Gastrologik, Stockholm

It has taken me a long time to write up my meal at Gastrologik as it is a challenge to put an experience like this into words. This pioneering restaurant in Stockholm opened in 2011, a labour of love from young chefs Jacob Holmstrom and Anton Bjuhr. Both men have a background of working in excellent kitchens but wanted to open their own eatery to offer diners a cuisine that celebrated the qualities of seasonal Nordic ingredients.

It was a chilly night when my mum and I stepped inside the small Stockholm restaurant. Gastrologik is located on the corner of a quiet residential street in the Ostermalm district and only seats about 30 guests in the cosy dining rooms. This is a place for keen foodies to relish and enjoy the finest Swedish cooking.

The chefs work meticulously at the open kitchen counter, using various utensils to delicately dress and arrange the dishes. We sat down at the last empty table, and observed our surroundings. The restaurant is clean and minimalist with white walls, oak floor and typically Scandinavian copper light shades, which add a touch of glamour. The menu is similarly stark, open the white menu card to reveal the cheeky message: ‘Let Today’s Produce Decide’, 1295 SEK. And just like that we gave up decision rights for the night and let the kitchen choose our food fate!

We had a vegetarian menu, approximately 13 courses of beautiful, clever and flavoursome food. First campfire bread sticks and Algae broth with lovage in a tiny glass teapot. It was magically evocative of a forest encounter. Smoky bread wrapped around thick twigs and warm comforting broth. Next came a range of intriguing bites, a touch of cheesy sweetness from Goat’s cheese from Lofsta with meringue and apple, a touch of the exotic with the Quail egg marinated in the housemade pea soy sauce. It was evident with each plate that every ingredient was carefully foraged and found from the surrounding environment. Raw mushrooms arranged into flowers with a cream of toasted yeast were exquisite in looks and taste.

Freshly made hot bread was delivered in a hemp pouch with luxuriously thick butter from Kittelberget. Every course was presented in an inventive and creative way. Root celery with nettles was an eccentric pile of contrasting textures and garden tastes. Roasted carrots with onions and truffles from Gotland is a celebration of the humble carrot, the vegetable is treated with such dignity, creating a complex caramelised dish that I loved. Baked egg with ramsons and malt was a bizarre dish, the poached egg was almost jelly-like with intensely flavoured malt sponge and ramsons (a distant relative of the chive).

The sweet courses began with a glass petri dish of circular apple specimens to cleanse and refresh the palate. Smoked beets with hay was perhaps the only course we found a little too bizarre to enjoy, and I noticed our neighbouring table pushing it around the plate too. Unless you adore the distinctive flavour of beetroot this is a tricky dish, especially paired with shards of white chocolate and the hint of hay. Celery root with caramel and whey was a more tempting dessert and we enjoyed the crunchy topping combined with the smooth caramel decadence. Just before we could mourn the end of this exceptional meal, a bowl of pine arrived in which mouthfuls of pine vodka were hidden. The powerful flavours burst in our mouths, like a gasp of tingling cold forest air.

The lovely waiter brought along a wooden box of dried ingredients so we could create our very own blend of herb tea. I didn’t choose the best combination but loved the personalised process nonetheless.

Gastrologik cannot help but inspire diners, with their innovative kitchen ethics and love of produce in the purest form, every meal here is different. The chefs told me that sometimes the menu can even change halfway through the service when one item runs out. So despite reading my detailed review, you never know what will arrive in front of you. Gastrologik offers an exhilarating experience, a culinary journey that I will never forget.

More information and book a table here.

Brunch in London

Brunch is no longer a meal enjoyed just at weekends. I have noticed that many men seem confused with the concept of combining two meals (breakfast and lunch) to one larger feed, but my girlfriends relish the opportunity to meet and chat over a lazy mid-morning feast. Brunch is cheaper than lunch, but more substantial than breakfast, it can be accompanied with healthy juice or decadent cocktails. In London there are numerous delicious, stylish venues to choose from, whatever the occasion there is a brunch hang-out to suit the event. I’m always on the look-out for new eateries that serve up a brilliant brunch; here are a few of my current favourites in the capital…

Blixen – Spitalfields’ newest brunch hang-out is ultra-sophisticated, a combination of Parisian charm and New York design. Upstairs, the smartly arranged dining room is pale-hued, clean and chic with a floorboarded ceiling, white-washed brick walls and plenty of natural daylight from the large windows. Downstairs there is a tiny cocktail bar which is popular in the evening. Chef Matt Greenwood has created a range of original and tempting dishes, spoilt for choice we chose three to share between two of us. I chose the tropical Good Times juice, an addictive combination of pear, pineapple and ginger. The bacon and fried egg sandwich with gem lettuce and tomato jam was a satisfying savoury option, or opt for Pancakes with blueberries and whipped crème fraiche if you fancy something sweet. Brunch for two – approx. £25.

