Hot on the Highstreet Week 223, Back to School Essentials

I can’t quite believe it is 1st September, already! It is time to get your pencilcase ready, shine the shoes and iron your uniform for the new term. Here’s my favourite Back to School essentials for the new season.

Prepare for 2015 with this royal blue Smythson diary, £70, buy here.

Chanel’s deep blue nail varnish is gloomy grey yet glamorous, $27, buy here.

Maje Dobbie Leather Moto Jacket will add a splash of colour whilst keeping you warm in the wintery breeze, $475, buy here.

Madewell offer a useful carry all with timeless style, $178, buy here.

Kaweco ‘Skyline’ fountain pen in Mint will add a touch of cool to any pencil case, £20, buy here.

Albertine winebar, Shepherd’s Bush

After a tiring day trawling the shops of Westfield I always crave a chilled glass of white wine. Despite living in the Shepherd’s Bush area for years I have only recently discovered the delightful Albertine wine bar.

Slightly removed from the main grubby Shepherd’s Bush strip, Albertine has a charming old-fashioned feel with tired but characterful wooden furniture, a blackboard with special suggestions, dimmed lighting and clouded windows. The vibe is very different to anywhere else in this loud and busy area of London. I felt like I was hanging out in a little tavern frequented by the Hogwarts students and magicians.

Albertine is definitely not a newbie, and has been satisfying West London customers for decades. A huge range of bottles are picked for their individual and unique qualities. The global list features over 130 wines with something to suit every requirement and taste. The prices are reasonable too, for less than £30 you can enjoy a fine bottle with a delectable cheese board and bread to accompany.

Wine bars are making an apparent revival in London at the moment, and Albertine is a great place to enjoy this growing trend.

Follow Albertine wine bar on Twitter here.

Detox Kitchen, Carnaby Street

I’m always on the lookout for new breakfast spots in London. As a massive fan of French toast, pancakes and all things calorific, my favourite venues are usually utterly indulgent. Detox Kitchen however is healthy and fresh, offering filling and delicious morning meals and punchy homemade juices.

Their flagship cafe can be found on Kingly Street just off Carnaby Street and there is also concession on the top floor of Harvey Nichols, perfect for an energising snack in between shopping stints. I went along for an early morning meeting to try the seed and nut filled cereal with coconut yoghurt and blueberries, and an addictively good fruit juice. The little place is decorated with small white tables and sprigs of flowers; it is particularly lovely in summer with the windows open.

As well as providing nutritious breakfasts for sit-in or take-away customers, Detox Kitchen create and deliver delicious well-balanced meals for the day. You can sign up for a start date and duration and let the chefs organise your meals, delivering fresh and seasonal breakfast, lunch, dinner, pressed juice and snacks.

Food that tastes great, looks great and makes you feel great.

More information here: detoxkitchen.co.uk

The Heron, Edgware Road

The Heron off Edgware Road is definitely a case of substance over style. Down in the pub basement you will find a dingy little restaurant known amongst serious foodies for its authentic Thai food. You won’t find the standard Pad Thai or Green Curry here; instead this unusual eatery serves up Asian delicacies such as Spicy Salad of Boiled Pig’s Ears and Marinated Duck’s Tongues!

The shabby, dimly lit venue has become known amongst bloggers and journalists as THE place to go in London to experience truly great Thai food. Specialising in North-Eastern cooking the kitchen creates fiery spicy salads, sour curries, stir-fries and much more. Flavours are vibrant and seasonings are strong. The stir-fried soft shell crab is a must, our whole table fought over the final mouthful, a delightful mix of textures and tastes. Other highlights included the Grilled Chicken Wings, garlicky Morning Glory and Stir-fried Pork with Pepper. The food, though it took a while to arrive (the tiny kitchen also deals with take-away orders) was very fresh and tasty.

Cool down with a Chang beer or a bottle of chilled white wine, don’t scarper early as the real vibe gets going later on in the evening. At 9pm the two TVs go on, the microphones appear and the Karaoke tracks start blaring. Stuffed full of food we managed one Beatles song before staggering off home, promising to return with a big group of rowdy (and hungry) friends soon!

More information here.

Best Places to Eat in Bangkok

Bangkok is famous for its street food, the vendors line every road and exotic aromas fill the city air. In recent years the ‘hi-soc’ (high society) and expat presence has meant a steady stream of contemporary and international restaurants have been welcomed into the burgeoning areas of Bangkok.

 

Nahm – Voted Asia’s number 1 restaurant Nahm is the first stop for serious foodies. It is all thanks to Australian chef David Thompson, whose flair with Asian ingredients wows locals and tourists alike. The décor is inspired by the temples of the ancient Siam city of Ayutthaya while the menu encompasses techniques and ingredients from every part of Thailand. The delicate and delicious starters, flavoursome and creamy curries and daring desserts make Nahm an unforgettable culinary adventure.

 

Gaggan – I had no idea what to expect from this creative and crazy Indian eatery. Housed in a whitewashed colonial-style wooden house in the heart of downtown Bangkok, Chef Gaggan presents progressive Indian cuisine with a twist. The food is brave and bold, expect odd concepts like samosa-flavoured white chocolate. The Chicken Tikka Masala was the best I’ve ever tasted,  marinated chicken in a creamy spiced tomato sauce.

 

Bo lan – Founded and run by two of David Thompson’s disciples, and chef couple, Bo and Dylan promise to serve truly authentic Thai cuisine. The Balance set menu is the best bet, changing seasonally, it is a vibrant and exciting experience for the palate. Beginning with a shot of the odd Thai spirit, yaa dong, the meal then continues with an array of colourful and complex dishes. The presentation is immaculate, each mouthful is packed with a powerful combination of ingredients. I loved the flavours and passion shown in the cooking here, but be warned the food is fiery.

