Restaurants with set menus and multiple fancy sounding courses usually mean you are in for A hit to the wallet and likely to face a bit of a stuffy dining atmosphere. Not the case at new Hackney spot Casa Fofo.
It may look like your typical hipster bistro, exposed bricks and the works, but the food here is of haute cuisine quality, both in terms of presentation and flavour, and the price for their seasonally changing set menu (£39 for 7 courses) is a TOTAL steal! You get all the trimmings of a high end dinner- fancy flavoured butter, amazing bread and attentive service that talks you through every intricate course, yet I never felt intimidated by their lovely waiters and the generally very laid back atmosphere that works a treat when combined with this level of cooking.
Veggies and Pescatrians get custom set menus for the same price and I loved every single course, even if at times my flavour buds were pushed to the unfamiliar. The wine pairing is only an additional £25 which is totally worth it with a lovely selection of wines and generous servings as well as a very fun sommelier to talk you through each pairing.
Much like Pidgin, where the chef behind Casa Fofo cut his teeth before, this little gem proves that you can do cutting edge fine dining without a ridiculous price tag and I for one can’t wait to go back, even more so as the menu is constantly changing and evolving. Make sure to book ahead and go here for a special treat as this food will truly wow you!
I am always on the look out for a good quality brunch and was pleasantly surprised by this local spot, a stones throw away Hackney Central Station. It may not be super cool or have the newest and fanciest interiors but they deliver on what matter the most - the food!
There is a good mix of sweet and savoury options and portions are super generous, especially considering their prices, a lot lower than most other East London brunch spots where one can easily end up spending £25 per head on brunch (without alcohol).
My favourites were the amazing sweet potato fries, all kinds of crunchy and perfectly fried, served with mayo and sweet chilli sauce, and their signature French toast. This was not only beautifully presented but was also absolutely delicious- juicy brioche slices that came topped with clotted cream, maple syrup and plenty of berries, again amazing value for money with a big plate of the good stuff only costing £8.9. Service was lovely and the whole place had a very homely atmosphere, perfect to spend a relaxed Sunday afternoon at. Honest, tasty and without gimmicks - Paelette does brunch just as I like it.
I was more than a little bit surprised when we got to Emilia’s St Katherine’s Dock location for a late summer Sunday dinner. I mean the dock part should have given it away somewhat but I did not expect to feel like I was dining right by a harbour when I was basically in the middle of East London!
And what a lovely location it is, overlooking beautiful yachts and the high rises of the city, really making you feel like you’ve stumbled across a hidden little escape and if the weather allows it I can only recommend perching on one of their outside tables to take it all in.
The menu is all about pasta, which is made freshly every day, and though it was not the best pasta I have ever had, it was still very enjoyable and keenly priced, especially considering the wonderful atmosphere and location. My favourite was the smoked salmon carbonara, a very interesting take on the classic recipe, and we also enjoyed their flaked yellowfin tuna fillet with homemade tomato sauce, peperoncino and freshly chopped parsley.
Their signature dessert ‘Emilia’s special’ is a must order - vanilla ice cream topped with honey, crushed amaretti and cantuccini biscuits, a perfect marriage of creamy, crunchy and sweet, offering the perfect end to a very enjoyable meal with a view I won’t forget in a while.
Emilia’s does solid Italian cooking but wins with it’s location alone - a must visit for every East Londoner, wanting to escape and dine a little differently even if just for a few hours.
Being at Paris fashion week may sound all kinds of glamorous to people that don’t work in the industry but, being my third season in, I can tell you it is pretty hard work. I know, I know, total first world problems and hey I love my job which enables me to be in Paris during the week of shows, mostly to be found backstage capturing our agency’s amazing talents in action, but fashion week month also means having basically no weekends (I was remotely covering shows), running around town from early morning until late evening, trying to do your office job at the same time, somehow attempting to dress nice, constantly socialising and fundamentally surviving on barely any sleep.
For those that don’t know, Paris is at the end of the fashion week circle, preceded by New York, London and Paris and boy you can tell - everyone from fashion editors to agents to models look exhausted yet there is something magical about the industry hanging out in the French capital with the end of the season in sight.
Somehow a diet of champagne, bread and French fries keeps everyone alive for the last stretch of fashion madness and it is quite funny to see Paris overrun by the best and worst of the fashion world. I dragged myself onto my Eurostar back on a rainy Monday, utterly hungover, bloated and ready to sleep for 24 hours straight but heck I am already looking forward to February when it will be time for AW20 because somehow Paris is even more special, crazy and unique during fashion week and I am grateful I got to be part of it.
Of course this being my third time I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way which helped me get through the week and which I hope will even be helpful to those just checking out Paris for a city break!
This is the third time I have stayed at a 25hours hotel (make sure you check out my reviews of the 25hours hotels in Vienna and Dusseldorf hotels as well). I am big fan of their small chain of hotels across major European cities and love their concept of offering boutique hotel style accommodation at affordable prices, and I am happy to report that their Paris outpost did not disappoint!
It is right next door to Gare du Nord station, and with next door I mean you can literally jump into the Eurostar from your hotel window if you really tried. While that means you are about a 25 minute walk from the most hip and happening part of Paris, the Marais, and the area around the station isn’t the nicest, it is super, super convenient to be so close to the Eurostar terminal, especially if like in my case you have a cocktail party the night before you have a 9am train back to London - I literally woke up, shut my suitcase and within a five minute turnaround made it onto the train, not looking my most elegant but on time nonetheless.