Hotbox – this glam-rock restaurant serves up a mean brunch with optional unlimited Prosecco. Hotbox is an American BBQ specialist, offering plates of hearty fare and dangerously good morning cocktails. If Bloody Mary’s are your thing you’ll be pleased to discover there are five varieties at Hotbox. For food, Chicken Belgian Waffle is a must try, indulgent crispy salty chicken with freshly-made pillowy waffles and dripping in maple syrup with a sprinkle of truffle salt – it is the ultimate sweet’n’sour combination. I also loved the Mexican inspired Beef Rib Taco with smoked short rib, crispy shallots and chimichurri. Brunch for two – approx. £35.

Caravan, King’s Cross – this is my favourite meeting place for workday brunches. The huge industrial restaurant and roastery is part of the new developments at King’s Cross and is already very popular with the nearby businesses. There are plenty of simple, wooden tables to accommodate everyone, but be warned at weekends seats are scarce and reservations are essential. The coffee is top notch, the team roast small batches daily with the highest quality beans sourced from around the world. The menu is full of divine dishes, I can’t resist the Courgette and corn fritters with chilli jam, herbed feta and rocket. If you are feeling particularly hungry order a side of chorizo! Brunch for two – approx. £30.

Kitty Fisher’s, Shepherd’s Market

Kitty Fisher’s is the restaurant of the moment and I expected the clientèle to be of a similar ilk to the social climbers and celebs at Chiltern Firehouse. But I was very wrong. This traditional and charming little restaurant is tucked away in the historic Shepherd’s Market in central London. The diners tend to be older and wiser, foodies who love fine cooking but don’t appreciate a paparazzi flash in the face.

Squeezing into our seats at this cosy restaurant, I was amazed by the boutique size of the venue. I quickly learnt about our neighbouring couple’s children and their holiday dilemmas. They were one course ahead of us, so conveniently we had a preview before choosing each dish. I overheard too, who the restaurant is titled after – an infamous 18th century courtesan of the same name.

The menu features modern British fare with a Spanish twist.  The eatery has a wood grill used for a number of the dishes and chef Tomos Parry illustrates his talent through the bold and brilliant flavour combinations. The menu varies slightly depending on the seasonal produce available, though tends to feature hearty meat dishes and indulgent ingredients.

My burrata was a highlight; a creamy white cheese, decorated with emerald green peas, delicate peapods and mint. The fresh flavours worked perfectly together, a lovely spring plate of food. My dinner guest chose the Breaded Cornish mussels which were fragrant, light and delicious, served with a wild garlic mayonnaise.

Ox cheek was a rich main course. The slow-cooked meat fell apart as I cut into it, a sticky caramelised edge and tender soft meat inside, it had a depth of flavour that comes from expert lengthy cooking. The meat was accompanied with champ (mashed potato and spring onion) a scrumptious combination, totally addictive. Beef Sirloin was a more standard British plate of food, cooked meticulously again and served with onion, pickled walnut, pink fir and tunworth. The thick potatoes were topped with an intense mustard and the strong Tunworth cheese, it was all a bit overpowering, especially next to the delicious meat. Despite the hefty £6.50 price tag I decided on Blood Orange Sorbet for dessert. It was a refreshing, palate-cleansing pudding but perhaps a little plain.

With understated charm and historic allure, Kitty Fisher’s is the type of restaurant where you may see a famous face, but everyone else is far too civilised to make a fuss of it. A meal for two will be pricey, and although much of the food we tried was really tasty I think there are some recipe improvements to make before the venue completely deserves its cult status.

More information on Kitty Fisher’s here: www.kittyfishers.com

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: Carmen, ENO, Coliseum

If you have been at any London tube station in recent weeks, you will most likely have seen an eye-catching advert of a blonde beauty in a sparkling pink dress on the hood of a car. No, this was not announcing a new women’s fragrance or hair colour. It is in fact the poster for the English National Opera’s latest production of Carmen. The blonde poster girl is Justyna Gringyte, who plays the title role and her eye-catching photo is an introduction to this unusual, very successful take on Bizet’s classic.

