Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pretty Anthropologie Homeware Finds

Yesterday, I stopped into Anthropologie on Regent Street after work and came home with these beautiful items, which I really wanted to share with you. 

Since we moved in to our newly purchased house, John seems to have fully embraced the DIY attitude by purchasing a new drill, compound mitre saw (don't ask), and by making announcements at dinner like, "It's time. I need a proper toolbox. For all my ... tools." After an exhausting process of formally "checking out" of our old flat in Islington this weekend, we had the crazy idea of renting a ZipCar and taking it straight to IKEA. On a Saturday night.

Like I said, crazy.

Except, it turned out to be pretty empty and we managed to be super productive and focused, buying only things we knew that we needed and arriving with measurements beforehand so there wouldn't be any doubts of whether or not something would fit. (Sidenote: you know you've reached a low point when you lust after a laser tape measurer. Trust me, one too many times of a tape measurer snapping back and hitting you in the thumb will do that to a girl).

We came away with a shoe rack/cupboard that also serves as a sort of console table for mail, keys, etc. in the entry-way to our house. It took a few hacks to get it right (the wireless internet hub and phone line is housed in the same area, so we had to cut the back of the cupboard to fit around the skirting board and hub), but when it was finished, it looked pretty damn good.

Because the cupboard is white, we both really disliked the stark, standard black knobs that it came with, which looked cheap and out of place. So, taking advantage of the Anthropologie sale, I bought these mismatched, colorful ceramic knobs instead, for a bargain-ous price of £2.95 each!

I really, really like them. In fact, I was so proud of this customization, that I excitedly ran past the cupboard a few times to admire our (mostly John's) handiwork. It's incredible: the whole "feel" of the house has been transformed by a lick of paint (goodbye dismal magnolia, hello clean, fresh white and grey!), and even something as minor as the shoe cupboard has changed the way I feel when I walk in the door. It feels more and more like "mine" each day.

Before I left Anthropologie, I couldn't help picking up this butter dish as well, which I'd been wanting for a while now. At £14, it wasn't exorbitant, but nevertheless a treat. One of my pet peeves is scraping cold butter onto a slice of toast ... anyone else feel my pain? Scrape, scrape, scrape.

The beautiful cloth dishtowel that I've displayed alongside the products above was hand-stitched by a family friend of ours and given to us as a wedding gift - such a lovely sentiment, and something with a purpose!

Have you ever changed a piece of furniture or homeware because you didn't like its original design? How far would you go to customize something to make it your own? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Scents of Summer" Afternoon Tea @ Intercontinental Park Lane

When Runawaykiwi told me that she'd won an afternoon tea for two at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane and asked if I'd like to join her, I had one of those moments where I felt like the dork at school being picked for the cool kids' team, pointing to myself and looking behind me, asking, "Who? Me? What, me?"

Yes, me, apparently.

I arrived at the hotel's beautiful Wellington Lounge looking like a drowned rat, having been caught out by a surprise downpour on my way from Green Park. Rebecca arrived personifying a dewy spring flower, recently plucked from the garden: her sweet curly hair intact, cheerful floral top and polka-dot skirt looking perfect for the occasion.

I was excited to try the Intercontinental's "Scents of Summer" afternoon tea, which aimed to "create a sensory journey that celebrates the beauty of British summertime", according to the website.

Our "journey" began rather unexpectedly with a wheatgrass shot and instantly, my panicked mind asked, "Do I have to?"

Slightly bemused by this, I tipped my head back and said to Rebecca, "Down the hatch, then" ... and tipped my head back further ... and further ... and further, until I realized that this shot was NOT coming out of the glass. I horrified our lovely waiter by turning the entire glass upside down and shaking it, demonstrating how this gelatine shot wouldn't move, while the equally puzzled table beside us watched to see how we were drinking ours. He reappeared with two of the smallest spoons in the world so we could scoop out the strawberry pearls and get our dose of greens. Rebecca wasn't have any of it ("Just ... no," she said, after trying a spoonful), but I shrugged and perservered because, well, it's good for you.

Next we tried the delicious sandwiches: smoked salmon and bergamot-infused cream cheese scroll (yes, that wasn't a typo for "roll", it's a "SCROLL") served on lemon bread, rose-picked cucumber and mascarpone cheese served on Peruvian bread, pink peppercorn on thyme chicken bound in mayonaise and cucumber served on tomato bread, and honey-roast pumpkin crumbled feta cheese served on spinach bread. A mouthful. Literally, and figuratively.

I started with what I thought would be my least favorite (that's how I eat all my food, really), the honey-roast pumpkin - the flavors didn't really stand out for me and the pumpkin was slightly undercooked, there was none of that naturally sweet flavor that pumpkin usually has either. My favorite? The cucumber on Peruvian bread. So delicious. I could have had a plate of those all to myself!

