Monday, December 11, 2017

Floral Street

Nestled between Petersham Nurseries and Sandro on Covent Garden's fashionable King Street is the newest kid on the block, Floral Street - a gorgeous fragrance boutique founded by Michelle Feeney (best known for her role in bringing MAC cosmetics and that St Tropez glow-in-a-bottle to the UK).

You might have seen their beautifully designed bottles on Instagram already (which is where I originally spotted them), but the store itself is a treat to explore, especially if - like me - you've grown tired of the same fragrance brands popping up everywhere.

I've been wearing Neon Rose lately: a fresh, clean fragrance that's wearable in every season. Not too sweet or overly floral, it smells sophisticated - the kind of scent that makes your head turn when someone walks by. Its "hero flowers" are cyclamen, apple blossom, and bergamot, but its ingredients also contain a delicate blend of peach nectar, crisp amber, juniper berry, cassis kir, jasmine Egypt, white cedarwood and Sichuan pepper, for added depth and dimension.

Floral Street's fragrances range from fresh and flirty to dark and intriguing. I sat at their fragrance "bar" last week and sampled every bottle, wrinkling my nose at the thought of "Wild Vanilla Orchid" but exclaiming, "Wow!" as soon as I tried it, as none of the scents in Floral Street's collection can be placed in the box their names suggest. In this instance, the sweetness of vanilla is offset by bamboo, jasmine, sandalwood, lemon, patchouli fraction and red orchid, making it one of those scents you return to sniff again and again, because you couldn't quite believe it the first time around.

So, if you've been pounding the streets and department stores searching in vain for a new "signature" fragrance, I'd highly recommend a visit to Floral Street for something a bit different - and something you'll fall in love with, as I did.

Did I mention they also make scented stationery? The Wonderland Peony scented notebook smells like a dream and would make a great gift (the candles are on my wishlist too, and the perfume is sold in a purse-friendly 10 ml size as well).

What are your favorite fragrances?

Neon Rose perfume courtesy of Floral Street. All opinions are my own. Shop the collection online and at Floral Street, 30 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8JD.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Travel Link-Up: Top 5 Cities For Christmas Festivities

For the past two years, my family has made the 5,000-mile trip to celebrate Christmas with us here in England. Why? Well, I'm hoping that they want to see me (*insert angelic emoji here*), but really, I think they secretly love a European Christmas. Who wouldn't? Mulled wine enjoyed in pubs with roaring fires; Christmas carol services at the local church; frosty Christmas morning walks in the countryside; the tradition of pulling Christmas "crackers" filled with little knick-knacks and jokes ... Christmas in Europe feels so authentic.

So, here are a few of my favorite cities that turn up the dial on Christmas festivities - cities that are always on my list for a short (or long) December getaway:


We visited Amsterdam last December with my family with no expectations - and were blown away. The canals were lit with glittering lights (making a night-time canal boat tour especially memorable), the Amsterdam Light Festival was in full swing, and - best of all - we saw impossibly tall Christmas trees peeking out from the top windows of Amsterdam's famous canal-side apartments ('How did they get up there?' we wondered). There were plenty of places to enjoy hot chocolate and pancakes (or Poffertjes) dusted with powdered sugar, and the boutiques in De 9 Straatjes ("the Nine Streets") were perfect for last-minute Christmas shopping. Aside from visiting in the summer, when the air is balmy and the streets take on a dream-like quality, with people dangling their legs over the side of the canals, Christmas-time is probably the other best time to make a trip to Amsterdam. 


Paris feels magical at any time of the year. On our recent visit in August, it felt like the city was winking at me the entire time! But it takes on an especially swoonworthy-quality at Christmas. Sure, it's packed, but strolling along the Seine with a furry hood pulled up over your head with a cafĂ© au lait in hand and pushing past the crowds to get that shot of that tree at Galeries Lafayette makes a Christmas-time visit worth it. I especially love to browse the arcades in Paris around this time of year - the lights from the glow of the shops always make it look so enticing. 