It would be difficult to find a single member of the packed opening night audience who did not know the rousing overture that starts Carmen and so there was an air of familiarity as the orchestra played the famous music and the audience waited for the Coliseum curtains to rise. This familiarity was abruptly stopped as the curtains rose to reveal a bare, dusty set decorated by only a flagpole, a telephone box and a row of barely visible, eerily placed soldiers. Calixto Bieto, opera director extraordinaire, hailed as the ‘Quentin Tarantino of the opera world’, has a clear vision with this production. Premiered in 2012, Bieto’s Carmen steers clear from Spanish stereotypes of castanets and flamenco dresses (although flamenco dresses do make a comic appearance in a plan to swindle some customs officers) and instead focuses on the seductive yet seedy undertones to the libretto. Only a Spanish flag, and the famous Osborne Bull silhouette gives the production a geographic placement.

As is the case with most famous operatic productions, traditional interpretations of the libretto don’t quite cut it anymore. Though Bizet’s Carmen shocked the audience when it was first premiered, today’s audience has become immune to that same kind of scandal. This production has kept up with the times in terms of creating that same kind of shock by including full (although not always fully explained) nudity as well as some darker undertones of child grooming and abuse. Because of these, sadly, very contemporary discomforts of modern society, the audience was suitably unsettled as the libretto is meant to make one feel.

The chorus shone both as excitable fans of the bullfight and as surly, perverted guards. The acting in this production was the best I’ve seen with the ENO and the singing was very commendable indeed. Justina Grigynte, the blonde bombshell Carmen thrived in her role as a flirtatious and confused woman caught between multiple men and although there were some slight diction difficulties which made the audience somewhat dependent on the surtitles, the tone and musicality of her singing matched her acting skills. Eric Cutler performed stunningly as a complex Don José who sang beautifully with my personal favourite, Eleanor Dennis as Micaëla.

This is a breath of fresh, yet seedy, air into a total opera classic. The excellent singing and exhilarating story telling is reason enough to go, but, as an added bonus, you also get to see how they fit six (yes, six) cars onto the Coliseum stage at the beginning of the third act. This is not a production to miss – catch it either at the Coliseum or streamed live at a cinema near you.

Carmen continues until Friday 3 July, book here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 259

It is not easy to find a bikini that makes you feel good about yourself. When I first step onto the beach with pasty British skin I like to have an outfit that will boost my confidence.

The Cos bikinis take the common female insecurities into consideration. Comfortable, flattering and available to buy as separates, so you can purchase a set that fits and flatters your figure. I was positively surprised by the swimwear, and particularly loved the simple pastel and striped designs.

The bikini tops are soft shaped, in a triangle style made from lightly textured pique fabric. With lined cups, they have thin adjustable straps and a matte clasp fastening at the back. The bikini bottoms have a smooth lining and are cut to sit low on the waist and high on the leg. I found them much more comfortable than most. Bikinis are sized XS-L and are priced between £15-19 for single top/bottom, so around £34 for a set.

Browse and buy the Cos bikinis online here.

Coq D’Argent, Blossom City

Walking out from the lift in Coq D’Argent the feeling of summer rushed back to me. A hazy warm evening, friends and colleagues toasting merrily with G&Ts and foliage everywhere lightly scenting the air. This rooftop restaurant in the city is currently celebrating the season of Spring with their #BlossomCity menu. Coq D’Argent have collaborated with iconic florists McQueens to create a unique terrarium installations based on the Coq D’Argent rooftop garden designs of award-winning Chelsea Flower Show designer, Arabella Lennox-Boyd.

We joined the throng of suited drinkers out on the balcony, and enjoyed a glass of champagne whilst admiring the epic skyline of London in front of us. I was amazed to see how early this venue gets busy, by 7pm the place was full, both bar and restaurant were buzzing with enthusiastic guests enjoying the blissful weather and soaking up the special Coq D’Argent atmosphere.

