Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Summer Drinks Festival

A long, hot summer makes for thirsty work and where cheaper to stock up on premium spirits than at the airport where top branded bottles come duty free? After the holidays and now that we're moving late into the season, there's no better reason than ever to bring a taste of summer inspiration home with you.

World Duty Free has teamed up with leading mixologist, Charlie McCarthy, to create and blend some of the season's best flavours in a month-long campaign that has seen some of my favourite bloggers recreating their very own.

Below you'll find the line up and I'm sure you'll stick around to tell me which one tickles your fancy?
I've a good mind to try them all.

First up, we have the Queen's Blush from Tom at Daydream in Blue with vodka, strawberry and basil making an appearance... A sweet and sour sip, I'm sure.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Vodka

The charming, Fifi McGee, tried her hand at a Hendrick's Floradora to warm her new home with friends... She confesses that she can't remember much except for loving the rose petal and raspberry hues.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Gin

 While Laura at Heroine in Heels took to the park with friends to get her shake on with a Pink 76...

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Vodka & Cointreau

The lovely Erica got a shakin' at home in her kitchen with pals -expertly mixing cointreau with champagne, Belvedere vodka and pomegranate juice.


Selena from Selena the Places went on a long walk to the heath with her loved one and basked in the sunshine, suitably supping an English Garden cocktail complete with gin, apple juice and a touch of elderflower.

Summer Drinks Festival with World Duty Free - Gin and Elderflower

Monica, aka The Travel Hack, threw a big party for her Australian pal and put all hands on deck to recreate the Old Cuban and a classic mojito. Apparently there were many more pictures throughout the night - I think she ought to do an outtake post, don't you?


Certainly the most intriguing of the Summer Drinks Festival has to be La Tomatina, lovingly crafted by Lucy at Supergolden Bakes. Inspired by a festival where a hoard of Spaniards lob tomatoes at one another, it shouts SUMMER! and sunkissed flavours in a glass and is, I imagine, the perfect Sunday brunch aperitif (read 'hair of the dog').

World Duty Free Summer Drinks Festival - Tomato
Of course, Samantha from Thoroughly English took to the rooftop of her South London pad to take in the views now she lives in the capital and chose the Peachy Keen - sweet, fruity flavours with the warm undercurrent kiss of Southern Comfort to complement the Turner-esque summer skies. 
World Duty Free Summer Drinks Festival - Southern Comfort
Helen at the Crazy Kitchen found herself hot and flustered baking back in July and so squirreled away to a peaceful corner of her garden to enjoy the taste of an Aperol Spritz in the fading light of the evening- just as she might during an Italian sunset where this cocktail is very popular.
Summer Drinks Festival
I even found myself getting in on the action with a bottle of aged golden Bacardi and a cocktail shaker. I'd forgotten how enjoyable cocktails can be as part of a long Sunday lunch with my mother and sister, who kept stealing my masterpiece before I could get a good pic! I'm also lucky enough to cultivate a huge hierba buena (spearmint) plant in my garden, which is vital for an authentic rum cocktail and speaks of warmer climes. 
Summer Drinks Festival - Rum
It's been a tough decision but next time, I'll be trying my hand at La Tomatina cocktail, closely following the You Tube cocktail tutorial playlist expertly provided by World Duty Free below. For me, the earthy taste of sun-ripened tomatoes perfectly captures a balmy British summer - just perfect in the rain and shine. 

What about you? Which of the above would be your summer poison?

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A Weekend Walk #9

Canterbury Goods Shed
Kent Cats in the Shed
Rain, Sunshine and Clouds
Hydrangeas and Roadside Flowers
Apple Crates Kent
Shottenden Garden
Ice Cream Parlour North London
A weekend well spent between Kent and London started with a vibrant and lively business meeting at the Goods Shed, Canterbury, regarding our unique company culture and how we can maintain this in an intense period of growth and change- cocktails from the Wild Goose bar were helpful in lubricating minds. Possibly my favourite place in Canterbury, the tucked away nature of the food hall means that the atmosphere is calm and subdued. Perfect for starting the evening and marveling at the beautiful architecture of the old railway building as the sun sets.

