Monday, August 31, 2015

A 6:00 AM Sunrise @ Duck & Waffle

Last week, I wanted to take Justine to Duck & Waffle for a weekend brunch because it's one of my favorite places to take visitors. But of course, the restaurant was fully booked for a weekend breakfast, lunch, or dinner, so we came up with this really crazy idea: since the restaurant's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, why didn't we have breakfast on a weekday at 6:00 a.m.?

I told you. Crazy, right?

We were all jet-lagged (us from Singapore, Justine from New York), so didn't have any problems waking up at an eye-wateringly early 4:30 a.m. to get ready (though I must admit that my eyes hurt a little) and we got the train into Liverpool Street by 5:30.

At 5:45, we ascended Heron Tower's 40 floors in the famous glass elevator and watched as London unfolded beneath us, and by the time we reached our table in the dining room, this was our incredible view:

Worth. It.

Though it'd just been raining a few moments before, the clouds parted just enough to give way to pink strands of cotton candy clouds and the most amazing orange sky - it looked like a supernova. Guests clamored to the windows to get a better look and that perfect shot - I was surprised at how many diners were at the restaurant at that hour. Some were there for business meetings, others were ... finishing up the night before (Truly. The cocktails were still going strong at 6:00 a.m. I honestly couldn't imagine. It made me feel very, very old).

I'd been craving Duck & Waffle's deliciously indulgent Full Elvis waffles since my last visit to the restaurant with Udita, Deborah, and Kara, so I went for the banana-brulee treat and almost finished all of it. Almost.

John and Justine chose the equally delicious namesake dish, duck and waffle - with its perfectly runny fried duck egg, crispy leg confit and mustard maple syrup, this is my second favorite item on Duck & Waffle's menu. That perfect combination of sweet and savoury is always a winner.

By the time we'd cleared our plates, the sun had returned to its position behind the clouds, but the view from above was still spectacular. The party group left around 7:00 a.m., a little worse for wear, but still in good spirits and it was strange to think that they'd most likely be heading to bed while the rest of us began to plan for the day ahead.

Would you ever wake up this early to watch the sun rise? It was such a beautiful way to start our week! (Don't worry, I got my just desserts: I'm only just better from a flu-like virus and spent the rest of that week tucked up in bed! Ha!)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Hello! How's your week going so far? We got back from Singapore on Saturday morning and my friend Justine landed from New York just a few hours later ... it was a great welcome back after our amazing time in Singapore! I can't wait to tell you all about our trip - it was surreal!

But first ...

I had so much fun showing Justine around three of my favorite markets in London on Sunday: Columbia Road Flower Market, Spitalfields, and the Sunday (Up)Market.

I managed to buy ALL the flowers (okay, not all, but a lot!) at Columbia Road, then had to carry them (along with a shabby chic watering can I decided I just had to have) around to our subsequent trips around Spitalfields and the Sunday (Up)Market.

I also spotted these fantastic rugs at Columbia Road, but luckily, John's absence meant that I couldn't make any decisions on my own (I'm notoriously indecisive) so my wallet didn't have to suffer.

Aren't they fantastic, though? Bright, vibrant, and fun.

Later, we stopped for a coffee at Verde & Co. in Spitalfields (which stocks my favorite Belgian chocolates, Pierre Marcolini) and reminisced about our college days and friendships (back at Mount Holyoke, Justine invited me and John to stay at her parents' beautiful brownstone in the Upper West Side after having met me once in our Latin class ... and the rest was history!).

I hope you had a lovely weekend. We did something super crazy and exciting yesterday (which you might have seen on Instagram) which I also can't wait to blog about.

I loved our time in Singapore, but it's great to be back! Thanks for following along on Instagram while I was away, and for all your wonderful comments on my photos!


Friday, August 14, 2015

Big Travel Announcement! (Eeks!)

This post is written on behalf of Thomas Cook.

Hello! Happy Friday. I'm really excited to share with you that we're flying off to Singapore TOMORROW on a foodie and travel adventure! I'll be travelling on behalf of Thomas Cook and exploring all the fantastic food, sights, and culture that Singapore has to offer.

