Sunshine in San Diego

I awake to the warm glow of the morning sun striped across my face. As my consciousness steadily brightens from a sedate state, a wave of adrenaline rushes through my veins bursting in my core, rendering me coherent. A shock to the senses can only be aroused by the allure of one thing, the sweet promise of Mexican food.

With a leap from bed, followed by some incoherent mumbling of protests from unimpressed companions, we eventually head for Highway 101 and race down the coast. fullsizeoutput_8588fullsizeoutput_858dWe pulled up a stool at Bull Taco, a casual beach bar serving “inauthentic” (average) tacos with an outstanding view of the San Diego surf. fullsizeoutput_858cThe perfect accoutrement to the salty sea breeze are fluffy, crispy nuggets of fried tater tots, dipped in Sriracha ketchup. fullsizeoutput_858eHaving had our fill of salt and surf, we headed farther south to La Jolla and walked along the shore. fullsizeoutput_8592We spotted a seaside wedding, with a seriously stunning backdrop. fullsizeoutput_8593fullsizeoutput_8595And found some of my favourite sea creatures, sunbathing in the cove. fullsizeoutput_8597After establishing I could not sneak a seal into my sweater, we decided we were in need of something sweet to cleanse our salted palates. We wandered over to Bobboi’s Natural Gelato for just the treat.  fullsizeoutput_8598They offer really interested flavours made with natural and organic ingredients, making the selection process all the more difficult. I went for Mediterraneo, a delicious blend of almond, hazelnut and pistachio, and Chocolate Milk, having already tasted five other potentials. fullsizeoutput_859aThere’s nothing like a day of sunshine in San Diego to leave you feeling like: fullsizeoutput_859dLet me know your favourite places to eat, treat or explore.

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South Tyrol: Day 4

Wait! I didn’t finish telling you about Day 3!
We left the peace and quiet of the countryside and headed for Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol. City life here, however, isn’t what you’d expect.
South Tyrol A quaint town with an outstanding quality of life, ranked highly amongst all of Italy, with a combination of youthfulness from the University and cultural influence from the older generations. South Tyrol South TyrolAlthough there is a busy atmosphere amongst the presence of mingling locals and striking architecture, nature still has an influence as you look up beyond the buildings to find you are completely surrounded by lush, green terrain.
South TyrolWalking the shaded streets, the Italian-Germanic mix of architecture is everpresent, with Roman and Bavarian influence lending a medieval look.
South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol We retired our city explorations and headed for dinner. I’m devastated to admit that I absolutely can’t remember where this was – so if anyone recognises the dishes, please pop the name in the comments! (Lighting was difficult, apologies for the low budget foodporn)
South TyrolI started with the interestingly named millefoglie (Italian for mille-feuille) of calf saddle with truffle and endive salad. South Tyrol A neighbouring dish of risotto was too beautiful not to snap, and too cheesy to resist trying. South TyrolA very modern take on deer fillet was sous-vide and served with a soufflé of polenta, parsnip cream and Tahitian-vanilla oil. Overall, we enjoyed a beautiful take on traditional dishes, served in a warm atmosphere with friendly service. But, my sweet tooth had yet to be satisfied, and when in Rome Bolzano…
South Tyrol I bullied everyone into joining me for some gelato – my favourite way to end any evening spent in Italy. (It didn’t require full use of my persuasive powers if I’m honest)

-Intermission- Now I can tell you about my fourth and final day spent in South Tyrol. You probably need something sweet after that fine bit of foodporn – go grab a snack and we’ll continue. South TyrolOne of the favourite autumnal activities South Tyroleans enjoy is chestnut picking. The “Keschtnweg” or Sweet Chestnut Trail runs along a line of chestnut groves, providing views of the Asarco Valley.   South Tyrol We ventured the trail, admiring rustic inns and farms in the shadows of the Dolomites. South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol I loved this: tree turned fence.South Tyrol South Tyrol The hike is mild and scenery is beautiful, traversing through vibrant green meadows and shaded forests, past bountiful chestnut trees and even vineyards.South Tyrol There’s also incredible apple orchards lining the trail, providing colourful South Tyrolean apples ready to be pressed into fresh juice. South TyrolWe walked through the forest, where I was lucky to have watched where I stepped, as I very nearly flattened this guy. South TyrolHe was about the size of my hand, and is obviously now named Chestnut.
South Tyrol The trail opened onto farmland, with ears of corn bursting from their stalks, to the delight of the crows. South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol We made our way back to Radoar, a farm turned vineyard, with a variety of products on sale. We sat down in the sunshine and enjoyed a glass of the freshest apple juice I’ve ever tasted.
South TyrolTell me your mouth doesn’t water imagining the sweet-sour taste when you scroll down.
South TyrolHaving worked up an appetite from our afternoon stroll, we were ready for a truly South Tyrolean feast. There’s an old custom in South Tyrol called Töggelen. As autumn approaches, winegrowers open their cosy parlous and cellars for visitors to sample their home-grown wine and home-cooked local fare, including the beloved roasted chestnuts. We cosied up at a table in Glangerhof, 1,000 meters above sea level with a stunning open-air view of the Dolomites, and prepared for a memorable feast. 
South Tyrol
Local breads, including the traditional Schüttelbrot, were served with a cheesy chive spread and fresh butter.  South TyrolSoon came local cheeses, meats and boiled potatoes, begging to be loaded with butter and salt.
South Tyrol Tirtlen, or savoury fried pastries, were a fast favourite. We shared and teared the hot, fluffy pasty and piled each bite high with tart, cooked sauerkraut. Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs, and we soon regretted the fervour with which we devoured these deceitful pastries. South Tyrol More meats, onions and potatoes arrived as we groaned with concern at our tightening trousers. South Tyrol The arrival of our much-anticipated roasted chestnuts soon alleviated any memories of overeating. We greedily peeled back their warm, flaky shells to devour the sweet meat hiding inside; a true taste of autumn in Italy. South TyrolAs the krapfen were placed on the table, we almost wept in surrender. I had to at least try the deep-fried pastry pockets stuffed with tart cherry jam, and I can tell you, it was worth my near-demise.  South TyrolA delicious memory to end such a soul-indulgent trip in South Tyrol. If you’re thinking of giving the area a visit, I would highly recommend visiting during Autumn. Although the Dolomites are popular for their snow-covered offerings, an autumnal visit is beyond pleasurable.

