WRITING

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.

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South Tyrol: Day 2

There’s an energising effect about fresh mountain air that awakens the soul. A morning spent on the balcony, filling your lungs whilst taking in the view of vast mountains is more stimulating than any cup of coffee.South Tyrol South Tyrol

After a quick fill of the extensive offering of the breakfast bar, including goats milk yoghurts, mountain cheese, meats, cereals and omelettes, we were ready for an adventure.

This is the first time I’ve spent my days in Italy without being slathered in sun cream, running around in bikinis and sundresses, diving into bodies of water to escape the adored Italian sun. Instead, I was snuggled up in thermalwear, absolutely frozen. South Tyrol

We were off on a mountain bike ride across the normally snow-coated landscape of Alpe di Suisi for a thrilling start to the day. We raced and rode up and down sloping hills, speeding past dotted lines of hikers enjoying the luscious greenery, stopping to snap postcard-like pictures.
South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol Each mountain in the Dolomiti mountain range has a name, this one being Marmolada. It’s the highest in the range, and on a clear day, you can spot Venice in the distance. At the time, it looked to be home of a villain, with an evil cloud looming overhead.South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol See the brown buildings in the middle? That’s Adler Mountain Lodge, the hidden oasis of luxury. South Tyrol We stopped to make friends with those responsible for the endless tinkling sounded in the distance, caused by their cowbells. Tell me these aren’t the happiest looking cows you’ve ever seen?! Note the one on the right is smiling at me.
South Tyrol We carried on through the forest, with a strong scent of pine filling the air. South Tyrol Having had our fill of adventure for the day, we said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts at Adler Lodge, and made our way to Bad Schörgau. Named South Tyrol’s hidden gem, this is a much more rustic experience, proudly nestled into nature with a cosy atmosphere.

We headed to the spa for a treatment unlike any I’d ever experienced, a wellness ritual of ancient German farmers. Wooden baths were filled with steaming water, sea salt and natural oils.

I want you to imagine the hottest bath or hot tub you’ve ever submerged yourself in. Now double that temperature, and imagine having to lie in there for 20 minutes. A bag of soaking Sarentino pine needles is rested on your chest in order to aid the respiratory system.
South Tyrol A bag of soaking Sarentino pine needles is rested on your chest in order to aid the respiratory system, and after 10 minutes, a spa attendant brings natural, local honey for you to slather onto your open pores, before returning to your cauldron bath.
South Tyrol Squirming in the excessive heat and steam, your only relief is a tall jug of cold water, which I sipped greedily to keep from completely melting. After our 20 minutes were up, I leapt from the steaming tub, considering streaking through the mountainside to cool down, but instead, was asked to lay on a bed of hay.  South Tyrol I was tucked in with a sheet, expecting lingering stress to release from the body as it returned to its natural temperature. Instead, I mulled over medieval decisions of hay-filled mattresses and how long it took for this practice to be questioned and improved, whilst my heart pounded working to keep my body from spontaneously combusting.

If you’re one of those extreme temperature (torture-inclined) kind of people, go for it. You’ll love it. Regardless, my skin felt incredibly soft and my aches from the morning’s bike ride had melted away. But, I was ready for a more pleasurable experience: dinner at Gourmet Restaurant Alpes.

Here Chef Egon Heiss makes mountain meet Michelin. The menu takes elements of nature, elevates them with experimentation and finesse, and serves in a rustic dining room. The lighting was terrible and the pictures didn’t come out, but I want to share the pine risotto with you. South Tyrol An oversized white plate was sprinkled with speck dust, pine powder, pine nuts and a few drops of dwarf pine essential oil. South Tyrol Our server then appeared with a rustic, wooden pot holding a vibrant, lime-coloured pine risotto, which was spooned theatrically onto each plate. We were then asked to take the little spray bottles nestled into pieces of branch on the table (scroll up to the first picture) and spray the risotto with speck oil for a salty, meaty finish.South Tyrol Don’t tell anyone, but I may have sprayed this directly into my mouth… repeatedly. What?! Wouldn’t you? South Tyrol Following dinner, we were served an incredible bowl of pastry for dessert. I can’t remember what they were called, but they were fluffy, cakey bites with a crunchy, sweet glaze, served with strawberries, fresh cream and berry compote to top each bite. South Tyrol A sweet ending to another day in South Tyrol, an eclectic province slowly seducing me with its charm.

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.

Bao

You’re hungry.
You want copious amount of food that will comfort your stomach, ease your mind and soothe your soul.
I hear you’re dealing with a tube strike in London (I’m on a beach in California, not sorry), so now, more than ever, you need an edible hug.

