Washington DC: Iron Gate

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month!
I have a restaurant to tell you about – but, it will definitely leave you with a growling tummy. Snack advisory** retrieve nourishment now!

Tucked away in downtown DC lies an evening of epicurean delight.
Iron Gate DC We entered Iron Gate through the glowing entrance of the bar, a long corridor with high ceilings, which was once a carriageway.

Iron Gate DC

This leads to an outdoor patio, with twinkling lights, roaring fires and a charming living wall, perfect for a summer’s eve under the stars.

Iron Gate DC This, however, was the dead of winter, so we continued on into the restaurant and happily took our seats next to a cosy fireplace.

Iron GateAfter defrosting slightly, we took in our surroundings of a reconverted classic, initially serving as stables in 1875. Having played host to a number of venues, purposes and people, the restaurant was most recently reopened by the Neighbourhood Restaurant Group in 2013. With Exec Chef Anthony Chittum behind the pass, a menu of mid-atlantic ingredients is prepared with influence from Southern Italian and Greek cuisine.Iron Gate

Here, the kitchen buzzes, topped with pickled treats and various, colourful ingredients. Iron GateThe ambiance was dark, but lively, with a happy murmur of friends catching up, dates getting to know one another and diners cutlery clinking away as they got stuck in. Iron Gate With a grumbling stomach, and one of my favourite dates (my Mama), we plumped for the tasting menu, each of us ordering a different dish so we could taste them all.
Iron GateThis began with a ‘taste’ of seasonal sharing plates.

Iron GateThis should really be referred to as ‘miniature feast’, as a collection of small plates arrived, decorating the table with pickled vegetables, fried Jerusalem artichokes, cheesy bread topped with fried onions, heritage carrots, roasted cauliflower and more.

Iron Gate DC

Iron GateIron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron GateThe plates were seemingly endless, a delicious introduction of the dishes to come.
The next section of the menu was inspired by the garden, starting with kuru squash tortellini with brown butter, almond cookies and vin cotton.
Iron GateThe other garden dish was a warm beet composition with sesame feta, roasted treviso and pistachio.
Iron GateWater was the next influence, with a seared tuna crudo served with pomegranate, baby fennel and horseradish providing a refreshing taste of the sea.
Iron Gate This was accompanied by a cauliflower soup, with Maine lobster and curry froth. This was a tasty, hearty dish – but, and you’ll probably never hear these words from my lips again, didn’t actually need the lobster. The soup was great on its own, and the tender chunks of shellfish were lost amongst the comforting cauliflower flavour.  Iron Gate For our mains, inspired by the pasture, we shared veal sweetbreads with local carrots, hazelnut and agro dolce. Iron Gate An incredibly heart portion, but great flavours! Iron GateFollowed by grilled Berkshire pork belly with charred onion, potato fritter and dippy egg. Iron GateThe pork belly was beautifully tender and dippy egg made a nice addition, both visually and flavour-wise.
Iron GateHaving stuffed ourselves to the brim, we relaxed by the frequently stoked fire, sipping tea and Irish coffee over conversation.
Iron GateEventually ready to further our gluttony, we enjoyed Tumbleweed 5 Spoke Creamery Cheese with semolina crostini, honey crispy apple topped with local honey.
Iron GateBefore finishing with dessert of apple strudel with kiln-dried cherries and pumpkin ice cream.
Iron Gate And chocolate wanna cotta with winter citrus and toasted pistachios. Iron Gate

Sweet, honey flavoured Greek donuts, known as loukomades, were a welcome, final temptation, finishing off the sweet ending to our meal. 
Iron Gate

Iron Gate boasts a cosy atmosphere, with phenomenal, friendly service, and a menu of interesting, well executed dishes. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area, but be sure to book, as we’re not the only ones that enjoyed it!

Washington DC: Sushi Taro

This Christmas I had the brilliant idea of changing things up a bit. It seems as if I struggle each year to come up with a wish list as D-Day nears. Rather than request unnecessary ‘things’, I thought we could each choose a restaurant and host a foodie Christmas for three. First up was Sushi Taro, a longtime neighbourhood local go-to for Japanese food in downtown DC. Sushi Taro We opted for the Traditional Kaiseki menu – meaning a multi course Japanese dinner. Japanese cuisine purists look away now, as owner Nobu Yamazaki, who took over the restaurant from his father, has attempted to change things up a bit in terms of modern flair.Sushi Taro The evening started off with a sip of Champagne with yuzu and chrysanthemum. I kindly donated mine, but it looked beautiful and smelled citrusy.Sushi Taro This was followed by their signature dish, sesame tofu with urchin and wasabi, a thing of textural wonder. Each bite was soft, gummy and tender with a subtle, but spicy kick.Sushi Taro Isn’t this bowl beautiful? Every plate was so attractive that I considered finding a way to slip them into my bag. Don’t worry Sushi Taro, all your dish-ware are safely where they should be. (or are they?)
Yes. Yes, they definitely are. Sushi Taro Next was a long, zigzagged plate of perfectly cooked scallops with pickled mushrooms and egg sauce.  Sushi TaroFollowed by a little red pot, which revealed Spanish mackerel, kasu-jiru sake lees soup. Sushi Taro Fine cuts of yellowtail and tuna arrived with another enviable object. How cute is that soy sauce pot? Sushi Taro Sushi TaroA generous portion of sweetened miso marinated louvar fish was accompanied by a delicate monkfish liver fish mousse. I really enjoyed this, it was sweet and meaty, and just look at that plate! Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Fish & chips and ‘renkon’ dog was the only course I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good, and the fried batter was too heavy this far into the meal. Sushi TaroNext to arrive was a selection of nigiri, including unagi, tamago yaki, raw scallop, octopus and salmon roe.  Sushi TaroSushi Taro Sushi TaroSushi TaroAnd a soft shell crab roll. All of which was delicious, but by now, we were sufficiently stuffed. The arrival of our final course brought on mixed emotions. A steaming, flaming, beautifully presented cast iron bowl of sukiyaki was placed in front of each of us. Within this bubbling cauldron of love, was fleshy chunks of tofu, tender onions and several types of Japanese mushroom.
Sushi Taro

