Best Bites of 2015

Well, hello there. Yes, yes, happy new year. How much longer must we go on saying this? But really, when is it socially acceptable to stop wishing people a happy year, because I don’t want to get half way into February optimistically encouraging peoples’ vibes. Basically, I hope your year is happy, healthy and successful, but I’m probably not going to say it again.

Now that it’s a new year, it’s fun to look back on memories close to the heart. Yes, I’m talking about those fond moments of foodporn. All those resolutions you made to eat healthier, get to the gym and steer clear of the sugar? I wish you luck, my friend, because by the end of this post, you’ll need something substantial to come down off the filthy high of discreet foodporn browsing. Last year was indeed a gluttonous one, so join me in looking back on some of my best bites of 2015.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 It started on a sweet note, indulging in the expert confectionary of Yauatcha‘s dessert counter. An assortment of my favourite macarons, and some of the most beautifully intricate and flavourful pastries and cakes. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015East London gem Lyle’s, serving up elegant British cuisine, hosted Parisienne chef James Henry, with a menu of cured meats, perfectly prepared fish and noteworthy veg. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Bone Daddies previous pop-up joint that now permanently resides in Soho, Shackfuyu, had heads turning and instagrams posting. Prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki topped with bonito flakes was particularly great, but we all know this mention is about the best dressed on the menu. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The kinako-style french toast with a stacked side of green tea soft serve stole the limelight of social media channels in a paparazzi-like frenzy. Lime green swirls atop pretty blue china appearing in every frame of each drawn out scroll. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The Clove Club, claimed to serve often overlooked ingredients with British flair, stirred the pot with their buttermilk fried chicken topped with pine salt. This arrives nestled amongst pine needles, cushioning the crispy morsels of tender meat. A moreish treat, indeed. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Inspired by the changing seasons, Claridge’s resident Fera serves a sensational tasting menu of expertly executed dishes in stunning receptacles. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Although my passion for food involves tasting, judging and critiquing dishes to myself and amongst my dining partners, I have often been told I’m much more judgemental when it comes to dessert. Now, I don’t know that this is due to my significant sweet tooth, that I feel the need to seriously scrutinise the sugary details, but it’s rare that I’m pleasantly surprised by pudding. However, I must admit, Fera’s aerated yoghurt and rhubarb dessert is a sensational treat – both complex and flavourful, leaving a memorable impression.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Worldwide, Japanese hotspot Zuma creates some of the most visually appealing plates of expertly prepared meats, fish and vegetables. This particular masterpiece had delicately combined pieces of lobster, wagyu, crab, truffles, broccolini and peppers.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Three Michelin-starred Epicure, the masterpiece of Chef Eric Frechon, served another most memorable dish of the year. Caviar from Sologne topped ratte potato mousseline flavoured with smoked haddock and served with a buckwheat crisp stuffed with sourcream and chives.Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 A luscious bite indeed. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015The spotlight shone, however, on their most popular dish: foie gras filled macaroni with black truffle. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Three of the most perfect macaroni served with a heavenly filling. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Last year it was decided that fried chicken topped Belgian waffles with truffle salt and maple syrup should be a mandatory brunch item (by me). Luckily, London’s Hot Box feels the same way. This perfect combination of sweet and savoury is what brunch is all about.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Yashin Sushi, my favourite sushi spot in London, touts their delicious sushi as best consumed “without soy sauce”. However they serve it, I’ll eat it, because this fish is beyond phenomenal. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Taiwanese street food place, Bao London, served up a threesome you want to be involved with. Lamb shoulder with jalapeño, confit pork with sticky sweet sauce and fried chicken with sichuan mayo and golden kimchi were unbelievable bites worthy of the overindulgence. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Although their Taiwanese take on blood pudding wasn’t the tastiest bite of 2015, it was certainly foodporn popular. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 This beauty was one of my favourite bites of 2015. Rabbit Restaurant’s pickled mackerel with potato and anchovy is a flavour and texture combination I’ve since craved on numerous occasions. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Ottolenghi’s Nopi creates a myriad of phenomenal flavour combinations topped with stunning spices, but the simplicity of this burrata and peach with coriander seeds and plum wine was a definite winner. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Another dessert worthy of a shoutout, Polpetto‘s chocolate flan with freshly made crème fraîche. Simple, clean flavours with a powerful punch of chocolate is enough to make you swoon.