Take yourself to Soho, get your bum on a seat at Bao – thank me later.
(You can do this via twitter, instagram, or carrier pidgeon – should they be able to make the cross-Atlantic, cross-country trip to my beach-lounging bodyBaoThis could be you right now ^
This is also what I looked like a few weeks ago – on a Saturday afternoon, after being at the front of the queue, ready to consume some Taiwanese deliciousness.
Yes, there’s usually a queue. BaoI’ll let you have a perusal, mentally make your order before you view the influx of food porn.
BaoWe started with some 10-year aged, coal baked oolong tea. A very civilised accompaniment for the savagery that was to ensue.
BaoThen it became a free-for-all. Taiwanese fried chicken with hot sauce kicked off the feast with a lovely crunch and welcome spiciness. Bao Trotter nuggets are worthy of a foot fetish – tender fried pork ready to be dunked in a fiery chilli sauce. BaoWhether or not you can take the heat, a sip of iced peanut milk is a palate pleasing refresher.

Prepare to BAO DOWN BITCHES. BaoLamb shoulder bao is incredibly tender, with a citrusy sauce and bites of jalapeño. Bao Confit pork bao was ever the winner with a sweet, sticky sauce and delightful crunch of fried pork scratchings. BaoAnd fried chicken bao, with sichuan mayo and golden kimchi.
Bao This is a threesome you want to be involved with. BaoThis dish is the thing food porn dreams are made of.
Pig blood cake is a Taiwanese take on black pudding, topped with a charming looking orb of egg yolk – ready to be satisfyingly burst, causing an attractive ooze of golden yolk.
Bao Bao *Angels sing*BaoThis, my now starving friend, is 40 day rump cap with aged white soy sauce. Tender beautiful bites of meat that truly melt in your mouth – worthy of ordering twice should your dining partner be skilled with their chopsticks. BaoObligatory order of sweet potato chips with plum pickle salt – as I can never deny my mouth the sweet taste of this confused tuber.
Bao Guinea fowl Chi Shiang rice is a bowl of comfort. Again, hope for the downfall of your dining partner’s chopstick skill.

Should you still have the ability to move, let alone consume something sweet, vacate this daring little joint and head for Crosstown Doughnut’s new Soho spot. Bao Given your travel predicament, order them all, share with stranded Londoners, and maybe moan slightly less about your four hour journey home given your sugar high state.Bao BaoHowever you choose to deal with London’s lovely shut down, be sure to make your way to Bao… and tell me all a-BAO-t it.

HOTBOX

I’ve already told you, I’m not cool enough for East London.

It feels a bit like visiting that edgy exhibition that pushes boundaries, makes you question the uncomfortable, and leaves you feeling a bit twitchy behind the rope to either touch, photograph or stare what is inexplicably defined as art.
This is how I feel as soon as I cross central, emerging into the depths of the über trendy, often strange realm of what is East.

The thing is, these cool kids are knocking out some damn good food – and to my delight, they tend to be cooking up something wickedly naughty. Cue HOTBOX.

This isn’t new. In fact, if you’re a clever cookie, you’ve already been tempted by the foodporn and made your way to Spitalfields for a feast of epic proportion. This is what I did, and forgot to tell you about it. I’m sorry, I’ve been busy! Don’t give me that look, you’ve had your fair share of foodporn via my Instagram & Twitter @Alessandra_LDN… so no complaining.

HOTBOXHere’s your menu, have a little browse and try to control yourself for the cravings to come. Maybe you can even guess what I’ve ordered… although, unfortunately, it wasn’t one of everything. After serious debate, reasoning and compromise, we made our choice. HOTBOXThis particular brunch managed to tick all my brunch boxes: savoury, sweet, filthy, indulgent, and naughty, with a side of comfort.
HOTBOX

We started with a special that sounded too tempting to pass up: slow-cooked beef brisket sandwiched between sweet brioche buns, topped with homemade coleslaw and pickles. HOTBOX

Accompanied by a skillet of creamy mac & cheese, with a perfectly crispy, crunchy top. HOTBOX Beef rib tacos with crispy shallot, rocket, chipotle mayo and chimichurri – good enough for me to admit they satisfied my Mexican food standards. Ay yi yi, I could’ve eaten this all over again. HOTBOXHOTBOX HOTBOX

Last to compete for foodporn glory, the chicken and Belgian waffle. A fried chicken thigh with truffle salt atop a fluffy Belgian waffle, begging to be drizzled with maple syrup. HOTBOXThe action shot of your foodporn fantasies.
HOTBOXThat’s a pretty attractive lineup, if you ask me.

The servers are lovely, and the atmosphere lively, with the extreme comfort food even influencing a few diners to break out in song. Crawl there hungry on a Sunday morning, and I promise your every indulgent desire will be met.

