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.


Le Bab

Have you ever wondered what comes next after the gourmet burger, gourmet hot dog, and dare I say it, the gourmet taco?
Wonder no more food loving friends, next to be perched upon the tiny, edible pedestal is the much-loved kebab.
Le Bab, a compact, new kebab restaurant has already been painfully popular sitting pretty atop Kingly Court.

Rid your mind of the dirty, late night, grease-fuelled indulgence sloppily shaved from a medieval contraption, used to absorb one too many shots of Russia’s finest export. But before we delve down the path of midnight mistakes, I’ll give you a little injection of culture with some of London’s most handsome structures.  IMG_4526After giving a talk at the University I once attended, I found myself exceptionally early for my dinner date. Rather than jump on the tube, I opted for a wintery stroll. This lead to a lengthy trip across the city, reigniting the ever flickering flame in the depths of my soul for this exceptional city. IMG_4471But you’re not here for the cityscape, you’re here for the bab boys that are having foodies’ feeds all aflutter. We’ve got another example of fine dining going rogue following Le Bab owners’ Michelin-starred stint at Le Gavroche. Having survived the latest wave of junk food gone gourmet, they took their interest for the history of the kebab, sprinkled a little experience, and have taken the restaurant plunge. IMG_4474With a charmingly small menu, broken up by beginnings, babs, sides and dessert, you can’t really go wrong. I must insist, however, you try the achingly trendy savoury doughnuts stuffed with spiced chicken liver parfait.  IMG_4476As seen on instagram @Alessandra_LDNIMG_4493And the best kind of falafel: one stuffed stuffed with tender lamb meat and deliciously seasoned. IMG_4481IMG_4483Ready for the main event, a rustic flat bread arrived topped with gourmet fixings. IMG_4485We went for the corn fed chicken shish, served with squash hummus, seasonal pickles, chicken crackling and Turkish hot pepper paste.
Do you see what I mean? Not your average bab. IMG_4490The flavours were incredible and level of guilt shockingly low. IMG_4498Despite the naughty side of chips served with a cheesy fondue sauce, which the lovely Jaia willingly helped me destroy. IMG_4497Next time you’re ready to cause some daylight damage with an edible indulgence, seek out Le Bab and give in to your delicious desires.

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 

Taste of London Winter 2015

Nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit more than an afternoon of great music, buzzing atmosphere and festive feasting. This year, Tobacco Dock played host to another round of Taste of London Winter (can we please go back to calling it Taste of Christmas?). The halls were decked with tinsel, Christmas trees lined railings, lights and decorations hung from the rafters, and it was characteristically freezing – an element I would’ve happily sacrificed. Nevertheless, we bundled up and soldiered on, fuelling ourselves on this year’s gastronomic fare.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015The Truscott Arms started the afternoon on a delicious note with several winter warming dishes.
Taste of London Winter 2015This take on colcannon was filled with creamy ragstone and topped with basil oil and fried kale – an edible hug in a bowl.
Taste of London Winter 2015Moreish bites of crispy pig’s head were served with a sweet apple puree. The meat was really flavourful and paired perfectly with the tart contrast of the applesauce, bites I could happily replace popcorn with whilst watching a film.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Their icon dish was the most tender piece of beef cheek, served swimming in a pool of smoked mash, topped with crispy shallots. Taste of London Winter 2015 Over at The Bandstand, some really talented bands kept the vibe cool as we wiggled our way around the stalls. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015The Laurent-Perrier Champagne Room was stunningly decorated and filled with minglers slowly sipping their bubbles before braving the cold again.
Taste of London Winter 2015Over at The Fire Pit, Mike Lecouteur from Mews of Mayfair was barbecuing meat fit for a monster, alongside a creamy bowl of lobster macaroni and cheese. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015 Gordon Ramsey’s Maze played ring around the Big Green Egg, with a wrapping queue of BBQ fiends eager to get their paws on slow cooked BBQ pulled beef on a brisket bun. Taste of London Winter 2015The perfect combination of sweet and tangy of BBQ sauce and tender beef rested on a fluffy bun ready for a bite, after removing the pickle, of course…
Taste of London Winter 2015 Kurobuta served their famous BBQ pork belly buns with spicy peanut soy sauce, one of my favourite flavour combinations, despite the cold weather getting the best of the chilly bun.