The Blossom City set menu, though concise, has a range of fresh Spring dishes created by head chef Damien Rigollet and inspired by the flowers and flavours of this time of year. I adored the roasted Quail with sweet pea flowers, pancetta, celeriac, apple puree and black truffle jus. I thought the complicated list of ingredients might ruin the subtle poultry, but it worked brilliantly with the perfectly cooked meat and crispy, salty pancetta. For a lighter starter, opt for the Baked Poitou goat’s cheese with heritage beetroot, honey and hazelnuts. This soft cheese is encased in breadcrumbs giving a lovely crunchy edge and presented on a bed of sweet beetroot chunks, puree and micro herbs. I found the honey slightly overpowering with the rich cheese and sweet beetroot, though I’m sure most will enjoy this typical pairing.

We had already spotted the impressive lamb shank on a nearby table, and the dish was not a disappointment. A hearty hunk of tender meat with potato puree and spring onion, it was a huge portion but the caramelised soft meat was difficult to leave! I ordered the vegetarian main course, a Provencal tarte with courgette flower and goat’s cheese tempura. Courgette flowers are hard to find in London eateries, a delicacy I love in the South of France, so when I spotted them on the menu I couldn’t resist ordering the dish. The tarte needed a little extra seasoning but looked immaculate and the flower was a lovely touch, oozing melted goat’s cheese when cut.

Desserts were an utter delight. Pretty plates adorned with edible flowers and exotic fruits. We tried the vanilla poached pineapple with crystallised violet petals and coconut sorbet which was a light and refreshing dessert that reminded me of my holiday in Thailand by the beach. The coffee pudding was a hit with my friend who polished it off speedily with a big smile on her face. An arrangement of contrasting coffee textures of biscuit, mimosa balls, crumble, fudge and sorbet were delicately placed in a glass bowl and topped with coffee mousse. But if you try only one option from the dessert menu go for the Granny Smith apple parfait. A beautiful spherical imitation apple filled with a zingy and creamy parfait.

Even when the weather isn’t fine, the Coq D’Argent restaurant will transport you away to a world of elegant dining and delicious food.

The #BlossomCity menu is available for lunch and dinner, Monday-Friday. It costs £28 for two courses or £32 for three courses. Continues until 14 June, more information here.

Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table

I am lucky to have tasted the culinary creations of Hélène Darroze on several occasions. Her restaurant at the Connaught Hotel is renowned for its spectacular food and exemplary service. Using rich memories of her upbringing in south west France, her beautiful cuisine illustrates a love of fine ingredients and family heritage but also an imaginative spirit that means her ideas evolve as she travels more of the world.

A few weeks ago I dined at the exclusive Hélène Darroze Sommelier’s Table Supperclub, along with a group of London’s top food bloggers. Beneath the kitchens, down a discreet staircase, the chilly cellar is found. Holding an impressive collection of valuable, exceptional even, bottles of wine, this cellar is only used for the most elite meals, a special hideaway for wine connoisseurs and food lovers.

A seven course menu was designed specially by Hélène for the occasion, and master Sommelier Mirko Benzo selected unique vintages to complement each course. Sitting around the grand circular table, I felt like we had travelled back in time, a regal feast in a secret cellar. It is an enlightening experience tasting dishes with wine that balances so miraculously with every ingredient and flavour. We were invited to blind taste the wine initially, a task which I did spectacularly badly at, but one that really stirred my interest in this world.

Meanwhile Hélène’s head chef Alex Dilling was presenting plates of food that thrilled the Instagrammers round the table. Caviar with crab, radish and hass avocado looked like a dreamy garden in the bowl. Foie gras with wild strawberry, rhubarb and lemon verbena looked pretty, pink and perfect, but was complex and sophisticated in taste, the sweetest of the fruit cutting through the rich smooth foie gras. Coco bean with eel and shimeji then Lobster with asparagus, botargo and seaweed followed. The kitchen continued to wow with luxurious ingredients prepared in inventive and delicious ways.

Though I can be squeamish the Sweetbread course was a resounding success around the table, I heard whispers of ‘this is the best dish I’ve tasted all year’… which is high praise from people who eat and judge food for a living! The sweetbread was like very tender pork, paired with earthy indulgent morels, fresh seasonal asparagus and vin jaune (from the Jura region of France). It was paired with a glass of 2008 Gevry-Chambertin “Les Jeunes Rois”, Domaine Geantet-Pansiot.

