Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Dorchester's floral champagne afternoon tea and the Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Tuesday evenings aren't usually the most exciting evening of the week. Thursdays are often where it all happens, am I right?

But last Tuesday was without a doubt the best Tuesday evening I've had since moving to London. I wasn't planning on blogging about it, but then it was just so fabulous that I couldn't resist.

I scurried away from work a smidge earlier than usual and shimmied my way over to Chelsea for my first visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

Like most ladies, I love a good flower, but I'm by no means a gardening aficionado. However, I was really excited. For the gardens, for sure, but mainly also because I'd been invited to try the Dorchester's champagne floral afternoon tea at the flower show. And let's be real here scones > gardens.

So with that in mind, we'll get to the flowers and kick off with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, as any Tuesday evening should.
The Dorchester are serving their floral tea in the prettiest tent. I say tent, but it's not really a tent. Look:

And it's their first pop-up ever actually as it's so hard to take the whole kitchen, all the staff and the Dorchester quality and service out of the Park Lane hotel.

The flower arrangements are, as you'd expect, stunning, designed by the Dorchester's amazing 28-year-old florist, Philip Hammond (no, not that Philip Hammond). Tbh they're exactly the sort of flower arrangements I'd want at my wedding. And yes I am very single right now.
Alongside my champagne I sipped the Dorchester's Paris blend which I thoroughly recommend - it's a black tea but with sort of caramel undertones. I loved it.

So, finger sandwich time!
Egg mayo with shallot confit and shiso cress on white bread, roast chicken with pommery mustard on basil bread, smoked salmon with sweet mustard and dill on granary bread, and cucumber with mint cream cheese on caraway seed bread.

I often find with finger sandwiches that the bread is a bit dry on the outside, almost as if the sandwiches have been sitting around for a little while. Not these ones, ma dears. These babies were well, soft as a baby's bottom.

My friend Alicia from the fab About Time Mag and I asked for more of the chicken and cucumber ones. This arrived:
We were not disappointed.

I am in love with the chicken sandwich. If you like pesto (and who doesn't like pesto?) you're going to be a fan. So great.

And with the savouries aside it was time to move on to the sweets.


Before the pudding, we were brought a pre-pudding. Duhh.
This was incredible. It was white chocolate mousse with a layer of strawberry, topped with dark chocolate crumble. You then poured raspberry coulis from the watering can on top. Even the convincing-looking pebbles were actually chocolate-coated nuts.

I mean, the creativity! It was ingenious! It was so detailed! But most importantly, it was delicious.

And now on to the main sweets. Scones first, of course.
With the scones, we were served homemade strawberry jam (full of big strawberries, which I loved), pear and vanilla jam, lemon curd and clotted cream. And the scones - both raisin and plain ones - were perfect. Neither dry nor too crumbly. Fab.
Now, I only wish I'd noted down what each of these scrummy treats was. As you can probably see, they were incredibly intricate but also stylishly designed, in keeping with the beautiful theme.

We had:

The Garden Basket - created in a chocolate shell with salted caramel sauce, a chocolate cremeux and roasted peanut top. Dressed with a green butter cream decoration, three sugar flowers and a chocolate lady bird. I know.

A strawberry rhubarb cheese cake with Marsala cream - crunchy biscuit base, strawberry cheesecake, rhubarb strawberry jelly and marsala vine mousse, decorated with a crystalized flower, wild strawberry and puff pastry crisp. And you thought it couldn't get more elaborate...

The Dorchester and the Giant Peach - a spherical peach mousse with peach and verbena insert on a rice crispy biscuit. (In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl).

A lemongrass praline - lemongrass shortbread and almond praline mousse with white chocolate lemongrass cream.
The chocolatey peanutty caramel one (garden basket) was perhaps unsurprisingly my fave. I was less keen on the lemongrass.

We'd stuffed ourselves silly with deliciousness and with just 45 minutes until the show was to close for the day, we hot-footed it round the gardens. Here are a few of my faves:
As you can imagine, it all smelled AMAZING! And I was seriously wowed by all the gardens. The gardeners are so clever and talented.

I loved the new Princess Charlotte flower:
And of course, I couldn't not stop to marvel at the spectacular display of almost 300,000 hand-knitted poppies honouring our armed forces. It was incredible.
The Chelsea Flower Show is one of those thoroughly British affairs that I love. And now I've been once, I may have to make a habit of it. With champagne afternoon tea, natch.