Grazie and danke you multicultural delight!

South Tyrol: Day 1

Over the past year+, I’ve been on a collection of life changing, memory making trips around the world. But, I’ve been too busy to properly tell you about them. I know I’ve shared tidbits and some of them are published, but I’d love to sit down with a cup of tea and share some of these adventures with you.

We left at the crack of dawn. I awoke at the sort of ungodly hour which makes you question where you are, and possibly even who you are. I crawled into the awaiting cab with a driver far too spritely for this time of morning. However, I sort of love being awake and out at this time. The city is sleeping, calm, with uninterrupted streets and the faintest hope of sunrise teasing the sky. We drove down the abandoned motorway towards an infamously distant Gatwick, discussing food, of course, in between intermittent gazes out the window. It’s at this time I find I contemplate deep, boundless ideas and notions, my mind too tired to process realistic limitations.

The following blur of dragging suitcase, queuing at check-in, creeping through security and hunting for nourishment is far too familiar for me to recount. We made our way to the gate, boarded the plane, and then it hit me: I was on my way to Italy.

Italy is special for most people. The culture, the scenery, the people, the wine, the history and most of all, the food, is all intoxicating. But for me, I feel attached, enamoured, indebted and in love. I spent my childhood visiting Tuscany, spending mornings on the beach, afternoons in the pizzeria, late afternoons by the pool, evenings in the Trattoria and night-time walking down the promenade with an overflowing handful of gelato. My late grandfather, my Nonno in Italian, imparted the culture, my heritage and the intense passion for food that runs deep in the country’s veins.

South Tyrol

I was now on my way to South Tyrol, also known as Alto Adige, soaring above the clouds with no knowledge of the region, limited information of my itinerary and fading worries of deadlines drifting away in the jet stream. I had been invited to South Tyrol for the weekend to visit their mountains, eat their food and experience their culture. We entered the airport to a typical Italian affair: curious customs practices and confused baggage claim standards. We successfully managed to gather our cases and meet our driver, ready to begin our trip in Italy’s most northern region.

South TyrolThere’s something about South Tyrol that must preface your preconceptions. Rid your mind of terracotta rooftops, swaying Cyprus trees and the glittering Mediterranean. South Tyrol is an Italian Germanic mix of architecture, culture and language. All signs, ads, menus, instructions and packaging are listed in both German and Italian, and architecture is a curious mix of both, resulting in a feeling reminiscent of medieval times.

We drove for an hour and a half, through valleys, past vineyards, over rivers, through villages, past cities and eventually, up a winding mountainous cliff towards the Dolomites. We raced past descending cars around sharp corners on a terrifyingly narrow road, secretly gripping the seat with white knuckles when an impossibly large truck would careen past. Reaching the top was reminiscent to films portraying a character arriving in heaven, *ahhhhhhhhhhh*.

South Tyrol Doesn’t this look like a Land Rover ad? South Tyrol

The road evened and and we had arrived at an endless plateau of green grass and rolling hills, surrounded by immense, impressive Dolomites. This area is protected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, providing the perfect haven for fervent walkers, hikers and mountain bikers. We pulled into what can only be described as a luxury log cabin.

The Adler Lodge
sits impressively guarding the hillside. We entered the hotel to young, friendly faces, adorably dressed in traditional outfits. Picture innocent beer maids, only instead, wielding room keys rather than bountiful brews. The interior is remarkable, seamlessly syncing traditional with modern. Attractive wood creates a majority of the structure, with modern additions of glass and touch screen technology introduced for convenience and an additional feeling of luxury.

South Tyrol

The rooms were darling, with a separate bathroom, rainfall showerhead and even a heat lamp. Reusable wooden bottles were filled with the most divine smelling shower products, scented with lavender and white musk. This and the three sections of recyclable trash bins furthered the eco-friendly ethos seen throughout the hotel. The room was cosy, but spacious with a Bavarian lodge theme, including a mini bar inside a trunk and plaid chaise lounge.

