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Interiors

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London, Stay

Henrietta Hotel, Covent Garden

June 20, 2017
The Henrietta, Covent Garden

I’ve been to the Henrietta Hotel twice in 24 hours.  In my defence, it’s a stone’s throw from my office, so easy to get excited about.  Yesterday for drinks, today for a nosey around the rooms.  Because yes, I am a hotel geek and I do like to do things like that on my lunch break.

Founded by the Experimental Group guys (think the Experimental Cocktail Chinatown, but they also own lots of hip venues in Paris, New York & Ibiza), the Henrietta is many things.  Firstly it is a small, luxury hotel, with 18 rather beautiful rooms.  With heavy Art Deco influences and pastel colours, each room is unique, from the pretty headboards to brass lamps and mirrors in all different shapes and sizes.   Many of the bathrooms have large baths and all have fluffy branded robes and towels.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

The Henrietta has also got a great bar.  Last night, post excellent dinner at Frenchie (which I would recommend to all who would fork out a casual £38 on lamb), I dragged my friend there for cocktails.  We were there long enough for the bill to be fairly substantial (be warned).  The cocktail menu is a little unusual, as I suppose you would expect from these guys.  I wasn’t sure about my Palomar cocktail (tequila based but perhaps with a touch too much salt) but the vibe was good, and I love the design of the place.  There is also a mezzanine level with another bar and more tables.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the Henrietta is its restaurant, with the food being by the one & only Ollie Dabbous (of Dabbous fame).  I sent my colleague there for lunch yesterday (come to think of it I really have been giving this place a lot of love) and he said the food was excellent.

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

And so today, having not seen any of the rooms, I popped by and was shown around.  Sadly their two suites were booked, as I would have loved to have seen the views from their terrace.  But I saw two rooms: their smallest Covent Garden room (super cosy, under the eaves of the house, not for giants) and the Henrietta room (much more spacious, fabulous bed).

The Henrietta, Covent GardenThe Henrietta, Covent Garden

All in all it’s good to see Covent Garden has a new, hip hotel, and I’m sure I’ll be stopping by regularly for food and booze, and maybe even a snooze..!

The Henrietta

14-15 Henrietta St,

London WC2E 8QH

Blog, France, Paris

Alcazar, Paris – EAT

October 10, 2016

Saint Germain de pres is one of my favourite areas in Paris.  Ever since my grandmother first took me to Paris, and we stayed there in a beautiful pied a terre, I’ve been enchanted by the area.

And so it only seemed natural to return, this time for lunch.  I’d heard via via about the Alcazar, had seen on Instagram quite how pretty it looked, and heard about its ‘epic’ brunches.  We were not going for brunch, but Saturday lunch, and we arrived having walked through the city for a solid 3 hours that morning.

Alcazar, Paris

Arriving at a beautiful restaurant, with a mouth-watering menu, and being hungry, is one of my favourite things.  The minute a basket of ridiculously good bread was placed on the table I nearly inhaled the lot.  Which was a mistake as I still had lunch to eat.  They do a great lunch deal: two courses for EUR28, which is perfect.

Alcazar, Paris

To start Gene opted for the terrine and fois gras which was heavy (as predicted) but melt in the mouth.  I had wanted to go for the burrata, but it was finished, so I tried the ceviche.  It wasn’t particularly French, I know, but it was very well done.  For mains Gene tried the duckling, with butternut squash puree and baked figs.  The duck came a little too pink, but they whisked it away without a problem and returned it perfectly cooked.  I went for salmon tataki (again, not very French!) which was the perfect light main course (though a huge portion).

Alcazar, ParisAlcazar, Paris

Apart from the food itself, the restaurant’s interiors need a little praise.  Visually it is stunning; it may be one of the most instagrammable restaurants in Paris  I love being surrounded by plants, and here it feels almost like you’re eating in a greenhouse.  But with elegant marble tables, and an extraordinary light installation.  It has two levels, the ‘balcon’ has a very cool bar and you get great views of the restaurant below.  Plus the staff are very friendly and helpful, which I still find a bit of a rarity in Paris.