I spent Saturday enjoying the wonderfully tempestuous and moody weather that spectacularly saw the skies dance between rain and sunshine like a mad tango. Walking through the orchards at Shottenden, I wondered when I might move away from London back to such a place, if at all? All I know is that I certainly feel more at home there than I ever did elsewhere - it has truly stolen my heart and refused to give it back in its entirety.

Back in London today, we ate a hearty Moroccan lunch (lamb meatballs in a date, almond and tomato sauce if you must know) in the downpour and strolled to Tufnell Park's Ruby Violet for ice cream in the fierce hazy beams of a triumphant sun.

Tonight seeks concentration for some written work promised a long time ago now and a prawn, coconut and butternut squash curry to tend to.

Do stay a while and tell me what you got up to? Did you get caught in the rain? Did you get out of the city? And above all, did you wish it was autumn as much I did?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Freixenet Cava | Little Things

Not one for overblown gestures, it's all in the smaller pleasures for me - from a beautifully written note to an old habit, like wrapping my hands around a cup of takeaway coffee in the morning and taking a long sip.

 Life in Barcelona was all about enjoying small moments with food, drink, sunshine and friends but in London, I often feel as if the culture 'wastes' no time and it can be a balancing act to get work and pleasure in equal measure; constantly reminding yourself to shut off your emails and to spend time with those you love, if they happen to have nothing planned a million years in advance, that is.

Freixenet, cava purveyors hailing from Barcelona, Catalonia, recently held an intimate and generous event to open their new campaign, focused around the little things in life and inspired by research that shows that, as Brits, we admit that we plan too much of our social lives rather than enjoying the spontaneity of impromptu celebrations. Bottles of Freixenet Cava cooling on ice
Atop the roof of the Queen of Hoxton, a small group of us were invited to enjoy Catalan-style food as the sun set over the city and were attended to generously with cocktails inspired by the Freixenet range and a wealth of knowledge about the cava itself. 
The sunset from the rooftop at the Queen of Hoxton
Tapas with FreixenetPaella, churros and cocktails
The views were captivating, the company a pleasure and the food a delicious backdrop - it was if I were back in Barcelona and this was owed especially to the cava itself, which, to me, is the lubricant of a great gathering.
Cava Cocktails
 Working in PR, for me, this was an exceptionally well-thought out and executed evening accompanied by an inspiring campaign. As such, Freixenet essentially introduced the Mediterranean culture from which their product hails and combined it with the needs of us time-poor Brits.

Releasing a series of short videos about unexpected little things that give us a kick, a boost and a smile, you can follow and join in the conversation on their social media channels and watch my favourite from the lot below.

 Some of the little things I like the most are:

- The warm stillness and electric smell just before the rain at the end of a hot spell of weather

- Small kindnesses - an old Indian man who spoke no English sharing his sweets with me on a long train journey

- Pretty pops of colour and nature in urban spaces

What about you? What little things make you smile?

Monday, 4 August 2014

La Polenteria | Soho | London

Competition Alert!*

For a chance to win a meal for two at Soho's, La Polenteria, be sure to leave a comment on what you'd like best to see served with your polenta and RT at my Twitter page - you have until midnight on Thursday 7th August - best of luck! Extra thanks to Zomato for hosting - more about them below.

 I'm always looking for versatile ingredients and a recent interest in polenta has seen many kitchen experiments go awry in the summer heat - polenta is somewhat a labour of love and standing over a stove for half an hour can be somewhat weary work. However, it is one that is quite rewarding as it can masquerade under many different guises.
If waiting for polenta isn't for you, you'll be pleased to know that you can begin your polenta-affair at Soho's La Polenteria where it is plentiful and, what's more, you can find out all about it directly from the source, Gabriele - a retired investment banker turned restauranteur.  

You can also read a little more below, from an interview with the man himself.

Ciao, Phillipe!
La Polenteria London Soho 
Where are you from?

I am from Milan but a lot of my relatives are from Bergamo, an area with traditions rich in polenta.

Why did you decide to open La Polenteria?