I stepped out onto the balcony, greeted by the picturesque view of massive, imposing Dolomites. The air was crisp, freezing and noticeably clear – filling my polluted London lungs with fresh oxygen. I could hear the charming sound of tinkling cowbells, and quite literally, nothing else. The stillness of the mountain and breath-taking view is something I’m sure I’ll never forget.South TyrolHaving to peel myself away from my view, I traipsed upstairs to the spa and wellness area. The relaxation room makes for the cosiest of pre-treatment places, with rocking beds by the fireplace, and a glass ceiling trapping sunlight. I enjoyed a thorough sports massage using mountain-inspired elements, before being released into the Alpine Spa for a swim in the heated panorama pool, and steam in the sauna filled with mountain hay, both with spectacular views of rolling hills and rugged mountains.
South Tyrol South Tyrol You’re supposed to rub this ice on your body to cool your core temperature… Where’s the sauna?  South Tyrol South Tyrol Imagine inhaling the smell of heated, sweet hay whilst staring out at The Dolomites. South Tyrol South TyrolSouth TyrolCompletely refreshed and feeling at one with nature, we sat down to dinner at the panoramic restaurant. Tribal designs peeked from the wooden ceiling, and a roaring fireplace enhanced the cosy atmosphere. More than ready for some nourishment, we tucked into an evening of indulgence at Mountain Lodge. Paired with local wines, the specialities of Alto Adige were expertly embodied across a superb six courses. Local meats and herbs provided a fine taste of the area, with polenta dumplings and braised veal cheek serving a heartier representation. Coffee parfait with cooked plums was a sweet pick-me-up before greedily sampling local cheeses.

South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol
South Tyrol South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth Tyrol You’re supposed to ask to sample one of each, right? I didn’t want to be rude.South TyrolThis gourmet experience was an exceptional ending to a day spent relaxing in this mountainous paradise, leaving me more than ready to see what else this region had to offer.

Barcelona: Day 4

There’s nothing more exciting than room service.
Whoever invented room service should promptly receive a medal and deservedly, a massive hug.

Imagine them pitching the idea. You mean I can lounge in bed as you roll a cart of food into my room for me to consume in the comfort of my fluffy bath robe?
This is sort of what I imagine being Queen to be like.

As temporary King & Queen of The W Barcelona, we greedily gorged on eggs, tomatoes, toast, jams, fresh fruit and yogurts whilst taking in stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. P1010495 P1010501 P1010503 IMG_1143 IMG_1146After an indulgent morning, we slipped on swimsuits and scurried down to the beach to get in a little last minute relaxation before spending the day tracking down Barcelona’s stunning architecture by the revered Antoni Gaudí. IMG_1147Over the past few days, we had seen people flying by on electric scooters, racing each other up and down the beach. As the day was incredibly hot, and we had quite a lot of ground to cover, we decided this would be the perfect way to get around. As we were traveling father afield than the beach, we were given electric bicycles. You still pedal, but the bike gives an automatic boost, taking away most of the effort.
IMG_1331We set off on our new set of wheels, racing each other through herds of tourists and around leisurely couples on a stroll, getting used to our rides. We soon found that they were occasionally unpredictable, giving sudden bursts of energy, zooming us forward unsuspectingly. Mine happened to have to no bell, which resulted in me frantically calling out DING DING every once and awhile.
P1010509We rode up through busy streets, pedalling furiously up hills as cars and buses whooshed past. I was constantly distracted by beautiful buildings and interesting sites, making him increasingly nervous as I rode in and out of traffic. But, I was on a mission, leading us towards the towering spikes piercing the skyline in the distance. 
P1010513
We finally arrived at Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s magnum opus. Antoni Guadí was a Spanish Catalan architect whose works, littered mostly around Barcelona, attract admiration from all over the world. His creations were largely influenced by architecture, nature and religion. After being commissioned in 1882, Gaudí soon took over the construction of this church with engineering style and design unlike any church in the world. His plans were so vast and extensive, that by the time of his death, only a quarter of the project was completed. P1010517 We sadly didn’t enter the building, but I obviously recommend a visit as it is truly unlike anything you’ll ever see.
We mounted our trusty bikes and continued uphill towards Park Güell. Huffing and puffing as we reached the top, having ridden for an hour in the blazing sun, we were more than ready for a rest. P1010519 Park Güell is a garden complex filled with architectural structures created and designed by Gaudí. There are unrestricted gardens with beautiful stone structures and stunning views, which anyone can access. But, the monumental zone with his mosaic and architectural creations is ticketed, only allowing a certain number of people per time slot. I was devastated to find that the time slot was full, so we were unable to reach the other buildings. But, the gardens and views themselves are absolutely stunning and we wandered round the peaceful pathways. P1010525 P1010526 P1010542 P1010547 P1010556 P1010562 This pink coloured building was where Gaudí and his family lived for 20 years. It has now been turned into the Gaudí-House Museum which you can visit to see some of his original works. P1010571 P1010572 P1010582 P1010586 P1010587 P1010588 IMG_1159 IMG_1161 Having explored as much of the park as we could, we returned to our bikes for an enjoyable downhill journey. We raced through traffic until arriving at Casa Batlló. P1010591 P1010594 The building was bought in 1900 by Josep Batlló, a wealthy textile industrialist. The building itself was undesirable to buyers because of its design, but the family decided to purchase it for its centralised location. In 1904, the family wanted to find someone to redesign the house, making it unlike any other in its creativity and appearance. Seeing the innovation used in Parc Güell, they decided Antoni Gaudí would be the one for the job. P1010596 The building is absolutely stunning, with a skeletal appearance, but be sure to book tickets ahead as there was a two hour wait to enter. P1010599Before leaving, we noticed the building next door, which is also beautifully designed. A door was open, so I snuck inside for a peak. P1010608 There were beautiful tiles, stain glass panels and the most amazing light fixtures. P1010613 We continued down La Rambla through swarms of tourists before make a quick stop at La Boqueria, my foodie heaven that I told you you about the other day. We sat in the shade and snacked on mushrooms and mussels escabeche. This traditional Spanish tapas is a thing of beauty. Perfectly cooked, canned mussels float around in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pimentón.  P1010616 We then returned our electric rides and crawled back to the W, absolutely exhausted. After a little lounging by the window, watching illuminated boats sail by on the black water, we went for a stroll in the warm, night air. We went into a restaurant packed with locals for a late night meal. As you can see, there are no pictures of its interior, no descriptions of what we ate and certainly no food porn. The food was not good, to say the least. I picked at my plate and settled with the idea of having churros con chocolate for dinner, a Spanish treat that I had been desperate to find the entire trip. We left in search of my much lusted after treat, with no such luck. IMG_1167Tired, but fulfilled from our day’s adventures, we returned to the big glass wave for some much deserved sleep.

