we still ended up having to wait half an hour, standing in the way of just about every single waiter in this very narrow restaurant, where most dining is done around the bar counter. Now I don’t mind a cosy restaurant but here everything felt very squeezed and I stopped counting how many times a waiter nearly fell into me with a tray full of food.

We persevered however and waited, ordering a decent ginger margarita(£6.50 a pop but pretty watery and mainly consistent of ice) in the meantime and did get pretty hungry and excited by the fragrant Thai smells we were picking up from the open kitchen behind the bar.

Full disclaimer I LOVE Thai food and cook it regularly from scratch at home, using authentic ingredients I can get from the Asian supermarket on my road (you can re-create my pad thai recipe here). I also adore Rosa’s Thai mini chain of restaurants, across the board offering consistently good Thai food that is well prepared and very reasonably priced. And that is where I had my issues with Kiln. The small plates…are well just really small and very expensive at that, especially if, after all, you are only eating a kind of variation on a Thai curry.

Indeed our sour turmeric curry of cod was ok flavour wise but consisted of a tiny piece of fish in some sauce and was a hefty £8.50 for that, a price for which you can get a regular sized curry at some still very decent Thai takeaways in London. On top of that, rice was charged for additionally which I found a little ridiculous considering the carb-less and small plate portions we faced and added another little annoyance to an already mediocre meal which I had expected was going to wow me.

I mean from what I saw on Instagram while researching Kiln beforehand, the meat dishes are meant to stun here so maybe only eating fish (veggie options are basically none existent and I would not recommend dining her as vegetarian) meant I didn’t get the full dining experience on offer but I can only go by what I tried and that just a bit meh.

That is not to say there weren’t some highlights. We did adore the clay pot baked glass noodles with crab meat, a dish that usually come with pork belly but we were able to ask for without. It was a moorish, silky, fishy and fragrant concoction that we could have easily eaten double of but which appeared before any of the other dishes even though it would have worked a treat with the more curry based menu options. A once again small (very small) plate of cuttle fish was fine in a thick red curry marinade and very much edible like everything we ate, but nothing quite blew me away in the way I had expected or offered the comfort I usually associate with this cuisine.

Maybe I was never going to enjoy Kiln the way a meat eater would have, but then again I had never struggled finding amazing meat-free Thai food before. Perhaps then this hipster small plate take on a cuisine I value so much for its down to earth flavours was never going to win me over especially when it was hyped up to such an extent. Would I go back to Kiln? Honestly I’d rather stick to Rosa’s or cook Thai food at home, getting a red Thai curry fix that won’t require a three hour wait in a cramped room. So don’t believe everything you read on Time Out, a title can be deceiving as it turns out…indeed what is your favourite restaurant in London?