I'd love for you to travel along with me over on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook - I plan on eating all the kaya toast and Hainan chicken rice I can get my hands on and sipping a Singapore Sling at Raffles. Plus, the night zoo is on my list too! And shopping. ALL THE SHOPPING.

Have you been to Singapore? Do you have any recommendations? I'd love to know!

Until our return ... xo

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Salads, Gourmet Sandwiches, and Desserts Galore @ Aline Mayfair, With PocketHighStreet

It isn't every day that you stumble out of a not-officially-opened-yet restaurant close to midnight, dizzy from wine and laughter ... and eleven dishes. Not nine, not ten, but eleven. But a couple of weeks ago, I found myself smack dab in the middle of swishy Mayfair, sampling gourmet sandwiches and fresh summer salads with PocketHighStreet at the soft launch of Aline Mayfair, along with four other food-obsessed bloggers. And I didn't leave until nearly midnight. My carriage very nearly turned into a pumpkin, but I managed to keep both shoes on.

PocketHighStreet is a new service that seeks to promote local businesses by bringing the high street directly to you online via a network of bloggers, social media influencers, and other online presences. You can search for products and restaurants near you to encourage local, independent shopping. And as a champion of indie establishments, I love this idea.

So, this is how I found myself at Aline and its industrial-chic, bistro-feel dining room - complete with high bar stools, tile game to make the Instagram account #ihavethisthingwithfloors jealous, and a beautifully lit bar, where cocktails were served as aperitifs ("Anything you wish! Tell me: what do you like? Gin? Vodka?" I politely declined, but was secretly jealous of everyone else's beautiful beverages).

But then the dishes started arriving from the kitchen and ... well, they didn't stop.

We began with platefuls of delicious summer salads: white chicory with turkey, grapes and walnuts drizzled with a honey dressing; puy green lentils with carrots, parsley shallots and Roquefort in vinaigrette; and the "summer special" of watermelon, melon, feta, mint and shavings of parmesan - which was my favorite (p.s. doesn't it look like that watermelon is smiling at you in that photo above? So funny!).

It's so difficult to find exciting and fresh salads that make use of seasonal ingredients in London, don't you think? Everywhere I look it's Caesar, cobb, or - worse yet - a bunch of random, limp leaves hastily thrown together with a sprinkling of raw onion and an afterthought of cherry tomatoes. No, thanks.

The salads at Aline couldn't be further from this - I would love to stop in for lunch at some point, just to indulge in that watermelon salad! It was so light and refreshing, especially with the last minute substitute of mint (in lieu of rocket) and feta (instead of ricotta). The parmesan added a sharp and unexpected twist.

As for the sandwiches ... we had incorrectly assumed that we'd be "sampling" each open sandwich, but we were actually given normal-sized portions (not that I'm complaining!), so by the time the prawn burger arrived (yes, you read that correctly), our eyes were bulging out of their sockets and waistbands were definitely straining (or maybe that was just me).

Highlights included the beautifully cured beetroot and orange gravlax salmon with cream cheese and dill; the roasted rump steak with horseradish, sweet cucumber pickles (these were everything!), sundried tomatoes and rocket and parmesan. They also presented us with a pulled pork burger slathered in Aline's speciality homemade BBQ sauce with courgette pickles and beetroot slaw (which I only managed a mouthful of because I was so full!) and the prawn burger which was just ... excellent.

I loved the mix of healthy and light bites to the downright dirty and indulgent buns, plus the fantastic interpretations of each. It's clear that the menu has been thoughtfully and carefully curated; the ingredients well-sourced.

And just as we thought we couldn't possibly eat any more (plus, my watch told me it was 9:45 pm and John had texted fifteen minutes earlier to ask if I was on my way ... um, no, but dessert was!) ...

This happened:

A whiskey toffee pudding, to be exact. Along with orange blossom panna cotta and ice-cream sandwiches comprised of chocolate chip and coconut whoopie pies with sorbet and vanilla ice-cream fillings. I'm not a huge fan of panna cotta in general and the biscuits on the ice-cream sandwiches were a little too hard for my liking (I like them soft and chewy!), but ohmygoodness ... that whiskey toffee pudding was divine!

