Venissa, Mazzorbo Island, Venice

Venice is incredibly beautiful but it can be claustrophobic fighting your way through the hordes of tourists in the heat. For our final day in the floating city, we ventured out to the nearby islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and Mazzorbo, all reachable in under an hour on a vaporetto boat. It was a heavenly respite – idyllic, quiet and quaint towns with humble offerings but beautiful sites to visit.

Mazzorbo is the lesser known but very picturesque island. Located next door to colourful Burano, you can walk from one to the other via the connecting bridge. Ideal for a calm stroll along the canal and a long lunch, it is the perfect day out. We visited Mazzorbo to dine at the island’s destination restaurant, Venissa. Wine and Prosecco maker Gianluca Bisol has resuscitated the rare vines and revived the wine production here. The menu focusses on local fare and home grown vegetables are shown great respect, they are given the starring role throughout the set courses.

Guests can dine indoors in the stylish restored rooms, or sit outside surrounded by the vineyards… if the weather permits I would recommend dining al fresco, I cannot think of a lovelier setting. The emphasis at Venissa is primarily on the wine made from their own grapes; with wine of this quality it is hardly surprising that it takes such a lead role in the dining experience. That said, the food excels in its own right, intricately and artistically arranged on the plates, and using the best seasonal ingredients available.

Different menus offer varying numbers of courses… we were completely in the care of the chef who brought out dish after dish, each paired perfectly with another glass of wine or Prosecco. Simple ingredients are adorned with seasoning and floral garnishes. Two lone spinach leaves from the garden arrive with a splattering of olive oil, black olives and a sprinkling of vine flowers. Next, pretty but spiky artichokes with beetroot puree was an invigorating dish. Eel cooked in Modera with green celery and wild chard was more unusual, delicately flavoured, lightly cooked fish.

Pasta courses followed, green ravioli filled with potato and thick linguine with marigold butter, these dishes were strange but amazingly vibrant in flavour, as if plucked straight from the wild. The meat was divine, of the highest quality with indulgent sauces: lamb with peas and onions, deer with cherries and berries. The top Bisol wines continued to arrive at the table, each one with its own fermentation technique and unique character and taste. Dessert was another palate cleansing delight; a citrus salad with orange and grapefruit granite.

It was the healthiest and one of the most memorable Michelin star meals I have ever eaten: immaculate presentation, the very best wine and a dreamlike setting that seems too good to be true.

Those wishing to stay a little longer at Venissa can book a room at their restored and converted manor house hotel, elegantly high ceilinged and beautifully decorated. Open from March to November.

More information and book here: www.venissa.it

Polpetto, Soho

Once I had flights booked and accommodation organised for my trip to Venice, I knew I needed to enlist the help of one man for food and drink suggestions. Russell Norman, is a restauranteur who knows the streets of Venice better than most. His enormously popular eateries in London showcase his knowledge and experience, and the recently reopened Polpetto is my favourite.

The Venetian culinary traditions are different to that of most Italian cities: they eat early, graze frequently on snacks, and have a tendency to avoid pizza and pasta. Norman translates these traditions perfectly in his Soho venues, and the constant queues illustrate his success with the British public.

Polpetto opened in 2010 and originally occupied the first floor of the French House pub on Dean Street. It attracted critical acclaim and gained a massive following. But the venue proved too small and the restaurant’s 24 seats were always oversubscribed. It closed in May 2012.

After a year of searching for the right location, Russell Norman and Richard Beatty have relocated the restaurant to Berwick Street. The venue boasts 60 seats, an aperitivo bar, an open kitchen and a chef’s table. In addition, Florence Knight returns to the London dining scene as executive head chef. Florence continues to show off her meticulous seasonality and creative simplicity.

It is easy to relax and unwind in the comfortable eatery. Small crooked wooden tables and chairs are humbly arranged, with paper menus and stylishly plain cutlery, plates and glasses. It is the simplest dishes that really excel here. The food tastes so fresh you could be eating in the Rialto food market in Venice. I loved the vibrant ruby red tomato salad, the gooey creamy and burrata with agretti (a small and thin succulent green shrub) and chilli, speckled with exemplary olive oil. Everything here is for sharing, a practice some foodies may find difficult particularly when it comes to the addictively good main courses, like hare pappardelle, a bowl of ultimate comfort food. The wine list focusses on young wines of the Veneto, reasonably priced and very drinkable, you can order by the glass or opt for a bottle.

After visiting Venice and partaking in their glorious traditions, I can look at my experience at Polpetto with a new appreciation. Tremendously tasty food and an inspiring concept.