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Camden market resident, The Frenchie, turns heads with its duck confit sandwich, topped with crispy duck-skin scratchings, rocket, mustard, red-onion chutney, goat’s cheese and truffle honey, all piled atop a brioche bun. A proper mouthful. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Whilst galavanting ’round Europe this summer, a particularly memorable meal was that of a picnic in Budapest. The air was thick, sun was hot and our feet growing heavy with each step. We soon stumbled upon Nagyvásárcsarnok, or the Great Market Hall, a restored neogothic hall where food traders now sell products and ingredients from their stalls. We picked and pondered over each stand, leaving with our arms loaded with goodies, before finding a shaded bench near the Danube. Sweet knotted bread, spicy meats, milky Hungarian goat’s cheese and sour cherries warmed by the sun made for the most enjoyable snack. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015King of the world of pastry (sounds like a fairytale land I’d like to reside in) Paris has long since been crowned for its patisserie production. Established in 1903, Angelina’s signature pastry, the mont-blanc has been creating queues as far as the eye can see, and stomach can bear to stand. But it’s all worth the wait for a bite of this sumptuous combination of meringue, whipped cream, chestnut cream vermicelli. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Another moment of picnic perfection involved lazily lounging in the Jardin du Luxembourg nibbling on meats, pâté, goats cheese, Brie, cherries, peaches, figs, fresh baguette and the pièce de résistance, an excessive amount of Pierre Hermé macarons. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Amsterdam is internationally known for its Indonesian fare, and I have to say that Kantjil & de Tiger is the best I’ve ever had. Each dish more flavourful than the last, the tender meats and saucy vegetables combined for an enjoyable feast.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Upon recommendation, another delightful find amongst the picturesque canals of Amsterdam, lies the little gelateria IJscuypje. With hazelnut, speculoos and milk chocolate gelato piled high, I uttered a statement I never thought would escape my lips so far from the Italian motherland. This is the best gelato everBest Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015One of my favourite sky-high spots is the much loved Duck & Waffle. With sugar spiced ox cheek stuffed doughnuts served in apricot jam, what’s not to love?  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 This grilled asparagus with smoked buttermilk curd, dandelion and pickled walnut was a special I won’t soon forget. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Another one of my all-time favourite brunch dishes, silky Turkish eggs served with yogurt and chilli oil, can be found tucked away in Covent Garden at KopapaBest Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Only in America’s capital, Washington DC, can something this indulgent be found. Good Stuff Eatery’s toasted marshmallow and red velvet milkshakes are worth slowly sipping into a caloric coma.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Bring on the brain freeze! Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015Switch coasts to California for a cult-like love of burger fanship. In-N-Out may not be the best burger on earth, (calm down, burger snobs) but the freshness of the ingredients and addition of salt-scented ocean air beats your fine dining fat feast any day. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 I finally made it to Los Angeles’ star-studded Gjelina last year, and man was it worth the wait. The quality of ingredients are incredible, with a pretty awesome kale salad representing the Californian flair. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 The wood roasted cauliflower with garlic, vinegar and chilli really makes you want to eat your veg.  Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015And the eggplant caponata with burrata on toast, as well as the gruyere and caramelised onion pizza were dough-topped delights worthy of the after effect.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015At Manhattan Beach Post, there’s a mandatory order of bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits with maple butter. Promise me, should you ever visit MBP, you will not leave the premises without trying these biscuity bad boys? Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015 Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015The pomegranate couscous with lavender feta, Marcona almonds, grapefruit and mint is really special, as well. Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015With my casual burrito obsession flexed to the fullest whilst residing on the West Coast, I popped into Lucha Libre Taco Shop to see what all the fuss was about. The Surf & Turf burrito comes with steak, shrimp, rice, potatoes and secret chipotle sauce. A tip of the hat to you, you absolute burrito babes.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015We then kicked it old school at El Indio, the family owned Mexican restaurant that’s been serving San Diego for 75 years. This California burrito is quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever had.
Best Bites | Alessandra Brian 2015

Why have one burrito, when you can have three? Yes, it’s a bit absurd to have three burritos on my list of highlighted dishes. But if you think about it, is it really? The final tortilla encased bliss can be found tucked away in a seaside town in Baja California, Mexico. At this little side of the road taco shop called Magañas, you can find the quesotaco, a burrito filled with succulent rotisserie chicken, beans, onion, cilantro, and a salsa so fiery, you’ll sniffle your way through every bite.