Mayday Catch Up

There’s not actually an emergency.
It’s more of a catch up of May days rather than an international distress signal. But thinking about it, I don’t think a blog post would be the best way to alert the authorities. May’s a lovely month. It’s a glorious tease of warm weather, those first sunlit ice creams and lasting sunlight into the early evening.

It’s also been an incredibly busy month, so much so that in case you haven’t noticed, it’s already June. I know! I can’t believe it either. If you follow me on Instagram @Alessandra_LDN you may have already seen some of my latest adventures. But, let me fill you in on what’s been happening in lovely London. Grab a cuppa’ and something sweet because there’s a lot of eye candy in this one. And by that I mean photos.

Speaking of cuppa’, have you seen my new tea cup!? Now I know it’s not normal to have any sort of strong emotions towards a cup used for tea, but this baby has not one, but two walls! Two of them! To the average, ignorant Joe, unaware of the glass’ secret they may gasp in horror as I reach to sip from my steaming cup of boiled beverage. But fear not, my overcautious friend! There is a secret layer protecting my hands from the scalding brew.

Double Walled Tea GlassThis does however lull me into a false sense of security regarding the actual temperature of my tea and I have repeatedly burnt my tongue. But, we’ll ignore that as it is a double walled glass!
It’s the little things in life.

On a stroll past the local butchers, I had a giggle finding this little guy. Parsons Green ButchersIt looks as if he’s thinking, It’s…. It’s behind me, isn’t it?

What did the cow ghost say?
MOO!
I just made that up. 

Natural History Museum Although we’ve been back and forth between winter winds and dreary drizzles, we did have a fleeting, beautiful tease of summer for a few days in the middle of May. All of London was smiling and its landmarks, such as the Natural History Museum looked positively stunning in the gleaming light. Royal Arts Academy I had a meeting at the Royal Academy Arts. Have you been here? I was greeted by what I’ve decided is an artistically modern interpretation of a frog. Art nerds help me out here. Tell me this isn’t a space frog?
The meeting was in the Academicians Room, a secret room tucked away in the depths of the grandiose building, which a lovely gentleman kindly escorted me to having seen the lost, bewildered look on my face. As beautiful as the building with its winding corridors and art covered walls is, the Academicians Room is simply breathtaking. I didn’t sneak a picture, so I’ll have to do my best to describe it to you. You enter through an unassuming door into a vast, rectangular room with a bar and organised sections of muted furniture. The room itself is a gallery, with beautiful pieces of artwork decorating the walls. But the main attraction here is the stunning roof made entirely of a skylight, letting natural light pour in. It’s a lovely space, the kind I’d love to have a secret soirée in under the stars.Salad Niçoise In need of a quick lunch one day, but never willing to sacrifice deliciousness, I made a monster of a salad Niçoise. On a bed of rocket I roughly chopped and piled high red onion, sweet corn, tomato, tuna, egg and sunflower seeds. I whipped together my favourite dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, wholegrain mustard & honey and poured it over top. A sprinkling of sea salt and pepper and voilà, a healthy mountain of deliciousness! Peanut Butter & Banana Speaking of favourites, do you ever just need a classic, simple snack to appease your sweet tooth and hug your insides? I give you: banana with crunchy peanut butter on wholewheat toast. Top with a squiggle of honey and we’re in business. Thames Sunsey On an evening run I wandered aimlessly in the direction of the river.
Anyone that knows me is laughing at the way I’ve casually mentioned an evening run as if this something I partake in frequently. We’ll call it my annual run as it happens about once a year when I feel a sudden burst of energy and urge to physically exert myself. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I don’t see the point in running unless it’s from something, in which case I should most likely save up all my energy incase such a circumstance shall arise.
When I reached the river, I watched the sunset over the Thames. There’s nothing like being in the presence of great bodies of water to put life into perspective. Whilst watching the boats gently rock and birds fly by, I noticed a riverside rose garden.
How delightful is that? Rose GardenIt seemed like some sort of strange wonderland with hundreds of different sized and coloured flowers hidden from the world alongside the river. Rose Rose As I made my way home, the sky turned from a moody darkness to a vibrant pink. Doesn’t this tree against the whimsical background seem like something out of a Dr. Suess book? Dr Suess TreesOn a gloriously wet day, we skipped along to brunch at a new little spot called Poppy’s. The sweetly decorated interior with big, open windows provided an appreciated respite from the torrential downpour on the other side of the glass. In need of some comfort food, he order the full English. For those of you outside this little island I call home, a full English breakfast is a cultural cornerstone consisting of sausage, bacon and eggs with varying additions of beans, tomato, hash browns, mushrooms and toast.   Poppy's Full English I decided to try the chicken salad with pomegranate, butternut squash & seeds. I liked the rustic style in which it was served, but really wished it had more flavour from the pomegranate and a lot less salt. Poppy's Chicken Salad Poppy's Not ready to brave the storm, we stayed for tea. Green Jasmine Tea And dessert… Brownie Sundae I went for the incredibly naughty brownie sundae and requested the peanut butter ice cream from another dessert be added on top. Can you blame me? Apple Tart with Banana He went for the apple tart with caramelised banana and Chantilly cream, which obviously had nothing over my choice. You can’t compete with chocolate and peanut butter. Uh oh, my American is showing. 
Piccadilly Circus
This isn’t the greatest shot of Piccadilly Circus, but I love that it portrays so many lives crossing, all following different paths but at one point, intersecting.
Shake Shack

