Pizza Union, King’s Cross

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King’s Cross is booming with new food and beverage outlets. Pizza Union has just joined the crowd, an industrial style restaurant with neon lights and Italian tiled tables. Despite its recent opening the restaurant is already popular with locals. The Pizza Union team pride themselves on offering super speedy service and incredibly fresh food so it is an ideal lunch choice for those working nearby. I took along two of my most discerning foodie friends to try out the extensive pizza menu.

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We barely had time to say hello… Within 5 minutes of ordering, three delicious pizzas were in front of us and the prosecco was poured out. The 12 inch pizzas are thin-crusted and generously covered in the toppings of your choice. We tried a few different varieties, but it was the Calabria that we all fought over. A luxurious pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone, n’duja spicy sausage and rocket. It was a lovely combination of creamy cheese and spicy meat, topped with fresh peppery rocket leaves. If you are a meat fan, the pepperoni is also nice with a plentiful scattering of pepperoni. There are accompanying salads, should you desire a little extra greenery, and we also tried the indulgent sauces (creamy garlic is the best), which are ideal for dipping crusts into.

The staff were keen for us to try a pudding pizza. This consists of a warm dough ring filled with Nutella and mascarpone. As you cut the circuit a gooey creamy chocolatey interiors oozes out… we thought we were full, but obviously not as we were soon staring down at a clean empty plate. It is a delicious and simple dessert, but if you have had enough dough for the day opt for a pistachio or salted caramel gelato instead.

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Pizza Union is a cheap and cheerful venue to enjoy great pizza and prosecco, it was the perfect setting for a girl’s evening catching up.

More information about Pizza Union here: www.pizzaunion.com

Hot on the Highstreet Week 265

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The Basics Store is a brand new, temporary pop-up shop curated by Marina Guergova of Marina London. It is located amongst the trendy boutiques on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. The stylish edit of clothes and accessories showcases a range of young British designers as well as Marina London’s own silk garments.

The concept shop features designers who share a love of the everyday essentials, and the small space displays the items in a simple but beautiful way. Hanging on the rails are Blake LDN’s luxurious and flattering knitwear and beautiful pieces from Marina London 100% silk basics collection. To complete the look you can buy cool and contemporary crafted footwear by Dear Francis and Danielle Foster’s high quality leather bags and accessories. There are two lovely cabinets of jewellery by of Clarice Price Thomas and Jessie Harris, which would make great gifts. I adored the quirky selection of fragrances from the Avery Perfume Gallery, with scents from Santa Eulalia and Roads.

The Basics Store is a creative place, during its short occupancy it has hosted talks by inspiring start-ups and successful young companies, including The Hardihood, Crude Juice and Qnola. The wonderfully rustic Petalon Flowers have been offering their floral bunches to visitors once a week and music has been provided at the front of the shop by talented acoustic artists.

With such a thoughtful range of ideas it seems a shame that The Basics Store isn’t here to stay. Let’s hope Marina sets up shop somewhere in London permanently soon.

The Basics Store is open until Monday 13th July 2015.
Monday to Friday 10am – 7pm, Saturday 11am – 7pm, Sunday 11am – 5pm.

30a Redchurch St, London, E2 7DP.

Grand Slam Afternoon Tea

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It is Wimbledon fever in London and consequently I have been enjoying a range of tennis themed events and pop-ups across London. One of my favourite seasonal celebrations was at the Saatchi Gallery Mess café where they are serving up an ace afternoon tea! The Grand Slam Afternoon Tea is fresh and summery with hints to the tennis tournament.

Though I have often visited The Saatchi Gallery for exciting art projects I have never had the pleasure of enjoying this restaurant before. Civilised and sophisticated I felt like it was a real occasion walking inside. The interiors are beautiful, with exposed brickwork and lovely arches, and in one corner a neon cockerel adds a touch of contemporary style. The large windows allow plenty of light inside, though there is also the option to enjoy your meal or afternoon tea on the terrace.