Alcazar, ParisAlcazar, ParisAlcazar, ParisAlcazar, Paris

We were too full to even consider pudding, and decided to walk to the newly renovated Les Halles for a coffee at the very cool Champeaux instead.  But seriously, if you’re in Paris, make sure you reserve time (and appetite) for St Germain, you won’t regret it.

NB If you come here for dinner and looking for a place for post dinner cocktails, head to the nearby Prescription Cocktail Club.

Alcazar

62 Rue Mazarine,

75006 Paris

 

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London

Bronte, The Strand

August 19, 2016
Bronte, the Strand

I’ve found my new favourite post-work drink place.  And it’s not just because it’s about 2 minutes’ walk from my office.

Bronte opened a few weeks ago, right by Trafalgar Square.  An odd location, you might think. A place which will probably attract a lot of tourists, was my first thought. But actually, no.  Either tourists haven’t clocked on yet that there is this rather glamorous (yet still very welcoming) bar and restaurant a moment’s walk from London’s highlights. Or perhaps they just prefer Pizza Hut and Garfunkels (fine by me). Because Bronte seems to be full with mostly locals and people like me, who head here for a welcome glass of wine after a long day’s work.
Bronte, the StrandBronte, the Strand
Tom Dixon – famous for doing the interiors of the wonderful Sea Containers – has also done the design here.  His style is recognisable: bright colours in the form of a stand out pink granite bar (love it), and green banquettes.  Quirky but attractive lamps hang from the ceiling and large pot plants add a slightly exotic feel to the place.  My favourite though, is to sit on their spacious colonnaded terrace – which feels remarkably calm, despite the busy Strand happening all around you.

Bronte, the StrandBronte, the Strand
But this is not just a bar. The food is good too. Admittedly I’ve only tried their snack menu (their crab summer rolls are very good), but if it’s anything to go by, the rest of their menu should be delicious.  And pricing is reasonable too.

Some praise must also go to their staff. Every time I’ve been there the waiters have all been exceptionally friendly and helpful, mostly Italian and very upbeat gentlemen.

Bronte, the Strand
I’m not one to keep returning to places, especially in a city like London, where new places open every day and I get serious FOMO if I don’t jump on a soft launch or new opening. However, I might make the exception for Bronte, which, with its good looks, convenient location and (usually) free tables, is the perfect place for a mid-week drink and a bite.

Bronte

Grand Buildings,

1-3 Strand,

London WC2N 5EJ

Photo credit: Bronte

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, Eat, London

Foley’s, Fitzrovia

August 13, 2016
Foleys, FItzrovia

Palomar is still up there with one of my all-time favourite London restaurants (and I also really loved its new sister restaurant the Barbary).  It’s not surprising therefore that Palomar’s Sous Chef Mitz Vora has opened a restaurant which blew me away, rivalling Palomar in standard and flavours.

I might be a little biased as I rocked up to the restaurant on a high (and a little merry) from a long afternoon at the wonderful Pergola on the Roof, in a very good mood. This was definitely helped by cocktails from the ‘outside’ bar at Foley’s, which I loved!  A further 50% off the food because of the soft launch meant that we all got very over-excited and ordered everything on the menu.  I think the only thing we missed off was a random salad.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Everything else we devoured completely.  Our favourites?  The ceviche endive tacos with tuna and octopus (heaven), the aubergine with pomegranate, quinoa and feta, the lamb and the beef.  But to be honest, I’d happily have all of it again.

Foleys, FItzroviaFoleys, FItzrovia

We finished it off with a few Espresso Martini cocktails (and again, moved outside for that – one has to take advantage of a warm summer’s evening).  These are not cheap, but are most definitely a way to emerge from any food coma.

