Thursday, 28 July 2016

A pretty and Provençal dinner at Aubaine, Mayfair

It was a mild but grey summery evening that I met Liv at the Mayfair branch of classy french resto, Aubaine.

Never been? I hadn't either. But, I mean, the name itself sounds classy and French if you ask me.

With a selection of branches across London - and a couple in Dubai, classic - I'd heard good things about Aubaine. And when I was told about their new Provençal menu, I was keen to give it a try.

OK, I'm going to level with you: the main connotation that springs to my mind when thinking about Provence is rosé wine, rather than food. And rosé always (I say always, I mean since last summer) takes me back to last summer in Aix-en-Provence where my dear friend Amber and I drank bargainous glasses of the stuff in a big cobbled square as the sun went down.

But as you may or may not know, I like food too. So an evening at Aubaine was most appealing.

The restaurant interior is sophisticated with distinct summery garden vibes. I was surprised by just how big it was and on the Wednesday evening we visited, it wasn't particularly busy.
We were warmly welcomed, however, and duly sat down at our cute little table à deux.
All the staff we encountered were legit French, yet they bucked the stereotype by being utterly charming, friendly and efficient.

I was caught off guard when, upon arriving to take our order, our waiter immediately asked whether we spoke French. In French. And as two French graduates, we sprung into action and lapped up the compliments on our accents. They know their way to a good review, those Frenchies. (I'm joking.)

To kick things off, we both went for the lavender apple collins: dry gin, lavender syrup, apple juice and lime. It was, I'm tempted to say, the perfect summery drink. Not too strong but lovely, refreshing and fragrant, it was a cocktail that definitely evoked the south of France and slipped down far too easily. They'd nailed it.
Pretty too, eh?

Fortunately, this being France and all (kinda), we had a selection of bread to nibble on whilst we sipped.
You know how bread in France just tastes different to bread in the UK? Well, this was that, if you get me. It was crusty and chewy but soft in that authentic French way. With a generous slather of some lightly salted butter (which, I might add, was the ideal consistency), it was perfection.

Now, to the main reason we came.

No, not wine, what ARE you insinuating!? (But we'll get to that).

The main menu.

There's a small choice of three starters, four mains and three puddings on Aubaine's Provençal menu, costing a highly reasonable £15.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three.

On the recommendation of our waiter, Liv chose the Provençale pistou with Bayonne ham to start, whilst I went for the Faisselle. But, naturally, we shared both.
I thought the pistou (above) was really very tasty and rather unique - it was essentially pasta, kidney beans, cheese, tomato and ham in a light pesto soup. Sounds bizarre, I'll accept, but it was extremely flavoursome.
La Faisselle, as you can see, was a very pretty creation. If you don't already know - and I'm not going to pretend I did - Faisselle is sort of like the love-child of soft cheese and fromage frais, but slightly savoury. It was unlike anything I'd ever tasted, somehow being both creamy and crumbly.

I appreciated the edible flowers and the red pepper coulis was a delightfully tangy but sweet complement, but I did feel it needed bread. Luckily there was no shortage.

And to ensure the Provençal vibe stayed strong throughout the evening, we decided it must be rosé time.
 It was crisp but sweet, light but floral and delicious with our food on a summer evening.

The service was quick but we had just enough digestion time before our main courses arrived.

Shunning the bouillabaisse, chicken breast and steak, Liv and I both opted for the Provençale tart, with a side salad to share, as recommended.
Preeetty healthy, right? I know, get us. (Jokes, pudding was coming).

Despite its rather small size, the tart was scrumptious, expertly layering flaky pastry, goat's cheese, confit tomatoes, roasted courgette and pepper coulis.

The pastry was crisp and not in the slightest bit soggy, the veg cooked to perfection - I am not a tomato fan but even I liked these. With the creamy goat's cheese, there was a great texture combination in every mouthful.

Our side salad was crisp and lightly dressed, and despite being simply leaves, it was nice. It was a light main, but that was enjoyable. It turns out one can really rather enjoy a meal when one doesn't end up needing to unbutton one's jeans and lie down.

The pudding situation wasn't quite what we'd been expecting. Instead of making our choice from the menu - I was eyeing up the strawbs with crème pâtissière - we were brought a slate of three pâtisseries from which to choose one each.