And, having scoffed at the "scroll", its shape was very effective, I thought. Rebecca and I agreed that even some of the nicest afternoon teas often skimp on the quality of bread, which certainly wasn't the case here.

Next, we moved on to my favorite part: the scones. But not before we were spritzed down with Floris perfume. Also not a mistake. The point was to enhance the citrus flavors and scent of our next "course", but unfortunately, the spritzing sent me into a slight coughing fit.

But the scones were delicious. And they were impossibly cute, since they were mini-scones. Being served scones that are far too big and filling are one of my biggest afternoon tea pet peeves. I know, crazy, right? As an American, you'd think that my motto would be, "the bigger the better" (and yes, I am aware of how inherently wrong that is on so many different levels), but by the time I've filled up on scones, I have no room for cake. You see the complexity in this?

Thankfully, this wasn't the case at the Intercontinental, as we spread our lemon and pink peppercorn curd (which I didn't love, but couldn't help going back for more ... it had an addictive quality about it) and Earl Grey butter, which - unless my heathen senses were completely unable to appreciate nuances - tasted very much like ... butter. The clotted cream and wild strawberry jam were delicious though, and my mouth is watering at the memory!

But then, but then:

This happened. Basically, when this gorgeous plate of desserts was placed before us and we were (again) spritzed by the next jasmine-scented perfume, I went through all the phases of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory characters i.e. "I've got the golden ticket!" (Charlie) to the gluttony of Augustus Gloop, to Veruca Salt's "I WANT IT NOW!"

We were advised to begin with the delicately flavored jasmine tea-cakes (bottom left), before moving on to the bergamot macarons, peach melba mousse (which, yes, is housed in that ball that impressively resembles a real peach) and violet cream and grapefruit tart. Oh yes - those stones? They're edible palate cleansers (chocolate) to be eaten with the raspberries and blueberries.

Yes, really.

The cakes were delightful. I think my favorite might have been the little jasmine tea-cakes, but the peach melba came in at a close second. I started feeling sick though, after cutting off a fraction of Rebecca's tart, so I stopped and admitted defeat, before asking for a doggy bag to take home. No shame in my American game.

Oh, and the tea! Tea pairing is taken very seriously at the Intercontinental, and though I was familiar with most of the teas on their extensive list (I was super impressed to see Chinese Ti Kuan Yin on the menu - a tea that my tea-connoisseur family drinks on a regular basis), I appreciated having the recommendations and suggestions of teas that would enhance the sweet and savory items on our menu.

We began with a lovely, light Darjeeling tea, followed by Earl Grey with a pinch of Lapsang Souchong (nope, still not a fan of that smoky tea!), and finally, a light, white peony tea with rosebuds.

Btw, tea and edible rocks go down a treat, dontchaknow?

After catching up on all things blogging and expat-related, Rebecca and I were told in the nicest way possible that the restaurant needed the table back by 4 pm (we'd started at 1 pm - eeks!) but we were offered a table in the lounge area outside to continue our tea-sipping, which we politely declined.

By now, the sun had started shining again and my drowned-rat look had considerably subsided. I thanked Rebecca profusely for picking me to be her afternoon tea buddy and happily brought home the rocks to my husband who, upon me presenting the beautiful box to him, peered in and said, "What is that?"

A wonderful, edible, explorative adventure. That's what it was.

Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea at the Wellington Lounge is running until the 27th of September 2015 at the Intercontinental Park Lane . Prices are £45 per person, with gluten-free options available.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Have an excellent weekend.

Have an excellent weekend. What are you up to?

I can't believe we've already been in our new house for almost a week! It's still being painted and there is so much left to be done, but I am yearning for a weekend to just unpack and unwind! We've got to go over to our old flat tomorrow for the final check-out and end-of-tenancy cleaning (bleurgh), so once that's all over, I think we'll both feel a huge sense of relief. I can't wait to show you more photos (if you'd like to see!) as we go along.

Anyway, that's all very boring!

Have you heard of Bloom & Wild? They deliver fresh flowers to your (or your friend's!) door ... flatpacked, so they fit perfectly through the letterbox! It's ingenious. We received some beautiful peonies as a housewarming present from our friends the other day (as well as a giant, glorious bouquet from John's dad) and I couldn't wait to put them in the new Habitat vases I bought.

I hope your weekend is filled with sunshine and the occasional gut-busting laugh! (Because, obviously, those are the best kinds of laughs.)