A special mention should also go to the décor and the feel of the place.  It’s one of those restaurants with such a fun, upbeat vibe.  Unpretentious, down to earth, cool but not achingly (painfully) trendy.  The open plan kitchen is always welcome (next time I’ll sit at the kitchen counter, but a table is better for groups).   And it’s in Fitzrovia, which is just ideal in terms of location, not heaving with tourists, and a short walk into Soho if you’re looking for more after dinner party time.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Foley’s

23 Foley St,

London W1W 6DU

Photo credit: Foley’s

 

Blog, Italy, Rome

Marzapane, Rome – EAT

February 9, 2016
Marzapane, Rome

Rome has some fantastic restaurants.  My favourite for a long time was Casa Coppelle, and it is still one of the loveliest restaurants for a date in Rome.  I’m also a fan of some of the more traditional, proper ‘local’ places, like La Quercia, Maccheroni and Taverna Trilussa.  However, I recently read about Marzapane, a restaurant not in the ‘centro storico’ like the rest, but in the more residential Rome.  Having lived in Rome for a year, I’d never actually been here and so I persuaded the family to bundle into a cab and take the short 15 minute ride across town.

The initial hesitation of leaving the beloved historical centre was abandoned upon walking into this wonderful place.  It is very different to most Roman restaurants.  The interiors are bordering on Scandi, but without being too minimalist.  There is plenty of light wood and the design is simple, but it’s cosy and welcoming and yes, stylish.  Small touches like little wooden chairs for your bag (or your dog, I was thinking) are welcome.  Wine bottles stacked in the wall add more warmth.

Marzapane, Rome

And then comes the food. If you’re hungry, go for the tasting menu at EUR39 for five courses.  It’s a steal.  We decided to just choose a starter, main and pudding.  Choosing was the tough part.  The carpaccio with an Asian twist was a hit with my father who normally doesn’t even really like Asian, the prawn tartare with burrata was fresh and unique (and I loved the pistachio biscuit). The vegetable starter was also a surprising hit (they’re really into the word Crucifer in Rome), we’re not sure how they got the cauliflower cream like they did.

Marzapane, RomeMarzapane, RomeMarzapane, Rome

And the main courses were equally delightful.  The carbonara was more delicious and heavier than any we have tasted before.  The lamb with a Mexican hit (chilli), was so tender and delicious, even the fat was a joy to eat. The roe egg linguini was another treat.

Marzapane, RomeMarzapane, Rome

Pudding maintained the high standard, as did the petite fours which came with the coffee in a remarkable dish.  By which point none of us could fit anything more in our mouthes (meanwhile I’m writing this hungry and wishing we’d eaten them all).

Marzapane, RomeMarzapane, RomeMarzapane, Rome

And the wines we had were all different, all wonderful (and Italian of course – mostly either Sicilian or form Piedmonte), and all very reasonably priced.  My Dad did see a Gaja on the menu but the EUR200 price tag kept that one at bay.  Next time.

So, bottom line.  It is worth parting form the historical centre, and taking a 15 minute (10 euro) taxi across town.  It is also worth booking ahead, as this is apparently one of the most popular restaurants in town (it was completely full when we dined).  For me, it was fine dining without the ridiculous price tag, and I’d recommend it to all.

Marzapane

Via Velletri 39

Rome

Phone: +39 06 6478 1692

Blog, Italy, Rome

JK Place, Rome – STAY

February 8, 2016
JK Place Rome

I’ve stayed or at least seen a number of Rome’s best hotels.  From a room with a view (of the Colosseum) at the Palazzo Manfredi, to the fashionable and modern Portrait Suites, to the grand Hotel de Russie (with that incredible garden).  And then suddenly, JK Place Roma (which opened mid-2013) caught my eye, the third to join the JK properties (others being in Capri and Florence).  On Instagram and in travel magazines it looked bright and contemporary, and very chic.  And so during my recent visit to Rome, I checked it out.