That’s it people. Your diet is over, goals squashed, and resolutions railroaded. Rather than wish you a happy new year, I wish you a happy food year. Happy eating and good luck with those resolutions! Let me know any must-try dishes for 2016 and where you’re most looking forward to eating in the comments below, or tweet me @Alessandra_LDN 

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Chop Shop

There’s something about a place that doesn’t even pretend to be good for you that I openly, unashamedly appreciate. A blunt show off, proudly catering to your filthy desires in a confined space of misbehaviour and indulgence. With a New York-cool façade, imported from our neighbours across the pond, Chop Shop is the Haymarket heartthrob tempting you to act upon your lustful inclinations.

Start at the bar, where Vlad will help you pick your poison and shake up a house cocktail, spiked with sweet and sour accompaniments.
P1020795The Passione Arrabiata is a sinfully sweet combination of chilli-infused tequila, tart passion fruit and a generous squeeze of lime. Ask nicely and you can have yours altered to be less naughty – or more! Chop ShopHaving sipped your liquid courage, venture past the wall of embedded butcher’s knives into the New York-inspired, London-embraced interior; a world of contradictorily edgy comfort. The obvious, exposed brick walls are lit by immense, reclaimed tiles, softening the warehouse feel.

P1020798P1020799But, you’re not here for the cool interior. You’re here for an indulgence of impressive scale with thoughtful twists on satisfying classics. And that’s exactly what you’ll get.
The menu is dominated by a tantalising list of chops and steaks, accompanied by a selection of jars, crocks, planks and other cutely named serving styles we’ve grown annoyingly fond of. IMG_1584A pretty pot of white onion mousse with parmesan and chervil oil is easily slathered on toasted chunks of grilled sourdough.

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As well as duck liver mousse, cut with fruit mostarda. These were a comforting introduction to the evening’s feasting, a toe in the pool before diving head first into gluttony.

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Crispy hot wings kicked in protest with their addictive, fiery sauce, made even more irresistible when drowned in Cashel blue cheese dip.

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The showstopper of all starters, if such decadence can even be labelled as such, was a wicked dish of cottage pasta pie. Hidden beneath a molten layer of cheese were tiny, tender bites of basil gnocchi accompanied by tender pieces of braised oxtail. This was one of those dishes you pine for once finished.

IMG_1602Temporary sorrow was soon replaced with predatory instinct as a carnivorous dream arrived at the table. A veritable feast fit for a table of ravenous kings and queens, complete with 35-day aged Cumbrian bone-in sirloin for two, a patty melt sandwich of dry-aged beef burger smothered in onions and cheese, market fish with pea and pancetta, and an immense pork chop.

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American-sourced Creekstone USDA hanger steak was tender perfection, an easy winner, which was subtly fought for with rapidly darting forks across the table.

IMG_1595The steaks and chops can be excessively topped with things like fried eggs, roasted garlic, red wine bone marrow sauce, and even a vodka bacon peppercorn sauce. However, none of this is truly needed for such finely sourced meat. An obligatory order of fried onion rings and rosemary chips played accessory to the mass consumption, as well as honeyed carrots and creamed spinach.
P1020815Even the vegetables are impure in this place.
P1020816Tempting coronary implosion, we stuck around for dessert. A glass of butterscotch custard with salted caramel and Chantilly cream was sweetly satisfying, but gobbled up too quickly for me to snap a shot. Chop ShopSticky date pudding was a necessary evil to end the feast, each bite a decadent squeeze dripping with warm toffee sauce.