Afterwards, wander around the streets to walk off your aching stomach and admire the aforementioned art: perplexing fashion, captivating street art and stylish shops selling something hip in a vast amount of space, mocking the extortionate rent prices elsewhere.
HOTBOX If you’re in the area, be sure to check out Mast Brothers.
These Brooklyn brothers are artisan chocolate makers, with a factory flagship located in Shoreditch. HOTBOXHOTBOX Tour their chocolate factory, sip special hot chocolate and make sure to pick up some pretty-papered bars as a gift for a friend or sweet treat when you finally come down off your brunch high. The goat milk chocolate bar was a personal favourite, and I’ve been a particularly good friend lately…

Bone Daddies | Shackfuyu

Bone Daddies bad boys have done it again.
You sort of want to tell them to knock it off – we get it, you’re particularly skilled at cooking up Japanese street food, serving it in a rock’n’roll location and flooding our senses with absurd cravings at all hours of the night.
If you’ve been to their latest pop-up, Soho love child Shackfuyu, you already know what I’m talking about. A certain swirled something with vibrant colouring and a wickedly naughty twist: the ‘most instagramed dish’ as of late.
(This is no joke, go search #shackfuyu on instagram – oh, and whilst you’re there, give @alessandra_LDN a follow)
But, no dessert before lunch!

We began with an admirable assortment.
There’s no civilised order to this affair. It all arrived in a flurry of rising steam, sizzling meats and a spicy sweet scent filling the air. A jar of homemade yuzu mayo and angry looking chilli oil decorated the gaps between the onslaught of china and dish ware.

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Note my dining partner’s commendable attempt at food styling with subtle insertion of logo…

Shackfuyu

Fiery, fried chicken wings were more crispy batter than meat, in a good way, and the sauce is finger-licking delicious.

Shackfuyu

Miniature tostadas were ordered as a reminder of home. Fresh, fleshy chunks of yellowtail placed atop a smooth guacamole, topped with jalapeño and a dash of hot sauce. This gave me a pang of homesickness for the kind of Mexican-Japanese fusion California has so lovingly abused and embraced.

Shackfuyu

A cast-iron skillet of marinated beef arrived angrily hissing, topped with sour snaps of kimchi to accompany each perfectly cooked bite. (medium-rare, obviously)

Shackfuyu

This thing, controversially placed on its decorative dish, is actually prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki. Japanese street food at its finest. An indulgent bite served with tobiko, yuzu mayo and chives.

Shackfuyu

A steaming miniature cauldron (okay fine, it was a stone hot pot, but cauldron sounds cooler), announced its arrival with billowing steam and an intoxicating smell. A steaming pot of hot stone rice, continuing to fry at the bottom from the heat of the bowl, was mixed with chargrilled sweetcorn, beef and goma butter. This is the kind of dish you can’t stop picking at, with nibbles being snuck between conversation.
ShackfuyuWho could resist this?

ShackfuyuFinally, there she is. A thing of beauty.
Matcha soft serve with Kinako-style French toast. I won’t go on about it, because you’ve read about and seen its neon green presence flooding your social media channels. But you must admit, it is good looking.

Shackfuyu

I’ve had a stroke of genius. French toast is a breakfast food and matcha is a super food, so technically you should be consuming this for breakfast daily for a super lifestyle.
You’re welcome.

In need of a walk following our casual carb-fest, we strolled London streets away from Soho towards Holborn’s hipster hotspot, Hubbard & Bell.

Hubbard & Bell
Here I attempted to undo the afternoon’s damage with a green juice, packed with kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, spinach, ginger, apple, pineapple and parsley, whilst watching bearded cool kids click away on their MacBooks. Having reached my fill of delicious food and conversation, I left my date and wandered down to China Town.

Guess what I found?
Sriracha

This isn’t any old Sriracha… it’s SUPER HOT CHILLI SRIRACHA. This is no joke, just as delicious drizzled over just about everything… but to be used with a bit more caution than my regular Sriracha smothering, as it is seriously fiery.

Royal Academy of Arts

Before ending an ideal day in lovely London, I spotted Rubens sculptures decorating the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts.
Great food, good finds, cool company and attractive art – London truly is the best city in the world.

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.

The Tommy Tucker

I’m not a pub kinda girl.
I know it’s terribly un-English of me to not yearn for weekend roasts and post-work pints in the sticky sweet atmosphere overflowing with chattering murmur, interrupted by outbursts of laughter and clinking glasses. And yes, I know it’s terribly un-American to not be enchanted by the familiar interiors, charming quirks and stories told by that local who can always be found perched upon his post. But, the environment aside, it is unsurprisingly, all about the food. The sad, repetitive menus listing average dishes are no less comforting to me than a lukewarm bubble bath.

But, what about the rise of the gastropub! you shout at me through your screen, shaking with rage behind your mug of tea – which is fair enough, as I might as well have insulted HM The Queen, given the importance of this fine English institution.  

