Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Conrad Candy Shop Afternoon Tea

The fun thing about afternoon tea is there are so many ways to reinvent it. I am constantly amazed by the incredible twists thought up by master patissiers that make something so classic seem so new, different and exciting.

And one of the most creative places I've had the pleasure of taking afternoon tea is the Conrad London St James hotel. Remember this English Garden tea? It was so cool, wasn't it? Having enjoyed it so much, I was incredibly keen to head back to the Conrad LSJ when I heard about their new afternoon tea: Conrad Candy Shop.

The bar had been set high, but I actually enjoyed it even more than the English Garden tea. Let me tell you aalllll about it.
As the harpist played, Tasha and I settled into cosy armchairs with plump cushions in the beautiful, bright Emmeline's lounge, full of stylish floral arrangements and beautifully-laid tables.

Being the indulgent ladies that we are, the free-flowing champagne afternoon tea was the order of the day, and my goodness, it sure does flow freely.
I don't think our flutes were ever less than half full (rather than half empty) with scrumptious G.H. Mumm champagne before they were refilled. But I'm OK with that.
And alongside our champagne we sipped my other favourite drink: 
Vanilla black tea for me - which was so delicate and light it didn't need milk - and fresh rosebud tea for Tasha, served in the prettiest silver- and china-ware. Everything at Conrad LSJ is tasteful and elegant, I simply love the style. It's traditional without being old-fashioned. 

And then it was time to crack on with the munching.

Rather than simply serve traditional finger sandwiches (as wonderful as they are), Conrad LSJ offer the best of both: three sandwiches plus a selection of interesting savouries.

Now, Conrad LSJ are very accommodating. Tasha's a veggie and I'm just an awkward human being who doesn't like fish, and it wasn't a problem at all. So, for Tasha:
Giant couscous, the prettiest candied beetroot and goats cheese tartlet and a mini brioche filled with houmous and black olives. I was pretty jealous of the houmous so Tasha, being the babe that she is, let me share hers. With the sugar-dusted top, it was as delish as I'd hoped.

She then also had a selection of veggie sandwiches:
A classic cucumber on white bread, cheese and pickle on brown, and tomato on tomato bread. Good thing she likes tomatoes.

For my part, I had...
The brioche roll but filled with chicken liver parfait (nice, although I'm not a huge chicken liver fan), the same tartlet and a mini cone filled with pesto chicken and sundried tomato. The cone was really tasty, but the beetroot and goats cheese tartlet was without a doubt my fave - the flavours complemented each other so beautifully and it was just so wonderfully creamy.
My sandwiches were rare roast beef with wholegrain mustard (not totally my thing tbh), tomato on tomato bread (which would usually have been smoked salmon) and, my favourite: avocado, roasted red peppers, herb butter and garden cress. I could've eaten a ginormous one of those. It was divine. I'm not sure why Tasha didn't get it but who knows.
I think she was enjoying herself all the same.

After a digestive pause it was scone o'clock.
Two candied pineapple and two brown sugar and spice, served with classic clotted cream and strawberry jam, but also lemon curd. I'm not usually a huge lemon curd fan but I am partial to the Conrad LSJ's.

We piled our scones high and got stuck in.
They had a lovely texture - not dry, God forbid - and the flavours weren't too strong, which was good. They just added a little extra something to what is a winning traditional combo.

And then it was time for the grand finale - the showstopper, if you will: the patisserie.
I don't know about you but I think the presentation and design is just sensational - and how creative to serve it on a little drawer full of hundreds and thousands! I thought it was so much fun.

But as with people, being beautiful is simply not enough. Would the cakes taste as good as they looked? There was only one way to find out...

The strawberry and cream panacotta topped with a mini bubblegum macaron was wonderful - it was beautifully creamy and the macaron was so cute and intricate. Very impressive.
This little fella was a blue raspberry mousse cake situation - it was yummy, but didn't make me go OMG WOW!

I enjoyed the lemon sherbet meringue pie more than I'd been expecting to - it was so smooth and the lemon wasn't overpowering, which I enjoyed.

And I finished off with the chocolate and peppermint cheesecake:
I'm not sure it was entirely cheesecake-like in texture - the chocolate layer was softer, almost ganache-like - but it was delicious. And the perfect flavour on which to finish our feast.

It had been a delectable afternoon and the service was, as ever, faultless.
These are the faces of two girls very pleased with their afternoon's feasting (and many glasses of champagne).