Fastforward to an hour later when I was back in my living room at home, with John fast-asleep upstairs and half of a prawn burger in our fridge. I passed out in a food coma on the sofa and managed to stagger upstairs when I snored myself awake.

The next morning? I had a green juice for breakfast.

I was generously hosted by PocketHighStreet and Aline Mayfair, which opens soon! When it does, you can find them at 14 Maddox Street, London, W1S 9PQ and download the PocketHighStreet app to your phone. All opinions are my own.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making Our House a Home: Our Latest Homeware Purchases

It's been seven weeks (!) since we moved into our new home and I love it more each day. We finally had some time last weekend to explore the local area, which I highlighted in this post.

Today, I thought I'd share with you a little glimpse of what we've been doing to the house and the kinds of pieces I've been collecting to make our house into a home.

A few weeks ago, builders came and restored the original wood floors on the first floor (that's the second floor for all you Americans out there) by sanding and varnishing the existing floorboards, which you can see in the bottom left corner. They're nicer than I had expected and add a lovely, Scandinavian feel to the bedrooms and study.

We also rented a van and raided The Futon Company, which we've discovered to be the biggest and best wild card in the adventures of furniture shopping! The shop name is totally misleading, as they sell a lot of beautifully designed oak furniture, aside from futons. We picked up this leaning ladder shelf, a wonderfully narrow mirror, and a couple of these versatile bamboo stools in white and grey - all for very reasonable prices in the sales.

Although we've been avoiding buying too much from IKEA, it seems to be the real winner when it comes to lampshades. We found the pretty one above, which has a cut-out star pattern that casts dozens of star-shaped shadows on the guest bedroom wall for £14.

Also, a word of advice? Buy all your art frames at IKEA. Seriously. Their wooden A4 frames (with mount) are beautiful and start at £7. I bought three without even knowing what I'd put in them! Perfect for gallery walls and bigger prints.

But another terrific place to shop for frames is Paperchase. I found the beautiful copper one above to display a vintage photo of my mom. The copper hexagonal tray is from H&M Home, which has been another one of my favorites for textiles and decorative accessories.

For bed linen, I've been obsessed with The White Company. They have really luxurious thread counts and classic, elegant styles for reasonable prices - again, in the sales (I'm a total bargain hunter!).

Moving on to the kitchen, I've wanted a Glugglejug (the fish-shaped jug that "gluggles" as you pour!) ever since I used one at a restaurant in Islington. SCP in Shoreditch was having a major sale and I picked this one up for £28.

Finally, our newest finds have been an antique games table and antique French rug from an antique dealer near us called Maison & Mirrors (who are sadly moving to Dalston soon!). We've re-purposed the games table into a coffee table; it has some stunning, exquisite details, as well as panels that pull out from the sides so that you can hide remote controls and place glasses on them! We got it at a steal: £65. The runner rug is sitting in the narrow entryway and, at first, I wasn't completely convinced by it, but the more I look at it, the more it seems to really suit the house.

What personal touches have you added to make your flat or house your own? Where do you like to find interior design inspiration? (I've become a bit of an interiors magazine hoarder! I'm also addicted to Design Sponge like whoa.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Yolkin's Instagram-Worthy Macaron Ice-Cream Sandwiches @ Street Food Union, Soho

You guys.

I'm not usually a sucker for food trends, but when I spotted a photo of Yolkin's ridiculously pretty macaron ice-cream sandwiches on Instagram, I just had to have one.


But! Yolkin only rocks up to Rupert Street's busy street food market Street Food Union twice a week, so I made plans with Ginny from Pocket High Street to meet there last Friday and ... we ended up having ice-cream for lunch. No joke.

I was so scared that they'd sell out (Banoffee had already sold out by the time we arrived at 1:00 pm), we skipped our "main course" and raced to the tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it mobile stand (look for the yellow umbrella!) to ruminate over the flavors for a good 5 minutes or so before making our decision.

Ginny chose passion fruit, while I opted for the tri-colored Neapolitan (though I was tempted by the Eton Mess as well!) - chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream neatly sandwiched between two perfectly formed macaron cookies.

They're a lot harder to eat than you'd imagine (after a while, my preferred method became breaking off a piece of macaron and slathering ice cream onto the confection, before popping it into my mouth)!