What could be more authentic than a German Christmas market in ... Germany? During our same visit to Amsterdam last year, we took a day-trip to Cologne to browse the famous German markets (and to sip gluhwein and eat bratwurst, naturally). The stalls were adorable, but my favorite part of the market was being served hot chocolate in keepsake mugs that you can either return (they take a deposit when you buy your drink) or purchase to keep as a souvenir! 


Cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages, and more Christmas trees than you can shake a stick at ... Bruges is ... well, it's a Christmas town. I spent most of my time there buying and eating all the chocolate, but cozy drinks by the fire and dinners in warm, candle-lit restaurants followed by evening walks in the bracing cold were equally fun ways to pass the time.


Finally, my home city (it's so weird but exciting to say that!) is a fantastic place to visit for Christmas: from crafty Christmas markets to festive decorations on every street, London definitely has its gladrags on in December (lights and decorations go up as early as mid-November). I love Covent Garden at this time of year, but West London feels incredibly festive as well. One of my favorite things to do - no matter how busy and crazily frantic it gets - is to stop by Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly and Liberty in Oxford Circus, to gawp at the beautiful ornaments and delicious Christmas hampers/cakes for sale.

What's your favorite city to spend Christmas in? I'd love to know!

This post is part of December's Travel Link-Up, hosted by Emma, Angie, Polly, and Zoe. Head over to their blogs for more posts about the festive holiday season!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Treat Yourself: Go Zen Boxes at Aqua Kyoto

Okay, so bad news: for various boring reasons I won't get into, we had to cancel our trip to Hong Kong and Japan this Christmas.

I know.

As a consolation prize for not being able to enjoy yakitori in tiny Tokyo diners and watch snow monkeys take dips in Sapporo onsens, I ditched my usual al desko lunch at work to try the new Go Zen boxes at Aqua Kyoto instead.

Located centrally (and conveniently!) near Oxford Circus, Aqua Kyoto is one of four London restaurants owned by the Aqua Restaurant Group; the other three being Aqua Nueva (home to contemporary Spanish cuisine), Aqua Shard (the stunning restaurant perched on Level 31 of the Shard), and Hutong (which I wrote about here).

Executive Chef Paul Greening designed the Go Zen boxes, taking inspiration from the traditional Japanese "go zen" cuisine (which typically consists of a selection of small dishes accompanied by rice and soup). Aqua Kyoto calls it an "elevated version of the bento box" - I call it one of the prettiest (and tastiest!) lunches I've ever experienced.

But first ...

We tried Aqua Kyoto's spinach salad, which is prepared at your table (with impressive flair) and served with toasted sesame seeds and a Japanese goma dressing, made of sesame paste, sanoto sugar (Japanese light brown sugar), organic gluten-free tamari and kombu dashi (seaweed stock) - a magical, delicate combination of ingredients. Despite its popularity on the menu, I was dubious about this humble-looking spinach salad - could it be a gimmick, I wondered? But peanut dressing was so moreish (not overly rich or cloying), I found myself absentmindedly helping myself to second, third, and fourth portions as I chatted with my friend Christina.

(It's one of those dishes where you get down to the last bite and look shyly at the other person, saying, "Go for it, it's all yours", while secretly hoping they'll say, "I couldn't - I'm too full" and then helping yourself!)

But there wasn't much time to deliberate over who'd get that last bite, because our Go Zen boxes appeared: the Kyoto Go Zen for me (12 "compartments" priced at £38, although a smaller version consisting of 6 compartments is available for £25) and the Shojin Go Zen for Christina - a vegan box (£29) which was just as beautifully presented as the Kyoto Go Zen and with - dare I say - even more interesting and innovative ingredients (kimchee was topped with nuka pearls, designed to resemble salmon roe. This (the kimchee) Korean touch was most welcomed, adding a bit of heat and excitement).