Chop Shop is the cool kid on the block, looking to lure you and get you hooked. Service, lead by the charming Alastair Gallichan, is welcoming and knowledgeable, with friendly staff willing you to succumb to temptation. Give it a visit and tag me in your food porn @Alessandra_LDN so I can ensure you’re sinning correctly.

Barcelona: Day 5

The next morning we headed down to the terrace for breakfast. We nibbled away in the shade, enjoying the ocean breeze with a sadness hanging in the air. This was our last day in Barcelona before heading back to reality. We laid by the beach for a bit, soaking up our final rays of Spanish sunshine before packing our bags and making our way back to the apartment. However sad we were, I couldn’t help but giggle at this ice cream shop and their trolly. IMG_1171Eyescream and Friends puts googly eyes on your pile of ice cream and serves with a candy topping and sauce. So weird and so cute.

After making it back to the apartment, we gathered everything and ‘neatly’ shoved everything into our cases. In efforts to lighten the dark cloud following us around, I came up with a brilliant plan to cheer us up: food.
I found the perfect place around the corner, just past Camp Nou, the FC Barcelona football stadium. Taller de Tapas has several locations, but the Travessera restaurant is light and airy, with bottles of Spanish wine surrounding the room. We savoured the air conditioning and as our food arrived, the cloud began to drift away.

P1010618 We started with a fresh, light salad of rocket with slices of creamy goat’s cheese and toasted Marcona almonds. P1010621 Followed by comforting Ibérico croquettes. P1010622 Stunning shrimp with the most beautiful sauce of garlic, white wine, olive oil, chilis and parsley. P1010627 And a big batch of mussels steamed with lemon and Mediterranean herbs. Full of our final tapas, I had one last mission to complete. At the beginning of the trip, I had sworn I would not be getting on a plane home without first trying churros con chocolate.

To my sheer delight there was a Churreria around the corner. The place was almost completely empty, as this is typically consumed for breakfast. But the friendly staff were happy to make me a fresh batch.

P1010629Churros are fried choux pastry, which are churned out of a churrera with a star shaped nozzle. The ridged strips of dough drop fall into a vat of bubbling oil to be fried until crispy. The hot pastry is then removed from the vat and covered in a sprinkling of sugar. P1010631 P1010635As if they aren’t decadent enough, the churros are then dunked into what they refer to as hot chocolate. This is really like a thick, creamy chocolate pudding.
P1010637 P1010644 That is the face of a successful food mission. They were absolutely delicious, so decadent and well worth the tongue burning. A sweet end to such a satisfying trip! P1010646Barcelona was absolutely beautiful with stunning sites and seemingly endless amounts of delicious food. It should definitely be on your travel list and I couldn’t be more happy to cross it off mine.

Hasta luego & muchas gracias Barcelona!

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.

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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.

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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!

Welcome to London

It’s tourist-time and the Brits are all a-buzz with Olympic excitement. That is, those that haven’t fled the country in search of peaceful beaches and days filled with sunshine. So, you’re coming to London with all the excitement of a four year old on Christmas, but have done zero planning and have only been told by helpful friends and family to ensure you eat some Fish and Chips.

Fear not, I’m here to help!
First of all, we need to get some before travel organisation sorted. You’ve come to the right place as I happen to be the packing master. I always manage to perfectly smush everything into my case and have yet to forget an essential item.

What to Pack
A couple days before packing, make a little list of all the things you think you’ll need or must not forget. It seems silly, but things can get a bit hectic the morning you leave for the airport and there’s nothing worse than stirring from your tired daze on the way to catch your flight to a sinking feeling in your gut as you picture your passport sitting by the door at home. A checklist is just a super simple way to ensure you’ve got all the goods with you.


Clothes

This may be the city of fog and rain, but this time of year is hot and humid. Combine humidity with faulty air-conditioning on a packed unground train, and you have yourself a disastrous, sweaty concoction.
Bring light clothes, shorts, jeans, tshirts, tank tops, dresses, a cardigan or light jacket, and a rain coat just in case the weather changes. (it always changes)

Besides your passport, nothing is more important than comfortable walking shoes! If you’re coming to London, you will be doing a lot of walking. There’s nothing that puts an immediate damper on a sunny day of exploring like a blister. Personally, if i’m going to be sightseeing or walking around all day, there is nothing i’d rather wear than some workout clothes and running shoes. But, the Brits find this very odd. Here, work out clothes are for working out, period. If you’re happy to be spotted as a tourist from a mile away and want to just be comfortable, wear whatever you want. But please, no jeans and running shoes. Please.