I could’ve cried.
I was Christmas feast full. The kind of full where you’re not sure whether or not you’re going to be sick, explode or fall peacefully into a food coma. And yet, here sat this steaming bowl of deliciousness.
Sushi TaroTo make matters worse, or obviously better, slices of Australian kobe beef, a poached egg and udon noodles were served on the side to be dunked into the Japanese stew. Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Sushi Taro

Fear not my fellow foodies, I persevered. I dunked that beef into my sukiyaki and slurped a big mouthful of noodles.

Sushi TaroSushi TaroAnd then I surrendered. This is the face of food failure. Happy to be filled with such good food, but behind those eyes lie disappointment in my inability to complete the final course. Sushi TaroDespite any level of fullness, there is always room in my dessert stomach. You know, the second stomach that is reserved for all sweet treats. Unfortunately, none of which were particularly worthy of further stuffing myself with. There was a coffee roll cake.
Sushi TaroA Hoji-cha pudding. Sushi TaroAnd although not amazing, my favourite of the three, matcha brûlée.

Sushi Taro is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Washington DC. Maybe give the desserts a miss, but the tasting menu is reasonably priced and the perfect option to try different styles of cooking. We truly enjoyed the entire experience and I would happily fulfil my Japanese cravings here again.

Now, before you scurry off to the kitchen for something to snack on, I’ll leave you with some wise words.
What did the sushi say to the bee?
………..

Wasabi!

INK Restaurant

I have an ever growing lust list of food porn I yearn to try. I scroll through imagery, read through posts and dream of tasting decadent descriptions of dishes created by Chefs around the world. When stumbling upon photography of the food at INK, my heart (stomach?) skipped a beat. Finding that the gallery containing such works was located in my city, a rare occurrence in my international searches, was a flashing beacon, a sign.

I immediately rang up and begged for a reservation to celebrate a birthday in less than 48 hours, requesting the 72 hour menu. Despite my nightmarish request, they were not only charming on the other end of the phone, they were accommodating of my booking. You see, the 72 hour menu is named this as it is created and devised 72 hours in advance. After listing any dietary requirements, Chef Martyn Meid creates a personal journey of 7 courses specially for you and your dining partner.

Beginning the drive from West to East London in the dark, pouring rain with steaming windows, traffic jams and near misses with careless drivers, we might as well have been traveling to a foreign country. Finally arriving at the remote streets of Bethnal Green, we began our hunt for the restaurant, continuing our adventure. With a little guidance, literally, by Chef himself on the phone, we found it. We rushed inside out of the cold, to a spacious, minimalist room. Our lovely host of the evening, whom I believe to be the manager, sat us at our table directly next to the open kitchen. Chef was only a few feet away and would soon spend the evening bringing us dishes back and forth from the pass.

Ink RestaurantTo begin our 7 course journey, we were brought an amuse bouche of trout caviar on rye bread with yoghurt, the first nod towards Nordic influence. Ink RestaurantOur first dish was perfectly cooked scallops with peach puree, burnt onion and pork crackling. A simple but complimentary combination of sweet and savoury.

Ink RestaurantThis was followed by cured venison with beetroot textures and cranberries. The meaty chunks of beetroot almost make the pieces of beautifully cured venison seem lighter and sweeter than the vegetable itself.
Ink RestaurantA large white plate played canvas to an attractive dish of mackerel with cucumber textures and volcanic ash. Each bite was pleasingly cool, sour, sweet and smoky. A perplexing combination that left me wanting more.

Ink Restaurant Ink RestaurantThis was followed by perfectly cooked trout with burnt rye topping, trout caviar, yoghurt and ash. A welcome bite of warmth with a continued theme of subtlety in flavouring. Ink Restaurant We looked on as Chef Meid continued his creations. Ink Restaurant Ink Restaurant

Our final dish of our savoury trip was a tender, slow cooked pork belly with butter cabbage, luscious mashed potatoes and oyster jus. A bowl of the mashed potato would have kept me happy, but the meat fell apart, with the salty jus making it even more succulent.

Ink RestaurantInk RestaurantOur final taste of INK was a darling bowl with two portions of raw, salted chocolate. This was rich, creamy and decadent, leaving me literally asking for more. I even challenged them, saying I could eat a cereal bowl sized portion, to which they both denied. The next time they consider attempting this, I’ve secured an invite.
Ink RestaurantINK is definitely a hike to get to, but more than worth making the trip. The creations that come out of Chef Martyn’s kitchen are simple, stunning and delicious. This is the perfect spot for a romantic date for true foodies.

If you give it a visit, tag me in your pictures @Alessandra_LDN and tell me what you think in the comments below.

Shake Shack Collaboration

You may have heard of a skinny Italian Chef whom skilfully shines with 3 Michelin stars upon his shoulder. Said Chef is known for being nothing short of crazy, with an obvious air of creative genius. Massimo Bottura, whose phenomenal, foodporn filled cookbook Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef was recently published (hello Christmas gift!!), is one of my culinary heroes. His restaurant nestled in the streets of Modena, Osteria Francescana, sits firmly atop my Foodie Bucket List.

