Chiltern Firehouse, Marylebone

Chiltern Street will never be the same again. The arrival of the celebrity zoo Chiltern Firehouse has shaken London’s restaurant scene unlike anything else. Reservations are non-existent and only a famous friend can help you get a table here. I insisted on registering for the waitlist for an August Monday evening and my luck was in as Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus obviously got a better offer for that night as a table became available for little, unimportant me.

Despite the hovering paparazzi at the entrance, I saw zero celebrities inside, which was extremely disappointing considering the A-listers who have been pictured there recently. With this in mind it seems fair to focus this review on the food and service I experienced at London’s hottest hang-out. The building itself is lovely, an old red-brick fire station and this gothic venue certainly sets the mood of the exclusive restaurant and hotel. It is the latest offering from Andre Balazs (prestigious hotelier) and Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes (of Viajante fame) takes control in the open kitchen.

Ushered in and checked off on the reservations list we took a seat at the bar, which seemed to be an area for elegantly dressed waitresses to gossip amongst themselves. It seemed silly not to try a couple of cocktails, seeing as we were finally here. We sampled a Kiss and Tell (Poached rhubarb, vermouth, vanilla bitters, raspberry air emulsion) and a Happy Marriage (Gin, lemon juice, violet liqueur, lavender sherbet, bergamot). Both were delightfully light and innovatively flavoured drinks, priced at £12 each.

Service is NOT the strong point here, our waitress was a complete mess… dashing about frantically, persuading me to order the most expensive wine, spilling water over the table and working with such haste that charm and efficiency were absent. She seemed to move around the restaurant at a run, I wanted to grab her and calm her down, or encourage her to delegate some of her jobs to the idle workers at the bar who were prioritising chatting over customers.

Nuno Mendes’s new eatery has already become known for several signature dishes… we ensured we tried the Crab-stuffed donuts with coral dusting from the snacking menu. They are tasty and attractive balls of brioche filled with soft crabmeat, nice but not spectacular. The bar menu had some of the most delectable sounding dishes and we also opted for the strangely cold but vibrantly flavoured Cauliflower Florets with spiced truffle paste, the very delicious thick Cornbread Fingers with naughtily rich Chipotle-maple butter and the exquisite Fried Chicken with smoky-bacon ranch dip. So far I was impressed.

We skipped starters in favour of a main course each, I thought here Mendes might compromise his creative cuisine for something rather more mainstream, but the flavour combinations were quirky and mostly successful. Chargrilled Iberico Pork with raw and roasted turnips was delicious, fine meat cooked red with a crispy salty edge, concealed in greenery – it felt healthy and satisfying. The Spring Lamb was cooked slightly too rare for me, it was a woody recipe accompanied by black garlic, goat’s curd and grilled lettuce. Both arrived a little lukewarm which was disappointing.

Desserts don’t come cheap, at £9 a plate. We shared the Frozen Apple Panna Cotta with herb granite and dried meringue. I loved this fresh and light pudding that combines garden ingredients to make an exotic and exciting dish, it cleansed the palate and gave a nice little sugar kick simultaneously.

I’ve heard that Chiltern Firehouse is a different affair at lunchtime, when the whole place is rather more relaxed and far less manic. Although the service and attitude lacked appeal, Nuno Mendes is the saving grace in the kitchen, creating food that is memorable and magical. As always the hype rather overshadows the product, I overheard a punter leaving commenting to his lady: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about… Chiltern Shit-house.” Shame really, this should be a restaurant for foodies but it is instead over-populated by celebrities and wannabes who only appreciate the pretension and trendiness. Let’s see how long the monarch of Marylebone lasts.

More information here: www.chilternfirehouse.com

Dock Kitchen, Ladbroke Grove

Dock Kitchen certainly does things differently. The industrial, open plan restaurant is found at Portobello Dock in West London, in an unusual urban landscape. Chef Stevie Parle runs an experimental kitchen, the menu constantly evolves dependent on the seasons and inspired by his recent travels. With each dish he hopes to evoke a sense of place, the flavour of a city, a culinary world that is unexpected and exciting for the diner.

The building itself is intriguing, this converted Victorian Wharf building is part of the regeneration project by Derwent London. The original brick arches and beamed ceilings have been preserved and combined with an exclusive display of Tom Dixon furniture and lighting to create an honest, open space in keeping with Stevie’s food. The Tom Dixon shop resides directly beneath the restaurant and houses pieces from over a dozen international designers.