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Two dainty slate cake stands were swiftly delivered to our table. The array of cakes, scones and sandwiches represent the best of British summertime. I was grateful to see the modest selection – I find it quite overwhelming when a whole cake shop arrives at the table! To start, a trio of savoury sandwiches (prawn marie rose, ham & mustard and smoked salmon) and a homemade scone with strawberry jam and clotted cream. All very fresh, tasty and neatly presented. On the next level there was a tennis ball macaroon, a white chocolate and pistachio Battenberg sponge inspired by a court, Pimm’s fruit jelly and a strawberry & cream choux pastry. I loved the macaroon which had the perfect chewiness inside and a lovely crispness on the edge. The jelly was refreshing and the fluffy choux éclair added a touch of luxury. Each item was thoughtfully created to celebrate a feature from Wimbledon.

To accompany the food the waitress bought us a pot of warm Hendricks tea, a concoction of tea, wild berry, orange and gin. It was an intriguing brew, flavoured with fruit and with a spicy kick from the gin. I was pleased to find it not too sweet, instead the citrus taste balanced nicely with the sugary cakes.

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If you can’t get a seat on centre court, enjoy a stroll round the Saatchi Gallery before indulging at the Gallery Mess with their tennis tea for two.

Available until 6th July, more information and book here.

Yauatcha City, Broadgate Circle

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Yauatcha Soho has become a dim sum destination. Just moments away from China Town it offers a high quality of Oriental food, dim sum and larger dishes. The colourful restaurant has been satisfying the Chinese cravings of Londoners for over 10 years, and proudly holds a Michelin star for its fine cuisine. I loved both the experience and the food at the original Yauatcha so was itching to try the second London branch when it opened last month.

Yauatcha City is found in the newly redeveloped Broadgate Circle complex. Nearby to Liverpool Street this area is a hub during the week for city workers and business meetings. Alongside Yauatcha, a host of popular eateries have set up shop including my favourites Jose Pizarro, Botanist and Franca Manca pizzeria. This new shiny branch of Yauatcha has many of the same design elements and characteristics of the flagship restaurant, with smart black furniture and stylish lighting.

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On a Saturday evening the restaurant was busy but calm, I imagine it is a different story mid-week. We settled into a lovely window table and excitedly looked through the menu of dim sum delights. The service here is slick and professional, and our waiter, James, was exemplary, friendly and personal, helping us choose all the best dishes. After a round of strong expertly mixed cocktails we were very excited to move onto a feast of Chinese treats. We picked a few dim sum recipes to start, continuing with crispy duck pancakes and a few main dishes. Wagyu Beef Puff arrived at our table first, delightful little mouthfuls of rich tasty meat encased in perfect pastry.

Amongst my favourites was the Char siu cheung fun (BBQ pork steamed rice noodle roll) the slimy glutenous recipe did not look very appetising, and yet it was utterly, addictively delicious. The meat inside had a salty crispy charm and the rolls were served in a pool of indulgent sauce, deepening the flavour further. I rarely get the chance to eat Crispy aromatic duck so I relished the opportunity to order it at Yauatcha City. Unsurprisingly this rendition of the classic Chinese DIY dish, was faultless. The finest duck with ample crisped skin, sweet and thick plum sauce and a side plate of cucumber and spring onion. I greedily grabbed the best pieces of meat for my rolls, which were absolutely divine… and I made a mental note to eat Crispy Duck more often.

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The main courses are ideal for a longer leisurely meal. Stir-fry rib eye beef in black bean sauce was a dish I remembered well from the Soho branch, I loved it so much that we had to have it again! It did not disappoint, chunks of grilled beef coated in a sticky aromatic sauce and mixed with still-crunchy onion and pepper. Every element was cooked perfectly to create a texturally exciting dish. Seafood fans should try the Fried chilli squid with oatmeal and curry leaf. The soft squid pieces are coated in a delectable light topping not dissimilar to cornflakes!

Egg fried rice is an essential side dish, and there are a range of vegetable recipes to choose from. We tried the Spicy aubergine with sato bean, okra and French bean with peanut. The aubergine was soft and sweet though I found the sato bean bitter and overpowering. Perhaps these unusual vegetables are an acquired taste.

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Yauatcha City has its own on-site patisserie, with a cabinet of jewel coloured macaroons tempting you as you walk in the door. I umm-ed and ahh-ed over which flavours to choose, classic or curious. The violet and rose varieties were lovely, though it is the Pandan Leaf (known as the vanilla of the East) that I would recommend. Despite its bright green colour the macaroon had a subtle and unique taste, a pleasant final flavour for the palate.