I listened attentively as Head Sous Chef Ken introduced each "compartment" to us, but really I was finding it difficult not to tuck into the Wagyu bavette, glazed with mustard teriyaki.

Amongst my favorites were the chawan mushi (a savoury steamed egg pudding, which I usually love eating with a hot bowl of sticky white rice), the gindara saikyo yaki (tender black cod cured in den miso for three days before being grilled), the classic tamago (Japanese omelette), and finally the rock shrimp tempura coated in a chilli garlic umami sauce.

Christina's vegan Shojin box looked equally delicious, particularly the kenji rolls (daikon, asparagus, avocado, white enoki mushrooms, with a daikon and ginger dressing), vegetarian sushi rolls (wrapped in mango and cranberry "skins"), and the sweet potato tempura.

And just when I thought I couldn't eat any more, a fresh-from-the-wok bowl full of green tea soba noodles appeared on the table - and I could have eaten this for days. Handmade by Chef Paul Greening, the flavor of these noodles reminded me of the yakisoba I miss from my favorite Japanese restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. It had a certain homemade taste, which is quite an achievement for any large restaurants such as Aqua Kyoto. Tossed with edamame, Japanese mushrooms, onion teriyaki and tamago, it's a dish I'd order again next time I'm in the restaurant.

And with these Go Zen boxes on the menu? It's likely that I'll be back soon.

Huge thanks to Aqua Kyoto for hosting me! My beautiful and delicious lunch was complimentary. All opinions are my own. The new Go Zen boxes are available for lunch from 12 pm - 2:30 pm, Monday - Friday. Book a table here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lime Wood Hotel & Spa, New Forest

I woke before John - before dawn, in fact - at 5:45, when it was still pitch black outside. But with the clocks changing overnight, it felt like 6:45, and, being an early riser, I began to fidget under the sheets - the down duvet crinkling around me like a weightless cloud of feathers.

It was dark, sure, but as I tiptoed to our room's window facing Lime Wood's grand drive and peered out onto the scenic lawn, I contemplated going out for a walk - by myself - in the nearby woods. A thought which surprised me since, just a few years ago, you couldn't convince me to put on a pair of hiking boots, let alone go for a walk in a muddy wood on my own.

But 24 hours at Lime Wood had already placed a strange hold over me: call it magic, but I longed for a walk in the cold, bracing air to clear my head, after embarking on one shortly after our arrival the day before. I wanted to see the magical New Forest ponies once again, who - like a line of chorus dancers - eyed us curiously, before trotting past in a semi-choreographed line of their own accord, tossing their manes as they did so.

When John opened his eyes, I was hovering over him like a crazed stalker: "Can we go for a walk now?" I asked, practically lacing up my boots already. He rubbed his eyes and smiled at my new-found enthusiasm for convening with nature. "Sure."

But just then, there was a knock at the door, and a uniformed man bearing a large and heavy tray cluttered with fresh pots of tea, fruit juices, homemade granola, New Forest yogurt, and a basket full of warm pastries deposited the said tray onto our bed and we sat, tucked up in the duvet once again, watching the sun rise while dropping crumbs on the pillows.

Satiated, we finally embarked on that walk: sneaking down the staircase before other guests had risen like a pair of teens creeping out to make mischief, making our way through the boot room which held a rainbow-hued collection of Hunter wellies neatly stacked under a reclaimed wooden table, and unlocking the gate to the woodland - my boots making squelchy sounds from the mud underfoot.

Back at the hotel, sheepishly returned with muddy boots in hand and wasted no time in slinking directly to Herb House spa, where we indulged in hour-long Bamford massage treatments before soaking in the hydrotherapy pool as powerful jets of water pummelled our aching shoulders; the soles of our feet. At one point, I sat flipping through a water-damaged issue of Grazia that someone had left behind, warming my feet and seat on the long, U-shaped heated marble bench, and declared, "I'm happy," to John, who had thrown a towel over his shoulder en route to the steam room.

"Good," he said, and disappeared into the mist.