What are your thoughts on Chelsea Flower Show?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Herman ze German, London

If you're a newish reader of this blog, you may not know that I am absolutely in love with Germany. But I am.

I miss it so much (oh, I lived there for six months, in case you didn't know. Many antics over on the Travel tab.)

It's been over a year since I was last in Deutschland and that is simply far too long.

However, the pain of missing Germany has been slightly eased by one particular London eatery: Herman Ze German.

I mean, the name alone is just great, don't you think? It really sets the tone too.
I've been a couple of times and thought I should tell you guys all about HzG, as it will henceforth be known, whether you're a total Germanophile or not.

HzG is a mini London chain with three branches across the capital, serving quick, simple German fare in an informal setting.
They've got a good selection of German beers, but unfortunately no Radler (essentially shandy, but it's a big thing in Germany, and I'm a fan.)

I can recommend starting off your visit with a chilled beverage and a bowl of pommes - I'd translate but I think the picture below renders that unnecessary.
The chips really are fantastic at HzG. I know they look like standard fries, but they're cooked to perfection. I'm usually much more of a chunky chip gal, but I demolished these.

Even better than the plain fries, however, are the cheesy fries. Obviously. Because covering carbs in cheese is a sure-fire way to improve them.
Oh yes.

And alongside that cheesy potatoey deliciousness we had classic Currywurst, topped with crispy onions.

The Currywurst tastes just as I remember it does from street vendors in Berlin - that perfect weird but delicious mix of ketchup and curry powder.

Slightly less authentic to my mind, however, was the Schnitzel.
Schnitzel should be super thin, like this, but HzG's was more like a breaded chicken breast. Still very tasty, for sure, but a little disappointing when you're expecting a traditional Schnitz.

Naturally, we also had Sauerkraut, as any self-respecting German would.
Despite the fact that it's currently being lauded as a health food, I don't go wild for Sauerkraut. This one wasn't overly special.

If you are after something slightly lighter - German food is often pretty stodgy, as you can probably tell - HzG offer the option of Wurst with salad instead of chips, which I had on my first visit.
I love this idea actually - the sausage was lovely with none of those thick skins you often find, and the salad was good too. No limp lettuce and I loved the addition of apple. I recommend you top yours with crispy onions too - they're free!

Herman ze German is a great spot for a relaxed dinner with friends. It isn't fancy - there are no white tablecloths and the loos are a bit grimy, but I can deal with that. It's fun, affordable and the food is great.

Plus, it takes me back to Germany! *sob*

What do you think? Do you like the look of Herman ze German?

Monday, 23 May 2016

Gousto recipe box delivery (and two of the best dinners I've ever made!)

My life right now is a bit mad. Super good fun, but also mad. And one of the outcomes of this is that I basically don't cook anymore. 

I'm out every weeknight and then if I'm not away at the weekend, I'm usually busy with friends on Saturday evening too. Now, I don't tell you this to be like 'guys, look how busy and fabulous I am [insert sassy girl emoji here]', my point is that I'm never home to cook. 

Seriously, I don't cook. My poor spiraliser is gathering dust.

If I don't eat a proper dinner out, I'll eat a million canapés or cake at an event then come home confused about what I've eaten, late, and just have a little snack if anything. Last Monday night, for example, I basically had mini burgers and risotto balls for dinner. Delicious, if not so nutritious. 

It has got so bad that when I had my auntie and uncle over for dinner a few weeks ago and I properly cooked for the first time in yonks, I realised I couldn't remember how to chop an onion. I know. 

And I love cooking, I do! 

So when Gousto got in touch to say hi, I decided being forced to do some cooking would be a very good thing for me to do. 
Gousto is a recipe box delivery company, and what that means is you choose from 12 recipes (which change every week) and then get sent a box containing all the ingredients you need to make them, bar cooking oil, salt and pepper. 

The recipes are all inventive and interesting, and it's great because you can filter your recipe search in various ways, for example by "healthy" or "veggie". You can also choose whether you want each dish to serve two or four, and of course the prices vary accordingly. 
The recipe cards are great too - they take you through, step by step, with pictures and really clear instructions. Plus, you're given nutritional info, should you be interested. 