JK Place Rome

JK Place is my kind of hotel.  Despite the large and beautiful building it’s in (an old university building), it’s small, with only 33 rooms.  It’s grand but homely.  I could easily curl up with a book in their divine cream coloured library.  Their ‘lobby’ is more like a seriously over-sized sitting room, with the light pouring in from above, and a mixture of greys and blacks and creams, contemporary furniture and quirky art.  It may not be to everyone’s tastes (my father didn’t like it), but I was very happy sitting there, sipping a delicious espresso.

JK Place RomeJK Place RomeJK Place Rome

The bedrooms vary in size, and if you want a fourposter bed (of course you do), go for the Superior rooms and up.  Their beds really are to die for, with engraved pillowcases and the crispest linen.  My favourite room was the Deluxe, spacious with wonderful green walls.  The bathrooms tend to be quite small and lack bathtubs, but you can expect a lot of beautiful Italian marble and mega power-showers, so there’s no room for complaint.

JK Place RomeJK Place RomeJK Place RomeJK Place Rome

Their New York style Bistro ‘JK Cafe’, is worth having lunch or dinner at.  I loved their use of rich colours and textures, lots of bold greens and yellows, combined with velvet and polished wood. They offer a weekend brunch to non-guests, and for EUR 50 per person you can eat as much as you want.  They also serve a laid back dinner, with burgers and such like.

JK Place RomeJK Place RomeJK Place Rome

The staff were utterly charming, and Marina doubles up as concierge and booked us Taverna Trilussa for dinner. An excellent recommendation (blog to follow soon).

In short, I highly recommend this beautiful hotel in the heart of Rome (literally around the corner from the Spanish Steps).

JK Place Roma

Via di Monte d’Oro, 30

Rome

Antwerp, Belgium, Blog

Antwerp for 24 hours: My highlights

January 16, 2016
Antwerp

I recently took the train from The Hague to Antwerp for a quick mini break.  It’s surprisingly close: 1.5 hours on the high speed train and you’re there. Even from the UK you can take the Eurostar, from Brussels you’re there in less than an hour, from Paris in two.  I was taken aback by how much I liked the city; its historical centre is very pretty (a little like Brughes, especially the market square) but it has an added style which the rest of Belgium misses.  It’s filled with the trendiest boutiques, akin to Copenhagen, from furniture to clothes to homeware.  It’s a lovely city to visit in the winter, when the Christmas markets are out and the city is beautifully lit.  I highly recommend it for a short romantic city break, and it won’t break the bank either.

AntwerpAntwerpAntwerpAntwerp

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WHERE TO STAY

Antwerp lacks top five star hotels, but has a few good boutique options as follows:

ROOM NATIONAL, CENTRAL – for modern, minimalist design

This is not a hotel, but three spacious rooms located very centrally on National Straat.  The owner Karin is very friendly, and will meet you there when you arrive, explain everything and give you local tips.  They call themselves Bed & Coffee, as breakfast is not included, but they have a good coffee machine in each room. We opted for the apartment (Room 1), the most expensive option (but at around £100 a night, is still a steal), which comes with a small kitchen, sitting room with Mac computer, bedroom and small bathroom (with epic bathtub). Everything is white. And despite that, it felt very cosy. You can’t get more central in terms of exploring the city.

They also have a sister property aplace/antwerp, around the corner, which looks equally appealing.   Karin has clearly combined her passion for interior design and eye for detail to create the perfect weekend break accommodation.  While the style of these suites/apartments are very different to Room National (less flash/white), they are certainly as comfortable and as stylish. The apartments are fantastic for families or groups of friends.

Room National, AntwerpRoom National, AntwerpRoom National, Antwerp

HOTEL JULIENCENTRAL – for a well-priced boutique hotel

While I didn’t see St Julien, I’ve heard good things about this small hotel. Prices seem reasonable, with a clean design, lovely courtyard, small spa and a great bar.  Rooms from £130 per night.