The ice-cream was deliciously creamy and Ginny's passion fruit filling was especially good. The macaron itself was also very well cooked: a bit of the crunch on the shell, with a ever-so-slightly chewy center.

At £4.50 each, they're a bit of an indulgent dessert, but so pretty to look at and a whole lot of fun to eat.

A Friday treat, perhaps?

Yolkin currently serves up macaron ice-cream sandwiches at Street Food Union in Soho on Thursdays and Fridays from 11:30-3:00; Street Food Union on Saturdays from 11:30-4:30; and Ely's Yard at the Old Truman Brewery on Sundays from 11:00-5:00. For up-to-date info, visit their Facebook page.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Discovering Walthamstow: Town Hall, Lloyd Park, and the William Morris Gallery

Hey! How was your weekend? I hope you had a good one. On Saturday morning, John and I set off to try a Swedish bakery that a friend had recommended to us. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we grabbed coffees and pastries from another cafe and walked to Lloyd Park instead.

It was so sunny and warm even at 10:00 a.m.!

On our way, we passed the incredible-looking Waltham Forest Town Hall, which I'd never seen before, but did that classic drive-by thing of lowering my sunglasses and mouthing, "WOW" as we walked by. The beautiful art deco building and the adjacent assembly hall also hosts concerts, exhibitions and other major events in Walthamstow.

Have you ever read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand? It was one of my favorite books as a teenager; I could totally imagine Howard Roark pulling up to this building.

After gawking at the town hall for a lot longer than necessary, we made our way to Lloyd Park and sat in the garden behind the William Morris Gallery, enjoying our coffee and cake while John listened to the Ashes (cricket) commentary on the radio.

I felt incredibly calm and relaxed after the hectic week we'd had.

After marvelling at the gorgeous wild flowers in the garden and making a loop through Lloyd Park, we dropped into the gallery to learn a little more about the man behind those beautifully intricate floral patterns (he's famous for his striking wallpaper and tile designs). I loved learning about William Morris's history: I particularly admired his guts as a maverick and power player of the Arts and Crafts movement. Textile design might not sound very exciting, but the politics behind Morris' choice (he was a committed socialist) to become an artist was fascinating. (And to be honest, I'm interested in anything remotely related to interior design at the moment!)

He was born in Walthamstow and his family home has now been transformed into the gallery - the moat, where his family would fish and boat in during the summer and ice-skate on in the winter, still remains and the bridges and surrounding foliage resemble a Monet painting. Isn't that amazing? Imagine having a moat to skate on all to yourself!

I loved the peacefulness of the park and gardens. It seemed like the perfect way to begin a lazy Saturday. Where's a place near your home that you can go to just to sit and collect your thoughts?


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Grooming Gift Guide for the Travel Dude Who Leaves His Washbag Behind in Hotels

John travels a lot. He also has an incredible knack for leaving things behind on planes. Like the time he left his iPad mini en route to London from New York. Luckily, Heathrow has a separate website devoted to lost property (you have no idea how many people leave behind expensive electronics and handbags and never claim them back) and I managed to get it back for him. Last week, it was his work laptop during a flight to Berlin. And most recently? His beloved Wolsey washbag in canvas and leather, which I bought for him last year - along with all its contents.

So, I'm helping him rebuild his washbag - one item at a time. Because, you know, guys often need help with stuff like this. I was browsing Regal Gentleman online and found some nice products that maybe even John would think twice about leaving behind. Just maybe.

Bodhi & Birch Mint Thé Bath and Shower Therapy

Once, a friend came over to our house and was like, "Oh, has your baby niece been visiting?" pointing to the Little Explorer bubble bath sitting on the corner of the tub. I was like, "Um, no ... that's John's." So. This soothing yet invigorating bath/shower gel from Bodhi & Birch just might be a little bit more grown-up than bubble bath for babies. Just.

Sothys De-Stressing Eye Roll-On

For Valentine's Day this year, I gave John an eye-cream, along with a card that read, "Roses are red, violets are blue, here is some eye-cream - you need it because you have wrinkles. Love, Me xoxo". Romantical, no? Before you protest, I even bought it with my Boots points - no lie. That's how much I love him. For someone who gets a minimal amount of sleep (he's out the door by 6 a.m. every morning - sometimes earlier), this Sothys Roll-On eye gel is a must.