First, I made lentil dal with spiced aubergine. 
It was so so good! I am definitely making this again. The recipe was super easy to follow, although it did take nearly an hour rather than 45 minutes. I needed one pan, one tray, one bowl and one board. 

I loved this dish - it was super flavoursome, just the right amount of spice for me and the texture was lovely. There was a great tang from the yoghurt and lots of aubergine, which I loved. 

I tweaked a few bits - I left out the coriander (devil herb) and ginger, but it was still bursting with flavour.
The recipe made loads - I'd say five portions, and this from a gal who eats a lot - and the leftovers may have been even better than the freshly-made dal. 

It was healthy, simple and super delicious. My whole flat did smell of dal for the rest of the day, it has to be said, but it's debatable whether that's a bad thing or not tbh. 

My second dish was baked Mexican bean parcels with sweet potato and toasted brown rice. 
This was so different to anything I'd usually make, which was great. I find it's very easy to get stuck in a rut with one's cooking, and it's fun to mix it up. 

This recipe was really interesting. It was easy to follow again, but it did take me an hour and 15 minutes instead of 40. 
I loved all the flavours here - the tangy feta was so good with the sweet potato and creamy beans, and the peppers still had some bite, which I liked. There were so many textures going on. I did, however, find it really spicy! I know I'm feeble with spice so normal people would probably be fine but I struggled. 

Once again, the portions were huge. But I love meals where you can just whack a load of different things into a bowl and nom it all up together. 

Oh, I should say that you need a lot of foil for this recipe. I ran out, which made this a lot messier than it should have been. 
I absolutely loved my Gousto experience - both my recipes were the best things I've cooked in ages (OK, I know I barely cook but STILL!) and it was a great way to try something new. I'll definitely be making them both again. 

Would you do something like Gousto?

I was invited to try out Gousto but I wouldn't have written about it if I didn't totally love it. Brownie promise. 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Dinner with a view at Boundary Rooftop, Shoreditch

As the evenings get longer and warmer, the workers of London spill out of their offices and into beer gardens, pub pavements and rooftop bars. All undoubtedly pleasant options, but I do love a good rooftop.

I haven't been to too many, but one spot I have frequented on a couple of occasions is Boundary Rooftop in Shoreditch, once just for drinks and, more recently, for dinner. It was so spectacular that I thought I just had to tell you all about it.

I met my friend Jenny on a gloriously sunny evening and breezed past the queue to get in, feeling super smug - top tip: book ahead.

Whilst the rooftop isn't actually super high up, it does have a great clear view.
I really like Boundary for many reasons, but one of which is that they have both a covered area with floor-to-ceiling windows - ideal for when the weather isn't playing ball - and an open, outdoor section with comfy chairs, blankets and heaters. This is the UK after all, let's not get too carried away.

However, you can almost feel like you've escaped to more exotic climes as Boundary have just launched a new Provençal-style summer menu. OK, I didn't 100% feel like I was back in the South of France, but I did feel pretty summery! Until it got late and cold and I realised I definitely wasn't wearing enough clothes. But anyway.

As the sun started to set, Jen and I kicked things off with cocktails, naturally.
I believe this was the Rooftop Spring Punch, although to be perfectly honest I can't hundy P remember. But I remember it was delicious and that's all that matters. They were both fruity, tasty and prettily presented.

We nibbled at Petit Lucques olives and savoury-roasted almonds as we sipped. I don't usually go wild for olives, but these were very tasty - they were less round than your bog standard ones - and the salty, smokey almonds were deliciously addictive.

On to the starters! Jenny had asparagus with hollandaise sauce whereas I chose the tricolore quinoa, citrus, pomegranate and green vegetable salad.
That's a starter. I know! The portions were very big, and whilst I'd never complain about that, I didn't quite finish mine purely because I knew we had a lot of food still to come. The salad was light and zingy which was exactly what I wanted. It wasn't the most exciting thing I've ever eaten, but I liked that there was a nice healthy option.

When it came to mains, we went to town.
Jenny had the lamb cutlets and I went for the chicken skewers with tzatziki and spring onions. The chicken had been beautifully marinaded and was so flavoursome. It was also perfectly juicy.

Jen informs me her lamb was also pretty dreamy.
Alongside our mains, we shared fries with aïoli (can't go wrong), ratatouille (loved it) and burrata with vine tomatoes, which was absolutely scrumptious. I do love burrata. Everything felt deliciously French-meets-Italian and I was loving the vibe of the menu.