We snuck over to Covent Garden one day for a bit of a feast. I’ve told you about Shake Shack before, but it’s been ages since I’ve been back. I stuffed myself with burgers, fries and concretes, oh and he had some, too.

We then waddled down to Fortnum & Mason where we skipped around the food hall like kids in a candy store. 
Purple AspargusThere were beautiful purple asparagus 
Wild Asparagus Bunches of wild asparagus

Mushrooms Tasty looking mushrooms & morels Purple Globe ArtichokesAnd stunning purple globe artichokes.

Baby BananasI was overly excited about the size of these miniature bananas, which made me feel like a giant, and may have let out a quiet squeal upon discovering the mini pineapples. Don’t worry, it was quiet, this is the royal grocery store after all.

Baby PineappleI began fantasising about a bowl of miniature fruits on my countertop before quickly being distracted by these beautiful Gull’s eggs.
Gull EggsBesides my obvious love for food, and apparently including those of miniature proportion, I’m also a bit of a stationary nerd. I’ve recently realised I may have a bit of a problem as I have more journals than I do purposes. But they’re so cool looking!

JournalsMay ended with strangely lit skies filled with pouring rain. English weather will never cease to perplex and irritate.

Rain & ShineI’ll never get tired of venturing around London. Do you have favourite secret spots or places to explore around London? I’d love to hear them! Don’t be shy, pop it in the comment section or send me a tweet @Alessandra_LDN

Italian Cooking Masterclass at Novikov

Early on Saturday, I made my way to Mayfair.
I couldn’t possibly turn down a media invite for an Italian Cooking Masterclass at the beautiful Novikov. The restaurant is massive and is separated into the dark Asian room serving Chinese & Pan-Asian delicacies and the light and airy Tuscan designed Italian room serving traditional Italian classics.

We met in the Italian Room at a large round table in the centre of the empty restaurant. The table was topped with a stunning bouquet of orange tipped roses and had a delicious spread of fresh croissants, chocolate & hazelnut crostata and a crostata filled with fresh cherry jam – all of which were divine.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWe munched on baked goods, observed the beautiful kitchen, and got to know one another over coffees & teas.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThen it was time to get our hands dirty.
Chef Whites and aprons on, we were separated into three groups: antipasti, lamb and sides & desserts.
I was on sides & desserts.
You can call me Chef Alessandra ’cause I was made for those Chef Whites.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe class was led by head Chef Carmelo who was referred to as Chefona. (big chef in Italian)
All three of the chefs hailed from different parts of Italy and playfully bickered at each other in dialects throughout the day.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe first crew set off to tackle their antipasti.
The first dish out of the oven was a Cavolo nero tart with Pecorino cheese.
This was a beautiful puff pastry topped with pesto, Pecorino, cherry tomatoes, chili and cavolo nero Italian cabbage. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWouldn’t you love to have such a beautiful basil plant in your kitchen?
And how about these mortar & pestles for the salt & pepper? Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Working with Chef Carmelo, the lamb group began the task of cooking lamb three different ways.
First was butterfly roasted Sardinian lamb. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then slow cooked lamb shank in chianti red wine.Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovWould you like a napkin?
You’re drooling… Italian Cooking Class at Novikov And last, slow cooked lamb in clay.
For this, Chef Carmelo placed lamb chunks in parchment paper and surrounded the paper in a fold of clay.
And you thought Arts & Crafts and Cooking didn’t mix.
This was then baked in the fire oven and cracked open to reveal perfectly cooked, tender lamb. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovMy group took on the sides.
First we whipped up some polenta in boiling water. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Chef Micheli was busy laughing at one of Carmelo’s jokes about Northern Italians as he added a dash of pepper to the boiled polenta. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe polenta was then shaped however we wanted in a dish.
I made a sort of polenta tower which was layered with salty chunks of Taleggio and topped with grated parmesan and a glug of olive oil.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovThe creamy, cheesy mixture was then sent to the oven to bake until all the cheese melted into a gooey, beautiful mixture.

Italian Cooking Class at NovikovWhilst our polenta baked, we made a salad of pan-fried aubergines with sautéed shallots, fresh rocket and toasted almonds.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

I’m sure you’ve always wondered how a giant would season his dinner.
Mystery solved.

Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

To finish off the feast, we made Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and oranges.
Chef Carmelo was excited to tell us that these blood oranges had been imported all the way from Sicily. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

First we segmented the oranges, which were beautiful in colour and resembled stain glass windows. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Then we zest the peel of the orange.
Instead of grating the peel, Chef taught us to slice and remove the white from a strip of peel and then cut it into slivers. This helps the zest maintain its flavour.
A vanilla pod was scraped in and the mixture was combined.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

In a pot, Chef brought water and sugar to a boil and then added the orange pieces, juice and zest from the blood oranges. These were then fished out and left to cool. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

The mixture continued to simmer whilst we cooked and reduced down to a sweet, tangy marmalade like syrup to top the dessert. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We then whipped together ricotta, double cream and icing sugar to create a fluffy, creamy base for the dessert.Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

We layered the desserts with the cheese mousse, cooked orange segments and crushed pieces of amaretto cookies and then placed them in the fridge. Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at Novikov

After hours in the kitchen, we gathered round the table to taste our creations.
An Italian feast ensued.
We started with the antipasti.
Marinated radicchio with oranges and honey balsamic vinegar, fregula salad with peas, mint and olives and Cavolo nero tart with pecorino cheese.
Fresh bursts of flavour in every bite!
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Whilst we nibbled away, the Chefs plated up a lamb feast fit for the kings.
Platters and bowls of the three different types of cooked lamb were piled high before being brought to the table.
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo accompany our lamb feast, we shared sides of pan fried aubergine salad and baked polenta with Taleggio cheese.
These were absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. 
Italian Cooking Class at NovikovItalian Cooking Class at NovikovTo finish our feast, our Sicilian ricotta mousse with amaretto and orange was served in little Italian silver ice cream dishes. This was absolutely delicious, tangy and sweet from the orange, cookies and mousse topped with the incredible reduction. Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Now what I tell you next needs to stay between you and me.
After polishing off my dessert, I spotted an enormous, stunning meringue looking cake sitting on a table behind me.
The Sommelier spotted my greedy eyes and came over to tell me that this cake was “The Heartattack.” Apparently it is Arkady Novikov’s favourite dessert and is on the dessert menu of the restaurant.
Jokingly I asked if there were any samples and he disappeared as I continued to laugh to myself. Thinking he was offended by my greed, I sipped my fresh mint tea in silence.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

Moments later, in front the entire table of stuffed foodies having eaten our weight in Italian dishes, this was placed in front of me.
I was mortified and delighted simultaneously as everyone laughed. I took a bite and passed it around the table. My moment of shame was definitely worth it. A bite of sweet, fluffy layers of Chantilly cream and meringue was like biting into a vanilla cloud. I fully understand why this is the Russian restaurateurs favourite dessert.
Italian Cooking Class at Novikov

It was an incredible day filled with great food and great people.
I thoroughly enjoyed cooking a feast fit for the Kings and enjoyed even more getting to taste it all.
Lucky for you, the class is now going to be offered on the last Saturday of each month. Grab a friend or family member, treat someone special, or spend the day getting to know yourself and the kitchen in this beautiful Italian room with incredibly talented Chefs leading the way.
Don’t worry if you’re not the next Mario Batali, the Chefs will talk you through each step. Best of all, you’ll be asked to taste test along the way.

If you’d like to spend a Saturday in Chef Whites in this famous Mayfair haunt, book here. Give the lovely staff a call and I’m sure they’ll be happy to book you in.

To see some behind the scenes action, click here for a video of the class.

Buon Appetito!

La Bodega Negra

I had some time to kill before a meeting in Soho yesterday, and as usual, was craving Mexican food.
Good Mexican is truly hard to find in London, and unless I scavenge the ingredients to whip up a dish myself, I tend to give it a miss altogether.
Last year, New York’s La Esquina opened a London location under the name of La Bodega Negra. Bloggers and critics buzzed about the restaurant, calling it London’s answer to Mexican food.
Yet, I wasn’t ready to be let down by some sloppy, average dish lacking the true Mexican flavours.
Until yesterday.
I was really craving the tangy, spicy chili packed salsas and smokey, tender meats wrapped in perfect taco packages.
I had forgotten the much talked about restaurant downstairs requires reservations and doesn’t open until 6pm. The incredibly rude manager reminded us by snapping about the reservation policy and fine dining ambience as if we had asked something outrageous.
Ignoring her attitude, we settled for lunch in the Café.

La Bodega Negra

Spanish music posters line the wall and the room has a retro diner feel to it with checkered floors, wooden chairs and exposed lights.
The vibe was great due to a great Hip-Hop mix playing.
Jay-z & Kanye, Kase O, and Common ft. John Legend were just some of the endless chilled tracks being played.

On the menu, there’s a great selection of typical tacos, quesadillas and ceviches. I ordered Pork Belly Carnitas with Salsa Verde Tacos and Camaron (shrimp) Tacos with Chipotle Cream and Pickled Onion with a side of Green Rice and Cowboy Beans.

La Bodega NegraWhilst we waited, we were given an assortment of salsas to top our tacos. Salsa Verde, Salsa Roja and Salsa del Comal each gave different flavours and all packed a punch. On each table are two innocent looking bottles holding salsa created from the habanero pepper. These bad boys are pretty high up on the Scoville scale, but still tolerable with good flavour.
After tasting all three of the salsas, I tried the green habanero hot sauce. Unripe habaneros are green and this sauce packed a serious kick.
But the other, ripe habenero XXXTRA hot sauce packed a mean punch.
I dare you to take a teaspoon of this and send me a photo of your facial expression.
Or better yet, offer a taste to your dining companion.

La Bodega Negra La Bodega Negra La Bodega Negra La Bodega Negra

La Bodega Negra

Our tacos arrived piled high with vibrant toppings.
The Camaron tacos were divine.
Shrimp cooked to perfection with tender meat and a nice snap coated in a chipotle cream for a smokey hint of spice. They were topped with smooth guacamole and acidic pickled onion which really brought all the flavours together.
Add a little lime and sprinkle of sea salt, the perfect combination.