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Wine-Tastic Evening With Loire Valley Wines and Squaremeal @ Portland

Last week, I found myself in Portland's private dining room sandwiched between a table full of chatty and excitable food bloggers and several glasses of delicious wines from Loire Valley Wines. We'd all been invited by Square Meal to try a selection of Loire Valley's best wines paired with a carefully curated seasonal menu from Portland.

With hardly any room on the long table to spare for our DSLRs and phones, we listened attentively as Ruth Spivey of Street Vin introduced the pretty pink Rosé d'Anjous and Touraine Sauvignon Blancs we'd be sampling that evening and how they'd work with the different courses we were about to try. I loved her simple, straightforward approach to wine and hearing about her enthusiasm for the Loire Valley region where the wines are produced.

We kicked off the evening with the Domaine de l’Aumônier, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 - a very easy-to-drink Sauvignon Blanc that worked well with Portland's starter of Mangalitsa pig rillettes, pickles, and toast.

Between mouthfuls of the delicious rillettes, I chatted with my other blogger neighbor, Vivian, who runs her own supper club - impressive, much? We agreed that the pickles and rillettes were a delicious accompaniment to the first wine, and launched into the next course of pickled shitake mushrooms with soy and ginger. The tartness of the mushrooms made my mouth pucker but the Domaine des Essarts, Rosé D’Anjou, 2014 worked well with the flavors - tempering the initial sourness of the pickle and allowing the lingering flavor of the shitake to really blossom. I thought this was the most impactful pairing of all.

From there, we were delighted with a gorgeous summer salad - with flowers and all.

I know that Andrea wasn't too impressed with this salad, but I loved the refreshing crunch the baby gem lettuce gave, not to mention the slightly tangy dressing, which was very effective when paired with the Domaine de l'Aumonier Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (perhaps my favorite wine of the evening!).

The next two dishes, the grilled English asparagus with garlic yogurt and charred vegetables with smoked hollandaise sauce, were the standouts.

The flavors were delicate, rather than jarring, and subtle - a tough feat to produce in a sauce and one that I would imagine could only come about after a lot of testing and experimenting! If anyone can make vegetables look exciting, well then, Portland wins hands down. Someone commented on my Instagram feed that "asparagus has never looked more appealing!" That's some high praise there.

But back to the wines: I'm not usually a fan of rosés, but as I chatted to Megan next to me (foodie blogger of Got to be Gourmet), she made an interesting point about drinking rosé in the right environment and atmosphere i.e. a sun-drenched terrace somewhere in Cyprus (where she grew up!) or at a summer's picnic in the park. As we sipped the La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau Rosé d'Anjou 2014 (and, don't worry -  I couldn't tell them apart by name at this point, but would simply point to the glass I liked!), I wondered how I'd find room for our main courses ... but my question was answered shortly, as the most incredible sequence of dishes was presented to us: 

... a true feast of roast Cornish monkfish, fine beans and yellow courgette (again, the veg was scrumptious), potato millefeuille (which resembled Jenga pieces and had everyone asking, "How did they do that?) and old spot pig belly.

To be honest, none of the meat dishes really wowed me (the monkfish was a bit rubbery and the pork belly could have been more flavorful), and the pairing of Les Marcottes Domaine de Pierre, Lionel Gosseaume, Touraine Gamay, 2012 (the only red on the menu) also didn't tickle my tastebuds. However, content with the selection of vegetables and the crisp, sweet selections of Sauvignon Blancs and rosés in front of me, I happily ate, chatted, Instagrammed, tweeted, and repeated throughout the evening - this time, there was no one around (ahem, John!) to snatch away my phone while I uploaded photos of our gorgeous salads and tried not to misspell the hashtag #loirevalleywines as the evening progressed.

Suddenly, my eyelids began to droop and I looked down at my watch: 10:00 pm! The time had flown by and we still hadn't had dessert!

I was so looking forward to the almond pithivier with raspberry jam (because I love almond-anything) and I wasn't disappointed. This indulgent pastry with a flaky, outer crust was a pure delight when slathered with homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream - a comforting dessert that seemed fitting to be enjoyed in a country pub or farmhouse somewhere remote, rather than a central London restaurant. Paired with the final rosé of the evening, La Jaglerie Marcel Martin, Lacheteau, Rosé d’Anjou, 2014, a sweeter (but not too sweet!) wine which perfectly complemented the raspberry jam, I was in dessert heaven.

Because I'm a total lightweight, it looked like my glasses hadn't budged all evening, when in reality, I'd had quite a lot and was beginning to mumble my words, let alone remember which wine came in sequence! I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in Loire Valley's extraordinary selection of wines, with a particular penchant for the Sauvignon Blancs and a changed mind about rosés, which you just might find me happily sipping this summer.