For the double dessert extravaganza (courses six and seven) I had to engage my second stomach. Traditional Baba Armagnac (using the Darroze family Armagnac) was up first. A light but boozy treat accompanied by strawberries and fluffy banana cream. I imagine it would be the kind of grown-up dessert James Bond would order when out on a date. The second dessert – Chocolate with ginger and bourbon vanilla provoked childish oohs and ahhs from the team of eaters. Once all the photographic evidence of the chocolate masterpiece had been recorded, the table was silent as we consumed the delightfully indulgent pudding.

Satisfied and stunned by the array of culinary creations and magical wine journey we had experienced, we ate our final mouthfuls of French patisserie and sipped the last of the dessert wine before saying our goodbyes and stepping back into the real world upstairs.

More information on the Sommelier’s Table here, learn more about Hélène Darroze here.

Things to do in Athens

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Athens, a city that is known for its ancient importance and modern disrepair. From the airport it is easy to jump straight onto a train into the centre of town, where I felt instantly immersed in the frenzied tourist-driven activity. There is a crumbling charm to this city. After you have admired the obvious historical ruins there is plenty of contemporary culture to get involved in… Late night rooftop bars and addictive street food, iced coffees and impressive museums – there is always plenty to do. The sunlight that brightens Athens for a lot of the year fuels the local lifestyle and encourages cafés and restaurants to spill out onto the streets. When the hot heat of summer hits there are plenty of nearby islands to escape to.

To stay

Fresh Hotel - this centrally-located Design Hotel offers sleek minimalist rooms at affordable prices. The modern hotel is decorated with bursts of bright colours and features pieces by Philippe Starck and Zaha Hadid. There is a rooftop bar and pool for hotter days, and in the bold bedrooms I noticed toiletries by popular local brand Korres

To eat

Kosta - Souvlaki is the most typical Greek fast food and is found on every street corner. At its simplest it consists of a skewer of grilled pork wrapped in pita bread with tomato, onions and a sauce, but every outlet has their own variation. Everyone has a different opinion about the best Souvlaki in Athens. We tried a few and to be honest, anywhere you see locals eating is likely to be tasty. Be sure to stop by Kosta for their take on this classic.

Funky Gourmet - this innovative two Michelin star establishment is lightyears ahead of the rest of the food scene in Athens. Setup by chefs Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos in 2009, their creative modern Greek cuisine is influenced by past experience working in the El Bulli kitchen. Their tasting menus are imaginative and unusual – particularly memorable was the white sorbet containing all of the flavours of a Greek salad, and the dramatic Orange Explosion.

Tzitzikas and Mermigas - this popular taverna is a great spot for lunch; a welcome and hearty break from sightseeing. The menu offers all the Greek specialities you would expect, we particularly enjoyed the traditional meatballs, and the deliciously soft and sweet Aubergine dish.

Le Greche - this artisan parlour serves the best gelato in town. On a sunny afternoon there is nothing better than a scoop of their Mascarpone and Caramelised Fig ice cream.

Spondi - this renowned and civilised eatery has long been considered one of the finest restaurants in Europe. With two stars under its belt and a place in Les Grandes Tables du Monde, it has high standards to uphold. We enjoyed a lavish four-course menu; highlights were Morels with Amaretto Sabayon and bitter cocoa, and Mousse of Grouper with onions and wild herb broth. The food was light but full of vibrant flavours.

Lukumades - visit this chic cafe to try the authentic Greek snack of sweet dough balls. Especially good with the traditional topping of honey and cinnamon. One portion (€2.90) will get you 12 of the little delights.

Butcher Shop - book or arrive early at this popular neighbourhood restaurant as tables fill fast. Greece has many psitopoleia (grill houses) and this modern version serves seriously delicious meat and fish dishes at good prices. We ordered a selection of their smaller ‘item’ offerings to try as much as possible. Our favourites included the Three Meat meatball, Giaourtlou (kebab) with yoghurt and tomato sauce and fried Ladotyri (Greek hard cheese).

To Drink

Tailor Made - coffee by day, cocktails by night, this micro-roastery serves one of the best cups of caffeine in the city. Drink like the Greeks and ask for it iced (freddo cappucino).

Baba au Rum - this speciality rum and tiki bar has previously been voted as one of the best cocktail bars in the world. We went for a pre-dinner aperitif and enjoyed the laid back al-fresco ambience. Ray Barientos is a short, balanced drink with rum, cherry brandy and fruit juice.