Now if you remember, I told you about New York’s favourite burger being brought to London last year with the opening of Covent Garden’s Shake Shack. Well, restaurateur and personal hero, Danny Meyer (yes, most of my heroes are food related), launched a peculiar, but marvellous collaboration. Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati teamed up with world-renowned Chef Bottura and together the two created The Emilia. After being devoured by hungry New Yawkers, the beast was flung across the pond for a more civilised debut*.

*Read aloud in poshest accent manageable

You know when people show pictures of their babies (please don’t) and you think, “Do they know? Are they aware how ugly its alien-like head and horrifying facial expressions actually are? Should I tell them? No, best sit here and listen to the hundreds of awe-inspiring talents it has as it wriggles around in some ridiculous outfit.” But then, you learn of its ability to fit shapes through the correct holes, watch as it rides the family cat with perfect form and even struggle to escape from its super human grip. You’re impressed. A little shocked even, that such a vile, mundane looking creature has any capability to inspire. That is what occurred with The Emilia.

Now please don’t take this to mean I ever doubted the incredibly capable creators of this burger, but, just look at it.

Shake Shack: London

Shake Shack: London

Although Emilia won’t be winning any upcoming beauty pageants, she would definitely pack a punch in any flavour round. Named after the Emilia-Romagna region, this burger combines a custom-blend of 100% Aberdeen Angus beef patty with cotechino sausage and parmigiano reggiano. It’s then topped with salsa verde and Villa Manodori balsamic mayonnaise, which is made with Chef Bottura’s own Villa Manodori Artigianale balsamic vinegar.
Shake Shack: London
It may not be pretty, but damn is it beautiful! A flavour combination fit for the Guide itself. Shake Shack: London After a smile and nod to Chef Bottura, beaming warmly from behind a rave of flashing cameras, we tucked in to a creamy Big Blend concrete. This is a classic combination of chocolate and vanilla custard with St. John Bakery brown sugar biscuit and chocolate hazelnut brownie thrown in.

Moments later, with my mouth full of custard, the lovely and New York style friendly Mark Rosati joined us with something special. Shake Shack: London He and Massimo didn’t stop at their meat monster, they took the creativity a step further with something sweet. A beautiful blend of chocolate and coffee custard was topped with a generous drizzle of cherry balsamico. As someone that could happily consume balsamic vinegar on almost anything, this made perfect sense and was an appropriate ending to our casual culinary feast. Shake Shack: LondonFor the balsamic lovers out there, I urge you to pour a bit of good quality balsamic into your bowl the next time you indulge in some chocolate or vanilla bean ice cream. Thank me later and be sure to tag me in the foodporn @Alessandra_LDN.

Taste of London Winter 2014

Did you go to Taste of Lon…
Taste of Christmas….
No, Taste of London Christmas……..
No! Taste of Winter!

Oh, right. I’ve been informed this year’s food festivities are going by the name: Taste of London Winter.
Whatever its name, you know by now I love it. I love the mosh pit of foodies, friends, chefs, lovers, families and fiends, all scrambling to taste unlimited samples of food, snacks and an absurd amount of booze.

The day began being spoiled by Duck & Waffle protégé, Chris Thompson. A bowl of fried beef tendon with bovril emulsion and togarashi soon appeared.

Taste of London Winter Taste of London Winter Followed by smoked haddock takoyaki with curry, malt vinegar and raisin.Taste of London Winter Taste of London Winter Pandan with white chocolate and coconut ganache was a mouthful of sweetness.  Taste of London Winter Finished off with fried roti with banana and peanut butter.

We were then to vote which dish was our favourite – which would you choose?
After voting for the smoked haddock takoyaki, we skipped off in search of more plates to taste. Taste of London Winter Barbecoa had a predictably long line. We joined the queue catching up on recent adventures before eventually getting our hands on sticky short rib with mashed potato. The meat was incredibly tender, but lacked that smoky sweetness needed for such a sticky bite. Taste of London WinterWe then submerged ourselves in the rows of food stalls, with people pedalling their samples like merchants in a souk. We came across Balsajo, offering up a board of smoked black garlic, which is visually rather shocking. But, this black beauty is something delicious. We happily popped this in our mouths like candy and surrendered to the unexpected sweetness that followed. Taste of London Winter The lovely ladies of Azizi Drinks warmly welcomed us, insisting we try their concoctions. The fizzy drinks are created with hops to give the consumer that ahhh feeling of release after each sip. Yet, the delicious elderflower and rose flavoured drinks are actually nonalcoholic. The drinks were tasty and creators so sweet, I wish them the best of luck with their nonalcoholic endeavour. Taste of London Winter The rain continued to pour down from the heavens, but this didn’t stop things from heating up at Tobacco Dock. Taste of London WinterTaste of London WinterWe found Kurobuta nestled in the corner, a badass Japanese joint which I told you about back when it was a King’s Road Pop Up. We plumped for the BBQ pork belly in a steamed bun, topped with pickled cucumber and spicy peanut sauce. I begrudgingly shared. Taste of London Winter We passed this darling champagne van, sparkling in all its shining, bubbly glory. I sort of wanted to steal it and drive it round the dock, watching all the drunk people chase me with their half empty flutes. Taste of London WinterWe then found New York’s answer to the burger game. Shake Shack were offering their Lil’ ShackBurger, an Aberdeen angus beef cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce. To my delight, given the closeness to Thanksgiving, they served up a deliciously spicy pumpkin pie flavoured custard.

