Friday, 23 September 2016

Bottomless bubbly birthday brunch at Villandry, London

"So you have two hours to drink as much prosecco as you can," said the waitress.

Challenge accepted.
Whilst this brunch occurred a couple of weeks ago, it is my actual birthday today! I AM SO EXCITED I CAN'T EVEN DEAL!

Like, I'm 24. I'm not eight. But I just love birthdays. I don't know why I get so excited but I do - I think I just love any excuse to get people together, eat good food, drink good drinks and celebrate good times.

So a big ole brunch with the family was really rather perfect. I love brunch. And birthdays. And bubbles. Kinda like my family too.
We were actually celebrating not one but two birthdays as my brother turned 26 the month before (HB, Jamie!), and whilst I am not one who likes to share her birthday, it did make brunch that bit more of a special occasion.

The restaurant of choice was Villandry on Great Portland Street, and although sooooo many restaurants in London now do bottomless bubbly brunches, I'm fairly certain this is one of the best deals out there.

For £30, you get three courses, orange juice, tea or coffee and as much prosecco as you can drink in two hours. Is that not amazing?

I know a lot of restaurants only give you an hour or an hour and a half, and I've heard of some that are, quite frankly, slow to top you up, but not so at Villandry, mes amis. Service was fab.

So come on down and get stuck in with the Hosie fam...

First up, pastries. Just look at this tray of deliciousness!
Also, lol at the man in the background. He's having a great time.
I went for an almond croissant and it was absolutely dreamy. The pastry was flaky and it was just the perfect balance of crisp and soft, with plenty of almond filling. For some reason I'd expected the pastries to be something of an afterthought but we all agreed they were exceptionally good.

We washed our viennoiseries down with a sizeable glass of OJ each. And you guys, this was legit freshly-squeezed OJ. Definitely not out of a carton and god forbid from concentrate!
It was the real deal.

Then came the main affair...
Ohhhh so much goodness from which to choose!
 Poached eggs, avocado and spinach on sourdough toast for the Shrimp.
Phwoar, look at that runny yolk!
Leek and sweet potato galettes with spinach, poached eggs and red pepper hollandaise for me.
With another gratuitous runny egg shot. You're welcome.

It was really tasty, especially after a little sprinkle of black pepper which I think just lifted everything, but I feel the dish could've been a tad hotter if I were to be fussy.

Mum and Freya both had smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with toast (I think. Maybe Freya had something else and I just failed to photograph it and thus forgot. Soz.)
And the boys both went for the full English. Quote Dad: "It's good quality, this." Let me tell you, the man's eaten a lot of food in his maaaaaaany years of life (joking, Dad! Or am I?), so he knows what he's on about.

The portions weren't so huge that we were too full to eat any more, which was good, but a little digestive pause was in order.
We spotted these two older ladies who seemed to have come in for Sunday cocktails and a catch-up and I decided I want to be like them when I grow up.

The final course in the Villandry brunch is a cake or baked treat. And the selection is epic.
 Mum, Shrimp and I all chose the carrot cake, and it was, quite frankly, fantastic.
Moist but full of crunchy nuts, beautifully spiced, with a dreamy creamy frosting. Superb.
Raspberry tart for Dad.
Victoria Sponge for Freya (but heads up - it's cream in the middle rather than buttercream, which would have disappointed me personally).
And lemon meringue tart for Jamie.

The final touch was a round of tea and coffee. Another gem from my father: "If that's not real coffee, I don't know what is." (And yes, the prosecco was still flowing freely.)
Aww look at that. My fave two drinks.

I had had so much fun with my family and couldn't recommend the bottomless bubbly brunch at Villandry more. 

But tell me, where should my next bubbly brunch be?

PS. Did I mention it's my birthday? Eeeeeeeeeee! Let's drink champagne and eat cake and dance on the tables!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Aubaine Deli, Covent Garden

As the title of this blog post may have given away, Aubaine have opened a deli. In Covent Garden. And because I enjoyed my evening at their Mayfair restaurant so much, I was very keen to head on down and pay a visit to their latest venture.

Inside, the interior is just like Aubaine's restaurants, with lavender on the tables and the deli counter displaying an array of enticing-looking baguettes, pastries, salads and cakes.

My lovely friend Ellie and I, however, decided to sit at one of the tables outside as it was a beautiful balmy summer's evening.

The menu is simple but the concoctions are interesting and there's a good selection of food from which to choose. There are four different salads and an array of sandwichy type things including French classics like croque monsieur and British delights like sausage rolls. Each are served with one of the salads, which I liked.

We started with a couple of refreshing juices.

I was a tad disappointed to learn they'd run out of the potato salad with peas, pine nuts and ricotta, and although I liked the sound of the quinoa superfood salad (#health), our charming French waiter told me he thought it wasn't actually anything to rave about. I appreciate honesty like that from restaurant staff.
Our food arrived, along with a couple of flutes of champagne. I am always OK with that.
I decided to go for the lemon and rosemary chicken brioche roll with herb mayo, and the grilled aubergine and butternut squash salad with pomegranate seeds and a yoghurt dressing.