If you plan on going to posh restaurants, afternoon tea, or clubbing, I’d suggest bringing a few nice dresses and one pair of black or nude pumps that go with everything. Men must have formal shoes and a nice shirt to get into a nightclub, no T-shirts or sneakers allowed.

Toiletries and Necessities
This seems obvious, but I have a few tips to travel light when it comes to toiletries.

I happen to have a strange obsession with travel size products. I don’t know what it is about a mini tube of toothpaste or mini bottles of shampoo that drives me crazy, but I love them. However, these wee gems are incredibly overpriced.
Here’s my tip: go to your grocery or drug store and purchase empty mini travel bottles. There are usually different sizes and containers designed for different consistencies of products. Fill up your containers with your favourite products, and put a little sticker labelling the contents.

A good toiletry bag is incredibly helpful for organised packing. If you’re in the US, I’d recommend Target or Sephora for the best travel bags. If you’re packing something that would be disastrous if a leak were to occur, put it in its own ziploc baggie before placing it with the other toiletries.

Bring sunscreen.
I know it may be overcast or raining most of the time, but even when the sun is no where to be seen, you are being exposed to UV rays. You should always use face moisturiser with at least SPF 15 and should cover the rest of your skin with protection to avoid becoming a tourist lobster.

Bring or buy a little hand held fan.
When you’re trapped on the underground in sweltering heat, smushed up against people with no regards for your personal space whatsoever, the only thing to help you through to the next stop is a little breeze blowing against your face.

Bring a secure bag.
A backpack isn’t ideal unless you have someone travelling with you that can keep an eye on it, or a way to keep the zippers secure. Big open purses are perfect for thieves to slip their hands in and steal your wallet, passport, phone, etc. London is reasonably safe, but thieves do operate in most touristy areas.

The most obvious of them all: bring or buy an umbrella. If you’re wondering why, you’ll soon find out.

Don’t panic if you forget an essential, you can pop into our drug store Boots whilst you’re here for any toiletries you need.

London Travel
The most important item for travelling around London is the Oyster Card.
This little card allows you to travel all around London by tube and bus. There are a number of options with this card and anyone behind the counter at the station will be happy to help, but i’m sure all stations will be packed for the Olympics so i’ll you give my advice.

I suggest buying an Oyster Card with a weekly travel pass for £25. The card itself is £5, so your total for one week would be £30, for two weeks, £50. You then select which zones you will be travelling in. If you’re in central London, zones 1 and 2 should cover it. You can top up your card with an extra £10 in case you travel out of the zones you have selected so it can be automatically deducted from your card. This card covers unlimited travel between buses and tubes so instead of paying every time you hop on and off, it’s one set price. Any questions can be answered on the TFL website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

What to see/What do do
We could be here all day if I were to tell you all the magnificent things to see and do in London. If you’ve never been, i’d suggest you do all the touristy sightseeing because it really is amazing. I’ll make a brief list of ideas of what to do, see, and eat. You can also check out my London page here for ideas.

See/Do
Take a picture with Big Ben and walk around Parliament Square, obviously
Ride the London Eye and walk by the river on South Bank
Take a River bus from London Eye Millennium to Greenwich
For a different view, visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb alllll the stairs to the top
Photo opps at Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus…
Walk through or have a picnic in Hyde Park and St. James Park
For shopping or to wander: Harrods, Selfridges, Oxford Street, & King’s Road
Go to the Theatre for a show or musical
Wander around Covent Garden & Neal’s Yard Wander around Soho
Wander around Leicester Square (pronounced Lester no Li-ches-ter you Yanks)
Go see Portobello Road and wander around Notting Hill
Free museums! V&A, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Museum, etc.
Go clubbing in Mayfair
Alright, I think you’ll be plenty busy with all of that.