What is even better rather than the usually pretty grim hotels you get by main train stations and airports, the 25hours Terminus Nord is as stylish as their other locations I have visited. There is a slightly exotic theme across the rooms, taking inspiration from the multi-cultural mix of shops and restaurants from Africa and South East Asia in the area around the station, and I adored the rich red tones and tapestry details in my room.
Fixtures are of the top notch quality I have grown to love at all 25hours hotels which is really impressive considering the room price range (starting from….for a single room). The breakfast buffet, served in a very Wes Anderson-esque dining space, think plush pink velvet chairs, marble tables and quirky wall paper, was outstanding. Smoked salmon, French toast, amazing freshly baked breads and even Cremant for those brave enough to tackle bubbles in the early hours.
Once again I really cannot recommend this 25hours hotel enough. It’s stylish, affordable and with the perfection location if you are travelling by Eurostar, a little haven to recover and recuperate after a day of running around in Paris. DON’T RELY ON UBERS
A word of warning: Ubers in Paris are just not worth taking. Indeed in 99.98% of cases you are most definitely better off walking or taking the metro. I have no idea why it is so bad in Paris but not only do the journeys take ridiculously long, I think I was stuck in one for 2 hours when it should have been a 25 minute journey one afternoon, but getting an Uber at all is almost impossible. On one occasion I had 4 Ubers cancelling on me and had wait 12 minutes for the one I eventual managed to get. Be cleverer than me, use city mapper to find your way via public transport or on foot, and spend the money you save on something a little more useful like wine or fries. KNOW
YOUR LOCAL FAVOURITE SPOTS (AND BOOK AHEAD)
It’s so nice to have tried and tested local spots to return to that you know are going to be amazing. I have a few of those in Paris and always look forward to making a visit to them when in town. It also means that after a long day you know you going to have a good meal, I am all about trying new places but there is also something so comforting knowing what you are going to order is for sure going to be amazing and even better if you know you will get a table because you have booked ahead from London.
That is exactly what I did when it came to my chosen dinner venue for the Friday night of my visit, of course booking my absolute Paris favourite, Chez Janou, two weeks before so I knew I was going to get my cosy table for two, enjoy the super cute bistro atmosphere and have the best scallop risotto ever there.
A creature of habit? Maybe, but Chez Janou has become a dinner tradition for any Paris trip of mine and has never let me down. After all it’s French bistro dining at it’s best and for me the one place every visitor in town should make their way to!
I also really rate Cafe Strada as perfect stop between shows, a cute coffee shop in the Marais with excellent coffee and super friendly staff and made it somewhat of an in-between office on this trip. For sure my first port of call for caffeine when I get off the Eurostar and one spot I will always return to. KEEP ACTIVE TO KEEP SANE @ BARRY’S BOOTCAMP PARIS
With all the bread, fries and wine that one inevitably ends up inhaling, I mean when in Paris it would be rude not to, I for one needed to find some sort of balance during my week there. Thank god then that my favourite way of working out, Barry’s Bootcamp, has a Paris base which luckily was only a 10 minute walk from where I was staying.
Sessions are slightly shorter than in London (50 minutes) but the studio is brand spanking new with top amenities and they have some super awesome trainers (if you go book yourself in with Jenny, great programming and an even better running soundtrack with ace hip hop tunes).
The sessions are also a lot less packed, I guess Parisians are more chill when it comes to working out, so it feels a bit less intense than the London counterpart but it still worked wonders to help me clear my head in the mornings and added some much needed routine to the week.
ALLOW YOURSELF A (WINE) BREAK
I mean it would be a crime not to in France so make sure you take an afternoon break and enjoy a nice glass of the stuff (I love a cote de Provence myself) and do some fun fashion crowd watching! A new discovery on this trip was Le Perchoir, a super laid back rooftop bar near the Marais that is perfect for watching the sunset, but Cafe Charlot is a classic when it comes to watching the fashion set and is always packed around this time! If you can get an outside table. It’s worth the wait. TAKE IT ALL WITH A PINCH OF SALT
One thing I have learnt, if you really work in the industry you don’t have time to parade around in ridiculous outfits outside show venues and yes, there are some total cliches running around Paris during that week but mostly everyone is here to do their job and make the most of the city so don’t get too paranoid about not looking like a model or not looking like a million dollars the whole week - heck I definitely did not and enjoy it for what it is, not more, not less
On the morning of the 17th October you will have been dead for seven years.
For 350 days of the year I have learnt to deal with that fact, whether I like it or not, and live my life the best I can.
But when October hits and this date looms a certain melancholy comes over me.
You appear in my dreams. I get flashbacks to the moment I got a confusing voicemail from my granddad, trying to calm me down before I even knew what had happen, and I remember the ridiculous light blue tweed two piece with big gold buttons I wore on that day.
I remember the Starbucks frappuchino I ordered once I had spoken to my mum, when I just didn’t know what to do with myself so just sat, starring at my iced coffee.
I try to think what my life would be like had you lived on. What different path would 22 year old Stella have taken had her world not fallen apart that day? I would have had more security, a home, a fall back..but would I have come as far as I have now? Worked as hard as I have? Become the strong, independent individual I am today?
I google your name. I see a couple of ghost social media accounts like Twitter still floating in the world wide web as if you were still alive and always re-read the very short and unromantic death announcement posted by the British dental board on their website. It’s strange to think what little evidence there is now that you were ever on this planet apart from the hole you left in mine and my mum’s life.
But the week passes and the day passes and I will never know if you are proud of the adult I have become, if you would enjoy the films we would have been watching together or would ridicule the outfits I still waste my money on… but that is ok. This time of the year will forever be a sad but it means you aren’t forgotten and will never be.