I worked from 2001 as an investment banker but come 2012 and I wanted to do my own thing - to introduce polenta to London. I was fed up with banking and wanted to so something entrepreneurial; a new concept. So I took a risk, why not? I did my research, especially concerning the demand for gluten free and so it wasn't a difficult decision.

We opened in December 2013 in Soho because it is a food quarter, with plenty of Italian influence. It's great for tourism and has a good balance of places to eat so it was a great place to commit seriously.
Cooking with Polenta
What makes you different?

The food itself - for sure. It's versatile and its limits are phenomenal. For me, polenta represents family and being with family. As a child, I would spend hours with my grandma preparing the polenta in copper pots and I wanted to recreate that family vibe and quality with genuine food. 
More recently, we've been looking at fusion with UK tastes - we want it to adopt multicultural flavours. In Italy, we would typically eat it on a Sunday with fried cod in our house in the mountains where we would meet with all our family, cooking it over the fire before pouring it onto the table and helping ourselves to a scoop. But here we're looking at what might make people feel more at home.

Describe the restaurant in three words

 Stylish, authentic polenta.
What's you favourite thing to do in London?

Ha, I don't have much time to spend in London as I am always here but I am lucky enough to live in Hampstead so that I can wake up, look out the window and see the squirrels. I love squirrels. 
Alex at La Polenteria
Thanks, Gabriele. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

If you'd like to peruse La Polenteria's menu, be sure to check out Zomato, complete with reviews, photos and more. It's the perfect place to meet other bloggers and find out where's good to eat in your city.
And so over to you, readers. What are your experiences of polenta? And, if you're a fan, what are your favourite recipes? The Tuscan sausage stew at La Polenteria is a fine choice, if can't make your mind up.

*Competition Terms

A meal for two including: two mains, two desserts and two drinks, to be redeemed at lunch or dinner time between Monday and Wednesday before the 30th of September.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

A Weekend Walk #8

While living in London has its merits, it'll never be for me.

I'm a small city or country girl at heart. You know, where everybody knows your name and things are green.

Getting out of the city to some of England's darling counties, is often just the ticket.

And so the weekend past, we did just that.
Yorkshire Towns
Yorkshire Beaches
Beaches in Yorkshire
Yorkshire Villages
Yorkshire Churches and Sky

Thursday, 24 July 2014

An Interview With Tess Ward


I struggle to quantify how I interact with food on this blog as it is an evolving area for me. Inspiration or affirmation therefore, is warmly received from characters on the London food scene with mutual interests, especially since I cook without rigour and by what I feel is instinctively right. This comes from a lot of time, patience and confidence instilled in me by my grandmother but for those who are new or tentative to the kitchen, I can imagine it is quite daunting.

Tess Ward, a fellow foodie, personal chef and blogger, bases her interaction with food by the same instinctive means but at a recent and intimate event that she hosted, she also shared her thoughts on 'clean' food and encouraged us to play with spices, herbs and salts to bring our palates to life by our own rules.

 Nothing was overtly new here for me in terms of playing by response to taste but I was interested all the more in the concept of food that is lower in sugar and less processed and also the method she used to engage us as her students for the evening, allowing us to try for ourselves rather than tell and lay gentle inspirations.

I have since made a fabulously easy spelt soda bread, such as the one we devoured topped with smoked mackerel pate and am keen to make the sweet potato gnocchi we also shared and for which you can find the recipe below.
http://www.abouttimemagazine.co.uk/eat/tesss-sweet-potato-gnocchi-kale-bacon-pecans/
In the meantime, you can find out a little more about Tess below or head over to her blog, the Yes Chef, to see more of what she's up to. I quite like the look of the cappuccino oatmeal!

Tess, where are you from?

London.
 Why and when did you start your blog/career?
I started cooking at university, I fell in love with cooking and after I finished enrolled at Le cordon Bleu. Straight out I pitched my cookbook to my agent and have been cooking and writing ever since.

What makes you different?
I don't want to feed the world. I want to teach the world to feed itself. The ability to cook is so important. I believe everyone should have a basic understanding of it. 