The brioche roll was nice and sweet but to be honest I thought there was too much bread in the bread-to-filling ratio, meaning overall it was a little dry. The chicken itself was lovely, it just needed more of it and more mayo in my opinion.

I also thought both my salad and sandwich were slightly too chilled unfortunately. The salad, however, despite being chilled, was great. I loved it. But then again I just go crazy for butternut squash and aubergine.
Ellie's hot Croq' Aubaine was infinitely better than my choice.

Essentially, Bayonne ham and Gruyère cheese in a toastie with béchamel on top for good measure. I tried it and it was excellent. #foodenvy
So pleased with her choice. (Ells had the same salad as me.)

I thought the portion size was good and the service was quick too.

We definitely had room for pudding...
Dayum, the cake selection was tempting. Again, there was a mix of British and French delicacies - think lemon meringue pie, crumble tart, brownie, mille-feuille, carrot cake...

We decided to share the carrot cake and the pistachio raspberry cake.
The carrot cake was great. The icing was more like buttercream than cream cheese in texture, but there was definitely some cream cheese involved. The crumb of the cake was spot-on too.

The pistachio raspberry cake was dense in texture and more like a blondie than a cake in my opinion, but it was absolutely scrumptious.

Sipping a couple of teas as the sun went down, Ellie and I appreciated the lovely setting and the feeling of being pleasantly full with delicious food.

It had been a delightful late-summer's evening and I'll definitely be back.

Ellie and I were guests at Aubaine Deli but all opinions are unbiased, promise. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

RECIPE: Salted caramel apple cupcakes

To tie in with the annual joy that is the Great British Bake Off (*ignores fact the the future of what has become a British establishment is currently at risk*), at work we're mid-way through the Telegraph Bake Off, and of course, I couldn't resist entering.
Rather than following the exact same format as legit Bake Off (because #soznotsoz journos got a newspaper to produce and ain't got time to create incredible baked goods every week), the first round of the Telegraph Bake Off sees two entrants pitted against each other each week, before the quarters, semis and final at the end.

Somewhat terrifyingly, I was first. And this meant I hadn't the foggiest what the standard would be. It was all anonymous so I had no idea who or what I was up against, and it all got a lot more nerve-wracking and tense than I'd been expecting.
I can't even imagine what the bakers on real GBBO must feel.

As I struggled to decide what to make, my dear friend Amber reminded me of my old caramel apple cake, which is one of her faves. It always was a winner, if I do say so myself.

But in an effort to make my bake a) more impressive, and b) easier to transport, I decided to turn said cake into cupcakes. And reader, they turned about pretty gosh darn well.
So well, in fact, that I won my round! Huzzah! (I was up against a very dreamy peanut butter chocolate cheesecake so the competition was fierce.)

And because they went down such a treat with both my colleagues and my flatmates - I couldn't not give them one now, could I? - I figured I'd share the recipe with you all too.

I love these cupcakes. They are soooooo caramelly! There's caramel in the cake batter instead of sugar, caramel actually dolloped inside each cake, caramel in the frosting AND then even more caramel drizzled on top. Yeah, your dentist ain't gonna love you for this. But everyone else will so it's fine.
The caramel pairs beautifully with the slightly tart apples, and the hint of salt stops the cupcakes being too sickly, in my opinion. And whilst you can't really taste the cinnamon as a distinct flavour, it adds a wonderful subtle warmth to the proceedings.

I think these cupcakes make for a rather lovely early autumn recipe - I know we eat apples all year round but I can't help but associate them with autumn (the best season of them all), for some reason. Maybe it's the memories of picking them from the orchard in my family garden or eating toffee apples on bonfire night as a little girl.

This recipe makes 17-18 cupcakes, depending on how much of the batter you eat as you go. Needless to say, I made 17. No regrets.



125g unsalted butter, softened (just leave it out of the fridge for a few hours to reach room temp)
397g can caramel (I used Carnation)
2 eggs, at room temp
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt
300g Bramley (cooking) apples - I used 2 big ones
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp demerara sugar


225g butter
Rest of tin of caramel
400g icing sugar
A pinch of salt


1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin tray with paper cases. Peel, core and chop the apples into little chunks.

2. Place the butter and 225g of the caramel into a large bowl and beat with a handheld electric whisk until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

3. Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and fold them in along with the milk before gently stirring in the apple until evenly incorporated into the batter. Spoon the cake mix into the muffin cases until each one is about 3/4 full, sprinkle a little demerara sugar over each cake and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes.

4. When done, the cupcakes should be golden, springy underneath the sugary crust, and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out just about clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray for about ten minutes before popping the cupcakes on to a wire rack to cool fully.
5. Once the cakes are room temp, you can start on your icing and filling: with a small, sharp knife, cut out little cone shapes from the centre of each cupcake, pop a small dollop of caramel into the hole and press the cut-out piece of cake back on top.
6. Make the frosting: beat the butter with a handheld electric whisk for a solid five minutes - it'll feel like ages but keep going for the fluffiest, creamiest frosting.