Eat
I could literally do this all day, but i’ll just put some of my favourites for taking visitors.  Afternoon Tea: one of my favourites is Sketch or the famous Savoy
Borough Market: Foodie Heaven. You must go here!
Visit Camden Town and go to the Food Market on a Sunday: whilst in Camden, pop into Chin Chin Laboratorists for the most amazing liquid nitrogen ice cream
Go to Brick Lane on a Sunday and visit the Food Market
Harrods and Selfridges Food Hall
My favourite Italian lunch: Princi
Fresh, Healthy lunch: Ottolenghi Best Breakfast: Modern Pantry
Best Fish & Chips: The Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden
Best burgers: MEATliquor
Best Sushi: YashinRoka, and Nobu are pricey but phenomenal – Tsunami is more reasonable
Best Lebanese: Maroush is incredible and has locations all over London
Beautiful Afternoon in Richmond Park with lunch at Petersham Nurseries
Gorgeous desserts, the best macarons, and some good dim sum: Yautcha

If you’re starving whilst out and about and need something quick, pop into a Pret for a fresh, reasonably healthy sandwich. These are just as prevalent as Starbucks and should not be hard to find.

Alright, I think that’s a good starting point and i’m sure you already have plenty ideas of what to do. If you have any ideas or suggestions that i’ve missed, feel free to leave a comment.
I hope you have a memorable trip to London and that this post has been helpful! Take lots of pictures and have fun!

Taste of London 2012

Finally it is upon us, the Foodie Christmas, Taste of London. This is quite possibly my favourite event ever. Taste of London is an annual food festival that is propped up in Regent’s Park each summer, showcasing some of London’s top restaurants and featuring some of the world’s top chefs.

With VIP options and an overpriced entry fee, you’d expect a posh affair with a bunch of food snobs. But every year, without fail, the skies open up giving Taste a very festival element: mud. Girls squeal as their partners drag their designer flats through mud puddles heading for the Rum Bar and others keep to themselves in their respective VIP lounges, not daring to brave the weather, perfectly content sipping their champagne whilst observing the mud bath. But then, there are those of us that arrive ready for combat, decked out in wellies and rain coats with golf umbrellas on hand. We nod in approval at our fellow rain-booted Taste Festival-goers as if to say, “This ain’t our first rodeo.”

Each restaurant at Taste of London has 3 or 4 specials, usually including a dessert or an extravagant, highly priced dish. After entering Taste of London, be sure to purchase some Crowns, Taste of London’s form of currency. Crowns are incredibly sneaky, similar to Monopoly money. £1 = 2 crowns, so if a restaurant has a dish for 10 crowns, that’s £5. Be sure you keep track, or bring someone that’s good at math, otherwise you’ll overeat and overpay on dishes that aren’t worth it. But the dishes that are, are beautiful, several bite morsels of deliciousness.

Ready for some food porn?

The Savoy: Char-grilled dry-aged Lake District Farmer’s sirloin
Absolutely exquisite. The smokey flavour from the char-grill brought out the flavours in the marinade and I must say, it was cooked to perfection.

Bar Boulud: Tunisienne ‘Hot Dog’ Lamb Merguez with Harissa, Roasted Peppers, Brioche Bun, and Mint Yogurt
Best. ‘Hot Dog’. Ever. Absolutely, head over heels, in love. The combined textures and flavours were orgasmic. I love out of the ordinary combinations, and I love reinvented, gourmet fast food. This bad boy tucked away in its brioche bun was a show stopper.

Moti Mahal: Mango Sorbet made with Liquid Nitrogen – I love the texture liquid nitrogen gives ice cream and sorbet. This really packed the flavour of mango and I just loved the mad scientist behind it.

Le Gavroche: Braised Ox Cheek with Olives and Creamy Polenta
Surprisingly average. The polenta gave nothing to the dish and the Ox Cheek was too fatty. There was maybe one non-fatty bite in the £6 dish. If prepared correctly, Ox Cheek shouldn’t be so fatty.