 

Sra Bua – experimental and exciting Thai cooking by Danish chef Kiin Kiin, whose restaurant in Copenhagen has a Michelin star. The set menus offer an individual and unique interpretation of familiar Thai recipes. Particularly memorable was the speciality Cold Lobster Red Curry Ice-cream and the Beef Braised in Oyster Sauce which is served with whole stems of green peppercorns and fragrant Thai basil. Sra Bua even conquers the conundrum of the Thai dessert offering a magical melting candyfloss construction containing coconut and frozen egg yolk. Be sure also to try their own-brewed beer with lemon and lime.

 

Quince – Offering casual European food in a cool contemporary dining room. Indulge with a fresh juice and crisp spiced lamb cigarillos whilst admiring the vintage design. Located in the trendy Sukhumvit district, they are plenty of places to shop nearby.

 

Salt Aree – venture out of the centre of town to the leafy and quiet Ari District where you’ll find this super hip restaurant and bar. With design conscious furnishings and an al fresco seating area you could be in New York or London. Enjoy a drink at the wine and cocktail bar, or choose from a varied menu which includes sushi and sashimi, pizza (cooked in the wood fired oven) and tempting desserts. I recommend the Bangkok Mule cocktail, made with rum, ginger and lemongrass.

 

Soul Food Mahanakorn – despite being run by an American, Soul Food offers authentic and stylish Thai food and strong tasty cocktails. Located on busy Thong Lor road this petite restaurant is cosy and inviting with a warm wooden interior and original artwork on the walls. Sit at the bar, order a spicy, tequila based Bung Bang Fai cocktail and some crispy chicken wings and samosas. I’m salivating at just the thought of it!

 

Rocket – this Sweden owned and run café has a typical Scandi look, which stands out amongst the Bangkok venues. Offering delicious coffee, made from carefully sourced exotic beans, no two cups are the same. Pop next door to Lady Brett (owned by the same brothers) for weekend brunches.

 

Thip Samai – this famous Pad Thai outlet lives up to expectations, it is always full for eat in and takeaway. Order the classic, or the egg wrapped speciality, then personalise with the condiments at the table: chilli flakes, sugar, fish sauce, crushed peanuts and lime. Sweet, sour, salty and super tasty, and costing the equivalent of £1 a plate, this pad thai is unmissable. Order a coconut ice or fresh orange juice to wash it down with.

 

Nai Soi – impossible to find, but worth the struggle. This little indoor canteen offers steaming hot bowls of delicious beef noodle soup with tender meat and flavoursome watery vegetable filled broth.

 

Sompong Cooking School – this lovely little cooking school takes students to a local food market, explains the vital ingredients for key Thai dishes, and teaches you to make an authentic and delicious food.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 222 : Watch Wonders

I go through phases of watch wearing but may go bare-wristed for months. Summer is a time to release the skin from jewellery and restraints, but once September swings back round I need to know the time again. Here are a collection of my favourite brands on the highstreet at the moment, all available to buy online.

Shore Projects – Shore Projects is inspired by the beauty and fun of the British seaside. Our ambition is to create timeless, quality watches that can be worn every day. Priced from £85.

Olivia Burton – Olivia Burton London take inspiration from vintage styles and catwalk trends. All made with obsessive attention to detail. Priced from £55.

Larsson + Jennings – Contemporary watches combining classic British aesthetic and Swedish minimalistic design. Priced from £195.

Yearlstone Vineyard, Devon

I am used to wandering round glorious sun-drenched vineyards in France but I didn’t know what to expect when I was told we were visiting a vineyard in Devon. We turned off the main road onto a steep lane and reached a cabin-like building surrounded by lush greenery, blissfully isolated and tranquil.

Yearlstone Vineyard was started in 1976 by pioneering English viticulturist Gillian Pearkes. Gillian planted a variety of vines, collected on her worldwide travels and experimented with vine growing techniques for the English climate. In 1993, Roger and Juliet White bought the vineyard and began building on the site. Using traditional materials they built a house, a shop and office, the equipment and indoor space to make the wine completely onsite and most recently a café and outdoor terrace.

Sitting on the shaded terrace overlooking the endless vines, I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic setting in the British countryside. I felt ignorant for assuming UK’s vineyards were inferior to those in France and elsewhere. As it turns out: “Yearlstone vineyard is located on a steep southerly slope on a hillside above the river Exe at the picturesque village of Bickleigh… 200 feet above sea level and has natural protection from the west, north and east. The soil is a silty clay loam over fragmented Devon red sandstone with excellent drainage and is perfect for vines – red soils are the most sought after for vineyards all around the world. In all, Yearlstone’s position is perfect for growing vines and ripening grapes.”

The Deli Shack cafe at Yearlstone offers wholesome and delicious sharing platters and meals, perfect for enjoying alongside a glass of their wine; we tasted a variety: a soft and floral dry white, a light fruity red and a delicate dry rose which we opted for. To eat, we shared a huge platter of artisan meat and cheese, olives, pickled onions and crusty bread. For main course we tried most of the menu: salad with goat’s cheese, creamy smoked salmon linguine, Spanish style chicken with tomato, peppers and beans, and Taleggio and asparagus tart. The dishes were simple and healthy with a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients.

As well as the vineyard, there is a mature orchard at Yearlstone with many apple trees, from which cider is made. If you are visiting Devon, Yearlstone Vineyard definitely deserves a place on your itinerary. Sitting amongst the beautiful vineyards sipping Yearlstone’s wonderful wine made me feel proud to be British.

More information here: www.yearlstone.co.uk

Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled with First Great Western trains.

Advance single fares from London Paddington to Tiverton Parkway are available from £12.50 each way. For the best value tickets and fares buy before you board at www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk or 08457 000125.

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.