Awesome charity Action Against Hunger teamed up with five star chefs to create 5* kebabs.Taste of London Winter 2015We opted for Francesco Mazzei’s spicy veal meatballs with Grana Padano and salted padron peppers.  Taste of London Winter 2015 Having experienced a feast fit for a queen, it was time I took my place on the throne… Taste of London Winter 2015 I think it rather suits me, don’t you? Winter is coming… and so is hibernation at this rate. Taste of London Winter 2015 The HBO stall even had a gingerbread scale of King’s Landing! I considered attempting my own form of attack by taking out the towers and eating them one by one… but resigned to a hunt for less destructive dessert.
Taste of London Winter 2015

Glistening in the glow of winter light, Club Gascon was serving some winter-themed treats.Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015We went for the oversized black forest macaron, filled with brandy soaked cherries, dark chocolate mousse and chestnut cream.
Taste of London Winter 2015 We watched, mesmerised, as Pan-N-Ice chopped, slathered and rolled ice cream into rolls. Taste of London Winter 2015 Taste of London Winter 2015 This Thai-style method was enticing, but I was too cold to even consider a frozen treat. Taste of London Winter 2015 Sari Cakes hand-decorates each fruit cake inspired by ancient henna creations.
Taste of London Winter 2015 Vicetti’s homemade tarts were beautifully presented, with great flavour combinations. Taste of London Winter 2015The much loved Meringue Girls hosted Saturday’s dessert bar, but were sold out of the good stuff hours before closing. I really wanted a Nutella Cookiemuff topped with vanilla ice cream and salted hazelnut honeycomb crumble, ya know? Taste of London Winter 2015Instead, we waddled our way back to Maze for fried doughnuts swimming in a beautifully tart clementine curd.
Taste of London Winter 2015Taste of London still sits firmly atop my event list. This year saw the least amount of restaurants, but the venue looked beautiful, food was all delicious, atmosphere was amazing, and overall I’d have to give it an A… ^ get it?

I can’t wait to see who turns up to Taste of London 2016! Who’s ready for Christmas?