Later that afternoon, we peeked into every drawing room and discovered the library: a cozy little snug with a large bay window and working fireplace (which John set to lighting straight away, after asking permission) filled with floor-to-ceiling shelves heaving with art books. We ordered spicy Bloody Marys and refreshing herb-infused lemonades, nibbling on peanuts and speaking only to mutter exclamations over enticing holidays advertised in the paper we both shared.

The food, though highly anticipated, erred on the side of disappointment for us. As huge fans of Angela Hartnett's Murano in London, we expected to be similarly excited by the fare served at Hartnett Holder & Co, Lime Wood's main restaurant (the other restaurant, Raw & Cured, offers a healthy, raw-food-focused menu at Herb House spa). But our crab linguine was overseasoned yet lacking in flavor; the chicken schnitzel nothing to write home about; and the seaweed-encrusted duck a strange (and unnervingly sweet) concoction. However: the crispy bacon sandwich at breakfast was out-of-this-world delicious and the charcuterie board deserved the highest praise.

Despite this, I'd happily return to Lime Wood - again and again. The rooms, the service, the activities - that spa - make it the ultimate treat for adults (although it was lovely to see that children were welcome too).

We're already plotting our next trip there - magical ponies and all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Indefinite Leave to Remain

So, it's been a pretty crazy and momentous few weeks for me ... first, after months of nagging from John, I finally signed up for and passed my UK driving theory test.

Whew! That test was hard, compared to the US version (I also found it a little bewildering and intimidating to be subjected to nearly airport-style security upon arriving at the test center). I especially struggled with the infamous "hazard perception" section of the test, where you're shown 14 CGI clips of a drive (in a mix of rural and urban areas) from the driver's perspective and are instructed to click on "developing" hazards within a prescriped period of time. If you click too early? BAM! Zero points. Clicked too late? Sorry, buddy, ZERO POINTS. I was failing every single practice test up until the night before the real thing ... out of desperation, I watched a video on YouTube (hilariously filmed by some kid in his college dorm room) and ... passed the next day! (Tip: if you're thinking of studying for the theory test, the app is the best way to learn.)

Oh! And we bought a car. Hence the need for a UK driver's licence (US licenses don't simply transfer over).

In anticipation of my practical driving test in January (gulp!), I've booked in some lessons with "Dave" - my neighbor's kids' driving instructor - who said reassuringly, "Don't you worry about a thing - you'll do brilliantly. Just let me do the worrying, okay?" after I recounted the story of how I drove up on the curb with John recently and felt "traumatized" by my first UK driving experience. I can tell we're going to get along well.

But the biggest milestone of all, for me, was being granted Indefinite Leave to Remain status by the Home Office last Saturday. After over a decade of living in the UK, I finally submitted the application I'd been wanting to hand over for years. John came with me to the Premium Service Centre in Croydon (where you can typically get a same-day decision) to literally and figuratively hold my hand - and I'm so glad he did, because I had a slight hiccup with my application (which got figured out in the end) and I totally panicked.

After I received my congratulatory letter, all I wanted was a Nando's chicken feast and to pass out on my bed at home (I got both).

I spent the rest of the weekend in a bit of a daze - happy, grateful, nostalgic, and hopeful - especially after I found out that I can apply for British citizenship once my biometric permit arrives.

I went to yoga on Sunday morning and I think it all became a little too much for me: when the teacher asked us to imagine someone supportive and loving in our lives during savasana, John's face and his kind smile immediately appeared in my mind and I started quietly sobbing, until the teacher came around and surreptitously handed me a box of tissues.

(I kind of love him. Just a little bit.)

Speaking of John, he'd managed to score us some tickets to see Van Morrison at the Eventim Apollo earlier in the year - and it felt like the perfect way to celebrate. We had amazing seats, held hands, and marvelled at the fact that he had - at 72 - the stamina to complete a 90-minute set with no breaks. His voice was as strong as ever, and his instrumental skills alone were incredible. So, so special.