A big group of us visited a few weeks ago to try the new Lebanese menu. Each month a different country’s cuisine is represented, most recently Indonesia and Sardinia. We sat outside on the terrace, where the atmosphere was pleasant but the service was slow and we felt rather neglected. The wine list is reasonable, or one can choose from the exotic cocktails and craft beers. While settling in we all enjoyed the fried sage leaves, grilled squid with romesco and friggitelli peppers and the beef kofte with cucumber, tomato and seasoned yoghurt. The food was simple and fresh as well as moreishly flavoursome.

The Lamb Biryani with rose petals, black cumin, coriander and almonds is a beautiful mix of components. The meat and rice is cooked in a clay pot and sealed with dough, it feels almost ceremonial breaking the crust to reveal the steaming food beneath. I loved the chicken with spiced green beans, labneh, fried chickpeas and herbs, a lovely fragrant summery dish with the perfect balance of spice and contrasting sweet pomegranate. Fish eaters will rejoice at the Cod, octopus and mussel moilee with trombetta squash and rice, it is an amazing bowl of curry with tentacles and mussels poking out ready for consumption.

The desserts seem to be less strictly part of the country’s cuisine, but a variety of sweet treats all the same. Salted caramel ice-cream is enjoyable but unexciting, Chocolate with cultured cream and burnt salty honeycomb is not your typical cocoa pudding, with a rich and almost bitter taste; speckled with moss green pistachio crumbs, it looks very pretty and was finished in seconds.

I love the idea that you can visit Dock Kitchen every month and travel round the world with Stevie’s creative menu. So step out of your comfort zone and embrace the exoticism and excitement of this innovative restaurant.

More information here: www.dockkitchen.co.uk

From 6 September Dock Kitchen will be serving a Polynesian menu.

Wilderness Festival 2014, Cornbury Park

I spent the whole of Monday feeling gloomy and down, which I now realise was Wilderness withdrawal symptoms. It was my first time at this imaginative festival which celebrates food, music, literature, fashion, crafts and nature. In existence for a few years now this boutique event is steadily growing to meet demand, but despite the 29,999 other guests I did not feel cramped or crushed by crowds, in fact queues barely exist here. The secret? Everything is worth experiencing so there’s never a squash to try the best food or listen to the best music, the festival-goers are evenly spread amongst the tents and stages.

Wilderness takes places in Cornbury Park, near to Oxford and just 90 minutes drive from London. There is also an affordable and speedy train which delivers you there in just over an hour. We arrived late afternoon on Friday to set up our tent, though some had come to nab the best spots on Thursday. Wellies on and glitter applied, we set off to discover the wilderness.

This festival truly embraces the quirks of the countryside; stages are cleverly  placed at the foot of hills (to increase viewing possibilities) and the lake and valley are put to good use with swimmers splashing about throughout the weekend and parties being held amongst the unruly foliage.

I had jotted down a few acts I was keen to see and food outlets I wanted to try, but aside from that let myself be relaxed and ruled by chance. There are numerous free activities to take part in: I made a lovely hand stitched leather Mulberry bracelet, glazed a ceramic bowl, created a floral headdress with Accessorize and even carved my own wooden spoon in the Victorinox tent.

Food is extremely well represented at Wilderness Festival. Magnificent 10-course feasts are put on by the UK’s finest foodies: Angela Hartnett presented an Italian banquet whilst Moro held a dinner of sherry and Middle Eastern recipes. Other chefs, like the Saltyard Group’s Ben Tish, host cookery classes to teach particular techniques and styles of cooking. If you couldn’t afford these pricey options there were plenty of cheaper but equally flavoursome alternatives. We ate a scrumptious bacon butty at Hix and tried the revered donuts at St John. I excitedly tried to sample as many of the other vendors too; strong roasted coffee from Allpress was a blessing in the mornings, burgers from Bleecker Street were unmissable and pear and pink peppercorn ice-cream from Ginger’s Comfort Emporium provided the perfect dessert.

To drink, guests have a daunting choice. Laurent Perrier‘s whimsical Orangery had a selection of sparkling cocktails for a special treat whilst Zubrowka taught us about the history of the famous Polish spirit whilst mixing fruity cocktails for us to try.