La Bodega Negra

Next to try were the Pork Belly Carnitas with salsa verde.
The pork belly was incredibly tender and had a nice crunch from a sprinkle of crackling. The tacos were piled high with salsa verde and were made even better with the combination of salsas on the table.
To accompany the tacos, we had a side of green rice and cowboy beans.
The green rice is flavoured with cilantro (coriander) and lime and goes well with any Mexican dish.
Cowboy beans are an American creation which uses smokey BBQ sauce to bring out the flavour of the refried beans. These also had bits of bacon as an extra naughty addition.

La Bodega Negra

Our lovely waiter Nelvino was incredibly helpful and very knowledgeable about the menu, even though he hasn’t dared try the habanero salsa.
I absolutely love their shirts and think that they should sell them in the restaurant, don’t you? 

La Bodega NegraIf you’re in Soho looking for a way to spice up your day and are in need of a great lunch spot, I’ve found the place.
If you’re looking for good Mexican food with a sexy atmosphere for dinner and drinks, make sure you call ahead for reservations here.
This, by the way, is located in the bottom of a sex shop.
It is Soho after all.

Moleskine

I love airports. Millions of different lives, from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, different thoughts, different aspirations, different purposes – all crossing paths in one distinct moment, under distinct one roof, having just endured, or about to endure one distinct mode of transportation – flight.

I hate flying. You may have discovered this fun fact from my acrobatic flight post. To help cope with the panic, I have developed three rituals: twizzlers, chai tea, and moleskine.

I nervous eat Twizzlers like a kid that’s just broken out of fat camp, to the dismay of passengers around me. I drink a grande Chai Tea Latte with one pump of vanilla. Finally, I write in my moleskine, a book filled with random thoughts, doodles, business plans, anything that pops into my head really.

On my way home, London!

Dubai

I’ve just returned from a very last minute, 5 day getaway to Dubai. It is such a whirlwind of extravagance that I don’t know where to start. I landed late and besides meeting up with my gorgeous friend Michelle, I only really had time to spend the first night to staring out my window in wonder at all the towering, newly constructed buildings surrounding a manmade lake of clear water.

In the morning, we laid by the pool and had breakfast before getting ready. We then went to the Dubai Mall, which of course, is the world’s largest. This place made the American superstore look like a small shopfront. We had lunch on the terrace facing the Burj Khalifa lake at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. After spending the rest of the day of wandering around in what seemed like a city, we had worked up an appetite. We changed quickly at the hotel and took a cab out to Atlantis.

Atlantis hotel is positioned at the tip of the Palm Jumeirah, a cluster of manmade islands in the shape of a palm, which houses some of the world’s top hotels and most expensive residences. Inside the Atlantis is one of the most spectacular aquariums, which is reminiscent of the lost city itself. Even more spectacular than the aquarium is Dave Chihuly’s glass sculpture in the lobby of the hotel. I can’t help but stare in fascination wondering how the complex piece was created.

We had a spectacular meal at Nobu, with Sushi, Yellowfin Sashimi, Rock Shrimp Tempura, Wagyu Beef, and of course Nobu’s famous Black Cod. We then indulged on a Flourless Chocolate Fondant with Nobu Beer Ice Cream and Passion Fruit & Coconut Ice Cream. Sorry for the lack of Nobu photos, most were taken with my iPhone and didn’t come out. But, at least I posted the desserts!

The next day, we had an early breakfast of fresh fruit and yogurt before heading to Abu Dhabi. We briefly wandered around and had a delicious Za’atar and Halloumi wrap for lunch. Before heading back to Dubai, I insisted the cab driver take us past Ferrari World and the Formula 1 track. I’m definitely looking forward to the opening of Ferrari World and hope to return when it does.

When we returned to Dubai, we went to the most amazing local market. This was by far one of my favourite parts of the trip. It was as if we had entered a different world, leaving all the tacky extravagance behind. A local world of poverty, bordering some of the most lavishly wealthy in the world. However, first sight of the market was incredibly disturbing. A row of dead, bloody sharks lined up on a platform at the mouth of the market was heart stopping. I decided against including these photos because it really is sickening. Inside the market was a maze of fresh fruit, spices, and pounds of dates. I walked along unashamedly accepting all offers of date samples. We then headed deeper into the market which eventually leads to little local shops selling hookah pipes and more spices.

As darkness fell, we headed home to get ready for our dinner reservations at The Observatory. The Observatory is located on the 52nd floor of the Marriott Hotel and offers incredible views of the palm and downtown Dubai. It has low-lighting and a modern interior, but we weren’t there for the interior design.  I must say I admired the innovation of the chef, but not everything was to my liking. Overall, we enjoyed our meal with our well-lit view of downtown Dubai.

Here’s what we had:
– Seared Scottish Scallops with Microsalad, Pumpkin Sauce, and a Chocolate Ribbon
Portobello Mushrooms filled with Garlic, Goat’s Cheese, and Sun Blushed Tomato
– Asparagus Risotto
– Home Smoked Salmon enhanced with Soy-apricot Sauce and Wasabi Ice Cream
– Seared Tuna encrusted with Pink Peppercorns and served with Microsalad, Apricot, and Sweet Chili Sauce

Dessert:
– Trio of Chocolate with Granduija Soup, Maracabo Chocolate Brownie, White Chocolate Mousse, Date Scented Camel Milk Ice Cream, and Pink Pepper Caramel
– Milk Rice Pudding with Truffle, Candied Mushrooms, and Pine Nut Milk in Coca-Cola Jelly
– Electric Ice Cream of Date Scented Camel Milk with Rose Mouse Wrapped in Rose Water Parcels

Each evening at around midnight, we’d spend about an hour messing around in the hotel’s rather large gym in an attempt to make a dent in the day’s calorie consumption. The next morning was spent lounging by the pool. We then headed to the magnificent, sail shaped, 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab. Architectually, the exterior is phenomenal, one of a kind. But, and it is a definite but, the interior is absolutely, appallingly tacky. Rainbow fountains, mismatched carpets, and strange robotic panels seemed shockingly Vegas for this world renowned hotel.