What's your fave thing to do?

I love yoga. Art galleries, old bookshops and libraries are some of my favourite places for calm. It's much needed in my hectic world! 

How did we meet?
A taster evening, for my tailor made cooking programmes, held at Pipsdish
Describe your blog/job in three words
Creative, spontaneous and beautifully fulfilling.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Fink's Cafe | London

Freshly opened on the corner of Mountgrove Road and Wilberforce Road, Fink's Salt and Sweet Cafe is an absolute delight to behold. Having recently moved away from the area, I was crushed and thrilled at the same time to learn that in this little residential nook of North London, a special type of establishment was opening. Formerly a butcher's, a greengrocer's and a military memorabilia store, it's filled with quirks from former days.

Not just a cafe, Fink's offers a deli counter, little-known wines by the box, special olive oil, 'sexy pesto', and much, much more to come. I set straight to interviewing the charming proprietors, Mat and Jess, to find out more about their venture, which sees a cosy future of late morning brunches, early evening glasses of wine and raucous and intimate dining with your friends and neighbours.

If you live in the area, I'm definitely jealous of you.

If you don't, who cares? You ought to check it out anyway.

Where are you from?

M: I’m the country mouse from Somerset but I’ve lived in London for 10-years, specifically in this part for 4 and the rest around the North.
J: I’m from upstairs but I’ve always lived in London. I’ve crept through Camden and Holloway and finally, here.
Fink's Cafe London
Why did you choose this area?

M: I just love the leafy, residential aspect and the pockets of places here- I just LOVE North London. I’ve lived in Arsenal and Holloway and there’s this nice, laid back and easy attitude around.

J: Yeah it’s just a really great spot between the throng of Finsbury Park and Stoke Newington. It was almost crying out for something.

M: Obviously you’ve got the beautiful Clissold Park on one side but on the other, the traffic on Blackstock Road, the parks the schools and the young pros so there’s this ‘everything’ vibe but there was a limit to the places in this particular nook that you could just ‘pop out’ to. I used to struggle to find somewhere to ‘pop out’ to. Now, that’s us.

J: Mmm, you just couldn’t ‘fall’ into a place around here. So we’ve brought together the best of Hackney (where I’ve worked) and Soho (where Matt’s worked) and made a middle-ground so there’s a little touch of each married with this area- we’ve tuned into multiple London cultures.

Fink's Cafe North London
What makes you different or special?

M: I think what makes us different and special is the neighbourhood. We really built this place around servicing THIS bespoke area. So we have everything you might need from a fancy bottle of wine, to a £3 glass from a carafe. If you want a special cheese or literally the jar of biscuit butter from the shelf, it’s yours. 

We’re a little off the beaten track from the shops and restaurants so we know to succeed we ought to have different guises; to wear lots of hats, so that we reach the breadth of quite a wide niche. We want to keep a captive audience and so the experience changes with the time of day and the mood, from a coffee in the morning, to a glass of wine with friends in the evening and then, into the winter, some hot dishes to enjoy straight from our oven.

Salt and Sweet Cafe
Describe the café in three words

Your fridge (but) better? 

That's cheating a little but we like to think we're a bit like a larder or a pantry filled with all the delicious things you'd love to have in stock all the time, not just for parties.
North London Cafes 
What do you love doing in London:
 
M: Well, nothing for the last 8 weeks but certainly I like going out and eating with friends…These days I really prefer impromptu meetings. There is nothing more enjoyable than a local pub with a few friends or places without agenda. You know, ‘no rules’ places where you can order what you want to the table or grab some stuff on the way to the park or wherever you’re heading off to next, even if it’s home.

J: I love markets. And I love food markets. Broadway Market, Farmers Markets, antiques markets, cheap and crap markets... AND the great thing is I have a good excuse to go to markets now that we have this place. Now when I find a bargain lot of 25 antique trays, they’re mine (and with good reason).


How did you two meet by the way?

E: We’re kind of like an arranged marriage that worked out! Matt is the partner of a friend and we got to talking and transformed my studio into the cafe. Now we’re Finks and business partners. 

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