Taste of London WinterThis guy basically served up a platter of dreams to my American heart. Swoon.
Taste of London Winter Action Against Hunger is an awesome organisation working to fight world hunger. Each year, they team up with award winning Chefs to create Taste dishes. This year’s muse was hot dogs, of which we selected Jason Atherton’s creation. His choice of apple puree with onions, topped with crispy pancetta and grilled Gruyere, I’m sad to say, did not please. The combination was unnecessary and altogether, wrong. He’s still a personal food hero, but this is not something to be added to the menu. Taste of London WinterMaida Vale sweetheart, The Truscott Arms had a truly wintery dish on offer. Their roasted cauliflower soup with textures of cauliflower, truffle oil and cauliflower crisp was really good. It was an airy, thick and rich creation with a creamy, truffley punch. Taste of London Winter Taste of London WinterTempted by anything pumpkin, I popped over to Andina for a bite of Peruvian picarones. Rings of pumpkin doughnuts served with purple maize honey.
Taste of London Winter

Running out of time with quite a few Taste Crowns left, we followed the smoke back to Kurobuta for some tea smoked lamb with smoky nasu and spicy Korean miso. A delicious final bite of this year’s Taste.

With a bundle of brownies tucked under my arm for the car ride home, we dashed out into the rain full of food and Christmas spirit.

Did you attend Taste of London Winter this year? What was your favourite dish? Tweet me @Alessandra_LDN or leave me a comment. Don’t be shy.

Oh, and did you see my big debut? I’m trying not to let the fame get to my head. I always knew my shining moment would involve pumpkin doughnuts… What do you think of the video?

Fortnum & Mason: Tea For Two

As an Ameri-Brit, being both American and British, I love a cultural collaboration. Proper, silver service afternoon tea combines the prim execution of English elegance paired perfectly with American indulgence. You can spend hours slowly sipping a fine selection of steeped tea, whilst stuffing yourself to the gills with delicate sandwiches, scones and cakes. There isn’t a more divine way to have a much needed catch up, and certainly couldn’t have been hosted in a more luxurious setting.

I was invited by restaurant reviewing site, Zomato, to one of England’s most typical and historically fabulous spots for afternoon tea. In desperate need of a catch up, I invited the lovely Jaia to come along as my date.

Fortnum & Mason Fortnum & Mason We pored over the seemingly endless tea menu, with countless pages of beautiful blends to choose from. Having never tried an elderflower green tea, but loving the flavours individually, I made my choice. She went for the English breakfast blend served at the Royal Wedding of Kate & Wills. Although, we soon found the dizzying excitement of such a sugary afternoon greatly impaired her ability to put the strainer in the cup before pouring her tea. This resulted in a fit of giggles as I watched pieces of tea leaf flow into her cup time and time again. Not exactly the polished behaviour of the Royals, but we probably had way more fun.

Fortnum & Mason The Diamond Jubilee Tea Room is classically beautiful, with all the refined elegance you would expect from a building visited by Royalty. With sophisticated design featuring Fortnum’s duck egg blue in pieces around the room and bright pops of gold, my date fit right in with her pretty little striped number. Fortnum & MasonWe asked for a quick snap from our server, which came out a little blurred. But, we’ll forgive her as she’s the one that brought us the towers of treats!Fortnum & MasonNeedless to say, the service was impeccable. After our server arrived with our Afternoon Tea, she talked us through each layer of delicious decadence.

Fortnum & MasonWe started with sandwiches. What? You weren’t going to scroll straight to the dessert, were you?!
We nibbled away on sandwiches of cucumber & cream cheese, chicken & sweetcorn, rare roast beef with Café de Paris butter, Fortnum’s smoked salmon & horseradish cream and rare breed hen egg with mustard cress.
Fortnum & Mason

Then, slathered scones with clotted cream and topped with Fortnum’s deliciously fruity raspberry & apricot jams.
Clotted cream before jam, right? Fortnum & MasonAlready feeling quite full, several pots of tea into conversation, we began to tackle dessert, without too much arm twisting. 
Fortnum & Mason
Clockwise, the little pink eclair was flavoured with rose, the chocolate cake had milk chocolate mousse, lemon curd and a yummy, crunchy base, the snowball looking thing was a yoghurt flavoured gel consistency hiding a cherry centre on top of pistachio cake, the profiterole sandwiched a lime coconut cream and the macaron was a rich raspberry, dark chocolate. I’d have to say the chocolate lemon was surprisingly my favourite of the bunch. Although, I loved the look of the yoghurt and pistachio cake.
Fortnum & MasonWith cakes, sandwiches, scones and tea swishing around our overstuffed tummies, we were then offered a slice of cake from the Tea Room’s stunning selection. A white marble table sits seductively on the side, proudly showcasing the tempting cakes. I seriously considered wheeling the whole thing out the door with me, but assumed someone may take notice.

How absolutely beautiful is this mint coloured cake stand? And don’t you just want to pick that raspberry and bit of cake up with your fingers and pop it in your mouth? No judgement for screen licking.
Fortnum & MasonI’d like to tell you that with all the restraint and poise of dignified ladies we politely declined, but how could we resist? Jaia went for the Battenberg.
Fortnum & Mason And I caved for the insanely decadent chocolate cake. Fortnum & MasonWe quite literally struggled our way through as much of the cakes as we could, like greedy sugar fuelled monsters. However, we eventually surrendered to our stomachs, replete with overindulgence. Fortnum & MasonWe finished off our tea and story swapping, and Jaia even remember her silver strainer! Fortnum & Mason

In a bit of a delirious state, we headed down to peruse Fortnum’s finest. We started in the gift shop, where I found a series of great cards. 
Fortnum & Mason
Including one with my favourite building. Fortnum & Mason And one with an impulsive penguin.