There was a macaron, a Tarte Tropézienne (which we learned was a fave of Brigitte Bardot) and an éclair.

We decided to share the two former.
The textures in the macaron were excellent - crisp but chewy and spongey, with a sweet creamy middle - but it wasn't overly flavoursome. It seemed to be slightly chilled (sacré bleu!) and you only got the vanilla flavour at the end. Also, just one macaron for a pudding? Please. It was verging on a petit four.
Unfortunately the Tarte Tropézienne didn't wow me either. I found the combination of brioche dough with a layer of cream a bit meh. Dunno what Brigitte was on about.

I mean, it was perfectly fine. But it seemed like more of a breakfast or afternoon tea treat than a pudding, you feel me?

I'm glad I tried it though as I hadn't ever done before. Geez, some French grad I am.

We finished off with some lovely teas - fresh mint with honey for me and a lavender and jasmine green for Liv.

I really liked Aubaine and will definitely go back. The service was faultless, it was pretty, the food was good quality and there was hand cream in the loos. Always a good sign, don't you think? Plus, I've totally stalked the rest of the menu and it looks délicieux. Just sayin'.

Plus, you know.. Gotta take the opportunity to practice my French. Ahem.

Liv and I were guests at Aubaine but all opinions are my own. Plus a few of Liv's.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Feasting Japanese-style at Kanada-Ya, London

If you were to ask me what my favourite cuisines were, Japanese probably would not spring to mind. And I cannot claim to know much about Japanese food, but I do know that I like noodles. And edamame. And rice. And ramen.

So I was both intrigued and excited to pay my first visit to Kanada-Ya (to their second branch, just off Haymarket), which is famous for having queues down the street.
With my trusty eating companion, Georgie, in tow, we arrived at 6.30pm to find, actually, no queue at all. However after we sat down, the hordes arrived and it wasn't long till I could see a growing mass of hungry people waiting outside, desperate to get in for their ramen fix.

Inside Kanada-Ya, the lighting is dim but I really liked the interior.
It was simple, relaxed, stylish and fun, with Japanese touches. And encouragingly, the majority of our fellow diners seemed to be Japanese, which is always a good sign.

Whilst sipping our drinks - iced green tea for Georgie, less authentic Diet Coke for me - we perused the menu, umming and ahhing over what to choose. Alcohol-wise, it's beer or beer at Kanada-Ya, but I was thrilled to hear they will soon be serving cocktails too, hoorah!

There are eight different ramen bowls from which to choose and then an array of sides, and it wasn't long after placing our order with our delightful French-but-apparently-Japanese-speaking waiter that our sides arrived. First up: ume onigiri.
These were sour plum Tamanishiki rice balls. Whilst I liked the sticky texture of the rice, I got more seaweed than plum flavour and wasn't totally sold. Georgie really liked them but what with everything else we had, it was just too much to finish.

Next up: truffle edamame.
I KNOW! Oh my days. Smothered in black truffle oil and salt, we both fell absolutely in love with these. Best edamame I've ever had. Five stars. Definitely order them.

And to finish our trio of sides: karaage.
Quite simply, Japanese fried chicken with house mayo. The little bites were flavoursome, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and went down a treat dipped in mayo. But let's be real - most things dipped in mayo are great.

And we'd barely made a start on our sides before the main affairs arrived. Ramen time!
For Georgie, the truffle ramen. Yes, TRUFFLE ramen!

The noodles are hand-pulled (whatever that means) and the pork bone broth takes 18 hours to make. It's served with chashu pork collar, spring onion and porcini truffle paste. #truffle4lyf

Quote Georgie: "Mine just had ridiculous flavour."

Were it not for the pork, I'd totally have chosen the same one, but being not a huge pork fan, I went for the veggie ramen:
This one is served in a porcini-soya milk broth, with secret sauce, asparagus, mushroom, spring onions and avocado sashimi.

It. Was. So. Good!

The broth was salty but not overpoweringly so, and the creaminess was unexpected but pleasing. The noodles - although you can't see them, there were loooaaaads of noodles in there - were great. They softened as we ate, soaking up all that gorgeous broth.
And because I'm an unskilled peasant who can't use chopsticks, the staff kindly gave me a fork. Messy to eat, is ramen, but I think that adds to its charm.