Whole Foods: Pretzel Bite with Branfield ham & Jalapeño cheddar spread
I loved this salty little bite. It was like a reinvented slider, but not. The Pretzel Bread was exactly like a jumbo salted pretzel. The filling was delicious, but there wasn’t enough kick to the Jalapeño. Best part, it was free!

Maze: Lobster and Pork Dumpling with Spring Onion, Lemongrass, and Ginger
Incredible. I enjoyed every bite of this. The salty broth contrasted with the sour lemongrass and snap of ginger. The dumplings were perfectly cooked and I could taste the individual presence of both the lobster and the pork.

L’anima: Burrata d’Andria with Smoked Purple Aubergines, Red Onion Jam, and Hazelnuts
Beautiful, silky burrata on a bed of smokey aubergines; heaven. The tangy sweetness of the red onion jam was the perfect addition to the light burrata, and the hazelnuts added a lovely crunch.

Spice Market: Spiced Chicken Samosas with Coriander Yoghurt
This was excellent. A nice crispy exterior with a soft, stuffed center. The filling and yoghurt had a nice kick that left my mouth tingling.

Spice Market: Black Pepper Shrimp with Sundried Pineapple
Incredible. The sundried pineapple gave such an interesting texture matched with the hot, crunchy shrimp. The black pepper paired with the sweetness of the pineapple was mouthwatering. I loved every bite.

Sake No Hana: Mango and Unagi Maki
Loved the tangy, sweetness of the mango with the soy sauce and sushi.

Sake No Hana: Tori Karaage Fried Chicken with Haccho Miso
This had a lovely texture with the fried seaweed, but I expected it to be sweeter. The saltiness of the miso combined with the seaweed needed a sweetness to balance it. Good, but not outstanding.
My underdressed friend.

After seeing me pose with my underdressed friend, a man from the Rum Bar ran over to me, placed a lei over my head, and proceeded to tell me I was the most beautiful girl he’d seen and that I deserved my new flower lei. Thank you Rum Bar Man!  

Bar Boulud: Berry Cupcake and Chocolate Ecclair
I expected this to be average as i’m a bit of a cupcake connoisseur, but found I was pleasantly surprised. The berry cupcake had a tart, berry filling which paired beautifully with the moist, vanilla cupcake. The chocolate eclair wasn’t overly sweet and had little crunchy toppings.

Pollen Street Social: White Chocolate and Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango, Kaffir Lime, Pineapple, and Pistachio Oil
Wow! I have a bit of a Panna Cotta obsession, but this was nothing like i’ve experienced. It didn’t have the usual gelatin-like consistency, but instead a silky, creamy base. The mango, lime, and pineapple accented the sweet coconut and the pistachio oil gave a nutty essence to balance the flavours.

Rhodes 24: Passionfruit Tart with Passionfruit Caramel and Strawberries
Excellent flavour and texture, but the caramel is what blew me away. The caramel was sweet and salty, but strongly flavoured with passionfruit.

Yautcha: Strawberry & Basil Gateaux
Phenomenal. I have an unashamed Yautcha dessert obsession, and this didn’t fail to meet my expectations. The layers of different textures and consistencies with the dominating flavours of strawberry and basil blew me away. I love this flavour combination.

Yautcha: Mandarin & Pistachio Gateaux
Again, the different levels of flavour and texture are mind-blowing. I wouldn’t think to pair mandarin with pistachio, but it definitely works.

Yautcha: Yuzu Brûlée Tart
Quite possible one of the most beautiful desserts I have ever seen. I hesitated destroying this masterpiece, but then quickly got over it. And let me tell you, it was well worth it. Incredible tartness, mixed with a sweet creamy filling, topped with sour grape fruit pieces and tart mandarin, tiny lime flavoured rocks, and these strange, airy, flavourless marshmallow looking cubes. Yautcha, you’ve done it again.

Happy, little foodie.

Excuse the windblown look, as always there was quite the storm brewing overhead. I’m sure you’re starving now and I have just the solution for your grumbling tummy. I suggest heading over to Regent’s Park for what’s left of Taste of London and eating to your heart’s content. If you miss it, there’s always Taste of Christmas to look forward to!

Let me know which dish you enjoyed most in the comments.