I sat there that night in the dark auditorium, along with the rest of audience, as Van sang, "When you don't need to worry, there'll be days like this," with the biggest grin plastered across my face.

It felt - and it feels - nice to be so happy.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall Haul

I was all "bah-humbug" about the arrival of fall, but then I saw this display of decorative gourds and flowers in autumnal colors at the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers last week and it was like - bam! - I was hit with the pumpkin spice stick. Suddenly, everything around me was wonderful: the swirling leaves, the darkening evenings, the unearthing of wool coats and jackets ... I found myself ready to ... well, hibernate.

So, I'm sharing some of my favorite things about fall, along with some goodies from the independent online store Magpie and London, which have made staying in an absolute pleasure:

Netflix and Chocolate

I wrote about some of my favorite TV shows here, but I'm currently working my way through every season of The Good Wife (after finishing Suits - I couldn't resist snapping up this issue of Vanity Fair with Meghan Markle on the cover). It can be a little yawn-inducing at times (there's only so much I can take of Alicia's steely gaze), but I like having it on in the background when I'm pottering around the house or cooking. This Cane & Bean chocolate tastes almost ... healthy. It's dark, and smells like freshly ground coffee beans. A bag of that, a warm blanket, and an afternoon of nothing but Netflix is my ideal way to spend a Saturday.

Long baths and magazines 

We recently remodelled our guest bathroom (which you can read about here!) and we've loved taking baths in the new, bright and airy space. These Isla Relax + Recover bath salts are healing and smell incredible - I can't resist opening the bottle and having a whiff everytime I wash my hands! It makes our bathroom feel like a spa. My favorite lifestyle magazine, Domino, is only available in the States, so I buy a copy whenever I'm over there, and treasure it for months to come back in the UK.

Arm candy reminiscent of summer holidays

Just because it's winter, doesn't mean I'll put away the bling: I love the bright color of this corded Ashiana St. Kitts bracelet. Something I'd wear to the office as readily as I'd wear it to St. Barths.

Banana pancakes

Do you know that cheesey Jack Johnson song, "Banana Pancakes"? I don't know why, but it somehow became a long-running joke between me and John, where one of us would sing it in a goofy voice just to make the other person laugh. Now, whenever I make banana pancakes (even if I'm by myself), I can't help but hum the tune, and laugh while I'm making the mix. I made these last week when I was suffering from a cold, but they're one of my favorite breakfast treats to have in the fall.

I'm giving away this beautiful pair of earrings from Magpie and London this week over on Instagram ... (just find the photo in my feed and follow me + Magpie and London, letting me know about your favorite part of fall! UK residents, you have until Friday to enter ...)

Happy Fall. xo

Gifts provided courtesy of Magpie and London, a store I love for gifts for myself and friends! All opinions are my own. Shop the collection here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Big Reveal: Our Guest Bathroom Before and After

When we were house hunting, having a second bathroom was on my dream list - and most of the houses we saw only had one (or a main bathroom upstairs and a single toilet downstairs, usually tucked behind the kitchen, which I hated).

Along with a first floor bathroom (that's the second floor, for my fellow Americans), we're also very lucky to have a loft bathroom attached to the master bedroom, which we remodelled at the same time (you can see the transformation here!).

To put it mildly, the first floor bathroom looked like a murder scene when we moved in (John would say that I'm grossly exaggerating at this point, but whatever). The walls were cracked and damaged because the previous owners had only tiled half-way around the bath; the linoleum floor was bubbling and uneven; and the toilet seat was a constant source of amusement for guests, as it featured an aquatic scene ... with a giant jelly fish in prime position.

I hated it.

So, it became my little project. And because of my aversion to the purple walls, dim lighting, and creaky floor, I wanted it to look as bright and clean as possible.