I managed to stumble into an Uber around 11:30 pm or so, armed with a goodie bag fit for a foodie from SquareMeal, filled with fresh produce like rhubarb, artichoke, two bottles of Loire Valley wine and a punnet of strawberries - the perfect ingredients for summer cooking. Ridiculously generous, right?

Such a lovely, relaxed evening to remember with some of my favorite foodie bloggers.

I was generously hosted by SquareMeal, Portland, and Loire Valley Wines - thank you so much! All opinions are my own.

Square Meal

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Unpacking (Plus: New Homeware Purchases!)

HI. How are you? How was your weekend? I've *almost* gotten my head above water now after our big move on Sunday.

It was crazy: our movers were 45 minutes late, but we managed to get almost everything outside ourselves. We had to rent an extra van because all of our stuff didn't fit into the movers' van (!!!) and had damp experts come over to the house yesterday to carry out some repair work but they splattered plaster EVERYWHERE (note to self: speak up next time someone's doing something in your house without putting dust sheets down first!). Finally, we had a leak before our boiler failed at about 6 p.m. before - basically - I was in hysterics to a plumber over the phone. So, yeah, I'm totally taking to this new home ownership thing like a duck to water. NOT!

But in general, everything is really exciting and new. And I unpacked/bought some fun things over the weekend, including (clockwise, from top left):

- this amazing super kingsized bed and mattress from Warren Evans. It's like ... I can't even describe it. It's heavenly. If know (or have met!) me or John, you'll know that we're not the tallest people in the world, so this bed means we can properly starfish to our hearts' content! Reunions in the middle are rare and shortlived at the moment, because we're too lazy to move!

- this sweet sake flask from Daiso in Canada, which we bought around Christmas-time, not knowing if we'd have a new house or not. I couldn't resist it not only because it was so cheap ($2!), but because I thought it'd make a lovely little bedside vase as well. I vowed not to unwrap it until we purchased a home, so I kept it in its bubble wrap all this time!

- this luxurious three-wick candle from Rituals. Amazing. It was the first thing John unwrapped when we moved in! Its light, subtle fragrance gently scents the bottom floor of our house and promotes a sense of calm while I try to locate random accessories and makeup in our living room filled with cardboard boxes!

- this gorgeous antique table we bought from Fandango Interiors on Cross Street in Islington two years ago. I never appreciated how beautiful it was in our old flat because the room it sat in was so small and dark. Now, the light streaming in from our living room windows makes the detail stand out.

Yesterday, I also managed to do a quick, supermarket sweep in H&M Home and came out with these:

I've seen the wire baskets in other blogs and magazines and have been wanting them for a while, plus I love the jar for putting cotton pads in and the marble dish for all my bobby pins (that's "kirby grips" for you Brits!), which get lost ALL THE TIME. On the floor. On the kitchen counter. In between sofa cushions. In the shower.

Triumphs included purchasing a bespoke wardrobe from John Lewis for under £500 (yes, really! It exists!), a Dyson vacuum cleaner (YOU GUYS. Those things are POWERFUL.), and customizing and installing a roller blind for the master bedroom, which we were really proud of.

We are so boring.

What are you up to this week? Something fun, I hope!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Expat Talk: The Greatest Fear

Last night, after a tiring day at work and a frustrating evening trying to squeeze in some furniture shopping at Heal's and Habitat on Tottenham Court Road before closing time (they close at 7 p.m. on week nights. 7. Who does that?), I went home, cooked dinner, and collapsed in a heap on my bed, vowing not to move until my alarm went off the next morning.

At some point, in the early hours of the morning, I had a terrible, awful dream.

I dreamed that my mother died.

Of course, I'm sure you've all had dreams about a family member or loved one dying - you wake up, realize it isn't true, call the person in your dreams, feel relief rushing through your body as you hear their voice, and get on with your day, counting your blessings.

But this wasn't like that. This was awful. I dreamed that I got this news when I was in London - half-way around the world. I rushed home on the plane and ran up those familiar stone steps, pushed open the screen door, ran upstairs to my parents' bedroom - in the house I've always known - and rushed to my parents' bed. She wasn't there, but the familiar dent in the pillow where she'd slept on was still there. Suddenly, I had this terrible realization in my dream that she was never coming back.

And I was crying these horrible, gasping sobs - the kind where you're half asleep, so you don't sound like you're crying, but more like you're making these strange, guttural noises. That kind of crying.

My biggest fear, my greatest fear of all as an expat, is that something happens to my family on the other side of the world, and I can't be there in time to see them. To save them. To help them. To be there for them.