Musical highlights included Gregory Porter‘s soulful set – his smooth voice paired beautifully with his virtuosic sax player’s runs. Joan as Policewoman gave a sterling performance with her devoted 3-piece band; I loved The Magic with a rising arpeggio sequence very similar to JT’s Cry me a River. She finished with a particularly heartfelt rendition of classic acapella with her team. It was very special to see artists new and old thrill the crowd; Saturday night saw Burt Bacharach majestically entertain us with a set list of renowned classics, of which Raindrops keep falling on my head was especially relevant. On Sunday night younger, more mainstream star Sam Smith sung with sparkling tone and unfaltering commitment even as the rain soaked the audience.

Wilderness is about so much more than the music, you turn every corner to find a new curious and creative surprise, whether it be trapeze artists tumbling through the air, Shakespeare enthusiasts reciting sonnets, a white-clad cricket match or simply a sunset yoga class to get involved in. You will leave Wilderness feeling inspired, more knowledgeable and enthused about life. The early bird ticket offer for 2015 is now available, join the sequined brigade and buy a ticket here.

More information and book ticket for Wilderness 2015 here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 221: SunGods

Getting all your new summer wardrobe and accessories together can be a pricey business. Sunglasses rise in cost every year with brands like Victoria Beckham and Chanel charging well over £200 for a bit of plastic to shade your eyes. I always find my less valuable eyewear is more cherished as I can take them everywhere without worrying about sitting on them at the beach or losing them on a trip abroad. SunGods fill a huge hole in the market offering polarised sunglasses that are totally customisable, made from high quality innovative materials and built to last. Priced between £35-45 these sunglasses are affordable, so you don’t have to save up for a pair.

The young company started up last year noticing the trend for brightly coloured sunnies, and formulated a simple process so customers could customise sunglasses with their own choice of front frame colour, left and right arms and, most importantly the lens colour. A range of psychedelic and classic colours are available, and there are hundreds of options to ensure your glasses are one of a kind. After you’ve designed them, SunGods build them and send them asap to you. The frames are lightweight and comfortable so you can wear them all day wherever you are. The optically precise lenses block 100% UV rays  with an advanced polarise filter that reduces glare and scratch & impact resistant protection.

The classic style have been available since the start (they look like the Rayban Wayfarers but in much better colours!) I decided on a pair of Mavericks, the new shape (similar to aviators), with gold frames, pink polarised lenses and pink tips. Delivered within days, in a lovely black case with a microfibre cleaning cloth, it couldn’t have been an easier transaction. The sunglasses add attitude and personality to my summer look and are incredibly comfortable to wear.

SunGods will survive all your adventures and add colour and fun to your experiences… all without breaking the bank! I love my thoroughly modern pink pair and can’t wait to wear them on holiday.

Personalise your own pair now here.

www.sungod.co

Lokanta Maya, Istanbul

Lokanta Maya was number one on our list of foodie destinations in Istanbul. We were seated early for dinner at a smart side table in the chic dining room, just in front of an intriguing wall of caged walnuts. Sipping a glass of Turkish Arcadia Sauvignon Blanc, we watched the room gradually fill up, couples out for special occasions surrounding us. There was an air of excitement in the restaurant – guests have the opportunity to dress up here; with very few fine eateries in the city, this is quite a rarity.

I felt particularly drawn to the restaurant when I discovered there is an impressive female at the helm. Owner and chef, Didem Senol launched the restaurant in 2009 in downtown Karakoy and it has been a firm favourite for local and visiting customers since. Combining seasonal ingredients and fresh seafood from the local markets, she creates stylish,clever dishes with a strong Turkish flavour.

The menu is split between a long list of tapas sized dishes, and a more limited selection of larger mains. I recommend choosing a range of the smaller plates, and dine as the Spaniards do with lots to share.

Ultra fresh and delicately battered calamari were crunchy and deliciously seasoned.Spicy shrimp was as delectable as it looked, marinated in a subtle sauce and served on a bed of green sautéed chard.