Originally, I'd selected a marble mosaic tile for the floor from Fired Earth, but stupidly miscalculated the square footage we'd need and realized it was going to be eye-wateringly expensive - which threw off the rest of my design (I'm pretty sure I also threw myself on the couch like my 3-year-old niece and kicked and screamed - yeah, I know. I'm vile). John told me to order them anyway, but instead, I opted for the Fired Earth tiles in St. Ives Frost for the floor, arranged in a herringbone pattern, and the square white bevelled Boho Soho tiles for the walls (note: I tried to find a dupe for these - no such luck. Plenty of metro bevelled tiles out there - not a lot of square bevelled tiles, except for a shop in Wisconsin that sells them too).

But then.

That's where my success ends. Literally every single item I ordered after that was wrong: the wrong size, bad quality, the wrong shape, etc.

I eagerly ripped open a couple of sconce lamps I'd ordered from The Garden Trading Company and, despite having carefully read the dimensions, they looked like the size of something that belonged in a doll's house. I kid you not. (I ended up getting these from Dusk Lighting instead).

Then, the shower head I ordered didn't work with the boxed in flue (luckily, our builders found a solution to this and quietly fixed it before telling me what had happened, as they knew I was prone to hysterics) and ... there was the matter of the bathtub.

So, I ordered this tub online from Victoria Plum, along with an acrylic bath panel and thought nothing of it when they arrived.

"Is this your, um, bath panel?" asked John when he came home from work one evening, scrutinizing the delivery of boxes in our living room. "I can lift it with one finger!" he said, before - literally - lifting it with one finger.

This wasn't good.

"Also, that bath looks a bit ... um, cheap," he said.

"I thought that's what we were going for in this bathroom," I snapped.

The next day, our builder arrived and I told him what John had said.

"Yeah ... to be honest ... they're not the best," he said, wringing his hands a little.

So, the bath and the corresponding panel went back to Victoria Plum, and in their place, I received a Bette super steel bath and Burlington wood bath panel.

"I'm just going to go for it," I texted John before I placed my order with the builder.

"Yeah," he replied. "Otherwise your whole bathroom gonna be cheap cardboard. *laughing emoji*"

Face. Palm.

Anyway, after that minor drama was over, I managed to find an XXL mirror for the wall opposite the bath (but only after asking my builders the awkward question, "Is it weird to see yourself when you're showering? Would you find that weird? Is that weird? I think it's a little weird, but is that okay? What do you think? It's weird, right?") from IKEA.

The grey Shaker-style vanity unit was from Victoria Plum (I replaced the ugly silver knobs with knobs from Anthropologie) and my builder made a bespoke cupboard to box in our boiler and Megaflo unit (which is huge). He was so nice, he threw in an extra bespoke cupboard for free to hide the rest of the boiler flue and to give us some extra storage space (I also had him install knobs from Anthropologie for these). Now I can bulk-buy my toilet paper, Kleenex and soap!

I sourced an antique milking stool from eBay (our Airbnb in Iceland had one and I loved the look - John uses it as a stand for our Samsung Galaxy View when he's taking a bath and wants to watch Formula One/cricket/rugby/random-history-programs) and bathmats from Anthropologie and Cologne & Cotton. The plants in the windowsill are from Patch.

This bathroom gets a lot of natural light already (it's a lovely place to take a bath if you're feeling sick/down as it's bright and relaxing), but we replaced the dingy overhead light the previous owners had installed with a selection of spots, and two wall sconces. To keep it from looking too stark, I chose a pale, barely-there pink for the walls, which even my builders ended up liking!

As with the upstairs bathroom, our builders fitted Warmup underfloor heating so our guests' tootsies will stay nice and warm when padding to the bathroom in the middle of the night/in the morning.

Although very different in look/feel to our upstairs bathroom (AKA John's project, which looks a lot slicker and more modern with the digital shower and fancy sink), this bathroom still feels like a sanctuary to me - and welcome relief from the design disaster that was the old one.

I hope our guests enjoy using it as much as we do, and I'd love to know what you think!
© angloyankophile

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