Now that I’ve finished shuddering at your use of the term ‘gastropub’, I will reluctantly agree that yes, the incessant turnaround of rundown pubs being seized by culinary crews and reborn with fresh licks of paint, creative interiors and friendly front of house have undeniably improved these tedious establishments. It’s not often, however, that the food shines through with creativity, elevation or elegance.

Well Londoners, I’ve found one.
A pub that aims to please, The Tommy Tucker has set up shop in the side streets of Fulham. Here, the perfect mix of rustic charm and culinary finesse is headed up by the band of boys behind Parsons Green sweetheart, Claude’s Kitchen. Tommy Tucker I’m sure you’ve heard of this much-loved local by now, as every West Londoner has been singing its praises. I decided to swallow my preconceived disdain, and skipped down to meet the lovely Seb and Jaia for supper. The Tommy TuckerThe menu is divided into meat, fish, fruit & veg, and on the side. Each dish is accompanied by a selection of thoughtful ingredients, including pickled beetroot, mushroom ketchup, lavender jus, Jerusalem artichokes and salsa verde, all of which make foodie me tingle. The Tommy TuckerTo start, I went for an obligatory order of pickled pumpkin and goats curd with winter herbs and spices. The pumpkin is crunchy with a sweet sharpness, perfectly paired with subtle flavouring from the goats curd.The Tommy TuckerThe Tommy TuckerMy dates went for girolle mushrooms on grilled sourdough with watercress and shaved Berkswell cheese. The Tommy TuckerAnd scallops with chorizo, radishes and its leaves, both of which were delicious, and prompt me to recommend you order all the starters to share between the table, as this left me greedily wanting to try them all.

Ready for more, our mains were served with a side of congeniality, present across all the staff here. The Tommy TuckerMy smoked beef short-rib was served with arrocina ‘baked beans’ and black olives, topped with salsa verde. The Tommy TuckerThe meat was so tender it was falling off the bone, and was lifted by the acidity of the salsa verde and olive.The Tommy TuckerJ went for ‘Rub-a-Dub’ Burger with smoked mayo and pickled vegetables, which somehow managed to look attractive with its pretty playmates of tart veg. The Tommy TuckerSeb completed our proper meaty feast with an order of pork chop served with charred hispi, bacon and apples. The Tommy TuckerOur bit on the side was several orders of deliciously moreish chips and a tad overly sweetened sweet potato mash. The Tommy Tucker Wander downstairs to the loos and find the namesake’s nursery rhyme. Be sure to also check out the ‘Tuck Shop’, a temperature controlled jewel box of fine wines painstakingly tried and tasted one sip at a time. The Tommy Tucker Because all good things end with pudding, (my new saying), we decided to check out the sweet treats. The Tommy TuckerAn adult version of choc ice is served with raisin and rum infused ice cream is sure to bring back wicked memories of childhood misbehaviour. The Tommy TuckerThis is far to difficult to eat in a civilised manner with a fork and spoon, so I advise you pick it up with your fingers and go for it. Offer any horrified neighbours a bite and I’m sure they’ll understand, or ignore their judgemental looks as they sound completely dull anyways. Be sure to dip in the accompanying salted caramel cream, almonds and their milk. The Tommy TuckerThe Cox apple and quince crispy pie is served with cinnamon and milk ice cream. This underwhelming title does not do the delicate dessert justice. I mean just look at it – it deserves more than its three-lettered moniker. I have decidedly renamed it ‘apple parcel of love’. This is accompanied by a spicy crumble, which everyone seems to enjoy. My batch was a little heavy on the cumin, so I happily scooted it to the side and focused on the pastry parcel. The Tommy Tucker The Tommy Tucker Poached red plums with spiced rye crumble, lemon posset and lemon curd is like a work of art. I love the vibrant colouring of the lemon and wintery vibes of the poached plums, but will be ordering mine without the crumble next time.

By now we were at the heavy breathing stage, the giddy state of overfed and sugar high, basking in the candlelight and buzzing atmosphere. The Tommy TuckerSomeone in the kitchen happened to know I have a particular fondness for the salted caramel cream and naughtily sent us a plate piled high with the sugary cloud decadent  dreams are made of. We tenderly spooned several bites before surrendering.

The Tommy Tucker is deservedly becoming the adored local it so effortlessly emulates. They have a killer cocktail list pleasing the new generation of pub-goers who no longer search solely for beer stained nights, and a menu more than worthy of setting foot in a pub! Check out @TheTommyTucker and let me know what you think @Alessandra_LDN 

Washington DC: Iron Gate

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

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

Iron Gate DC

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

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

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

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

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

Iron Gate DC

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

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

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

Washington DC: Sushi Taro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wasabi!