7. Add the rest of the tin of caramel (apart from about 1 tsp worth!) and a pinch of salt and beat for a couple of minutes more until well incorporated. Finally, add the icing sugar a third at a time and beat well (I like to fold it in first to stop icing sugar going everywhere!) until you have a light, fluffy frosting.
8. Spread or pipe a large spoonful of icing on to each cupcake before finishing with a little drizzle of the final spoonful of caramel (you may have to melt it slightly to make it runny enough). And you're done! Yum.
I saved one cupcake and popped it in the freezer so I can have cake for breakfast on my birthday in a week. And I'm looking forward to it already.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

A girls' day exploring and eating in Brighton

"You're going to LOVE Brighton!" "It's full of cute shops, colourful houses and healthy food places!" "Brighton is such a YOU place!"

Everyone had been saying things like that for years, and yet I'd never been. So, when I moved to London at the beginning of the year and realised the seaside town was just an hour away on the train (well, more like two hours if you're poor and have to get the slow train), I decided it was about time I made the trip.

And with summer having almost come and gone and me failing to make it to Brighton, the Bank Holiday weekend provided the perfect occasion to meet up with two of my best gals, Amber and Stef, and shimmy on down to the coast.

I'll be honest with you, Brighton wasn't everything I'd expected.
The picture I'd been painted was, well, just cute shops, colourful houses and healthy food places. And whilst we did find all that, I - perhaps naively - hadn't been imagining all the same chains you find on every British high street and, well, a lot of tacky tat too.

It turns out Instagram doesn't show the full picture after all, who knew?

Nevertheless, and despite the sun being very stubborn and refusing to come out to play, we had a fab day. To be honest I'm sure I could be with these two in hell and enjoy myself.
Aww. I'm so mushy.

Anyway, let me take you with us on our trip and show you the highlights of our day in Brighton.

We wandered out of the train station and straight down to the seafront.
Seagulls squawked and swooped, waves crashed and the fresh, salty air (hopefully) cleared out my polluted Londoner body.
It also turned my hair into a bird's nest because it was hella windy but such is life on the coast.

Keen to see the main sights of the city, we couldn't not go for a stroll round Brighton's famous pier.
We walked past the fairground attractions and rides, but tbh it's all pretty tacky. Nice to look out to sea and back at the coast though.
As you can see, the sky looked a tad threatening so we figured it was the right time to head inside for a spot of lunch.

I'd been recommended soo many amazing-sounding eateries in Brighton that we felt spoilt for choice - the food scene really is fab, especially if you like your healthy grub - but we decided to go to Rootcandi, and it was excellent.

The restaurant specialises in plant-based tapas, and despite being super tempted by the menu of small plates, none of us could resist one of the daily specials, cauliflower dahl.
Served with the scrummiest naan bread and nutty rice, it was incredibly delicious and - amazingly - gluten-free and vegan too, even the naan. We all loved how it was served as well, almost like an afternoon tea stand.

The gals and I also decided to share a portion of courgette fries because, well, courgette fries.
With the (vegan!) garlic mayo dip, I could've eaten buckets of these. They were just so excellent.

Feeling suitably reenergised and having rested our already tired feet (we'd walked a long way along the beach, OK?), we headed back out to do some more exploring.
We soon found our way to North Laine, which is the prettiest bunting-draped street full of interesting shops and cafes.
Everywhere we looked, there seemed to be incredible cakes tempting us in through cafe windows, and I've never seen so many vegan and gluten-free options in my life. Before long, the gals and I decided a spot of sugar was necessary, just as we stumbled upon the most fab little place called Wai Kika Moo Kau.
Chocolate chip banana cake or carrot cake? It's a tough call.

As we munched, we perused the amazing veggie and predominantly vegan menu and were so gutted to discover Wai Kika Moo Kau wasn't open at dinner time. Note to self: go back for lunch.
Onwards we went, soon making our way into Brighton's famous collection of narrow streets full of yet more quirky boutiques and eateries, the Lanes.

We then went to see the Pavilion, which was absolutely not in the slightest bit like what I'd been picturing...
It looks like an Indian palace. But is in Brighton. I still can't get my head round the randomness of it, but I kinda like it. Apparently it was built for King George IV, and I guess when you're a king you get any random shiz you want, eh?

After yet more strolling, we fancied a light dinner before heading home. Enter, Foodilic.

The healthy cafe and deli has two branches in Brighton, and we were lured in by the promise of everything being half-price to take-away from 6.30-7pm.
We piled our boxes high with delicious salads, and you're just going to have to believe me when I say it was a lot more delicious than it may look. The sticky sweet potato with figs was the bomb.

With half an hour before we needed to be back at the station, we had just enough time for one final windswept walk along the pebbly beach. Safe to say I smashed my step-goal that day.

As we waved goodbye to Brighton and each other, I realised I want to do more day-trips - it's amazing how much you can see and do in a day really, and you can totally get a feel for a new place. And with so much beauty in our wee British Isles, I think it's time to do some more exploring closer to home.

Do let me know where I should go!
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