Aside from the navy and forest green, cruise ship like interior, the views from the Sky Bar were unlike any other. We were seated in the middle of the dining room at a booth facing outwards towards miles of crystal clear ocean. On either side, all of Dubai was visible. We chatted away listening to the beautiful pianist playing Disney songs on her glass, grand piano. We then began our Sky Tea, and I think it would only be fitting for me to describe this as the world’s best afternoon tea.

It began with a miniature Beef Wellington, what an incredible beginning. Two bites of the best Beef Wellington i’ve ever tasted. Then we were served Vegetable Samosas with a spicy dipping sauce. Then came the Sky Tea. A massive, sail shaped stand was placed before us, and my little foodie heart skipped a beat. On the bottom plate, a selection of pastries, second, a fruit cake, carrot cake, biscuits, and shot glass of creme brûlée, third, a selection of savoury pastries and breads with delectable fillings, and on top, delicate tea sandwiches each on a different flavoured bread. The spread and presentation were amazing and we happily munched for hours. Nearing the end of our tower conquering, a waiter appeared with a platter of all the sandwiches we had just devoured. We naughtily took seconds of our favourites, feeling a bit like bears storing up for winter. As our stomachs neared their bursting point, we decided to stop and save room for the scones. The scones! Warm, freshly baked scones with the most gorgeous spreads i’ve ever been served to accompany this after tea treat. Strawberry mousse, clotted cream, passionfruit jam, and strawberry jam with rose petals, each more delicious than the last.  We sat back, sipping our tea, gazing out at the silky blue water, completely content. And then he appeared, again. The sight of the silver platter of tiny treats was almost overwhelming. Being the greedy little monster that I am, I took a strawberry, dipped in chocolate with a gold flake garnish, and decided that it was the last bite of food I would consume for the rest of my life. Or at least, until dinner.

After being driven off the Burj Al Arab’s island by a golf kart, we wandered around the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. It was built to resemble a traditional Arabic marketplace, but is rather touristy. We bought a few gifts before heading to the Dubai Mall to get boxes of macarons and Patchi chocolates to bring back to London with us. We then went to the hotel to relax before getting ready for dinner. That’s right, more food.

Verre is Gordon Ramsay’s Dubai restaurant with a modern, Eurpean inspired menu. The restaurant was almost empty, besides a few couples and a family with a screaming baby, my favourite. Once the family left, I was much happier and able to focus on our incredible meal. The service was impeccable, if not a tad robotic. It didn’t matter because the food was all delicious.

Here’s what we had:
– Rolls with Olive and Garlic Butter
– Beef Tart Appetizer
– Vine Tomato Minestrone with Basil Pesto
– Ahi Tuna
– Ravioli of Scottish Lobster and Salmon, with Tomato Chutney Glazed Lettuce, and Lobster Vinaigrette
– Pan Fried, Line Caught Halibut, Seared Scallops, Coriander Linguini, Roasted Asparagus, and Lemongrass Veloute

Dessert:
– 3 Cheeses with Paired Fruit
– Chilled Valrhona Chocolate Fondant and Pear Sorbet
– Chocolate, Passionfruit Chocolate, Turkish Delight

I can only describe my trip to Dubai as extravagant, decadent, and memorable. I have a feeling this won’t be my last trip to this manmade, world record breaking, lavish emirate.

Brick Lane

It’s a Sunday afternoon and after a morning love affair with your fluffy duvet, you need something to both entertain your mind and stifle your growling tummy. Well, I have just the place: Brick Lane. Hidden away in the East End of London, Brick Lane is a culturally diverse gem filled with something different around each corner. Most fascinating of the area would be the Brick Lane Market. A long row of bedsheets and tables spread with odds and ends, from vintage clothing and old records, to hemp lotion and turquoise rings. The area itself is filled with funky art and incredible graffiti.

We popped into a random store claiming to hold The Brick Lane Zoo. We headed into the shop’s basement to find walls lined with strange animal art and floors covered with hay. Moss graffiti deer and playing card ants were some of the Zoo’s main attractions.

After some thorough exploring, we visited the darling little Tea Bar named Tea Smith. At the bar, you’re given your own personal Tea Smith help select a flavor of tea from an extensive menu. A process of steeping and combining results in three different strains of your selected tea to try.  Such a relaxing, enjoyable experience with knowledgeable staff and incredible quality tea! I would highly recommend a visit.

Before we left, I got my hand on these little beauties to display in a vase at home. 

What about your grumbling tummy! You think i’d miss out on a foodie tip? Make sure you stop in The Boiler House Food Hall to sample dishes from all over the world! My personal favorite is the Turkish Wrap covered in spices and dripping in marinade. There’s also the famous Brick Lane Beigel Bake open 24 hours, 7 days a week. Fresh bagels topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon or moist salt beef – what a perfect midnight treat.

What do you like to do in Brick Lane?