There's only one thing on the pudding menu at Kanada-Ya: soft serve ice cream. Matcha is always on offer, plus one other flavour that changes. Not being a huge matcha fan, I was disappointed to learn they'd run out of black sesame ice cream - sounds intriguing, no? - but I gave the matcha a try anyway.
Yeah, it wasn't for me.

Georgie, however, she loves the matcha. All about the green tea, is that gal.  She even went so far as to say it was her ideal ice cream, being both refreshing and creamy. "It's indulgent in a light way," she assured me. So there you go. Definitely one for matcha-lovers.

But despite my lack of ice cream joy, I'd loved my dinner at Kanada-Ya. The food was authentic (I think), tasted good quality, nicely presented and full of flavour. The service was super speedy too so it'd be a great choice for a pre-theatre dinner if you fancy a change from pizzas, burgers or any of the usual culprits.

I'd like to end with another quote from Georgie - what can I say? She was on form that night - "Easy, quick, delish, boom."

Find out more about Kanada-Ya (and stalk the menu) on their website. Georgie and I were guests at Kanada-Ya but I hope you can tell I have been completely honest in my review. What are your thoughts on Japanese food?

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Is there a generational divide in society's attitude to sexual harassment and is it a problem?

Pic by Saskia Nelson
On Friday morning, about 20 metres from my front door on the way to Brixton tube station, I walked past a young man. As I passed, he said, "Hey gorgeous, wanna be my girlfriend?"

Naturally, I ignored him, as I (and I imagine the majority of women) always do. Sure, it was annoying but it was ultimately harmless and not particularly threatening. It happens all the time. I marched on.

Less than fifteen minutes and four stops on the tube later, just after turning out of the stairs at the exit to the tube at Victoria station, a man grabbed my bum.

I whipped round to see a tall man with dark hair in a khaki jacket scurrying off through the crowds in exactly the opposite direction to the way I was going.

I couldn't believe it.

A blonde lady with a pushchair nearby caught my eye. She'd seen it and asked if I was alright. I was really glad for that, as the previous time no one had seemed to notice.

Ah yes, the previous time. A mere two months earlier. An almost entirely identical incident in almost exactly the same location. It actually made me wonder whether it was the same man.

The difference is that this time I wasn't upset. I. Was. Livid!

Fuming. Raging. I'm not an angry person but I was so angry.

I tweeted, again (and prepared myself for the subsequent barrage of trolling that I got last time). But I didn't report it, go off and cry or even think about it much over the course of the day because it was manic at work and I had so much to do.

But what infuriated me even more was seeing these letters in the paper that very morning:
In case you missed it, they were in response to a story reporting that Nottinghamshire Police will now be treating misogyny and harassment of women as a hate crime. Disappointingly, the headline in the Telegraph and subsequently the letters chose to focus on wolf-whistling, when actually the story is about so much more.

But I just found it so frustrating that these attitudes persist amongst women!

And OK, I will hold my hands up and say I don't know the ages of the women whose letters were published, but I would put money on them being over 60 - I do some work with the letters desk at the Telegraph and I know for a fact the vast majority of their letters come in from retirees.

And when I posted the picture on Facebook, the comments from my friends - the majority of whom are in their early 20s - further hammered home the generational divide on this issue.

Rowena: "Anyone who talks about the "days of non-PC fun" of 50+ years ago is not to be taken seriously."

Rachel: "Ah yes, the days of non-PC fun when you could compliment your secretary's lovely rack without having to worry about pesky 'lawsuits'... Seriously, what is wrong with people!"

Amber: "It's a bit sad to think that women used to be happy about being validated on their looks alone and feel like it was a poor day if they hadn't be 'complimented' by a stranger as they liked the way they looked..."

Emily: "People aren't 'too PC', we just don't stand for the s**t we used to. F***ing morons. It's part of a bigger problem - starts with a wolf whistle, ends with sexual assault."

Valid points, don't you think?

Now I'm not saying by any means that all older people don't understand sexual harassment - many of my aunties and parents' friends have joined my Facebook outcry - but there's clearly something of a difference in the general view on this matter.