Taste of London 2015

Remember London back in June, when the sun shone gloriously on upturned, smiling faces? People spilled into the streets, joyously sharing a pint or two of Pimm’s, lovebirds skipped arm-in-arm through the park, and boats sailed gracefully up the Thames – every drop of sunlight absorbed and every ounce of Vitamin D enjoyed. The winds have changed, literally, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back on the summer season with fondness. Especially with a flashback to my favourite food-filled event, Taste of London, which is now kicking of with its winter sister, creatively referred to as: Taste of London Winter. To help get you in the mood for the weekend long feast, let’s look back at the main event.  Taste of London 2015I grabbed my dining partner in crime, and made our way to Regent’s Park for an afternoon of gourmand delight. Taste of London 2015Taste of London 2015We first said hello to our burger buddies from across the pond, Shake Shack, guarded by smiling faces, including this posing beauty.
Taste of London 2015After snacking and sampling from an incredible selection of stalls, we stopped by Australian tea brand, T2 Tea
Taste of London 2015
They had a buzzing stall pumping out music and pouring out samples of an endless variety of loose leaf teas.Taste of London 2015We filled up on our favourites before hunting down more treats to try.
Taste of London 2015East London’s star in the sky, Duck & Waffle, were dishing up the classics. Taste of London 2015We decided Duck & Waffle’s Chef de Cuisine, Tom Cenci, looked like a giant chef taking over the Swiss Re building.Taste of London 2015An obligatory order of the duck and waffle never fails to satisfy.
Have you seen Daniel Doherty’s cookbook, yet? Perfect Christmas gift for the foodie in the family, and quite the bargain. Taste of London 2015We couldn’t resist some bacon wrapped dates with linguica and manchego. The perfect combination of sweet and savoury – these filling bites are like candy for adults.
Taste of London 2015 Taste of London 2015Before heading for Round 2, we chilled Mahiki-style in the sun whilst rocking to the beat. Taste of London 2015We soon spotted our other friends from across the pond, New York-style Chop Shop had some wonderfully meaty offerings.Taste of London 2015Creekstone Farms USDA hanger steak was served with a whipped Parmesan & Dijon mustard dressing. Taste of London 2015And smoked creamed corn with barbecued beef short ribs embodied comfort food on a plate.
Taste of London 2015 For those looking to top up with some bubbles, Laurent-Perrier‘s Champagne garden was overflowing with people watchers, and later offered a Champagne Masterclass. Taste of London 2015Lured by the scent of smoking BBQ, we squeezed past the growing queue of Roka‘s Robata grill where Korean spiced lamb cutlets sizzled away.
Taste of London 2015 L’Autre Pied offered elegant portions of scallop ceviche with cucumber, balsamic, crème fraîche and dill. Taste of London 2015And The Truscott Arms served up comforting plates of beautifully cooked beef cheek served with smoked mash and crispy shallots. Taste of London 2015 Taste of London 2015We made our way to José Pizarro where pieces of acorn fed Jamón Ibérico were being expertly sliced straight from the leg.  Taste of London 2015 Taste of London 2015The Palomar oozed cool, serving Israeli influenced specialities from the much favourited restaurant. Taste of London 2015I couldn’t resist one of my favourite dishes of Shakshukit, a deconstructed kebab of minced beef and lamb served with yoghurt, tahini, watercress pesto, tapenade, Harrisa and a mini pita, all bursting with flavour.
Taste of London 2015Chris Thompson, Duck & Waffle protégé, cooked up something fit for the Flintstones, but happily devoured by my dining partner and I. Other foodies greedily looked on, all asking eagerly where they could get their hands on the succulent braised short rib, smothered in vibrant jalapeño miso sauce.
Taste of London 2015Switching tracks to the sweet side, we visited Tredwell’s for some salted caramel soft serve, topped with ginger cake crumble. Taste of London 2015 Taste of London 2015And made sure we said hello to Chef Marcus Wareing, himself. Taste of London 2015
Close to bursting but looking to satisfy our sweet tooth with a final treat, we tried Duck & Waffle’s buttermilk and corn mousse with pistachio and toffee for one last bite.
Taste of London 2015Now that you’re suitably armed with a fair share of foodporn, who’s making their way to Taste of London Winter this weekend? Warning: sunshine not included.

South of France: Because I Cannes

We bid au revoir to our French Riviera retreat, and drove the scenic, winding road towards Le Pont-du-Loup. South of France South of France Tucked into the mountainside on the bank of Le Loup river is the Confiserie Florian, France’s answer to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. At the original Confiserie Florian in the Nice Old Town, traditional candies have been cooked down and created since 1974, following the purchase of the former Florian chocolate factory. South of FranceTo this day, traditional practices are followed, specialising in candied fruit and crystallised flowers. But, this isn’t all that’s cooking in this sweet shop.
South of France South of FranceThey’re well known for their jasmine jam, and I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful the smell coming from the hot, floral liquid was.  South of France South of France Trays of crystallised candies sat drying until ready to be packaged. Here they make use of flowers and herbs already being used in the profitable perfume industry in a more edible sense. South of France Fruit sweets and jellies surround the workers in bucket loads, ready to be put in their pretty packages and sold across the world. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to control myself should I work behind the glass. In fact, I think I would go full blown Augustus Gloop on my first day. South of France South of France South of France The sweet shop above the factory is bursting with any sweet tooth’s every desire, including floral jams, chocolate candies, toffees, sweets, crystallised flowers and their famous candied fruit.

Positively buzzing and seriously sugar high on samples, we left for Cannes, the resort town synonymous with the flashing lights and glamour of its world-famous film festival. South of France Infinitely more calm than red carpet season, we wandered the picturesque little port town, soaking up the sunshine and salt air. I’ll let you explore the streets with us, but you have to imagine a buzzy atmosphere of lounging locals, meandering tourists and warm sun on your skin. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of FranceSouth of France South of FranceSouth of France South of France

If you know me at all, you’ll know all three reasons I took this shot ^ 
South of France South of France South of France We eventually reached the port for some sea-shopping of enviable variety. South of France South of France South of FranceSouth of France South of France South of France South of France Each as beautiful as the last, we gave up admiring the port-candy for some edible entertainment: fromage.
South of France South of FranceCheese shops in France are nothing short of heavenly, filled with angelic assortments of aromatic offerings. South of FranceSouth of FranceHardly able to contain our hunger much longer, we sank our toes in the sand at Plage Goeland, a beachside restaurant, for some lunch.
South of France South of France To start, an avocado and prawn salad. South of France Followed by a rib steak served with pepper sauce and a mountain of frites. South of France And a sweet finish of panna cotta topped with strawberry sauce. The view, surrounding scenery and sound effects were far better than the food itself, but we happily wiggled our toes in the sand and absorbed every last drop of Vitamin D before leaving for London.South of FranceA sensational trip of sensory indulgence. Mille fois merci, France, for another fabulous escape. Á la prochaine!