The sun was going down and our tummies were filling up with deliciousness.
We actually totally failed though as we ate so much we simply couldn't manage puddings. I KNOW! Rookie error. I'll just have to go back. We somehow did have room for another cocktail whilst admiring the twinkling lights of London though.

The service was fantastic, the staff delightfully friendly and the food and drinks were top-quality and extremely delicious. It had been a special and splendid evening. You simply must go.

I was a guest at Boundary Rooftop but I wouldn't have written about it if I didn't truly love it. I wasn't even planning on writing about it but I loved it so much I decided I couldn't not. So there you go. Let me know any other rooftops I should visit!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Let's talk about sexual assault

(This picture doesn't really have anything to do with this piece but funnily enough I don't have any that quite fit)
Yesterday was a particularly quiet day at work so I took myself off to our magazine archive for a spot of organising. I was by myself, dancing around to 'Stacy's Mom' as I worked, having a whale of a time.

Less than 24 hours later, however, I was back in the archive. Crying.


Because I had been groped.

I almost called this post "the time I kind of got sexually assaulted", because I don't want to pretend what happened to me is as serious as what other people have gone through. But the fact of the matter is, it is sexual assault.

Did I invite that man to grope my bum? No I did not.

Here's what happened:

I was particularly excited to be going to work today as I was going to have a go at writing one of the bigger articles in the magazine for the first time.

Having spent a bit too long making breakfast, however, I was cutting it fine to get to work on time. So it was just a few minutes to 10am (yes, that's what time I start work, don't hate me too much) when I hurried out of Victoria tube station.

The walk from the tube to the office takes no more than one minute, and I do it every day. Usually my biggest concern is weaving round the tourists.

This time, however, was different.

When I was just between Starbucks and Superdrug outside Victoria Station, a man came from nowhere, groped my bum, and hurried off so quickly to the right that I only saw him from behind and couldn't say anything.

I was so shocked. I looked around to see if anyone had seen it. Obviously there were lots of people around. I caught eyes with one man but his look didn't suggest he'd seen anything.

So I walked on to work.

I didn't tell my colleagues. What could I say? "Morning guys, nice to see the sun's out again. I've just been sexually assaulted."

I felt upset and shaken-up. Like, how is that OK!?

My initial reaction was to tweet about the incident using the hashtag #everydaysexism. I got a lot of replies from women asking if I was OK, and of course, comments from a sexist man too who I proceeded to block. One of my friends suggested I contact the British Transport Police who immediately tweeted me back saying they take these things very seriously and telling me how I could get in touch.

I wasn't sure what to do or what they could do, but I reported what had happened anyway.

Someone from the British Transport Police called me, took down all the details, and said they'd look into the CCTV. She asked if I wanted it to go down as a formal crime with the potential to be taken to court. I said I'd think about it.

But, I've decided not to take this any further. I don't want to drag this out or make it into a big deal in my life. I want to report it, raise awareness and move on. Because I'm fine. I am. Had it been more serious I'd definitely be taking this further though.

It was unpleasant, uncomfortable, upsetting, it's not OK and it left me unable to focus at work. But I am fine. I've gone from feeling very upset to just thinking FFS.

I called my mum, as a girl does. I didn't know whether to message my girlfriends like "Hey guys I got groped just now. Psyched to party with y'all on Saturday!" I didn't. It's not a big deal. Or is it?

Part of the problem is that I don't know how to react or how I'm supposed to feel.

I know how rife sexual assault is, particularly on public transport. I've read the stats, and that's even considering how much goes unreported.

So to be perfectly honest I feel like "Well it was bound to happen at some point, this happens to everyone." But isn't it just awful that that's the society we live in? It's not right that we should feel that way. And I think the more we speak up about it, the better our chances of changing things.

It was the first day of the year I'd ditched the tights and gone out with bare legs. I don't want to make a link between that and what happened, but it's bloody ridiculous that simply showing a little more flesh means some men think it's OK to grope a woman.

I wasn't wearing a tiny, tight skirt - I was going to work after all - but it shouldn't have mattered if I was anyway. No woman is ever asking for it or inviting unwanted attention by how she dresses, and men need to learn this. I know most do, but some don't.

