2015 has been a busy year in terms of travel, I’ve done numerous city weekend breaks in Europe (Amsterdam / Lisbon / Barcelona /Krakow), some relaxing, foodie holidays (Puglia / Bordeaux / Cyprus) and some serious ‘wow’ trips (Argentina / South Africa).
Here are my 2015 favourites:
The Show Stopper: The Test Kitchen, Cape Town.
No wonder it’s been awarded South Africa’s number one restaurant for the 4th year in a row, as well as the best restaurant in Africa. We were so lucky to have dinner here and try their incredible 10 course Tasting Menu. We sat at the kitchen bar, which I highly recommend, as it is truly one of the best experiences watching these top chefs put together the most incredible food.
Runner up: La Colombe, the sophisticated and much-loved restaurant in Constantia, the exclusive suburb of Cape Town. With beautiful views, delicate food and perfect service, I can completely understand why people rave about it (and why it was voted South Africa’s 2nd best restaurant).
Most spectacular Hotel: Eolo, Argentina.
I was completely blown away by this fantastic Relais & Chateaux, nestled in the Patagonian hills. This is a simple, elegant and intimate boutique hotel – which is all about the views, the fantastic service, the beautiful Argentine design and the excellent food. By far the best place I stayed in Argentina.
Runner up was Rattrays, Mala Mala in Sabi Sands. The most beautiful colonial lodge, and the best base for wildlife viewing in South Africa. Runner up 2: Babylonstoren, South Africa, the most wonderful Cape Dutch farm and hotel in between Franschoek and Paarl. I could not fault the design.
Favourite new discovery: Puglia, Italy.
Italy is, and will always be, my favourite country. And I know it quite well. But 2015 was the first time I traveled to ‘the heel’ of Italy, to Puglia, and I was taken aback by how much I adored it. So different to the rest of the country, I loved its dark red earth, the hundred year old olive groves, turquoise seas, the white-washed hill top towns, the brilliant food and wine, and the incredible value for money. Read all about my favourite places in Puglia here.
Runner up: Krakow, Poland. Who knew Poland was quite so beautiful? I absolutely loved this pretty and well-preserved Medieval city. Wonderful architecture, great dining options, and super affordable.
Favourite new London restaurant: Shackfuyu, Soho.
Fans of the Bone Daddies restaurant group will not have missed their Soho pop up, which received such high acclaim (especially its Kinako french toast with green tea soft serve ice cream) that it has now thankfully become a permanent fixture. My favourite dish was the aubergine with babu aruru, that alone is a reason to return.
Runner up: Taberna do Mercado. While Nuno Mendes’ new Spittalfields restaurant has divided opinion, I loved this cosy, down to earth Portuguese restaurant, with hearty ‘grandma-style’ dishes.
Favourite new London bar: The Gin Parlour at Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Soho.
I was already a fan of Mr Fogg’s Residence in Mayfair, and so was delighted when Mr Fogg’s Tavern opened at the end of the year. While the Tavern itself is often heaving, upstairs you’ll find a much quieter and more sophisticated Victorian Gin Parlour, with delicious (albeit expensive) cocktails.
Runner up: Cahoots . While it’s a nightmare to get a booking, I thought the interiors and the Underground theme was incredible (and the cocktail prices reasonable).
Best value hotel: The Capaldi, Marrakech.
If you’re looking for a sunny but short break away from London, then Marrakech is the perfect option. Just a 3 hour flight, but where the weather is infinitely better and where there is an astonishing array of five star hotels. While the likes of the Amanjena, the new Mandarin Oriental and Kasbah Tamadot are luxurious but very expensive options, the Capaldi offers the best of both worlds. It’s a beautiful hotel, set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, half an hour drive from Marrakech’s medina, and a complete paradise. Best of all is that rooms are from £100 per night, so totally affordable. I loved it.
Runner up: Hotel Ormes de Pez, in the Medoc area of Bordeaux. With only a few rooms, I loved staying at this very comfortable, traditional French Chateau boutique hotel, where you are beautifully looked after by Gilles.
Favourite new London hotel: The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone.
The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell is a London favourite, but the new Townhouse in West London is giving it a good run for its money. With quirky interiors, a very cosy sitting room/bar/lounge and rooms with the comfiest looking beds I’ve seen – this is British design at its best.
Runner up: the very modern Mondrian Hotel at the Sea Containers on the South Bank, where I especially loved the views and the cocktail bar.
Favourite Amsterdam new-comer: Cafe Panache, Amsterdam.
This laid-back, stylish cafe-restaurant had such a fantastic vibe, I thought I was in New York. The food is good, but the main reason to come is for the atmosphere, and the bar filled with locals, which stays open until late.
Runner up: The W Hotel, Amsterdam. While I’m not a massive fan of the W group, I must say I completely adored the new W’s ‘Lounge’ bar on the top floor, where the views of the Dam Palace are out of this world, and where I’d pay good money to have a swim in their pool with a view.
Most original bar: Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires.
It doesn’t get more original than when the entrance to a bar is a fully functioning flower shop. This bar has been repeatedly voted one of the world’s best bars, and I can totally see why.
Favourite healthy option: Pluk, Amsterdam.
Too pretty for words, this newcomer to Amsterdam’s beloved Negen Straatjes (Nine Little Streets) is the perfect girlie health haven. Pick a juice, a salad and a detox shot and you’re good to go. I love their Instagram feed too. If you’re looking for something more substantial for brunch, then their sister property Ree 7 (on the same street), is also worth checking out.
Runner up: Flax & Kale, Barcelona. I was really wowed by this healthy ‘flexitarian’ restaurant, which combined stunning interiors with a delicious, unique menu.
Best bottomless brunch: Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell.
2015 was the year I fell in love with Exmouth Market, a new part of London I had shockingly never been to before. B&H Buildings is around the corner, and it’s colonial, bright interiors makes it the ideal place for brunch (try and get a table in their green house). Best of all is that they offer bottomless Bellinis (£16) or Bloody Mary’s (£15) for weekend brunch.
Favourite local: Hally’s and Little H, Parsons Green.
Fulham gets criticised for being slightly on the dull side when it comes to restaurants and bars, but one thing it can get right is brunch. Hally’s remains one of my favourite Fulham locals, and with the arrival of its smaller and healthier sister property Little H (with a Cali twist), I couldn’t be happier.
Favourite City Break: Lisbon, Portugal.
It was my second time visiting the Portuguese capital this year, and I liked it even more than the first time I went. Lisbon combines excellent weather with beautiful architecture, an innovative foodie scene and incredible value for money. Take an extra day off work and give yourself a day on the beach to add some proper R&R to this city break, and you’ll feel like you’ve been on a proper holiday. Read all about my Lisbon highlights here.
Runner up: Barcelona. This Spanish city never fails to disappoint. With wonderful tapas bars, fantastic rooftop bars and the beach (with its brilliant beach bars), I could return again and again.