South of France: A Taste of Mougins

We woke up early and headed for Cannes. Rid your mind of a glamorous day of seaside shopping and designer fare – that’s for tomorrow. Today was an adventure of epicurean delight, starting in the Forville Provencal Food Market. South of FranceAccompanied by Head Chef David Chauvac, we searched through tables of bountiful produce, all seasonal and sourced pretty close to home. South of France We watched merchants and locals interact like old friends, swapping stories, explaining recipes and bargaining for better prices. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France I then fell completely and utterly, head over heels in love. No, not with more cheese – with this guy. South of France Just look at his little ears! He was curled up under a table of fish, waiting patiently for someone to play with. It took a lot of self control to not scoop him up and take him home with me. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France Having snagged the best produce, freshest fish, and other incredible ingredients, we headed back for the kitchen of Le Mas Candille to get cooking. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of FranceHere, Chef David began by dipping courgette flowers in a light batter and frying them, before sprinkling with sea salt and chilli. South of France South of FranceHe began to cook down artichoke with onion, thyme and citrus, filling the entire kitchen with its aroma.
South of FranceA meaty beef tomato was paired with a langoustine and topped with basil oil.South of France The artichoke and onion was then ready to be plated, the delicate flavour of citrus pairing beautifully with the tender vegetables. South of France South of France Beetroot and monkfish were cooked together, giving it a pink presentation and deliciously sweet flavour. South of France Seared tuna with broccoli and a teriyaki glaze hinted at Chef Chauvac’s love for Japanese culture. South of France Followed by a Japanese stir-fry with massive, perfectly cooked scallops. South of France Having spent the afternoon grazing on Chef Chauvac’s creations, showcasing his talent for inventing dishes on the spot from whatever local produce looked best, we were thoroughly impressed and incredibly full. But, when in France, temptation is always around the corner, or rather, on your plate.South of France Just look how perfectly soft and slightly melty this goats cheese is!South of France

Chef relieved us from our sous chef duties, and we sat on the terrace, spreading cheese on bites of grilled baguette. I even cheekily asked for more of the fig compote from last night – one of my favourite snacks in the world. 
South of France
A surprise soon emerged from the kitchen – a pear and chocolate tart topped with a white chocolate disk for a satisfying crunch.
South of France I leaned back on my chair, replete with French fare, ready for a chat-nap. Instead, I snuck off to the Shiseido Spa for a unique Qi treatment, a massage that incorporates tsubo point stimulation, leaving the body and mind with a sense of well-being. Feeling completely revived, we took a walk to the hilltop town of Mougins. South of FranceFor the culturally inclined, this is a true haven. In modern times, Mougins has been frequented and inhabited by many artists and celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Arman, Yves Klein, César Baldaccini, Paul Éluard, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel, to name a few.
South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France As if the streets themselves weren’t stunning enough, the view of the Côte d’Azur between rooftops was simply breathtaking. I can see why so many have fallen for the allure of Mougins.South of France South of France South of France South of France I can’t recommend a trip to the Mougins Museum of Classical Art enough. A British businessman became enamoured by Greek armoury. His collection eventually grew to hold ancient Greek and Roman art and armoury, and had expanded so much, that he decided to put all his pieces in a museum, and open it to the public. It’s unlike anything you’d expect, and the way that the collected pieces are juxtaposed with modern art makes the perspective truly remarkable. South of FranceWe watched as the sky put on another show, filling with vibrant, pink lines, highlighting clouds in yellow. This was the sun signalling it was time for yet another feast. South of FranceWe stayed in Mougins for dinner at a little local restaurant. To start, I had creamy slices of foie gras, paired with winter berry purée and brioche.
South of France My main was… interesting, to say the least. Apple tarte tatin topped with beef and seared foie gras – not something I’ll be ordering again in future.
South of FranceDessert of moelleux au chocolat was a sweet saviour, ensuring I never end a night in France feeling less than satiated.