For vegetable fans there are plenty of great options. Zucchini fritters were my favourite, fried balls of soft creamy courgette with a coriander yoghurt sauce. Samphire with croutons was intriguing, the seaside vegetable dressed in lemon and almonds. For a very traditional dish, order the Kadayif bundles of shredded pastry stuffed with a comforting filling of feta cheese, honey and rosemary.

For dessert opt for something simple like the homemade ice-cream. We tried the unique chocolate and bergamot flavour which was rich and wonderfully smooth.

Lokanta Maya offers a perfectly judged menu which magically combines Mediterranean and Aegean cuisines. With friendly service and exquisite food, it is an innovator on the Istanbul restaurant scene, not to be missed.

More information here: www.lokantamaya.com

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, Istanbul

If you go for one hammam in Istanbul, make sure it is at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami. This historic Turkish bath was restored to its former glory eighteen months ago. Dating back to the 1580s, this building has a long and intriguing story to tell. Designed originally by Mimar Sinan, it fell into ruin and it wasn’t until 2005 that Ergin Iren saved this special place as a seven year restoration project. The palatial establishment reopened in 2012 and is now pristine and immaculate in its every detail, the design is simple and minimalist and every aspect is luxurious. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to go inside and experience a tradition that is so important in Turkey’s culture.

It is located in the trendy Karakoy district which with many hip cafes and boutiques is a great area to explore. Before the renovation the bath was only open for men to use. They would come after work or prayer in the mosque to cleanse and socialise. Women are no longer deprived of this treat – since reopening there are allocated hours for men and women to visit separately, they receive the same treatment with staff of the same sex.

I immediately felt a sense of serenity when I entered the cool and calm domed building. The pale refined interior has tables and sofas arranged around a central trickling fountain, all to help you to relax and recuperate. First you are brought a glass of homemade plum juice, a sweet, comforting drink made by the owner’s mother I was told. Then you are given a key and instructed to go upstairs where small changing rooms are arranged with everything you need, and lockers for your possessions. Inside the hammam you are dowsed with warm water and left to lie on the central circular warm stone platform, women were sprawled across it in all positions when I visited, I opted for lying on my back and letting the warm humid air fill my lungs and regulate my breathing. After 20 minutes the staff will scrub you clean and lather you with moisturising soap, washing your face and hair with specialist lotions and potions.

After the session you are wrapped in soft clean towels and guided back to the main entrance. Feeling dehydrated, I gulped down a delicious homemade lemonade wonderfully flavoured with lemon zest. I could have slept there for an hour, I felt so completely relaxed and at ease. Leaving this temple-like building to return to the summer heat outside, I realised how soft and supple my skin was. I felt fresher and cleaner than ever before, and my mind felt much clearer. Revitalising and refreshing, I only wish this kind of spa treatment was more readily available in the UK.

More information here: kilicalipasahamami.com

Georges Hotel, Istanbul

After a stint in the business district of town, I was pleased to return to Galata, the home of the Georges Hotel. Lugging our bags up steep cobbled streets, we wondered where and when we might find this hidden gem. There were no signs on the street, no signs on doors to indicate such an establishment. I went to ask a smartly dressed waiter who was dawdling in what looked like a dark clothes shop. Rather than offering useful directions, he wrying smiled and stepped aside welcoming us to the Georges.

This discreet design hotel is set out in an unconventional way. You enter through the restaurant, Le Fumoir, a lovely little French affair which sadly seemed empty throughout our stay. The lavish red carpet, flickering candlelight and exposed brickwork make the whole room rather sultry and macabre. A heavy velvet curtain is pulled to one side to allow guests to ascend the slim building to their prospective bedrooms.

Although the rooms number from 1 to 21 there are just 20 rooms, number 13 is omitted, apparently this is to cater for superstitious tourists, which I found amusing. Each room is designed and decorated in a contemporary but local style, modern handmade furnishings add character and charm to the simple elegant rooms. We didn’t have to go far to find our homely abode, room 8 on the first floor. I initially noticed the glossy wooden flooring and the ornate blue tiling in the tiny adjoining bathroom. The colours and materials are carefully selected for the finest quality and comfort. The bed looked like a huge white cushion it was so plump and tightly bound in a crisp white sheet. A small cream leather topped desk and stool were neatly arranged with inspiring magazines and stationery.