For something decadent opt for the Chocolate Pebble. This cake is a work of art and I noticed the surrounding guests shuffle in their seats to get a glimpse as the beautiful plate was placed down onto our table. The chocolate brownie is wrapped in a dark chocolate coat and topped with an artistic and complex chocolate ornament. I found it too rich after the indulgent meal but my guest loved every second he spent demolishing it. It illustrates the skill and precision that is exercised in the Yauatcha kitchen.

Yauatcha City builds on the success of the original restaurant, and serves a feast of the finest Chinese delicacies in the most stylish of settings.

More information on Yauatcha City, see the menu and book a table here.

Whaam Banh Mi, Soho

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When Brits return home from Asia, they rave about the street food they tried on their travels… so it seems logical that London’s restaurant scene is working hard to recreate some of the favourite fast food enjoyed so much abroad.

As the name suggests, Whaam Bahn Mi celebrates the Vietnamese sandwiches (‘banh mi’) enjoyed on the streets of Ho Chi Minh. Tucked away behind Piccadilly Circus, this cheerful takeaway café provides the workers of Soho with an exotic lunch offering.

Operating only as a takeaway, this characterful little venue only has a few menu choices. There are five banh mi on offer which can be accompanied by the side salads or fresh summer spring rolls. Founder Tom Barlow spent time in Vietnam researching and trying the authentic banh mi snacks so he could offer the real deal in London.

The fluffy baguettes are filled with the slow-cooked filling of your choice and loaded with pate, pickled shredded carrot and mooli radish, cucumber, coriander, crispy shallots and red chilli. It is a wonderful assortment of flavours and textures. We chose to try the Luc Lac beef brisket and the BBQ shredded pork, though chicken, fishcakes and tofu are also available. Both meats were delicious – tender and rich in flavour thanks to the slow cooking technique. The extras were tasty too, though I found the chicken liver pate a little overpowering. These sandwiches need to be eaten quick – we found after five minutes that the bread became sloppy and was increasingly difficult to eat.

Whaam Banh Mi offers a friendly service and a lovely cultural lunch option for the arty Soho crowd. I’m visiting Vietnam later this year and can’t wait to try a banh mi in its original context.

More information here: www.whaambanhmi.com

Sunday Brunch at Darwin, Sky Garden

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Affectionately known as the Walkie Talkie, 20 Fenchurch Street was completed in late 2014 and the three storey Sky Garden opened in early 2015. This public space is popular with tourists and locals, offering 360 degree uninterrupted views across the city. The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden and even has an open air terrace for enjoying in the summer heat.

Darwin is an all-day brasserie located on Level 36 with a menu inspired by the very best of British. The kitchen is operated by event caterer Rhubarb who offer a range of tempting dishes using seasonal, home-grown ingredients. On a sunny Sunday morning we visited the impressive building to try the all-day Sunday brunch. After the rigorous security check we zoomed up in the lift to reach the upper floors, a bright arena filled with lush foliage and flowers.

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For £38 per person guests are invited to indulge in the buffet, choose one hot dish and enjoy the milkshake bar and unlimited bloody mary station. The sumptuous buffet table was laid with fresh juice, pastries, fruit, delicatessen items (cheese, meat, salmon), salad and bread. The sweet side features waffles, doughnuts, french toast, cheesecake and miniature crème brulees. Head chef Arnaud Delannay must be extremely busy on Sundays, the restaurant was full with hungry guests and the buffet table seems to magically refill within moments.

With the clouds peering in through the windowed walls and the tiny display of London life happening far down below us it felt very special dining at this height. Overwhelmed with the buffet choice I tried to serve myself modest portions, but it all looked and smelt so good. The fresh and summery asparagus, pea and crumbly goat’s cheese salad was my favourite, lightly seasoned and cooked to perfection. Also tasty were the platter of meats, the heritage tomato salad and the creamy British cheeses. I could have just eaten from this lovely selection but we had mains to come.

Hot dishes on offer include traditional brunch options such as Eggs Benedict, Full English and Pancakes but we decided to go decadent and order one of the Sunday lunch choices. I had Roast Spatchcocked Poussin with watercress and my guest opted for Roast Rib of Beef with Yorkshire pudding and traditional garnish. The plates were delivered promptly and looked divine. I needed extra gravy but aside from that the dishes were faultless, brilliantly cooked meat, with a crispy skin and accompanied by roast potatoes and vegetables. I thought the Roast Beef was a little chewy but the flavour was good.