The Conrad Candy Shop afternoon tea is available until September 11th. Tasha and I were guests at the Conrad London St James hotel but all opinions are totally my own.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

No-bake chocolate peanut butter coconut squares (vegan and gluten-free)

Spontaneous baking is my favourite kind of baking.

I mean sure, there's no actual baking involved in these, but you know what I mean.

Life's been so busy of late that I haven't managed to get creative in the kitchen for a while, which is really rather sad.

My flatmate and I were going to go to a party today, but then we both decided we weren't feeling it (which may have something to do with the fact that we're still recovering from a big Friday night), and having the day to myself, with no plans, has been thoroughly enjoyable.

Hence, spontaneous baking. Well, refrigerating. But whatever.
In exciting news, the kind people over at Panasonic have offered me the opportunity to have a play with some of their wonderful kitchen appliances, and so today, finally having the time to set it up, I used my new food processor for the first time.

And I think I'm in love with it.
Is it weird to be in love with a kitchen appliance? I don't even care. It's so shiny and sleek and IT CAN DO SO MUCH!

It blends, chops, spiralises, washes lettuce, juices citrus fruits and so much more, and it's absolutely super easy to use, despite having so many functions. I'm very impressed.

The MK F-800 (sounds like a robot, don'tcha think?) ain't cheap, but boy is it an investment worth making if you can afford it. This baby is amazing.
Now, I was particularly excited as I didn't have a food processor, and there are so many recipes I've been wanting to make for ages that call for one - I feel like so many healthy foodies' recipes like bliss balls and raw brownies require a food processor, and I just haven't been able to make them. *sob*

In case you weren't sure, the main difference between a blender and a food processor is the fact that you need liquid in a blender, so it's great for smoothies, but doesn't work when trying to pulse dry ingredients like nuts, oats or cauliflower (you know you've wanted to).
Soooo long story short, today I unexpectedly ended up with both time and a food processor on my hands, and I wanted to play. However I was also in my pyjamas and did not fancy leaving the house, so the challenge was to concoct something with what I already had.

Yeah, I'm pretty darn pleased with the result.
My, these are rather good, if I do say so myself.

They're salty and sweet, moreish, rich, crunchy and squidgy - oh, so delightfully squidgy!
Here's the thing: coconut + chocolate = great.

Chocolate + peanut butter = great.

Peanut butter + coconut = great.

So duhh, obviously coconut + peanut butter + chocolate = fan-bloody-tastic!
And what's also fun is these are rather healthy too. No grains, nothing artificial and vegan-friendly too.

Full of good fats (although I know the jury's kinda out on coconut oil these days) and energising nuts. Plus they're naturally sweetened too. Yay!

Extra great is the fact that they're so easy and quick to make, with minimal washing up too.
I like to bake/refrigerate in small quantities (espesh as dates are expensive, ya feel me), so this recipe makes eight squares, however you could easily scale it up and use a bigger tin.

Inspired by this recipe by Wholesome Patisserie.



125g medjool dates (I used 7)
2 level tbsp/12g (1/8 cup) raw cacao powder
100g (1 cup) ground almonds

Coconut layer:

25g (1/6 cup) coconut oil
25g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate (I used one packet of raw 72% Ombar buttons)
100g (3/8 cup) natural peanut butter (I use Meridian)
70g (1/6 cup) light agave syrup (I use Groovy Food Co)
a pinch of seasalt
50g (1 cup) desiccated coconut


A handful of cacao nibs
1 tbsp crunchy maple peanut butter (I use Pip & Nut)


1. Soak the dates in just boiled water for ten minutes and line a loaf pan with foil.

2. Drain the dates and pulse briefly in the food processor until broken down. Add the ground almonds and raw cacao powder and pulse until your mixture resembles this:
3. Spoon into the loaf pan, spread out and press down into a firmly-packed even layer. Set aside.

4. In a small saucepan over a low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and dark chocolate before removing from the heat and stirring in the peanut butter, agave syrup and pinch of salt.
5. Mix in the coconut and pour it all over the base layer. Sprinkle on the cacao nibs before popping in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.

6. Once set, remove from the fridge and drizzle over the crunchy maple peanut butter (you may have to briefly melt it in the microwave to make it runnier). Cut into squares and enjoy!
Keep any leftovers in a tin in the fridge.

This post is sponsored by Panasonic as part of their #ExperienceFresh campaign.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Summer Sky Riviera at Searcys the Gherkin

Soooo this was pretty gosh darn special.

Despite never having been inside, I've always rather loved the Gherkin. I mean, c'mon. It's a gherkin. Which is hilarious.