Hotel Julien, Antwerp

WHERE TO SHOP

Antwerp does shopping and design like no other. I was surprised by how beautiful all the boutiques were and the sheer amount of them. Especially the area around the Klooster Straat is ideal for antiques and bric a brac.
Antwerp

ST. VINCENTS, CENTRAL

Wow, I wish this place existed in London, because this is one of the most beautiful high end ‘concept stores’ I’ve set foot in.  They actually call themselves a Coffee Bar & Shop, using the coffee bar to showcase some of their beautiful furniture as well as a tool for drawing people into the shop and keeping them there.  If you’re looking for inspiration of how to design your home, look no further.  It brings out the materialistic side in you.  This is easily a place to you can find a comfy – but effortlessly stylish – chair and have a coffee, and then still find yourself there 2 hours later.

St Vincent's, AntwerpSt Vincent's, Antwerp

RECOLLECTION, CENTRAL

The minute you walk in it’s hard not to fall in love with this place.  Absolutely stunning design, beautiful products (think Aesop, stunning scented candles and scents, Belgian linen, sleek furniture, beautiful photo frames).  Their tag line is ‘Objects of desire’, and this is 100% true.  They are so proud of their concept and the lay out of the shop that photos aren’t allowed, in case anyone copies them (thus the photos below are their own).

Recollection, Antwerp

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BEST COFEE

Antwerp is full of coffee shops.  But not just stand alone coffee shops.  Antwerp has barbers with a coffee shop, book shops with a coffee shop, countless boutiques (like St Vincents) with a coffee shop.  Bottom line, there is no escaping coffee!  While Belgium has always been famous for waffles, chocolate and beer, it is quickly becoming quite the coffee pro too.

BUCHBAR, SOUTH – for book and coffee lovers

A fairly new opening in Antwerp, this is a small and very cosy coffee shop and book shop, all in one. Serving warm soups and good cakes, this is also a nice option for a chilled, if modest lunch. The design was done by the same clever people who did Tinsel, so full marks for that too.  My only negative comment would be that it was understaffed with just one girl serving a full cafe. And that the cake ran out as I was about to order…

Buchbar, AntwerpBuchbar, Antwerp

NORMO, CENTRAL – for the coffee experts

This is generally known in Antwerp as the best place to come for coffee.  The staff are super passionate and ensure you get a coffee you’ll remember.  The place itself is inviting too, with free wifi, free magazines and comfortable interiors, making it the ideal place to while away the afternoon.

Other

KOLONEL KOFFIE (in Antwerp South) and CAFFENATION (in the Theatre area) are also meant to be good for your caffeine hit.

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WHERE TO DRINK

MAD HATTER HENDRICKSCENTRAL – An Alice in Wonderland speakeasy with a gin emphasis

We came across this bar as we were wondering through the little streets of central Antwerp. Anything ‘speakeasy’ and I’m there!  Having recently opened in the basement of X, I loved this Alice in Wonderland bar. All the cocktails are gin based, of course, and the barman goes through great efforts to ensure you get the right drink for you. You can also order sharing platters from upstairs, the medium is massive, so if you’re just peckish I think the small will do. Full marks!

Mad Hatters Hendricks Bar, ANtwerp

BELGIAN WINES, THEATRE AREA – the best wine bar in town

Sadly this place was shut when we were in Antwerp, but if you’re looking for a wine bar, this is the place for you. While sceptics may question how good Belgian wines are, the reviews have been good.  And if the wine doesn’t do it for you, then it’s still worth seeing, as the interior design of the place (by the super talented Klein Agency – photo below) is stunning.

Belgian Wines, Antwerp

VITRIN – the bar for the trendy creatives

Where all the quirky, arty people come for post dinner drinks, this is a fun and upbeat bar, ideal for a boozy and sociable evening.