And how could there not be? Today's retired women grew up in a very different age to me and my friends.

But actually what I take away from this is encouraging: if the vast majority of my generation consider sexual harassment in the street as unacceptable, surely that will soon be the dominant view?

I mean... I know, I know: my Facebook friends do not reflect the UK as a whole - I grew up in a very pleasant middle-class bubble, and of course the circle I live now in reflects that - but still, I think there's hope that things will change for the better.

And the more we talk about it, the better. Hence why I am ranting about this subject again and am so thrilled to see more and more of my peers discussing sexual assault.

I implore you to read this post by my friend Hannah, as well as this one by my fantastically feminist friend Emily, oh and I'd also love to draw your attention to the Object Project which aims to highlight and shout about incidents of sexual assault, be that a grope or rape.

None of it is OK.

Because whilst a wolf-whistle from the occasional workman is usually harmless, there have been many times when - especially when alone at night but just as equally in the day - leery comments from male strangers have made me feel very uncomfortable, scared and vulnerable. I hate that when walking through a park alone I feel afraid. And I shouldn't have to. None of us should.

Women make up over half the population! We are not a minority!

Not that I'm saying it would be OK to treat a minority group in such a way. I guess it kind of just makes me sad that there are people, and women especially, who don't see the problem with this kind of behaviour. But like I said, I hope that's changing.

And men, I'm not trying to make you scared to pay a woman any attention lest it come across as sexual harassment, but there is a humongous difference between having a flirt with someone in a bar or at a party when she's been giving you the eye and the vibes, and paying absolutely unwanted attention as a stranger on the street when a gal is just going about her daily life.

Pretty obviously different contexts, wouldn't you say? I don't think it's difficult to understand, and I'm fairly certain all the men I know get it.

But maybe there are in fact women my age who enjoy having crude hand gestures directed at them by men in vans or being cat-called by a group of male builders. Do you? Does it feel flattering? Please do tell me, I'd love to try and understand.

And dear god, if I get groped at Victoria Station AGAIN I am going to hit the roof. And chase down the man, accuse him of sexual assault and see how big and strong he feels then. Ha!

Please do let me know your thoughts on all this.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The best bits from my trip to Madrid, part 2

So, lovely people, shall we pick up where we left off on our virtual weekend in the beautiful city of Madrid? I think we shall.

The Palace
The Royal Palace of Madrid is an incredibly grand building, although it's only used for state ceremonies nowadays. If you're v keen and don't mind queueing (in high season anyway), you can pay to go inside, but having done that when I visited Madrid the first time, five years ago (with the parents, who obvs paid), Holl and I were quite content to just marvel at the building from the outside.
We couldn't help but imagine arriving in at the palace in years gone by and stepping out of a horse-drawn carriage in a fabulous dress to dance the night away at a ball. I reckon that would've been pretty fantastic.

Malasaña is, as far as I'm aware, the hip zone of Madrid. Did I really just use the word 'hip'? I'm fairly certain no one hip would ever use the word 'hip'. Oh well.

It's incredibly colourful, which I loved, and full of quirky cafes-cum-bars and little independent shops.
Cupcakeries, vintage shops and cocktail bars all make for an area beloved of Madrid's cool young people. Malasaña came particularly to life at night (as one might expect in Spain) and the vibe was abso buzzing. I loved it.

Retiro Park
Absolutely huge and incredibly beautiful, I could not recommend exploring Retiro Park more. Considering its size, however, I suggest you do as we did and hire bikes - it's just 2€ for an hour and there's a docking station right by one of the main entrances, conveniently.
Be warned though: we had numerous issues actually getting the bikes out - you need your passport number for some reason - but once we had them it was great. Particularly fun was that the bikes are electric, which you can turn on and off. 

Most of the time we cycled as normal, but when the terrain got even slightly uphill, on went the electric and smoothly we cruised. It was most leisurely and extremely enjoyable - who wants to physically exert themselves on holiday? Not this gal.