We then found these darling teacups, which aren’t exactly what they appear to be. Fortnum & Mason

The cups themselves are mirrored, taking on whatever pattern they’re sat on. Fortnum & MasonDidn’t expect that! Did you? Fortnum & Mason I also found awesome, London-inspired Halcyon Days boxes to add to my collection. Fortnum & Mason Fortnum & MasonI’d love these beautiful candle stick holders.
Fortnum & Mason Not sure if I prefer the black or the white, what about you? Fortnum & Mason And just look at these mini copper pots! I definitely need these. Fortnum & MasonMay leave the hat, though.
Fortnum & MasonBut, this candle would definitely suit the bathroom. Fortnum & Mason And who doesn’t need a turquoise Japanese teapot?!Fortnum & MasonHaving had our fill of unnecessary future home decorating, we headed to the basement, which happens to be my favourite level. Down here is the wine cellar, flower shop and most importantly, food hall. You must promise me you’ll make a visit, as I didn’t take many snaps. I was too busy scurrying around gushing over all the products.

I did happen to take a picture of these gooseberries. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a minute to properly look at them, they’re translucent! I’ve accepted the fact that I may be the only one that finds this remotely cool. But anyways, have a look.
Fortnum & Mason

I know if you follow me on Twitter & Instagram (@Alessandra_LDN – wink, wink, nudge, nudge) you’ll have already seen these. These strange looking flowers have an even stranger name. Do you know it?
Fortnum & MasonThat’s right. They’re called Banksy Hookers. So strange.

Also, be sure to stop by the first floor’s incredible chocolate collection. A very special someone received a custom made box, all hand-selected from their hundreds of options. Harder to do than you think and may have taken me far too long to choose! But, I managed to deliver them with only one stolen in the end.

Fortnum & MasonIt was a truly lovely afternoon spent with amazing company in beautiful surroundings. Special thanks to Zomato and the lovely people in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room for such an enjoyable experience.

Where’s your favourite Afternoon Tea? Leave a comment or send me a tweet. I’m always on the lookout for a new one to try!

Searcys Surprise at The Gherkin

It’s my birthday.
Okay, it’s definitely no longer my birthday. But, I successfully dragged it out for as long as possible, celebrating with as many friends and family that were willing to indulge in more cake with the perfect excuse.

Leaving home always leaves me with a little bit of sadness. It’s not that I’m not looking forward to returning to my home away from home and I do love being greeted by the site of the Thames with London’s lovely skyline. But, I obviously spend my days across the pond missing friends and loved ones that I’ve collected along the way.

The sadness however, was this time replaced with excitement. And jet lag. Lots and lots of jet lag.

I was told dinner was at 8.30pm.
Let me first tell you, I am never surprised. I always have an inkling of an idea, a possible guess, or know full well what’s going on. It’s not that I don’t love a surprise, because I definitely do. I just happen to equally enjoy playing private investigator and have a very persuasive skill of persistence. This was the first time I had absolutely no idea where I was going. Blame it on the jet lag, the lack of sleep or even the transatlantic journey, but I couldn’t figure it out.
I landed at Heathrow at 6.30am and gazed sleepily out of the back of the cab, mentally making the transition back to this side of the world. I spent the morning and afternoon lounging around and attempting to unpack. You know when you take everything out of your suitcase and become engrossed by purchases or products, ending up altogether distracted and surrounded by mountains of things?
Soon enough it became time for my date. I was told to wear something nice as I was going to be taking lots of pictures. This revealed nothing.
It was then revealed we’d be meeting at Bank station. I now had an area to go by, but admittedly wasn’t coming up with any ideas.

I was greeted at the station by a rather dashing looking date and lead down vaguely familiar streets of East London.

SearcysChattering away and mildly distracted, I paused momentarily to snap a picture of my favourite building. There’s something about the Swiss Re building that my heart is enamoured with and my mind is inspired by. I’ve always had this affinity for the thing and when it catches my eye, peering out of the surrounding skyscrapers, it always manages to take my breath away. Searcys We continued walking and my chattering persisted. The oblivion continued until we neared the tall triangular archways at the base of the Gherkin. My date nonchalantly asked where the entrance was and my eyes lit up.
Why?!
Because that’s where we’re going to dinner.
WHAT!? really? REALLY?!
Really.
A mixed slur of excitement burst out as I skipped towards the entrance with a smile plastered across my face. You know the kind that makes your cheeks hurt? Proper uncontrollable grinning from the lobby to the elevator to the hostess to the table. Searcys at The Gherkin is London’s highest private members club. However, to celebrate their 10th year inside The Gherkin, they’ve temporarily opened to the public offering a stunning 10 course tasting menu. It was completely surreal and the fact I was dining at the top of The Gherkin didn’t fully set in until we were well into dinner.
Searcys A display box arrived filled with moss held rocks with main ingredients of each course inscribed on top. This was our menu. Searcys I obviously began a snap happy evening taking pictures of anything and everything in sight. Searcys Clearly not having any fun.
Searcys at The GherkinIt all started with a little salmon ice cream cone. SearcysThis was soon followed by more picture taking and excited rambling.
Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys In my jet lag fuelled delirium, I thought it would be funny to pretend this rock was its edible inscription. SearcysLuckily the real version came and I put away the stone. A little bowl that looked as if it was carved of ice contained lollipops of compressed watermelon with ginger and lime foam arrived. SearcysAs well as tarragon and fennel on sourdough crackers.
Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys SearcysThe next dish was one of my favourites, a sweetcorn ganache with fresh asparagus and asparagus velouté. Searcys Searcys SearcysThen, a ham hock with a sort of saffron sand and pickled cauliflower. Searcys SearcysNext, a scallop served with jersey royal potatoes, peas and broad beans. This wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t as amazing as its predecessors or those that followed. It just needed a little kick, a little flavour to lighten it up as it was overall a bit dry.  Searcys This was soon forgotten as the next course was phenomenal. Perfectly cooked red mullet served with bouillabaisse, leeks and bread foam was definitely a winning dish.
Searcys SearcysWe paused with a palate cleanser of herb sorbet. This was bizarre, in a good way. Tart red wine vinegar topped a sweet, peppery basil for a delightfully confusing mouthful that made you squint your eyes and twist your face before going back for more.  SearcysOur next course was Hardwick best end of lamb served with buttery, sweet ratte potato and mushrooms. Absolutely delicious and again, perfectly cooked.SearcysOur first dessert was different textures of pineapple topped with a light coconut mousse and a pineapple consommé poured over the top. Tropical heaven. Searcys SearcysOur second dessert and final course of the evening was a strawberry blancmange topped with champagne foam and delicate meringue cookies.  Searcys This was amazingly light and a perfect end to such an incredible menu. Searcys