A thin curtain on one side of the room pulled aside to reveal a balcony overlooking the street below. Although the space was limited, the Georges rooms are equipped with every luxury gadget your could need, I particularly appreciated the Nespresso machine. Spending time in our lovely little room was a welcome break from the busy touristy streets. My only qualm with the room was that it was a little dark in the evenings when the daylight faded.

Breakfast is served in the most idyllic of settings, the rooftop overlooking the city beneath the blazing sun. Each morning we picked at a delightful assortment of food: fresh fruit and crunchy French toast with honey was received greedily and gratefully. Good Western coffee is hard to find in Istanbul but the Georges knows how to cater for tourists serving up a delicious cappuccino.

The location and the chic design are enough to persuade any visitor to pick Georges Hotel for their luxury holiday accommodation, but it is the ‘above and beyond’ thoughtful service that ensures guests return year after year.

More information and book a stay at Georges Hotel here: www.georges.com/en

Mangerie, Istanbul

Istanbul is a big city with lots of burgeoning little neighbourhoods. The upmarket Bebek area on the water’s edge is where the stylish Turkish ladies “do brunch”. Mangerie is one of the most popular hang-outs here, located at the top of an unlikely, scruffy building with a favoured outdoor terrace offering enviable views of the Bosphorus River.

The bright interior is chic and characterful; white walls and distressed wooden floorboards give the feel that the place is well used and very loved. Though we weren’t sitting on the terrace, we could feel the benefit of the blissful breeze and awesome views. The eatery is a favourite for international breakfasts, offering favourites like Eggs Benedict, pancakes, toast and quiches. We went along for an early dinner when there is a contemporary menu featuring delicious sweet and savoury dishes with a Turkish twist.

We tried two of the seasonal cocktails, a melon margarita and pear mojito, fruity aperitifs before the meal began. Everything on the menu sounds delicious, it is a task to choose just a few options. I started with a multicoloured pepper and goat’s cheese bruschetta while my guest opted for marinated shrimps. The portion sizes were enormous, piled high and seasoned with fresh torn herbs. The jumbo shrimps surprisingly were served cold, big and fleshy, they couldn’t have been fresher and were particularly well paired with halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes. My bruschetta felt healthy and guilt-free: homemade wholegrain bread with masses of vibrant soft sweet peppers topped with grated parmesan.

The main courses are wholesome and comforting. The lamb chops were wonderful and covered in a rich gravy, though the accompanying mashed potato was a bit lumpy. The Mangerie burger consisted of a 220g patty, grilled onion rings, tomato and melted Abaza cheese with a portion of chips. The patty was made from excellent meat and was seasoned well, though it could have been cooked a little less. The fillings all worked well, but mayonnaise was needed to add some moisture to the burger.

Dessert was the highlight, a giant warm, freshly baked triple chocolate brownie. I am not usually a fan of these child-friendly cakes, but I was converted with the Mangerie recipe. Crumbly yet gooey with big indulgent chunks of chocolate, it was utterly irresistible, served with contrasting ice-cream. Sharing was our only regret… we had to fight over the final mouthful.

This restaurant is a delight, and reason alone for venturing out to Bebek. For a relaxed evening meal or an unforgettable weekend brunch Mangerie caters for every occasion.

More information here: www.mangeriebebek.com

Hot on the Highstreet Week 220: Festival Fashion from Wilderness

Last weekend I went along to Wilderness Festival to check out this magical world of music, food, crafts, fashion and fun. I’ve put together this collection of accessories inspired by my findings and sightings at the festival.

Injecting colour and creativity into camping Field Candy offer the coolest tents that are easy to spot amongst the rows of bland brands.

Stand out from the crowds with these golden wellies from Hunter.

Bright bumbags are perfect for carrying around your phone, money and camera whilst on site at a festival, I love this one by Accessorize.

 

Mulberry‘s leather bracelets are the perfect mix of wild traveller and girl chic.

 

This Wilderness Hat from The TukTuk is ideal for keeping your head covered in the summer sun, made with real seasonal dried flowers it is a one-off creation.

Louisa Slade‘s jewellery is beautiful and meaningful, these rings can be stacked or worn individually.

 

Sequins are essential in any festival outfit, get your glad rags from vintage emporium Rosa Bloom for dressing-up glitzy style.

All Festival Fashion ideas inspired by Wilderness Festival 2014, more information here.