Brettos - Greece is well known for its wine and ouzo, however Brettos bar has made a name for itself offering the finest homemade flavoured Greek liqueurs. Despite being in one of the most touristy areas of the city, this colourful emporium is often overlooked by tourists. For €4.50 you can try a glass of one of the vibrant flavours on ice, or for a little more buy a bottle to take home and use in exotic cocktails recipes. We tried Coconut and Parfums d’amour (a mix of rose, orange and vanilla).

Taf Coffee - this little coffee company aims to provide Greece with the highest quality coffee beans and encourage the progression of modern coffee culture in the country. In Athens the cafe is widely regarded as the best place to get a cappuccino. I enjoyed my daily morning coffee here, a perfectly made smooth flat white.

TAF (The Art Foundation) - this hipster outdoor bar is found in the covered courtyard of a dilapidated neoclassical building. In the daytime it is a welcome shade from the heat, serving delicious iced coffees and it comes to life around midnight. Make sure you look upstairs to see the Metamatic gallery space.

To See/Do

Acropolis & the Parthenon - many visit Athens just to witness this great Unesco world heritage site. Walk up the rocky path to the impressive remains, marvel at the impressive historic columns built in the 5th century BC, and imagine the splendour of Ancient Greece. The current restoration project (which began in 1975) is now nearing its completion but there is still some scaffolding in place.

Filopappou Hill - if you want to see the ancient ruins from slightly further afield climb the winding steps to the peak of Filopappou hill and admire the Acropolis from the best vantage point in Athens.

Acropolis Museum - this contemporary building houses many sculptures and artefacts that once adorned the walls and terraces of the Parthenon. It is a wonderful collection and a great place to learn about the story of the Acropolis. Now they just await a reunion with the Elgin marbles, currently residing in England.

National Gardens - this peaceful public park is a haven in the centre of the city. When we walked around we even spotted a few tortoises!

Monastiraki Flea Market - a minute from the main Monastiraki metro station is a tourist tat marketplace. On Sundays, however, the antique dealers come out to sell in Avissynias Square and you may just find a dusty treasure.

Central Market - this covered market is where the food traders sell all kinds of Greek specialities, ranging from olives and cheese to seafood, meat and vegetables. Open Monday to Saturday, make sure you wear soled shoes to walk among the meat and fish halls.

Benaki Museum - this interesting museum houses wonderful artefacts dating back to 7th century BC. There are 40,000 items in the permanent collection, including an immaculately preserved set of jewellery.

Penathenaic Stadium - this impressive stone structure was the venue for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. For €3 you can take a tour and go for a sprint on the track.

Temple of Olympian Zeus - this temple was dedicated to Zeus, ruler of the Olympians. Building started in 6th century BC but wasn’t completed until 700 years later. Only 15 of the original 104 columns remain but the ruins still offer an insight into the scale of this once magnificent building.

To Shop

Forget Me Not - a cultural gift store that sells carefully selected Greek-made items, in contrast to the surrounding shops selling cheap tourist tat.

Melissinos Art Poet Sandal Maker - Since 1920 this family of expert sandal makers have been providing stylish made-to-fit leather sandals for celebrities and those in the know. Squeeze into the tiny cluttered shop, choose from the menu of styles and let Pantelis fit them to your feet. Ranging from €33-€39, it is a small price to pay for the same shoes as John Lennon, Sarah Jessica Parker and the Princesses of Greece.

Vassilis Zoulias - walking into this candy coloured shop I felt like I was in wonderland. Zoulias really knows how to make a woman feel like a princess with his sophisticated yet fun dresses and high-heel shoes. The elegant creations have a vintage feel thanks to the timeless tailoring and standout patterns. The colours are rich and the materials luxurious; I’ve definitely never seen neon colours used in such a grown-up way.

Ioanna Korbella - this popular Greek designer has two shops next door to each other on Charimichali Street selling ready-to-wear and couture clothing. Kourbela’s main inspiration are elements of nature and her collections are minimalist and classically simple. Block colours and flowing, natural, organic fabrics flatter the figure and are very comfortable to wear – perfect for the hot Greek weather.

Lito Cabinet de Curiosites - Lito Karakostanoglou is a self-taught jeweller who has previously designed catwalk pieces for many renowned designers. She opened this lovely little boutique in 2006 showcasing her sensational designs in attractive glass cabinets. I loved the insect-inspired collection which uses real iridescent beetles encased in gold, which are priced at €4,600. There is also a lovely range of hand painted ‘evil eye’ necklaces, dainty, unique and a bit more affordable.