Searcys

We received a final little taste at the end of the evening of pistachio macarons and chocolate orange truffles. Searcys Which I was obviously very excited about. Searcys We sat and discussed the menu whilst taking in the skyline, snapping some final pictures before heading up to the bar to have a 360 degree view. Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys Searcys I was escorted away in a dreamlike state. Again, this could have been exhaustion setting in, but the evening was truly magical. I even made a new friend on the way home. SearcysHe wasn’t much of a talker.

The evening was truly spectacular and was made even more special as a surprise. If you’re looking to surprise a date and literally sweep them off their feet, I couldn’t recommend Searcys at The Gherkin enough. But, be quick! This special 10 course menu is only available until the 4th of September.

Thank you for an evening I’ll never forget x

Blue Duck Tavern

My trips back to America have become bicoastal. On my way to California, I now touchdown in DC to visit family and friends. This offers an entire new arsenal of restaurants, hotspots and foodie destinations to try.

Blue Duck Tavern is no novice in the DC dining scene. Serving up what they like to call ‘wholesome American fare’, the Park Hyatt resident has long  fed locals, visitors and political partiers alike. The restaurant’s design is stunning, capturing different aspects of historical American elements creating different pockets of varying ambiances throughout. The white marble bar top was hosting a girl’s night out, low cushioned seating by the window had casual meetings and after work drinks taking place, the main dining room had families and dates piling their plates with the soundtrack of the open kitchen and along the towering front windows overlooking their impressive herb garden and a moody sky overhead was where we were seated.

Our dinner started as all good meals should: freshly baked sourdough with whipped, salted butter.  Blue Duck Tavern We decided to share starters. Although, when dining with me, you don’t have much choice. Blue Duck Tavern The Wagyu beef tartar with morels and mustard seed was a stunning start. Blue Duck Tavern Just look that yolky goodness. Blue Duck Tavern Go on, have another look. I’ll wait. Blue Duck TavernThe coddled egg with guanciale, asparagus and almond was a balanced combination of fresh, light ingredients paired with heavy, hearty components. Blue Duck Tavern Our main courses arrived in silver pans with serving spoons, making sharing very convenient.  Blue Duck Tavern I chose duck breast served with rhubarb butter. Blue Duck Tavern And tried bites of tender Wagyu beef with chimichurri and suckling pig. Blue Duck Tavern We also shared sides of toasted faro with peas, almond and preserved lemon, roasted woodland mushrooms with olive oil croutons and beans with pickled blackberries.  Blue Duck Tavern Blue Duck Tavern Blue Duck TavernBlue Duck TavernAfter dinner, I snuck through the kitchen on my way to the bathroom to say hello and ended up chatting away with a lovely CDP and Blue Duck’s Executive Chef, Sebastien Archambault. I was told that next time I was to try the hanger steak, as this is Chef’s favourite. Now he tells me.Blue Duck Tavern Blue Duck Tavern I then spied the restaurant’s specialty set out to cool. There were rows of freshly baked apple pies, which I momentarily considered swiping off the counter using my dress as a basket and running. Alas, I composed myself and continued on my way. Blue Duck TavernI took a sneaky outfit snap which you’ve already seen on Instagram, but I’m loving this mustard yellow dress and these heels (which are annoyingly discounted, lucky duck) which have an awesome gold buckle on the side. Blue Duck Tavern I returned for green jasmine flowering tea and a browse of the dessert menu. Blue Duck Tavern Besides a very greedy order of desserts, I was surprised with a candle lit sorbet of passionfruit, mango and tangerine. Blue Duck Tavern Blue Duck TavernWe decided the apple pie needed a little something extra.  Blue Duck TavernSo topped it with an order of vanilla bean ice cream. Blue Duck TavernThe meyer lemon icebox cake was a thing of beauty and of taste. Blue Duck TavernA flavourful and delightfully textured lemon crémeux was topped with lemon gel, graham cracker cakes, cream cheese, blueberry pearls and tasmanian pepper meringue.  Blue Duck TavernAs we waddled away through the lobby, we discovered this cool piece on display. They nailed it, don’t ya think?