D. R. Harris & Co. Moisture Cream

"Do you have any moisturiser? My face is so dry" - is a whine that I hear a lot. He then proceeds to guiltily squeeze out a precise pea-sized amount of my Shiseido moisturiser as I stand over him to supervise like a hawk. The D.R. Harris & Co Moisture Cream is perfect fit for his bag, and will prevent him from stealing my Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream when he thinks I'm not looking.

Jack Black Daily Cleanser

John used to scoff at my facial routine. "It's too many steps!" he said. Then, one day, I taught him how to cleanse, tone and moisturise. The result? "My skin is SO SOFT!" he marvelled. I rolled my eyes and threw a washcloth at him. Now he uses a cleanser ... albeit in the shower. This Jack Black Daily Cleanser with gentle aloe will keep him from complaining about dry skin post-cleanse.

The Bluebeards Revenge Post-Shave Balm

So, post-shave balm is different than moisturiser, I've discovered (this is because I ran out of moisturiser during a trip to Madrid and used the posh hotel's luxurious post-shave balm on my legs instead and oh my goodness it was a game changer - I've been trying to find it ever since). It acts almost as a barrier and stops that post-shave irritation you get, so I think this Bluebeards Revenge post-shave balm is probably a good idea to keep in a dopp kit.

Joe Grooming Texture Paste

For someone who has significantly less hair than me, John certainly cares about it a lot more than one would expect. For example: we currently have one hair dryer at home and, because I'm sick of getting blasted away at 5:30 a.m. when I'm still trying to sleep, I've said I'll get him another one. "Yeah, but I don't want some crappy, cheap one," he remarked. I just stared at him. Anyway, this texture paste from Joe Grooming is great for subtle shaping - without that wet-gel look. Shudders.

Taylor of Old Bond Street Shave Brush 

I can't think of anything that currently looks more refined in our horrible bathrooms (which desperately need to be re-done) than this Taylor of Old Bond Street wet shave brush. When he has time, it's John's preferred method of shaving - with the soap dish and everything - and this brush is wonderful to use.

Joe Grooming Thickening Shampoo

Back to the hair. I don't think John ever paid attention to the quality of shampoo and conditioner he used until he met me. I like to think that I've broadened his beauty - I mean, grooming - horizons. I like that this Thickening Shampoo from Joe Grooming uses natural products like barley and hops to help thicken hair.

Hairbond Structure Professional Conditioner

Actually, I don't think John ever even used conditioner before he met me. And again, while he doesn't have long, flowing locks, even he notices the difference when he uses conditioner, commenting on how much softer and less wiry his blonde barnet (which I jokingly nicknamed "the Golden Fleece") is after conditioning.

So, there you have it. The nine products I'd drop into John's new washbag (he's still looking for a new one - I'm currently considering this or this as a present at some point). Any other suggestions?

This post was sponsored by Regal Gentleman.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Breakfast @ Bishopsgate Kitchen and A Stroll Through Spitalfields & Shoreditch

I know it's Tuesday already, but ... how was your weekend? On Saturday, John and I woke up early to go to Spitalfields Market because we wanted to browse the market for art and homeware ... as well as a new wedding ring for John, since he lost his last weekend! Has that ever happened to you?

So, funny story: when we were shopping for wedding bands, John tried on bands from various places, but felt uneasy wearing an expensive ring since he knew he'd take it on and off a lot (and he has a penchant for losing things!). We ended up buying one from a market stall in Spitalfields instead! It was sterling silver and just a simple, silver band, but we always enjoyed re-telling the tale of how it was sold to us, because I asked the owner which rings were men's rings and he began to pick up several different rings while repeating, "A man could wear this ... a man could wear this ... a man could wear THIS ..." After a while, we got the picture.

Sadly, the same man and his stall were gone (as were any stalls selling silver rings for that matter, so do let me know if you know a good one!), but we did duck into Bishopsgate Kitchen for a quick breakfast.