In those instances of fear, it isn't guilt that grips me - it's a feeling that's worse than that. Like rot that rises up from within you; rot that's always been there, waiting, teeth-bared, ready to consume you.

This is the darkness that I fear, that I can't escape from.

And you know, I know I chose this: "this", meaning living 5,000 miles away from my parents and brother. And I also think that purchasing our first home here has pushed that choice to the forefront of my mind.

I have to remind myself: nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. We can always rent out the house if we'd like, and move to Seattle. Or San Francisco. Or New York.

But then, I remind myself: nothing is permanent. Everything is temporary. Even life.

So I scroll through my Instagram photos filled with images of flowers and cocktails and blue skies and food. I touch the new lamp we just bought for the house. I wait for that rot to recede; that rot that smothered me while I was sleeping. I put on a pair of heels so it can't grab at my ankles and I try to get on with my day, try to count my blessings, and anxiously wait to FaceTime with my mom tonight.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Prettiest Bowl.

I recently found the most gorgeous, handmade ceramic bowl from The Other Duckling - an indie, vintage home decor shop that sources things like beautiful vintage mirrors, rustic kitchenware, and the simplest of reclaimed glass bottles that double up as vases.

When John and I used to browse homeware and furniture shops for fun, I'd gaze longingly at beautiful Scandinavian-made throws and French-sourced lamps, only for John to gently remind me, "When we have a house." We've lived in tiny 1-2 bedroom flats for the past five years and, to avoid clutter, we didn't bother buying too many nice things. But now? Oh my goodness. I literally have to be physically held back when it comes to outfitting our new home - it's impossible not to go crazy and I'm deliberating over things like butter dishes when we don't even have a dining table yet!

Although we haven't moved our furniture over to the new house yet, I woke up on Sunday morning in our current flat, bought myself some flowers (as you do) and fresh fruit and ... deposited the said fruit in this beautiful ceramic bowl, which I can also see as the perfect summer salad bowl or centerpiece for whatever coffee table we decide to choose.

I love the irregularity of its shape and the edges. Being the greedy guts I am, I'm also currently lusting after this copper bowl and these hammered metal trays from The Other Duckling. Aren't they superb?

Also, by having a pretty bowl to put my fruit in, maybe it'll encourage me to get my fill of "5 a Day", as they say here in the UK! 


I'll really miss the large Georgian windows of this flat (and the location!), but I also can't wait to start making our new house into a home, you know? Each time we've unpacked our boxes in another rented flat, I've sighed that same sigh of feeling unsettled, of losing things between moves (I still can't find my jeans. Still.), of not displaying any artwork on the walls for fear of marking the paint.

But now? Ceramic bowls, here I come! I really need to practice some restraint, or I'm going to be drowning in bowls and vases soon, with nothing to sit or sleep on!

p.s. thank you for all your lovely comments and good wishes

This beautiful bowl was generously provided to me by The Other Duckling. Shop their collection here. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Angloyankophile!

Monday, June 15, 2015


Hey. Happy Monday! How was your weekend?

Well, I have some really, really exciting news to share.

On Friday, John and I officially became London homeowners! As soon as those keys were in my hand, I jumped around like a maniac and flung open the French doors to our (!) garden before running upstairs and inspecting each room (there are four!) and bathroom (there are two!).

It all needs a bit of work and the painters are in as I type this, stripping wallpaper, sandblasting, and plastering and repainting the walls the perfect shade of "Pearl Grey" and "Morning Jewel 6" and our furniture isn't in until Sunday, but ... but!

It's ours.

We celebrated by taking an interior door off its hinges because we didn't like it, ordering Domino's for delivery to our new address and eating it over the stove, and going to Homebase, where we mixed paint and went a bit crazy in the Habitat sale.

So, this summer's going to be full of DIY-ing, furniture shopping, interior design website-browsing, and picture hanging. So much picture hanging.

I'd love to run ideas past you on this blog, if you don't mind. I'll occasionally be sharing new homeware buys, artwork round-ups, and favorite furniture picks. In return, I'd love to know all the homeware and decor sites you've been browsing these days!

I'm currently in love with the furniture and homeware at West Elm (which I'm so glad is finally in the UK), Anthropologie, and Zara Home - just to give you an idea of what we have in mind!



Friday, June 12, 2015

Have The Best Weekend Ever.

I'm on pins and needles waiting for some very exciting news to come through today.

I don't want to jinx it, but ... I'll let you know if it does.

In the meantime, have the best weekend ever. What are you up to?