More information here: polpetto.co.uk

Discount Suit Company, Liverpool Street

Liverpool Street is a maze of chain restaurants and bars, but if you weave through the backstreets there are some independent gems to be found. Discount Suit Company is disguised amongst the tired clothes outlets on Wentworth Street, housed in an old storeroom of the suit company. It is one of a kind, venture in and you won’t be disappointed.

It is a cosy little neighbourhood cocktail bar with old fashioned furniture and atmospheric dimmed lighting, I felt like I was visiting a magical inn from a Harry Potter book. There is the odd businessman milling around but the crowd is varied and the ambience is a lovely laid back alternative to nearby city boy hang-outs.

Beer and wine are available, but here it is all about the cocktails: bespoke and beautifully mixed variations on the classics, priced at just £7.50 each, I found it all very appealing. The bar staff, obviously keen mixologists were eager to impress, explaining the menu (printed typewriter style on a replica suit instruction sheet) to us in detail. Cocktails are simple but creative and very easy to drink. The Bebbo cocktail is a lovely fruity and light combination of gin, lemon, acacia honey and blood orange while Subtle Peat is a stronger but beautifully balanced drink with blended Scotch, a dash of islay malt and lemon creole bitters.

A lovely low-key bar, that promotes the prohibition trend without the pretentious prices. Just like your favourite suit these drinks are tailored to your exact taste.

More information here: www.discountsuitcompany.co.uk

Hot on the Highstreet Week 218 – Benefit Summer Favourites

Hoola has been the best-selling bronzer in the UK for the last 5 years. This Benefit product adds colour and a healthy glow to your skin all year round but it is a particularly key product in the summer months. This high quality powder will give a natural but exotic glow to any skin-tone. The texture is light and matte, which works perfectly in hot weather to stop skin looking shiny. The rich pigmentation means the product lasts for ages even if you use it religiously every day, it is also perfect as a contouring powder. I can’t stand sparkly bronzers, and am pleased to report that this products lacks any unnatural glitter, insuring the Hoola tan looks like it has really come a day at the beach. Packaged complete with a mini application brush, apply gently across face and neck for an all-over tan. Priced at £23.50.

Benefit has designed tints for every mood and every season. The newest, Lolli tint, offers a candy-orchid tinted glow for lips and cheeks. This multi-purpose product will give a natural flush and pretty-in-pink appearance. On bare skin the tint only needs one layer to offer a lovely girly blush. With bronzer add a few more layers to give a cheekier brighter pink shade. Dab on the cheekbone or lips and blend with fingertips for best effect. Packaged in a fun metallic pink bottle this product will always stand out in your make-up bag. Priced at £24.50.

I love the quirky name for this new soft focus highlighter. Previously I have always used the Benefit Sunbeam and Moonbeam, but this product offers a lovely daytime glow. Particularly good for eyebrow and cheekbone highlighting, Watt’s Up has a natural champagne tone that can be used on top of foundation or bronzer without disruption. This versatile product has two uses, one end has a sponge for easy application of the highlighter (though I preferred to use my fingers to blend) the other end has a creamy shimmer stick to add definition and shading to your skin. Great for all everyone, though more effective on medium to darker skintones. Priced at £24.50.

See the whole Benefit Cosmetics range of make-up here.

Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Gerard Alessandrini (creator, writer and director) and Philip George (director) bring their multi-award winning satirical musical, Forbidden Broadway to the Menier Chocolate Factory for a limited run only, until 30 August. The show, which recently finished its record-breaking 27-year run in New York makes its first visit to London in 10 years.

The London cast is Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman. Set designs are by Morgan Large, with costumes designs by Alvin Colt, lighting by David Howe and musical direction by Joel Fram. Forbidden Broadway is presented in association with John Freedson and Harriet Yellin.

The cabaret musical revue, Forbidden Broadway, presents an informal and entertaining look at the history of the American musical theatre, lampooning and spoofing some of the current and contemporary musicals as well as targeting actors, directors, composers and writers. Last seen on our shores 10 years ago, this updated version created especially for the Menier Chocolate Factory, features numbers from some of the best theatre productions seen both on Broadway and in the West End in recent years, including old favourites: The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, they also have their sights set on Hairspray, Avenue Q, Wicked, Jersey Boys, La Cage Aux Folles, Sunday in the Park with George and many more…

Forbidden Broadway was first seen at Palsson’s Supper Club in New York January 1982. Unemployed actor Gerard Alessandrini wanted a showcase for his talents and put together as a nightclub act, a selection of some of the musical parodies of Broadway shows he had written. Lauded by critics and audiences alike Forbidden Broadway has since become New York’s longest running musical comedy revue, winning Drama Desk, Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and recently receiving a Tony Honor.