Have you been to this restaurant before? It was surprisingly quiet on a Saturday morning, which I was thankful for. Retro toasters line a long communal table in the middle and the rest of the seats are decked out in vintage leather and reclaimed wood. The space is bright and airy because of the enormous windows - I could have stayed for longer if we hadn't wanted to beat the crowd!

I ordered a flat white and some delicious toast with preserves, but John went for the smashed avocado and poached eggs on toast, which looked amazing. Definitely a little heartier than your typical smashed avo on toast!

From there, we stopped off to buy a bike helmet for me (we later bought a bike so that I could go with John for off-road cycling adventures in Epping Forest ... me + off-road = not friends, but I'm trying to keep an open mind!) and made our way towards Shoreditch, passing The Commercial Tavern, which we used to frequent when we lived in Whitechapel.

It definitely looks different today! The whole area is so gentrified now compared to what it was 8 years ago ... dozens of people were walking around with cameras, snapping photos of street art and Pinterest-worthy cafés ... we were stopped by a man with a Scouse accent, asking if indie record label and store Sister Ray was nearby (nope, in Soho!).

After picking out a few things for our wishlist at SCP and walking away with a glugglefish pitcher (which I'll share with you soon!), we stopped off for a glass of overpriced Moroccan tea and very dry cake at a nearby market that was just setting up.

I tried out second-hand bikes at Wood Street station when we got back and finally settled on one which I felt comfortable on ... I haven't been on a bike since I was about 14! Do you own one?

It was the first Saturday we had that didn't revolve around putting together furniture or manic trips to IKEA (although we were back in Homebase the next day - ha!) and I really, really enjoyed it. There's something about getting up early and beating the crowds, before retiring home around lunchtime for a siesta that really makes the weekend a weekend, you know?

I'm all about the naps, people.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Travel Link-Up: Beach Breaks vs. City Breaks

So, this month's Travel Link-Up theme is all about "travel contrasts" and it got me thinking: do you prefer beach breaks or city breaks?

Looking at the photos above, the destinations couldn't be more different: the laid-back vibe of Sri Lankan beaches, where all I could hear was the ocean crashing on the sand from where I read my book in a hammock that swung gently beneath a palm tree ... to the rush of traffic in the middle of New York City's Time Square, with hundreds of tourists craning their necks up to take photos of the neon lights and signs.

And yet ... I prefer a bit of both.

'That's cheating!' I hear you say. But it's not. Not really. A city break can often be as refreshing as a beachy break ... a new city waiting to be discovered on foot, the rush a different kind of rush than the one I might be used to.

The other day, I was talking to someone about how underrated and often forgotten Brussels is as a location for a city-break. That trip I took in February with my best friend Udita remains firmly stamped in my mind as one of the most memorable - and not just because I was travelling with her, but also because I loved the feel of the city. The verve; the vibe.

Cities have hearts - don't you think? They're pulsing, reaching out, navigating, yearning, hoping - it's what I love about discovering a new city. Finding its pulse. Walking it, living it, breathing it, tasting it.

Another favorite city of mine? Berlin. Such an incredibly artistic, hip, and impossibly cool city. Beyond that? New York and Madrid. New York is - well, New York. And Madrid is so elegant: sophisticated and fabulous.

But the beach also beckons. And whether it's Vietnam or Thailand or Sri Lanka or the Oregon Coast (where I haven't been back to since I was a child), there's something about that magical lull of the ocean - the little inlets and infinite pool of blue that make me feel like I've just magically stepped into a screensaver. It's just so intoxicating.

There are no cares in the world during these kinds of vacations; only the thought that you're on vacation and what that means is no shoes, no watch, and salty wet hair. All the time.

And time. Time moves so slowly during these beachy breaks. My movements themselves become languid and delayed. Reaching for a glass beside my sun lounger suddenly seems like so much effort.

But this is good. Beach vacations are like interventions. They force you to slow down. To really see around you. To understand what it means to replenish your heart and your mind with joy, calm, and quietness.

So, tell me: do you prefer city breaks? Or beachy breaks? Or a bit of both?

This month's travel link-up is hosted by Rebecca, Kelly, Emma, and Zoe. Head over to their blogs to read more about travel contrasts and to discover the different ways we all like to travel!
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