The bikes allowed us to cover so much more ground than we'd have been able to on foot. Witness the pretty crystal palace, complete with turtles.
Probably the most famous part of the park, however, is the lake. I'd been out boating on my first visit to Madrid but I was still mad keen to go again, as it's so pretty.
It's also super cheap in comparison to doing the same in London so yay Madrid!
Yeah, it turns out rowing is not my forte - I'm not cut out for physical labour tbh - so luckily Holly was happy to take the lead.
We sipped sangria and soaked up the sun. It was dreamy.

And that, amigos, is the end of my Madrid highlights. It's such a fantastic city though and I'm rather jealous of my sister (and brother for that matter) having lived there for nine months. I mean to be fair my year abroad was also awesome, but still.

What are your thoughts on Madrid? Let me know!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The best bits from my trip to Madrid, part 1

Now I know, I know. I've already told you about all the delicious things we ate in Madrid and the lovely hotel in which we stayed, but just wait a minute there, amigo - there's actually a hella lotta beaut stuff I want to share with you from the Spanish capital that does not involve food or hotel rooms. *gasp!* I know. So much, in fact that I can't fit it all into one blog post.

As her year abroad teaching English in Madrid (*sob* remember when I did that in Germany?) neared its conclusion, I knew I had to hop over and pay my sister Holly a visit before it was too late. And it all worked out rather perfectly because a) it was June ergo beautifully hot but not unbearably so, b) nine months down, Holls knew the city muy bien, c) it was the weekend of her 21st birthday, and d) 5SOS were playing the Madrid night of their European tour on the Saturday night.

Yes, I am 23 years old and yes, we went, and HELL YES, it was amazing. Like literally amazing. But this is not the post in which to spill my 5SOS overgrown fangirl tendencies. We're here to talk about beautiful, charming Madrid.
I feel a bit sorry for Madrid. It seems to me that Barcelona gets a lot more love. Granted, Barcelona (along with Florence, Rome and Croatia) is top of my European travel wishlist, but I think Madrid is underrated. Much like Lisbon - remember how gorge that one is? - I feel it's an up-and-comer. You should go.

The city is incredibly vibrant in every way possible - the beautiful architecture is extremely colourful and, particularly on hot summer nights, buzzing with life.

The best way to see Madrid, in my opinion - much like with the majority of European capitals - is by foot, and I felt so lucky to have my own personal tour guide in the shape of my sister. I figured the best way to show you the beauty of Madrid was to break it down into areas. So without further ado, welcome to Madrid...

The City Centre
The huge open square of Sol is the very centre of Spain (well, on an East-West basis). It's beautiful and it's definitely worth a visit, but it is unsurprisingly full of tourists and street performers.
To one side of Sol, you'll find this statue of the symbol of Madrid - or as Hols and I like to think, a bear eating broccoli. It's open to interpretation, I'd say.

Barrio de las Letras

Not far from Sol, you'll find this utterly charming, quirky neighbourhood.
Street art, bunting, city beaches, pop-up bars... It was all going on.
There were so many interesting things to look at - a real feast for the eyes, I tell ya.

Exploring is thirsty work though, so we made sure to sit down and replenish ourselves with a Tinto de Verano.
Purely red wine and lemonade, it's a simpler version of sangria and utterly delicious. Just the right level of sweetness and super refreshing. Yum!

Plaza Mayor

Possibly even more famous than Sol, Plaza Mayor draws in all the tourists.
Granted, it is beautiful, but I'm not sure it's the prettiest spot I saw in Madrid. In fact, just down the street there's an utterly charming mini square...
But before you wander down Calle Mayor, do pay a visit to the Mercado de San Miguel just off Plaza Mayor. It's this huge, fancy schmancy food market in the most beautiful wrought iron building.
^always make friends with the people serving champagne.

The Temple of Debod

It was after dinner (OMG that burger!) that Holls and I went for a wander round the Temple.
Whilst the temple itself is undeniably beautiful, one of the best reasons to make your way up there is for the incredible view.
Needless to say, it was pretty gosh darn spellbinding at dusk.

And in the above snap, you can see the stunning Palace of Madrid. But, my dears, you're just going to have to wait for my next Madrid instalment to see more of that. Well, I mean, you could totally google it, but where's the fun in that, eh?

Do come back, I've got LOADS more awesome Madrid-ness to share with you all. And do let me know your thoughts!
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