Forbidden Broadway was last seen in London in 1999 at the Jermyn Street Theatre and later that year the production transferred to the West End to the Albery Theatre, where it enjoyed a sell –out run.

Under the direction of Artistic Director David Babani, and having recently celebrating its fifth birthday, the Menier Chocolate Factory, as well as producing in SE1 at its home theatre, has transferred seven productions to the West End – most recently Maria Friedman Re-Arranged, La Cage aux Folles which is currently playing at the Playhouse Theatre and A Little Night Music which opened at the Garrick Theatre earlier this month. As well as the theatre space, the multi award-winning Menier Chocolate Factory has a restaurant serving pre-theatre and a la carte menus.”

More information and book tickets to see this farcical hit here.

Lockhart, Marylebone

It was a famous food blogger who recommended the Lockhart to me. This Southern US restaurant on Seymour Place, Marylebone has an enviably chic clientele. Discreet from the exterior with a classic and fresh interior, the design is instantly likeable with furniture from antique markets including old railway benches and vintage sideboards.

“Mississippi born chef Brad McDonald is at the helm of the kitchen serving dishes from the Southern States. The style of the Lockhart takes on the ethos of Brad’s previous culinary ventures in New York – dinner a la carte features some of Brad’s Brooklyn gastro flair – a refined spin on Southern American cooking. The wine list aims to showcase the diversity of American wines featuring American growers from states including Oregon, Washington and California. The wider drinks list champions a carefully picked selection of Bourbon, Tequila and Mezcal.”

The grilled chicken oysters with yellow mustard sauce are a satisfyingly tasty treat to nibble on whilst perusing the concise menu – mouthfuls of tender grilled chicken with a slight smoky flavour, dunked in creamy mustard sauce, topped with chives. The main course meat and fish options change regularly with fine quality ingredients and bold flavours. My recollections of dessert are distant… warm beignet bites, light and sweetly magic.

Find your favourite friends and take them to the Lockhart, order a carafe of wine and a delicious plate of food… all the ingredients for a perfect evening out. Or if you are feeling really indulgent organise a breakfast meeting and enjoy Lockhart’s wonderful square salted caramel donuts.

More information and book here: lockhartlondon.com

Free Pandora Leather Bracelet Event with SWAG Starts Today!

This is an unmissable for jewellery lovers everywhere. This weekend you will receive a free Pandora leather bracelet when you spend £75 – £95 on Pandora jewellery at SWAG Jeweller.

The leather bracelet event at SWAG starts today, spend £75, £85 or £95 to receive a free stylish leather Pandora bracelet worth up to £50. This amazing offer is only available this weekend (Thursday 24th – Sunday 27th July) and allows any customer that spend the specified amount on any Pandora jewellery to choose from the single, double or triple strap leather Pandora bracelets in a range of beautiful colours.

Simply add your Pandora items over the price of £75 to your Swag bag first, then add your chosen leather bracelet last, and the price of your new bracelet will be removed from your bag at the checkout.

There are the single, double and triple leather Pandora bracelets available to choose from. To be eligible for the single bracelet you must spend over £75, for the double bracelet your items must be £85 or more and to receive the triple strap design simply spend anything over £95 before adding your new bracelet to your Swag bag.

Head over to the SWAG Jeweller website now where they have a huge selection of your favourite Pandora items to choose from!

*This offer is subject to stock levels and availability. Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer. Only valid from and including 24th July 2014 to 27th July 2014.

 

Notting Hill Kitchen

Since moving to Holland Park, I have endeavoured to discover as many exciting bars, boutiques and restaurants as possible. Notting Hill Kitchen is perfectly located for Portobello Market trawlers or those perusing the boutiques on Westbourne Grove. A contemporary eatery offering Spanish and Portuguese delicacies, it is ideal for a late tapas lunch in summer or a glass of wine with friends on a Friday.

After a floral herb infused Honey and thyme whiskey sour cocktail in the bar, we got comfortable at one of the informal wooden tables ready to indulge in the modern Mediterranean cuisine. The bread was unexciting and a little dry but the thinly sliced Jamon Iberico and the Spanish cheeses were delicious and reminded me of a little tapas bar I stumbled across with friends in Alicante. The best bites though were the tasty little Ham croquetas, with molten cheese oozing out of the crunchy cases.