I'll be performing in this concert, spending time with my wonderful mother-in-law, catching up with my parents (who I'm missing a lot this week) on FaceTime, and - hopefully (fingers and toes crossed) - doing something related to my very exciting news.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Smoky Cocktails and Sensational Pizzas @ Clerkenwell & Social, Clerkenwell

A while ago, one of my favorite bars in London turned into a soulless, lacklustre, commercial joke and, slightly distraught by this revelation, I never returned again. Last night, however, my faith in the London bar scene was restored by a visit to Clerkenwell & Social, which just opened in St. John's Square in (duh!) Clerkenwell this month.

Enchanted by its literary theme and intriguing cocktail menu (they make their own infusions in house), I recruited my publishing and book-loving partner-in-crime, Natalie, to sample some of Clerkenwell & Social's best cocktails and pizzas.

Clerkenwell is known for its foodie reputation: Modern Pantry's just around the corner, Bruno Loubet of Grain Store fame has opened Grain Store Unleashed nearby, and the Zetter Townhouse has long been known for its atmospheric bar. But Clerkenwell & Social won't have any problems holding its own, I don't think.

The literary theme is apparent as soon as you walk in: colorful hardcovers hang from the ceiling, and the menus are rebound classics - some which contain inscriptions from their original owners. Upstairs, amongst its separate, Pinterest-worthy bar and seating area, the walls are further adorned with books - their pages flap in the breeze when the windows are opened in the summer.

The cocktails are aptly named, but not obviously so: for example, "Black Luce" isn't a character who features in Shakespeare's plays, but rather one who is said to have inspired the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets. It was nice to see that a little extra thought had been taken into account, rather than the usual, lazy use of alliterative alias (ha, see what I did there?), which themed bars tend to do.

The same can be said of their infusions: Natalie's "Love is a Smoke" cocktail featured Merlot, Aperol, and Campari infused with home-made Louisiana-style bourbon, which was then infused with smoked apple-wood chips - a process that Bar Supervisor (and our host for the evening) Felix was all too happy to demonstrate:

My usual impulse when presented with such theatrical cocktail making is to laugh it off as a gimmick, but folks - this is serious. So seriously good. The smoked apple-wood chips give the cocktail an initial, intense hit of disorientation as the sweetness of the Campari and Aperol forms the next layer, and the bourbon forming the layer under that. I've never tasted such a multi-dimensional cocktail before. It's genius.

Thinking that I'd play the "safe" option (which, by the way, is not what you're supposed to do when exploring an experimental cocktail menu), I requested the "I See Lychee" cocktail: infused chilli gin paired with lychee liqueur, cranberry juice and lychee.

What I didn't expect, however, was for Felix to stop half-way through making this pretty pink cocktail to tear off a fluff of cotton candy and artfully pin it to a cocktail stick.

The point, as Felix explained, was to give the customer two options: either enjoy the cotton candy separately and on its own, or to sweeten the drink (and therefore reduce the kick of the chilli),  dissolve the candy floss into the liquid. Of course, the child inside me couldn't resist doing the latter, and the beautiful pink cloud disappeared within seconds.

We took our drinks upstairs to admire the bar, before our pizzas arrived.

The thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas are the perfect accompaniment to Clerkenwell & Social's cocktails, but my advice is to get two to share, as ours were both equally delicious! As Natalie's vegetarian (they also have gluten-free options!), we chose the foraged spinach pizza and the Portobello mushroom pizza with Dolce Latte and truffle oil. To no one's surprise, the restaurant also has a range of their own chilli and garlic-infused oils, which are provided upon request.

To end the evening, we were (unbelievably!) treated to a chest - yes, that's right - of Clerkenwell & Social's spirit-infused shots.

Some sounded downright delicious (the bar's own version of Nutella infused with brandy), others interesting (white chocolate vodka), and some ... well, adventurous (Marmite vodka).

In case you're wondering, the Marmite vodka tastes a bit like gravy, Natalie has a photo of my face after I tried the mushroom (yes, really) vodka and it wasn't especially flattering ... but we both fell in love with the Nutella infused brandy and the caramel tequila, which tastes exactly like salted caramel. Felix, being the generous host he was, offered us two more for the road, and by the time we'd finished the chest, our volume levels were definitely a lot higher than before.

The shots can be ordered together in a flight of 8 (£20) or separately at £3.50 (the Nutella and brandy shot, my favorite, is £4.50 - which is no surprise, as I always pick the most expensive item in the room!).

After laughing more than I could remember in a long while and admiring the achingly cool aesthetic of Clerkenwell & Social's interiors, I could barely order a cab from my phone, let alone stumble out onto the cobblestones of St. John's Court without falling over. Oh, the woes of not being able to handle my drink - any drink.

The evening was still light and I could imagine many more summer evenings spent at Clerkenwell & Social to come. In fact, I just might book a table for Friday ...