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We picked at a few of the dessert treats before retiring downstairs to admire the view of our beautiful city.

More information on Darwin’s Sunday brunch and book a table here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 264 : Sodashi

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Before even opening the packaging I knew it was my Sodashi treats inside… the natural fragrance of these products was already flavouring the air.

The word Sodashi translates to mean wholeness, purity and radiance, qualities that this brand represents whole-heartedly. Hailing from Australia, Sodashi is an intelligent company with firm morals. All of the products are chemical-free, using therapeutic-grade, ethically-sourced essential oils and plant actives to effectively heal and nurture the skin.

I was lucky enough to experience the luxurious Sodashi facial at Akasha Spa a few weeks ago and fell instantly in love with the healthy and effective products. My face felt and looked radiant for days after the treatment. Ever since this revelatory spa session I have been enamoured with the Sodashi brand, so I was delighted to receive a range of their finest products to trial and try.

As a blogger I travel frequently and often find myself using cheap products whilst staying away from home. The Sodashi ‘Calm Skin Care Kit’ solves all travel beauty dilemmas. A chic grey wash bag contains six miniatures, ready to use wherever you are. Each bottle is 50ml or less so is within hand luggage liquid restrictions. It is a complete skincare pack to calm and revitalise sensitive skin. Individually the products begin to regenerate and revitalise the skin, but it is when they are used together in a dedicated routine that they work wonders and ensure visible changes to the skin. The kit includes a cleanser with sandalwood to clean make-up and dirt from the skin, a Calming Concentrate made from plant essences to exfoliate the skin. The Calming Rose Face Mist then tones and balances the skin before the Calming Skin Boost firms and tones. Finally you add moisture with the Calming Face and Neck Moisteruriser and the Eye and Lip Smoother, both which smell delicious and feel luxurious on the skin.

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When your face is really in need of an extra boost, the Gentle Repair White Clay Mask is the perfect product. The White Clay and Neroli stimulate cell renewal while Chamomile and Rose calm the skin. I found it was a lovely Sunday evening treatment, smoothed evenly over my face and left for 15 minutes it relieved tightness and left my face feeling fresh and looking bright. Another occasional product worth investing in is the Enzyme Face Polish which exfoliates and cleanses the skin and gently polishes with finely ground rice. It is best to use twice a week as part of a Sodashi skincare routine.

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I am not one to boast and brag about organic products, but I found the Sodashi range to be truly remarkable, and most importantly effective. The results for my skin have been noticeable on both look and feel, and I can’t wait to try the rest of the range.

More information on the Sodashi brand here.

You can purchase the Sodashi products from Akasha Spa, Piccadilly.

The Devil’s Advocate, Edinburgh

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London is no longer the only place in the UK to try fine cocktails. The trend for culinary mixology is spreading and Edinburgh has its fair share of great bars. On my most recent trip to Scotland’s capital I visited The Devil’s Advocate with a group of friends and tried a range of their delicious drinks.  

In the centre of town but hidden away in the magical backstreets of Edinburgh, is this atmospheric bar and restaurant. Housed within an old Victorian pump house the venue has a historic feel to it, though the drinks are contemporary and innovative.

At night the bar was dimly lit and felt exciting, I noticed groups of friends were huddled around wooden tables trying strong drinks whilst catching up. The brilliant bartender came over and talked us through the menu of drinks which is split into categories depending on origin. Forgotten fairytale classics make an appearance, or you could try a ‘borrowed’ recipe from an inspiring bar somewhere around the world.

With a 200-strong whiskey shelf I decided to sample ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ a bourbon based cocktail mixed with Cocchi Americano, black tea maple syrup, absinthe and rosemary. It was a moody but fragranced drink with complex undernotes and well balanced taste. For something lighter try the long drink, ‘Once Upon a Thyme’ which includes sweet cherry and thyme jam, orgeat syrup, lemon juice, soda and cognac. The floral herb was well matched with the cherry and cognac and it was dangerously easy to drink. ‘Memento’ was also a tasty and smooth short drink, a delightful combination of Macallan Amber, Amaro CioCiaro, chamomile infused Aperol, Fernet Branca, Angostura and Whiskey mist.