Main courses are classy and creative… the luxurious Free range chicken with langoustines layered with chorizo, avocado mousse, artichokes and viscaina sauce is presented artistically across the plate, a contrast of textures and creamy and salty flavours. The Seared beef tenderloin was my favourite, chunks of soft meat with a crisp edge, its woody rustic flavour marrying beautifully with the buttery truffled mash, sautéed mushrooms and fresh white asparagus. The food wasn’t fussy, but the quality was as high as you’d expect from a stuffier, smarter restaurant.

The wine selection here will leave you stumped, obscure varieties from idyllic sounding vineyards from Spain and Portugal. I left the decision to our chirpy waiter who chose a fruity, fresh Portuguese wine, Crasto Douro from 2012.The desserts looked beautiful but were slightly overcomplicated in flavour, the posh Portuguese tart would have been better just left alone without the fruit and cream and the Lemon cheesecake conflicted with the chocolate. Most of the attention and detail is given to the savoury courses, puddings seem to be a bit of an afterthought.

Food is pricey, but you’d expect it to be in this area of London. Many of the nearby restaurants exhibit style over substance, Notting Hill Kitchen offers a fresh concept for West Londoners to get their teeth into.

More information and book a table here: www.nottinghillkitchen.co.uk

Akaryn, Samui, Thailand

Part of the Thai AHMS collection and a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, Akaryn is a highly regarded hotel on the island of Samui. It is set on the serene Hanuman Bay slightly removed from the main hubbub of tourist activity. With 52 suites built amongst the lush tropical greenery and backing onto the idyllic beach, it is the ideal secluded luxury accommodation.

Weaving our way along a leafy path, we found ourselves at Pool Suite 124, a lovely hexagonal villa with a private plunge pool. The suites are subtly designed in a chic Asian style, a mix of antique furniture and modern technology giving a cosy but contemporary feel. Huge heavy curtains ensure the room is pitch black at night, but they also look grand and indulgent concealing the windows and adding a touch of decadence to the decor. Our open-plan suite had a high ceiling creating a calming sense of space. It included a blissfully bouncy kingsize bed, a thoughtfully designed living area with characterful wooden furniture, fruit bowl and magazines. We didn’t use the TV and iPod speakers spending nearly all our time outside or reading on the wonderfully comfortable bed.

Some of the suites include a glorious hand-carved roll top bath, we were sad to miss out on this but still enjoyed our well equipped bathroom: a simple area with walk-in shower and separate toilet, equipped with complimentary naturally sourced toiletries using essential oil extracts, exclusively designed for the hotel. The only fault with the bathroom was a lack of light which I found irritating in the evening.

In the public spaces a wet bar dominates, guests can splash about while enjoying a cocktail or have a more civilised drink at the side of the pool. There are several refined restaurants from which to choose, important if one is staying for longer. The variety of cuisines on offer created by international chef Christoph Lindner, is a great asset to the hotel. We tried the traditional Thai menu from the Legend Restaurant for dinner whilst admiring the sea view. We loved the spicy Papaya salad, fragrant Chicken satay and irresistibly crispy Stir-fried beef with garlic and black pepper sauce. If you desire something a little more European try the Italian thin base pizzas made in the handmade wood-fired oven. For special occasions one can ask for a romantic, lantern lit dinner on the beach. Breakfast is also served by the beach on the breezy terrace, we tried a delectable selection of treats. I can particularly recommend the Baker’s favourite French toast rolled in cinnamon sugar with pineapple jam and homemade yoghurt, also delicious is the bottled fresh pineapple juice.

When it is time for some pampering, the Ayurah spa offers a range of eclectic and exotic treatments to soothe and revitalise. We experienced our first traditional Thai massage here, dressed in Karate style baggy white cotton outfits we lay face down while nimble ladies pushed and pulled our bodies in and out of shape. It was quite an experience, sixty minutes of painful pleasure! This treatment is known to reduce stress and relieve muscle soreness, but at the time it felt like quite the opposite.

Akaryn promotes itself as ‘intuitive luxury’, it is a relaxing retreat to satisfy all the senses and transport you far away from your busy everyday life.

More information and book a stay here: www.akaryn.com

How Brown + Hudson is Redefining Luxury Travel

Last week I caught up with Philippe Brown, the founder of bespoke travel company Brown + Hudson, to discuss what truly defines luxury travel, the trends he has witnessed in 2014 and his predictions for the high-end travel market as we look towards 2015.

What about the luxury travel market are you most passionate about?

“Through our slightly unorthodox approach, ultimately we are looking to redefine what people expect from their travel partner. We believe luxury lies within the time spent, the moments experienced, and not restricted to first-class travel or five star accommodation. Turning a dream into reality, with an abundance of personal touches along the way, is what really creates invaluable and inimitable travelling experiences.”