Thoroughly Modern Milly stayed at Fresh Hotel.

Many thanks to the Greece Tourist board for their help with this trip, more information here.

Bao, Soho

I once did an internship in Soho. Lunchtimes were a dizzying excitement of food options – popular market stalls and cafes, fragrant pop-ups and busy boutique delis, all vying for my lunch order. If Bao had been around then it would have been a big contender on my lunch list.

Bao began life as a humble street food vendor, serving up simple but irresistible steamed buns filled with indulgent pork belly, sticky sweet sauce and onions. I tasted their fare at Netil market and then enjoyed their short stay in the Harvey Nichols Food Hall. Now they are proud owners of a neat little eatery on Lexington Street, and the vast queue outside proves their success. The Bao team have been helped by the business minds behind Gymkhana and Trishna, but after trying their offerings at the new permanent home, I can assure you it is the food and stylish venue that is bringing in the customers.

The venue is heavily influenced by slick Japanese design, with simple wooden tables and chairs and shelves displaying the range of exotic beers on offer. Diners tend to come and go within an hour, with such fast and flavoursome food, it’s not a lingering all-evening affair. This means the queue moves at an encouraging speed.

The cute custom cartoons suggest it is all about the filled fluffy white steamed Bao buns, but the concise order slip also illustrates a range of hot and cold small Taiwanese dishes (known as Xiao chi). Special delicacies include Eryngii Mushroom with Century Egg and Pig Blood Cake.

You will be invited to annotate the order slip, numbering how many of each dish you would like. I would recommend at least three plates per person, and a can of Taiwan Gold Medal beer each. Try all the Bao variations if you can… there is even a fried Horlicks ice-cream option for dessert! My favourites were the Confit Pork which is stuffed into the bun with pork sauce, hot sauce and sprinkled with dried shallots. The fried chicken with Sichuan mayo, golden kimchi and sesame BAO bun is also divine with the magical soy milk marinated chicken. Vegetarian delights include Aubergine and wonton crisp, a mushy intensely spiced aubergine with light crispy crackers. Trotter Nuggets must not be missed, tender rich slow-cooked pork with a crunchy breadcrumbed edge and a khaki burned chilli sauce dip on the side.

Both times I have visited there have been dishes that have already sold out. Foam tea (a chilled light oolong tea topped with foam cream) is a favourite but never seems to be available, and the century egg seems to go fast too. Soon they will be offering a takeaway service but until then, I hope they can keep up with the demand. I will definitely be returning soon for my bao bun fix.

More information about Bao here: www.baolondon.com

Hot on the Highstreet Week 258

The main high street of South Kensington is one I used to frequent when I worked nearby. Now I only visit occasionally when meeting a friend for brunch or passing through. The area is busy with boutique cafes and quaint restaurants, but last week I spied a newcomer on the scene that piqued my excitement.

Maître Choux is a shop of colourful choux jewels, it is impossible not to stop and stare. When I was waiting patiently inside for my sweet delights I noticed a little girl’s face pressed up hopefully at the shop front window. This specialist choux patisserie bakes the finest and freshest Eclairs, Choux and Chouquettes every day, available to buy in a variety of tempting flavours.

The creative kitchen is led by Joakim Prat who has previously worked in a host of Michelin restaurants including a long stint for Joel Robuchon, where he really honed his skill. If you enjoy a bit of amateur baking you will know that choux pastry is a notoriously difficult to perfect.

At Maître Choux the handcrafted treats are light and airy but with a crisp shell. Joakim elevates the basic éclair to a luxurious, beautiful and ornate work of art. The iced fingers lie side by side neatly, each flavour has its own personality… the salted caramel is topped with a tiny gold dusted square of fudge, the pink raspberry is decorated with raspberries, multi-coloured hundreds and thousands and a wisp of gold leaf. I loved the alluring green pistachio éclair, and adored the nutty hazelnut variety. They are almost too immaculate to eat. Patisserie artistry comes at a price, and one éclair from Maître Choux will set you back around £5.

Maître Choux will also offer seating for a handful of customers. Here guests can accompany their pastry with a cup of the finest quality teas and coffee, as well as a thick hot chocolate made from a legendary Basque recipe provided by Joakim’s grandmother.

Maître Choux has found a happy home in South Kensington, the French district of London. They sell out every day so I recommend getting there early to taste a mouthful of choux heaven.

More information on Maitre Choux here.