If you can believe it, tomorrow is even sweeter! I can’t wait to take you to France’s own Willy Wonka-esque chocolate factory – only it’s Florian’s, and very French and much more refined.

À bientôt!

South of France: Making Scents of It All

We descend from the clouds, gliding over mountains, vineyards and vibrant shades of neatly fenced acres of property.
South of France South of FranceThe stretch of land leads to the ocean, impossibly blue with small fortunes of super yachts rocking in the harbour. South of France South of FranceGreeted by a warm rush of sunshine and salty air, we made our way across winding countryside to the enchanted village of Mougins. Nestled on a hilltop, this cultural town has played host to a collection of artists, designers and celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Winston Churchill.

Just below the hilltop haven is Le Mas Candille. Once through the iron gates, follow the trail of Cyprus trees leading to the stunning 5 star hotel, tucked into the mountainside. The expansive property is guarded by a main 18th century converted farmhouse, with 19 traditional Provençal styled bedrooms. With guestrooms and suites set in neighbouring houses, the Relais & Châteaux hotel has classically styled rooms with luxurious interiors.

A tree shaded path leads away from the main house of Le Mas to La Bastide, where my room was located. With homely, but chic interior design, the room was fitted with modern amenities and a stunning white marble bathroom. But, I had more pressing desires than interior design.

Desires easily fulfilled when in France – I was starving, and couldn’t have been more delighted to settle down in the sunshine for lunch on the terrace of Le Candille Restaurant. South of France We started with delightfully autumnal-coloured welcome snacks: A sphere of pumpkin, a savoury macaron of carrot & cumin, and a delicate roe-topped smoked slamon sandwich.South of FranceSouth of FranceThis was followed by a starter of langoustine with artichoke puree and lemon foam.
South of FranceAnd a main of perfectly cooked scallops in a coconut and lemongrass foam.
South of FranceWhen in France, any chance to showcase sweet or pastry skills is appreciated – especially by my sweet tooth.
South of France

A decadent chocolate torte filled with cream and orange was a delightful ending to a less than light lunch. 
South of France Feeling close to the point of bursting, the hospitality continued with tea, coffee and a tower of treats: homemade wine gums, lemon macarons and delicate walnut cakes. Although I could barely breathe, who can deny the art of patisserie?! It would be rude not to just taste, wouldn’t it? I indulged.

Satisfyingly filled to the brim, we left our new home on the Côte d’Azur to visit the neighbouring town of Grasse, known as the world’s capital of perfume.

Before exploring the museum, we wandered the slightly scented streets.
South of France South of France We ambled through 17th and 18th century buildings, up and down ancient steps, and through towering arches, which opened onto squares or stunning views. South of FranceSouth of FranceSouth of FrancePeaking out behind the tower is 11th century Notre Dame du Puy cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 17th century. This houses three paintings by Rubens, which you’ll have to visit for yourself, should you be a fan. 
South of France As one would expect in a quaint hillside town such as Grasse, there were plenty of stray cats meandering through open legs near market stalls, hoping for an offering of fish. This one retired his efforts and found a comfortable perch to carry out his chat-napSouth of FranceWe returned to the Musée du Parfum for a tour of this town’s most influential export.  South of FranceAnd amongst beautiful collections of bottles, old machinery and historical processes, were shown the herb garden that inspires the perfumes. South of FranceThe indoor herb garden has a rainforest like climate to house tropical plants and herbs, where the outdoor enjoys a normal climate. The smell of jasmine perfumed the air, as well as citronella and lavender. South of FranceWe then visited Parfumerie Fragonard, where we saw the modern day production of Fragonard Parfum.
South of France South of FranceAnd were then invited into the perfume lab to create our very own scent with one of the experts.
South of FranceThis was a bit like revisiting my chemistry class, having to measure and distribute different quantities of base, middle and top notes into my beaker – creating such a lovely reminder to leave with.
South of France We made it back to Le Mas Candille in time to watch a brilliant display of colour from the setting sun over the hotel’s grounds. South of France South of FranceIsn’t the infinity pool stunning? Especially with the towering Marion Burkle statue adding an alluring element to the view. South of FranceSouth of France South of FranceWith the sun sinking beneath the horizon, it was time to entertain our palates with yet another gastronomic feast. Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Candille, headed by Chef David Chauvac, has a classically designed dining room, with views of the French Riviera countryside. We were the first to try the newly-created autumnal menu, and despite some minor teething issues, enjoyed an incredible dining experience.
South of FranceWe began with an amuse bouche of truffle and mushroom mousse, topped with bacon.
South of France Pan-fried ceps on toast with a Vitelotte potato foam covering more ceps underneath. South of France