Dalai Lama & Desmond Tutu

What travel trends have you witnessed in 2014?

“The digital revolution has taken hold of the travel market, but not in the way we might expect, with many people now looking to rebel and ‘unplug’ when they go away. Discerning travellers are harking back to older values of the Grand Tour and personal discovery to ensure memorable experiences, but at the same time seeking togetherness as a couple, family or increasingly a group of like-minded friends.

“While adventures lasting several months still hold sway, short duration and high impact trips often to ‘edgy’ destinations, where people can remove themselves from their lives for just a few days are now a core offering in luxury travel.

“Equally, meeting insightful individuals has also become popular, whether it be cooking with Murat Bozok, Turkey’s most highly regarded chef, or sipping tea with the King of Ladakh in the Himalayas.”

What is the history of Brown + Hudson and why did you start the company?

“As a young man I found myself working in a Parisian ad agency, enjoying my time, but always wondering how I could really make a lasting impact, on myself and on others. Daydreaming at my desk soon evolved into a solo expedition to Patagonia, on which I would search for the peaks of the Argentinean Andes.

“Trekking through the cordillera, standing on the shores of Lago Viedma and meeting wonderful people along the way signaled the start of my love for travelling. Influenced equally by the writing of William Henry Hudson amongst many others, I never looked back – only forward, to a life of travel.

“In 2009, I took the opportunity to found Brown + Hudson and share what I feel ‘travel’ means with others, absorbing them in the process from start to finish and ensuring every moment of the trip stays with them forever.”

The Singular, Patagonia

What is your top travel tip?

“When an experience is so unique, it is a crying shame to live it through the screen of a camera or smartphone. I would urge all travellers to take a step back and make sketches of their destinations instead, producing something really special to share with the grandchildren.”

Tell me a little known secret about Brown + Hudson that customers wouldn’t know?

“Language unlocks culture and I am fortunate enough to speak not only French and English, but Arabic, Vietnamese and many others too – essential for acquiring local knowledge, making friends and avoiding any confusing situations.”

Photo credit: Andre Arment

What makes Brown + Hudson so special and how does it differ from other luxury travel companies?

“Whether a client comes to us with a fully-formed vision or just a pipe dream, our promise is to create a one-of-a-kind trip with all that they want to experience – and nothing they don’t. It will not have been done before and it will never be done again, only living on in stories told.

“Time is the most valuable commodity we have, so every element of our pre-trip research, planning and reconnaissance is aimed at making every second of the journey irreplaceable.

“Most of all, we love a challenge. If it hasn’t been done, we want to do it; if it ‘can’t be done’, we will prove the doubters wrong.”

What are your predictions for the luxury travel market in 2015?

“We’ve noticed Montana coming to the fore as a lesser known North American destination, with a whole lot to offer. As a far cry – and much-needed rejuvenating escape – from urbanised lives, we are starting to uncover the Big Sky Country for clients who are ever tighter on time but increasingly in need of a breath of fresh air.

“Those looking to journey through new lands have, since 2011, had the option to explore Burma. Shrouded in secrecy for decades, Myanmar’s mainland is complemented by a string of 800 unmapped and remote islands known as the Mergui Archipelago. Inhabited by free-diving sea gypsies, these crystal clear waters and bright white beaches lend themselves to a luxury cruise aboard a wooden sailing boat.

“Thirdly, the slender South American country of Chile, stretching from the world’s driest desert in the north to blue-hued glaciers and soaring southern peaks of Patagonia, is quite possibly one of the world’s most diverse destinations. With so much on offer we are always looking to the less obvious to craft utterly original experiences for our clients. Whether it be through the winding colourful streets of Valparaiso in search of the home of Nobel prize-winning poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda; navigating a course through Chile’s picture-perfect vineyards and wine lists; or an early morning hike to summit a snow-capped volcano with stunning scenery below.”

Vineyards and mountains in Chile

BROWN + HUDSON – London

www.brownandhudson.com

Brown + Hudson is a London-based team of passionate travellers well versed in creating exquisitely crafted, truly bespoke travel experiences across the globe. Each one-of-a-kind journey is tailored to suit individual tastes, interests and personal style, enabling affluent clients to explore the world on their own terms with expert input, ultimately yielding richer travel stories.

As a cross between a therapist and investigative journalist each experience is drafted through in-depth reconnaissance and unparalleled global connections with itineraries hand crafted. With a focus on culture, wildlife, culinary, wellbeing and more, often involving access to inspiring individuals, travel with Brown + Hudson is insightful and impossible to duplicate.