Our meal at Blue Duck Tavern was absolutely delicious and service was impeccable. The atmosphere is vibrant and decor appropriate for any occasion. I’d highly recommend a visit for an enjoyable evening out in Washington DC. If you make it there before me, be sure to tell me how the hanger steak is!

sketch Summer Afternoon Tea

Claimed to be a vibrant gastro-brasserie, sketch has long been one of London’s must see spots. Its interior aims to defy the ordinary, allowing its  restaurants to not only nourish the body, but tantalise the mind. It has become an institution and is the place I bring my visitors for a real wow factor meal and memorable experience.

I was delighted to hear The Gallery at sketch has recently been redesigned and a little overly excited to be invited to try their new Summer Afternoon Tea. Paris based India Mahdhavi, who is both an architect and designer, has created a backdrop for artist David Shrigley’s work. Shrigley, if you haven’t heard of him, is responsible for the satyrical sketches lining the wall, deriding everyday situations and thoughts.

Sketch Afternoon Tea The room is now a feminine fairy tale of muted pinks and rose golds, with the famously stunning floor created of 96 different types of marble remaining the only recognisable element from its previous design.

We chose our teas and ordered a Summer Afternoon Tea each, more than ready to ‘forget about it’ and disappear into The Gallery. Sketch Afternoon TeaAs with everything at sketch, the champagne service is part of the act. Sketch Afternoon Tea A very retro looking champagne trolley was rolled over, filled with bottles of chilled champagne. My date was theatrically poured a glass whilst I snapped away, obviously embarrassing the lovely sommelier. Sketch Afternoon TeaSketch Afternoon Tea For tea, we went for a green blend of Osamnthus. The flowering green tea is hand tied around an orange osmanthus flower for a subtle hint of citrus and a beautiful presentation.

Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon TeaHappily sipping our tea, we continued to admire the surrounding sketches, pointing out our favourites, giggling at a few and finding others utterly disturbing.

Our attention, however, was soon drawn to the main event. Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s exciting arrangement of sandwiches, cakes and pastries were delivered on three tiers of David Shrigley designed crockery.

Sketch Afternoon Tea Just look at that selection! You’re jealous aren’t you? I can tell. Maybe I’ve saved some for you to try?
No, no I haven’t.

It was served with accompaniments of raspberry meringues, bubble gum marshmallows and warm scones with fresh fig and strawberry jam. Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon Tea
Sketch Afternoon TeaThe miniature mozzarella and pesto croque monsieur was texturally pleasing with delicious flavour. Posh comfort food that I would happily indulge in on a daily basis.
Sketch Afternoon TeaA tiny triangle of egg and mayonnaise sandwich with quail egg and caviar was next. This was laced with truffle for a subtle earthiness, continuing the luxurious comfort food I so desire to have fill my fridge at home. 
Sketch Afternoon Tea
Having polished off the sandwiches and scones, we indulged in a miniature coffee eclair, an almond and berry tartlet, strawberry cheesecake, mousse malabar, bubble gum marshmallows, meringue tart, raspberry meringues, sketch opera cake and old fashioned pistachio macarons. Sketch Afternoon Tea I was now regretting the tight outfit choice and wondered if sketch also harboured a wonderfully mysterious nap pod. Sketch Afternoon Tea

I had no such luck, so we sipped away our sugar high whilst finding more of our favourites scattered around the room.
Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon TeaOur incredibly attentive and rather charming server checked on us throughout tea, asking if we’d like any cheeky extras of any of our favourites. Literally about to burst out of my dress, I temporarily listened to the debate going on between the little voices in my head. One argued the point of being on a beach in California next week, the other reminded me of the creamy, nutty pistachio macaron which was my firm favourite of the tea.

You can guess who won.
Sketch Afternoon Tea Don’t give me that look, they were delicious!

Some more rest was required as those little gems securely put me over the edge. Sketch Afternoon Tea
Sketch Afternoon Tea
Sketch Afternoon Tea Sketch Afternoon TeaFinally able to move, we nipped to the loos before leaving. You may find this detail an odd inclusion, but these are something special. Sketch Afternoon Tea

That’s right! Egg pod toilets. As probably one of the most photographed bathrooms ever, these are definitely worth a visit.

Dining at sketch is like something out of a fairytale. The Summer Afternoon Tea is surely something every tourist and Londoner must do this season.
But you’ve been warned, be sure to wear something a little loose!

Taste of London 2014

I love Taste of London.
Oh, you knew that already? Oh! You read last year’s post? And the year before?!
I’m flattered, really. This also means I don’t have to go on and on about Taste of London being a food-filled hotspot of delectable dishes showcasing restaurants, chef demonstrations, little local products and pop up champagne bars. I can just show you this year’s offerings and get down to the food porn.

But first, get a snack. You’ll thank me later.

Meeting up with my friend, the lovely Parissima, we chattered away as we entered Regent’s Park on a gloriously sunny day.

It seems that the drinks offering grows more and more each year. With tents blasting sweet tunes and serving endless libations, flocks of those more interested in Taste’s liquid offerings wiggled around the bar. As the evening progresses, the dancing becomes more and more spectacular, with particularly amazing entertainment provided by the silent disco and main stage.