And to finish, monkfish stuffed with black garlic, steamed fennel, rockfish jus and olive oil. 
South of FranceAfter finishing our feast, with wine, bubbles and conversation flowing, my French fantasy came true. I considered requesting the cart, s’il vous plaît. Instead, I modestly sampled 6 different French cheeses, with the most beautiful fig compote, all smothered on freshly baked baguette.South of FranceDessert, (yes dessert! have you learned nothing?), was a grapefruit, citrus and orange surprise, topped with a meringue sphere and tangy citrus sorbet. This had a pretty presentation and was certainly palate cleansing.

Tomorrow, we get a behind the scenes look of a different sense.

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 3

For a better view of our stunning surroundings, we decided to take a hike. A moderately challenging hike up Alta Pusteria on the Stoneman Trail ascends 120km, and is more than worth the climb for the view from the top.
But we’ll start at the bottom, where we made our first friends. South TyrolFluffy sheep traversed the terrain with ease, stopping to nibble along the way. (my kind of hiking)South Tyrol Once making it more than half way, we spotted the most beautiful Haflingers running free, eyeing us suspiciously as they crossed the mountain. South Tyrol South TyrolTheir golden chestnut fur and blonde locks stood out prominently against the blue sky, patiently playing follow the leader.
South TyrolEven the cows looked on with admiration. South Tyrol Just look at those ears! Don’t you just want to snuggle her?!South Tyrol South Tyrol At random, they turned and came charging across the mountainside, bullying the cows into moving from their slumber. They seemed quite pleased with themselves, like a clique of blonde mean girls harassing the Tyrol Greys. South Tyrol A panoramic view from the top doesn’t do much to help catch your breath as it is beyond breathtaking. South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth TyrolNamed for the stonemen guarding the mountaintop, an eerie display of endless stacked stone piles stand as eternal marks left by those that have journeyed to the top.South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol It’s sights like these that really make you stop and think. A little mental pause button is hit as you inhale the clean air, clear your mind, and try to take it all in. South TyrolSome of the structures were really impressive, considering piling rocks on top of each other sounds much easier than its execution.
South TyrolNote child for scale. South Tyrol South TyrolI think he was trying to choose where to build his StoneDog.
South Tyrol South Tyrol This one was by far my favourite – especially the extra two little ones piled on top, as if the gargantuan rock wasn’t enough.
South Tyrol On our descent, we stopped in a mountain hut we had spotted on the way up. South TyrolBy now we were starving, and happily rested our feet in the sunshine with farm-fresh food and plenty of drinks.
South Tyrol South Tyrol This mezzeluna pasta was thick and stodgy, filled with local goats cheese and topped with Parmigiano, sweet grapes and strawberries – an odd, but delicious combination. South TyrolI quickly made a friend and snuck her grapes under the table when no one was looking.

South Tyrol has a bit of a reputation for the South Tyrolean apple, which, when paired with Austrian-style strudel, is a winner amongst anyone with a sweet tooth… including the bees!
South TyrolWe couldn’t resist a slice of this homemade strudel… South Tyroleven if the bees had other ideas about sharing. South Tyrol South TyrolThis was paired with fluffy, doughnut like balls of pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar, a well-earned treat.

South Tyrol The hut was home to a few other animals, including this large rabbit. (who wouldn’t let me pet himSouth Tyrol And the biggest pig I’ve ever seen, snuggled up with her baby. South Tyrol We finished our decline with full stomachs and wide grins, sad to be leaving the raw elements of nature, but looking forward to discovering Bolzano, the capital city of South Tyrol.