I know not all men do things like this and I'm sure all the lovely men in my life wouldn't dream of it, but the fact of the matter is it happens a lot, and often much worse.

So what can we - women and men - do to improve the situation? I don't know. But it sure as hell isn't right that women can't go about their daily lives without the fear of being groped or worse. Like I said before, FFS.

UPDATE: I published this post about an hour ago and have already been overwhelmed by the number of messages I've got from girls and women who've had similar experiences. It's disgustingly commonplace and quite frankly we should not have to put up with this shit.

UPDATE 2: I'm also incredibly encouraged by how many of my male friends have messaged me to express their outrage at all this. It's a shame not all of their gender feel the same way.

Have you experienced anything like this? What can we do? Please let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

An Italian dinner at Rustiko, Soho

Despite its prime location in central London, Rustiko is not a well-known restaurant. It's unassuming and new, having only opened last year.

Nonetheless, on the Tuesday evening I paid the Italian restaurant and bar a visit, it was busy.
Now, Rustiko is not fancy. Don't go there expecting white tablecloths and hand cream in the loo, because you'll be disappointed.

However, if you fancy some fantastic Italian food and a relaxed atmosphere in an excellent spot, Rustiko is the place for you.
It was the perfect spot for dinner and a catch-up with my lovely friend, Georgie.

Although it was still light outside (hoorah for light evenings!), the restaurant was dimly-lit inside, and the candles on each table created a warm ambiance. Wine glasses hung above the bar and prosecco bottle lined the back wall. A good sign, in my opinion.

Seeing as Rustiko is a prosecco bar, we figured it'd be rude not to have a glass each. Or two.
Although flutes are better at keeping the bubbles in, I do love these glasses, despite the fact that they make for very dangerous cheersing.

Doesn't it look pretty in the candle-light?
And doesn't she look pretty too?
I definitely couldn't pull off that hair, but Georgie rocks it.

We perused the menu as we sipped, and as ever, it wasn't easy deciding what to choose...
As well as pizzas and pasta, there are meat and fish dishes, and the pizza and pasta themselves are more inventive than the usual. You'll see what I mean shortly, my friend.

We kicked things off with parmiggiana and arancini to share:
I thought it very cute how the arancini were served in a mug, and definitely enjoyed the addition of peas to the usual rice balls. They were crisp, flavoursome and delicious.

Even better, however, was the parmiggiana.
Oh my days, can I have a massive one of these please!? Served with pesto (which I also thought went well with the arancini), this parmiggiana was just sensational. The layers of aubergine, cheese and tomato sauce all melted together to make the most scrumptious flavour and texture sensation. You must get it.

Our lovely waitress (all the staff were fab, it has to be said) told us they all love the parmiggiana too, and I can totally see why.

When it came to mains, Georgie and I decided  we couldn't not have pizza and pasta. So, it was prawn spaghetti with chilli, garlic and asparagus for my pixie-like friend...
And a fabulous pizza for me...
This pizza was unlike any other pizza I've had and was just too intriguing to resist: atop my pizza base, you'll find houmous (YES, FOR REAL), mozzarella, grilled vegetables, rocket and balsamic glaze.

And it was amazing. I was obviously going to love the houmous, which went brilliantly with the veg, and I didn't miss tomato sauce at all. There was just the right amount of cheese and it was perfectly cooked. Good portion size too. We like that.

We also liked the music in Rustiko - there was a soundtrack of feel-good tunes that almost had us both singing and dancing. I reckon one more glass of prosecco would've done it...

By this point we were pretty full so chose to finish off our feast with a tiramisu and two spoons.
I don't go wild for a tiramisu myself, but Georgie is a big fan. And she was pretty crazy about this one in particular. So tiramisu-lovers, Rustiko is probably a good spot for you.

It had been a delicious, fun, relaxed evening and I'm so glad Rustiko was brought to my attention. Had it not been, and I'd just been walking past, I probably wouldn't have gone in, to be perfectly honest. And when I'm invited to try a new restaurant (I know, I'm v lucky), I always ask myself if I'd go back, and only if the answer's yes do I blog about it.

Well I shall definitely go back to Rustiko... For that parmiggiana if nothing else! They've also just launched a new downstairs bar area with a whole host of prosecco cocktails so I think I need to return to try those out for sure.

I was a guest at Rustiko but wouldn't have written about it unless I honestly loved it. Do let me know your thoughts!
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