So when I was invited to go up to the very very top of the London landmark for an evening of cocktails and food amongst the clouds, I was mad excited.

Searcys the Gherkin is the bar in the very top of the building, and this summer they've partnered with Tanqueray No. 10 gin to bring a touch of the South of France to London.

I know, evidently Londoners can't get enough of Provence at the mo (remember this rooftop dinner and this tasty one too?).

So, 180 metres up we climbed - and when I say climbed I mean stood in a lift - before emerging to a scene straight out of 1950s South of France.

Well, kinda. I wasn't actually there then so wouldn't know. And I mean, this was 2016 London. But I loved all the little touches at the Summer Sky Riviera - think striped sun loungers, palm trees and a market stall, all in a glamorous, chic and elegant way, natch.
As soon as lovely Lucy and I walked in, we were wowed. It is simply amazing.
The view is just incredible. I know I use superlative adjectives somewhat willy nilly, but this really was something else. It was spectacular.

I didn't think I could possibly fall in love with London any more, but the 360 degree views over the city that evening absolutely did it for me. I can't even.

And I also loved the fact that you could see up to the sky - it really felt like we were at the top of the world.
There are four different cocktails on offer at the Summer Sky Riviera, each inspired by a different city in the Côte d'Azur.
Lucy and I kicked things off with the Nice (Tanqueray No 10, aperol, orange blossom and bergamot) and the Saint Tropez (Tanqueray No 10, rose liqueur, sweet vermouth, rose water and grapefruit). I had the Saint Tropez, Lucy had the Nice, and I quote: "It's refreshing and light but strong... Perfect for a Friday evening up the Gherkin." As one does.

I always associate gin with being a British drink, but the flavours of these cocktails meant they definitely seemed more exotic and were perfect for the vibe. So tasty and refreshing.

Whilst not a formal restaurant, there are lots of different nibbly food bits on offer at Summer Sky Riviera. So, here's what we ate...
Charcuterie and pâté, complete with gherkins! Not going to lie, I thought eating a gherkin in the Gherkin was pretty damn cool. Probably got a bit too excited about it. Whilst I don't go mad for charcuterie, Lucy thought they were all fab.
What with the whole French theme and everything, there was of course cheese with chutney and crackers.
And then I had crudités, chilli olives and fougasse (basically olive bread I think) with four different dips: anchoïade (a classic Provençal anchovy dip), pesto, cervelle de canut (a garlicky herby fromage blanc affair) and tapenade.

I liked the variation of veggies in the crudités, but they were nothing super special. But then again, how special can crudités ever be? Dips-wise, the pesto and cervelle de canut were my faves, and I know it's so not French but I couldn't help thinking I wanted houmous. Because what are crudités sans houmous?

The fougasse was chewy but I really liked it. And OMG, there was so much bread in the whole spread tbh. I particularly liked the sourdough with the tastiest whipped butter.

We nibbled and chatted as the sun went down - when we'd arrived, London was bathed in that incredibly warm evening sunlight, and we watched the city turn into the twinkly wonderland I so love.
God, you have no idea how lucky I feel to live here. OK, well not actually right there. But you know, close enough.

And because I am a very dutiful blogger, I figured it was my responsibility to my readers to sample the other two cocktails on the menu. Just doing my job. Working real hard. Selfless, I know.

Lucy chose the Marseille, which was Tanqueray No 10, pastis, verveine and cucumber.
It looked super pretty, but we weren't expecting it to be a slushy, and with the paper straw, it wasn't actually the easiest to drink. Tasty though.

I went for the Vaucluse, a delicious mix of Tanqueray No 10 (what a surprise eh?), lavender cordial and vin d'occitan.
As a big lavender fan, I really enjoyed this one, but was originally brought the wrong one so had to wait quite a while to finally get it unfortunately. To be honest, I think they could've done with a few more staff members overall, especially on a busy Friday evening. The service was a tad slow.

But of course, we were in absolutely no rush. I just couldn't get enough of that view and Lucy and I were having a ball spotting new places in the city below and marvelling at where we were.
And d'you know what's amazing? The prices aren't obscene either. £11 for a cocktail is pretty standard for a nice London bar... On the ground. I thought there'd be a huge premium on everything given the incredible setting, but no.
I am soooooooo going again. It was fantastic. Loved it. Without a doubt one of the most awesome and special things I've done since moving to London.

Summer Sky Riviera is on till 2nd September, folks - go go go!

Lucy and I were guests at Searcys the Gherkin.
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