If you are feeling peckish there is a relaxed mezzanine dining area and a food menu which showcases seasonal and Scottish ingredients. Though it is at night that this secretive cocktail bar comes to life.

More information and book a table here.

Chef, Soho Theatre

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Fifty minutes went by in a flash, and yet just metres away actress Jade Anouka had recounted the entire life story of a troubled but talented chef.

Chef is a short play with plenty of power. After premiering at Edinburgh Fringe Festival it has won a string of awards and now finds itself in the heart of London’s West End at Soho Theatre. The piece is part of the summer programme of monologue-based plays.

This one-woman show is a platform for a strong and versatile actress and Jade Anouka rises to the challenge. She tells the story eloquently and fervently, using the small stage imaginatively to flick between characters and scenarios. With almost no staging and very few props, she holds the attention of the audience for almost an hour and leaves us wanting to hear more.

We hear the tale of a young girl abused by a father, the woes of her destructive relationships but then the joy she experiences as a young woman learning her craft in the kitchen. Food is not just her passion and skill but it is her escape. She seeks shelter and solace in the kitchen when the world turns on her. We hear how she established herself at the helm of an haute-cuisine restaurant later finding herself, as a convicted inmate, running a prison kitchen. A white board allows the play to be split into sections, each titled with a foodie delight like ‘The Perfect Peach’ or ‘Red Berries with Hibiscus Sorbet’.

The script is lyrical and poetic; at times the rhythm of Anouka’s speech becomes almost rap-like in its realisation. The writing is florid with lots of description and complex imagery – it requires concentration to fully understand, but is satisfying and beautiful to listen to. I felt fully immersed in the narrative and at times noticed myself gasp or jump with surprise.

Chef is a mesmerising insight into the life of a chef, and the life of a convict but most of all the life of woman and the struggle for love and fulfilment. Sabrina Mahfouz’s thought-provoking play will provide the perfect talking point over dinner in one of Soho’s lovely eateries.

Chef continues until 4 July 2015, more information and book here.

Prohibition Afternoon Tea, Quaglino’s, Mayfair

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It feels like every hotel and every restaurant in London has an afternoon tea offering, in fact it is the most searched thing to do in the capital on Google. Needless to say I had begun to get a little bored of the usual format. And then last week I experienced a mysteriously magical tea unlike any other.

Renowned Mayfair venue Quaglino’s has recently undergone an exciting renovation and is looking more glamorous and glitzy than ever before. This restaurant and bar has always been iconic but now feels even more exclusive and prestigious. Beyond the front door the walls are decorated in a dynamic geometric pattern, it is a vision of black and gold.

We followed the staircase down to the main room, which unfolded like a scene from the Great Gatsby. Staff wear sophisticated dresses and tuxedos, and I felt annoyed with myself that I hadn’t got out a vintage dress for the occasion. On a Saturday afternoon the venue was quiet and we had a choice of any table. We settled into a space in the bar area, sinking into the plush velvet banquettes and sipping our cups of tea.

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This afternoon tea is decadent and delicious, perfect for a girls’ celebration or party. We chose the Cocktail Tea (priced at £29.50) though there is also an option with champagne. I adored my ‘Scofflaw Twist’ cocktail which was made with Bulleit Bourbon, lime juice, orange juice, orgeat syrup and Pedro Ximenez. The complex mix of ingredients worked well together to create a balanced and smooth drink with woody undertones. For a lighter and more refreshing drink, opt for the Draft of an Angel, a creamy texture with Green Chartreuse and plenty of fresh mint.

The food is the perfect selection for the ultimate sweet-toothed addict – a beautiful array from macaroons to marquise, frangipane tart to coffee choux. Each sweet mouthful was balanced carefully on the circular stand. I loved the savoury treats too, the freshest smoked salmon rosti and delicious cured ham grissini. The sandwich on offer was chicken and basil – simple but classic. I was a little disappointed with the scones, which were a bit dry and lacking in currents.

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For just £29.50 a person (including a cocktail) I think this characterful afternoon tea is one of the best I’ve tried in London. And with private rooms that can host private parties of up to 30 people, the Prohibition tea will really make an afternoon tea experience feel like a special occasion.

The Prohibition Tea continues until 30th September. More information and book here.