Taste of London 2014Nightclub royalty, Mahiki, had a fantastic pop up coconut bar, which proved to be very popular serving their piña colada filled pineapples. The perfect accompaniment to sunshine. Taste of London 2014Ready to eat, we first popped over to Maida Vale sweetheart known for ‘not your average pub food’, The Truscott Arms. Taste of London 2014 Here we tried a delicious dish of slow roasted pork belly with pink grapefruit puree, braised chicory and buttered spinach. Taste of London 2014Enticed by wafting spices, we joined a small queue to sample a little Korean lettuce wrap. This was to showcase a new Korean sauce company, which I can’t remember the name of. If anyone tried this and knows the name, please leave it in the comments so I can update this as it was damn good! Taste of London 2014Amongst the stands serving local products, Noisette Bakehouse caught our eye. How beautiful are these tea cakes? Taste of London 2014As pretty as these were, there was something calling to me.
Alessandraaaaa eatttt meeee 
Taste of London 2014

Monstrous slabs of salted caramel brownie had me at hello and ended in my stomach. A couple of these were purchased to bring home and it’s safe to say they didn’t all make it back in one piece.

Passing the Chef Stage at the Electrolux theatre, we momentarily watched the lovely and incredibly talented Michel Roux Jr preparing one of his famous dishes. However, we were soon distracted by some samples elsewhere.  Taste of London 2014But, I made sure I snuck back later to say hello to the food icon, who is every bit as lovely as he looks.Taste of London 2014Taste of London 2014Pizza place Rossopomodoro had quite a crowd, all eagerly watching as the hot pizzas came out of the fire. The poor girl serving them was attacked by greedy foodies, leaving the box empty within seconds each time.

Just look at the carnage! Some pretty eager faces there if you ask me. Taste of London 2014 He didn’t seem to mind. Taste of London 2014We then wandered over to the cool corner of the event. Sister restaurants Sushi Samba and Duck & Waffle had pop up bars, surrounded by bean bags for those looking to lounge in the sun with a cocktail. Their restaurant counterparts were serving up delicious dishes nearby.

The lovely Chef Tom Cenci of Duck & Waffle had us try fried chicken necks with lemon, chilli and garlic.
Taste of London 2014This was accompanied by their famous BBQ spiced crispy pigs ears, also lovingly referred to as crack. Taste of London 2014Taste of London 2014Jealous of Tom’s picture, Executive Chef Daniel Doherty insisted he have his photo taken, too. Taste of London 2014Taste of London 2014

From Sushi Samba, we tried the surprisingly stunning Sasa roll with shrimp tempura, quinoa, shisito, coriander, wagyu chorizo, spicy mayo and red onion, which was inspired by Sushi Samba owner himself.

Taste of London 2014

Their other dishes looked equally appetising, with great presentation.Taste of London 2014

Taste of London 2014ROKA, one of my favourite contemporary Japanese places in London, had an incredible display of lamb chops and baby chicken being grilled.  Taste of London 2014

Taste of London 2014 Instantly in love with this perky looking piñata, I used my smoothest Spanish skills to try and sweet talk the Mexican tourism board into letting Paris take him home with her. No tuve éxito. 
Taste of London 2014

Enamoured with the flowering tea display, we watched as the balls of tea flowers blossomed when submerged in boiling water. This stand happens to be hosted by a guy who’s spiked hair looks as if he’s wearing a flowering tea ball himself.
Taste of London 2014
We were told that these make unique gifts and can continue to be used on display in your home, after drinking the tea. Talk about multi-tasking. Taste of London 2014

We continued to graze our way through the tents, sampling oils, meats, cheese and sweets.

Taste of London 2014Taste of London 2014

Being French, Paris couldn’t resist a big chunk of cheese to take with her, served by this lovely lady who was a bit camera shy.
Taste of London 2014Taste of London 2014 Taste of London 2014Ready for more proper plates, we visited contemporary Italian restaurant L’ANIMATaste of London 2014Here we tried burrata, pappa al pomodoro and anchovies. A stunningly simple combination of classic Italian flavours.

Hanging up our savoury hats, it was time for a sweet mission.

Taste of London 2014Having previously spotted macaron on the menu, we headed for Duck & Waffle’s graffiti styled tent. 
Taste of London 2014
A mound of dark chocolate mouse with a pistachio macaron hat, griottine cherries and crystallised white chocolate made for one helluva mouthful. Or two. Or five. (sorry Paris)  Taste of London 2014Next door, we spotted Valrhona chocolate ganache and knew what was next. Sushi Samba were serving a bamboo boat of Valrhona dark chocolate ganche, coffee mousse, tonka bean ice cream, caramelised macadamia nuts topped with lemon sorrel. Absolutely divine.

At some point during our venture, we spied a delicious looking creation, the details of which we only knew contained peanut butter. Sold on this minor detail, we searched endlessly to finish our feasting with what we believed would be the best. Although we were both stuffed to the brim, we continued our hunt through the maze of stands.

By the time we found it, overexcited as we may be, we discovered we didn’t have enough crowns left. Explaining our tragic story to the lovely gentleman behind the counter of the André Garrett at Cliveden House stand, he ever so kindly took our remaining crowns in exchange for the dessert. This turned out to be some of my best bargaining yet, because this baby turned out to be more than worth it!

Taste of London 2014A creamy peanut butter parfait topped with warm salted caramel and incredibly tart raspberry compote turned out to be one of the best things I had tasted all day and quickly made me forget just how ridiculously full I actually was.

We soon got carried away chatting to the lovely Chef Ed Dutton, who admitted to have been enjoying piña colada pineapples all afternoon. He soon snuck away and returned with a a little taste of fromage frais mousse with coconut, raspberry and lime from L’Autre Pied. I asked him to pose with it, and this is what he came up with.

Taste of London 2014 An impressive lunge, I must admit, but the dessert definitely stole the show.
Taste of London 2014Thanks Taste of London, for another amazing evening of edible entertainment and over indulgence. I can’t wait until next year!

Did you go to Taste of London this year? What was the absolute best thing you tried? Leave the dish and restaurant in the comments or tweet me!