Natalie and I were generously hosted by Clerkenwell & Social - thank you! The bar is currently running their #12DaysofSummer campaign - show your Facebook or Twitter post of a Clerkenwell & Social cocktail to bar staff and receive 2 for 1 on cocktails. 

Huge thanks to Esosa at Truffle Social and Felix at Clerkenwell & Social for a fantastic evening! All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

10 Irrational Fears That All Londoners Have

1. Stepping on a razor blade, which then proceeds to slice open your foot. You get tetanus, amongst other random diseases and spend an interminably long time hooked up to IVs while doctors try to ascertain what's actually wrong with you. 

I mean, is it just me? I totally got something stuck in the sole of my shoe a while back and, when I looked at it closer, it looked like a razor blade. Yesterday morning when I was walking into work in my Tory Burch espadrilles (NOT smart, because those espadrilles weren't made for walking / that's not what they'll do / one of these days ... oh, forget it), I totally saw a razor blade on the ground (who does that? Leave razor blades lying around, I mean?) and totally thought it'd slice right into the bottom of my shoe.

2. Getting trapped/crushed under a double-decker bus that tips over as it's turning. 

I think I inherited this fear from my mother, who used to warn me against sitting on the top deck of double-decker buses (whatever, she's the first to scamper up those stairs now when she visits London). The other day, I crossed the street with a friend and stood on the island to wait for the traffic to stop (I really should have waited for the green man, I KNOW). Two buses came roaring past at breakneck speed, turning the corner ... and yeah, I might have been a little nervous.

3. Falling onto the tube tracks just as a train pulls in.

I hate, hate, hate standing on a crowded platform waiting for the next tube train to arrive. I have this thing though, about turning my body slightly sideways, so that I'm standing perpendicular (rather than parallel) to the track. I feel like I'm less likely to lose my balance in case I'm pushed or shoved - in reality, it probably wouldn't make a difference.

4. Falling into the canal. Or the Thames.

Just ... ew.

5. Getting hit by one of those courier cyclists (or any cyclist, for that matter) who like to run red lights.

Now, this is likely to happen, as I've had enough close shaves to know that it CAN happen. Doesn't matter if you've got a green man and they've got a red light, these cyclists obey a higher law, apparently, and not only do they have a death wish for themselves - they've got one for you too. It's all you can do to not swear loudly under your breath, while they flip you the finger as they nonchalantly race away. Oh yeah, you're so cool, buddy.

6. Getting crushed by a mob of tourists on Oxford Street.

Question: what are you doing on Oxford Street in the first place?

7. Having your toenail ripped off in the summer when you're wearing sandals by one of those wheelie suitcases that people INSIST on dragging behind them in the busiest parts of London.

Don't laugh. This happened to someone I know. Not so funny now, is it?

8. Throwing up/feeling sick/fainting/being unable to control some other bodily function while on the tube.

Definitely know a few people who have done one or all of the things above.

9. Falling down the really long escalator at Angel tube station.

I fell up the escalator at Embankment once. I deserved it. I was trying to sidestep a man and tripped up, slamming my chin into the moving step. As I scrambled to get up, I was extremely paranoid that a piece of my clothing would get sucked into the stair/gap on the side. The worst part? I was carrying my violin case on my back at the time, so I looked like a turtle that couldn't get up. My pride was lost that day, people, and I'm not sure I ever got it back.

10. Feeling like you're underpaying for food/coffee/sustenance and then doubting the quality of the said food/coffee/sustenance.

"What? This cappuccino's only £4?!? There MUST be something wrong with it."

What are your irrational fears about where you live?


Monday, June 8, 2015

Moroccan Delights and Opulent Vibes @ Mamounia Lounge, Knightsbridge

Just a stone's throw from Harrods in Knightsbridge is Mamounia Lounge, a restaurant serving traditional Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine and a bar with expert mixologists, plus a sister restaurant in the equally flashy, upscale district of Mayfair. We arrived on Friday night amidst a scene of Porsches roaring down Brompton Road and tired looking shoppers with Mulberry and Harvey Nichols shopping bags dangling from their arms. Having just finished a day's work (and a week chock full of socializing), all I really wanted to do was collapse in a puddle: Mamounia Lounge seemed just the place to do it.

I'll use any excuse to have Moroccan cuisine: I love the warming tagines with fluffy clouds of cous cous, the delectable spiced meats of mixed grill platters, and of course, hummus and warm pockets of pita bread. The timing for our visit was perfect; as co-host of June's travel link-up, I jealously read about other bloggers' visits to Marrakesh (a place that's still to be checked off my must-visit list), their visits to souks and stays in impossibly beautiful riads. Besides - as of late, my food reviews have all been a bit samey: pork belly, pork belly, pork belly.

Mamounia Lounge is made for socializing: from the fragrant wafts of shisha that welcome you at the entrance (the restaurant's outdoor terrace is perfect for enjoying shisha pre- or post-meal), to the main restaurant which leads to the bar and lounge area, it's opulent in decor and perfect for settling your tired self into after an exhausting day of shopping Knightsbridge. I totally get it.

It's the type of place you'd want to arrive at with a gaggle of girlfriends, recapping your new purchases and laughing the night away with a cocktail in hand. It's fun, and the staff are there to ensure you're enjoying yourself - without interfering too much, making recommendations when prompted and leaving you alone to chat when you're deep into a debate about Season 4 of Game of Thrones. Not that I was (NO SPOILERS, or I'll unfriend you).

As we sipped our summery cocktails and perused the menu, I started to get all boring again by suggesting we order tabouleh and hummus to start (I always order tabouleh and hummus) before John said, "Why don't we try something different and try the pastilla of chicken instead?"

I'm so glad that he did, because that little parcel of filo pastry baked with shredded saffron chicken, almonds, and a dusting of icing sugar, glazed with an orange reduction, was magical.

I haven't had an 'OMG!' moment in a restaurant for a while, but this pastilla of chicken definitely warranted that reaction. The crispy outer shell of the filo pastry gave way to a beautifully nutty flavor within - a bit like a mini Moroccan chicken pot pie. I'm a huge fan of sweet and savoury though, so it's no surprise that I liked this dish so much.

We also ordered a side of hummus and pita, just to line our stomachs, and I have to say - no matter what, hummus and pita from a restaurant will always taste 100 times better than the bland hummus and dry pita you buy in store (or even make at home). Somehow, this hummus was creamy smooth and the pita, little fluffy clouds of warm bread (not to mention - the presentation was pretty impressive). Heaven.

In between courses, and because I'm a total creepster, I snapped a photo of the opulent bathroom. Just, you know, for some interior design inspo ... and for your amusement.

I might have stood in there a little longer than necessary, mesmerized by the pattern the lights were casting on the walls. And those mirrors - oh, those heavy, ornate mirrors!

Back to the food ...

By the time I made it back to our table, our main courses had arrived and I was really looking forward to my lamb tagine - again, something you can make yourself at home but it never tastes as good as it should.

Case in point: the cous cous was light and perfectly cooked (mine's always either over or under cooked, yikes!) and the lamb, tender and gently falling apart in the tagine. I loved the delicate flavors of the broth that was served alongside my dish, which enhanced the hearty, warming taste of the tagine, rather than detracted. No evidence of tinned veg or tomatoes here - everything was fresh and cooked with precision and care.

John's mixed grill (why do guys ALWAYS order a mixed grill?) was equally delicious and a great contrast to my tagine: the spiced meats were smoky and perfectly grilled (the lamb medallions were my personal favorite!).

"The one thing I'd never do is take photos of my food. It's just soooo unnecessary," a girl at the opposite table said to her friends loudly enough for me to hear as I struggled with my SLR. I ignored the shade being clearly thrown my way and continued to snap away for this post ... the restaurant had been nice enough to seat us at a table in the corner so I could (unsuccessfully) surreptitiously take as many photos as I wanted to!

I made it through about half of my tagine before I gave up ... John fared no better. The portions are very generous and, looking back, though I absolutely loved the starters, we could have probably shared a main course between us!

Undeterred, we ordered a sharing plate of baklava and Moroccan mint tea (obvs!) anyway and enjoyed them as we waited for the rumored belly dancer to appear (yes, really).

The tea arrived in a beautiful, ornate Moroccan tea pot (which I'm now convinced I can't live without) - and it can be ordered to the sweetness of your liking, from unsweetened, to "medium", to sweet. We opted for "medium", which was still pretty sweet, but tasted fantastic along with the syrupy, honeyed goodness of the baklava.

After all the delicious, warm food, and the light scent of shisha drifting in through the windows my eyelids began to droop and all I wanted was my bed. Sadly, I didn't think I could wait for the belly dancer to make her grand entrance, so we thanked the lovely staff who looked after us so well, and headed home via Hyde Park, just as the sun was setting on the gorgeous rose gardens.

I was so impressed with the quality of cooking at Mamoumia Lounge and the variety of its menu. I'd love to return again - with a larger group in tow. Their large portions are perfect for sharing, and the menu is very reasonably priced ... which is probably helpful if you're arriving with an armful of bags from Harrods and Harvey Nichols! Well, one can dream ...

We were generously hosted by Mamounia Lounge Knightsbridge - thank you! All opinions are my own.

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