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WHERE TO EAT

BRUNCH

VASCOBELO V-BAR, CENTRAL – for an all day hangout

Don’t be put off by the size (it is large), this relatively new cafe/all day hang out was set up by Belgian Coffee brand Vascobelo and it’s the first of its kind.  Offering all day breakfast, lunch, snacks and – of course – excellent coffee, this is a charming and well-designed cafe, well worth your time.  Its been such a hit that they’ve also opened in Amsterdam, and will be opening many more branches in due time.

Vasco Belo, Antwerp

ABOL COFFEE AND BREAD, CENTRAL – for an affordable brunch

We walked past this place and it looked so inviting that we decided to try it for breakfast.  The interiors are not as charming as the exteriors (I loved the green outside, the brown inside less so), but the menu was good and very well-priced. Come here for a pancake, or a waffle, or their scrambled eggs, salmon and spinach was delicious too.

Abol, Antwerp

TINSEL, SOUTH – for the perfect cosy brunch

Popular for a reason, be prepared to wait for a table in this small but super cosy cafe. Ideal for a girlie brunch and catch up,  the breakfast and lunch menu are equally good. Be it pancakes for breakfast, or one of their incredible sandwiches for lunch (the beef tartar and pesto one was our favourite); you can’t really go wrong here.

Tinsel, AntwerpTinsel, Antwerp

Other than the above, Mirlo’s is also meant to be a nice breakfast hangout.

HEALTHY OPTIONS

COMPTOIR NATURAL FOOD BAR, ZUID

Comptoir is a small but rather beautiful deli and ‘tea room’.  I loved their selection of salads, cold-pressed juices and the endless cakes (gluten free) and other delicious options.  I enjoyed their coffee, and think it’s an ideal place for a quiet health lunch.

Comptior Natural Food Bar, Antwerp

I also rather liked the look of Raw, in Antwerp Central, good for a quick but healthy lunch, or a juice on the go.

DINNER

GRAANMARKT 13, THEATRE AREA

This is the place I was set on going to for breakfast, a boutique – restaurant – gallery hybrid, where the design of the place looked so gorgeous I didn’t even look at the menu.  While not cheap, the prices are reasonable if you consider how good (apparently) the food is – 43 euros for a 3 course dinner.  A reason to return.

Graanmarkt 13, AntwerpGraanmarkt 13, Antwerp

RENAISSANCE, CENTRAL – for Italian fine dining in a modern setting

We were recommended this restaurant by a local, and considering it’s located in prime tourist territory (right next to Room National), it was mostly filled with locals.  Renaissance is not just a restaurant.  They describe themselves as ‘a cosmopolitan vision on cutting edge fashion, beauty, art & fine food’.  Thus Renaissance is thus part of/next to a boutique selling expensive designer clothes, in an all white space.  The interiors continue in the same style in the restaurant – all white and black, with lots of marble and shiny surfaces.  It looks expensive.  If you opt for the ‘Primi’ dishes (i.e the carbs), the prices are actually quite reasonable.  The family who own it also own two other recommended restaurants in Antwerp: Ferrier 30 and Arte.

Renaissance, Antwerp

Blog, South Africa

Babylonstoren, Franschoek – STAY

December 14, 2015
Babylonstoren, Franschoek

Franschoek is a very pretty Cape Dutch Town, all white washed cottages, a lovely 19th Century church and plenty of cafes and restaurants populating the high street. But it is beyond the town where Franschoek’s beauty truly lies. In the towering mountains, the roads winding through vineyard after vineyard, the picturesque Cape Dutch farm houses surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Babylonstoren, Franschoek

Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farm in the area (it’s in between Franschoek and Paarl), and it is out of this world stunning.  It not only boasts a vineyard, but it is an actual (200 hectare) working farm, with the most lovely gardens.   And with the mountains in the backdrop it is breathtaking.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

Anyone can come and visit Babylonstoren, for a 10 rand (£0.50) fee at the entrance. I can see the appeal, especially for families. There are donkeys, chickens, a wonderful Glasshouse for a casual picnic style lunch (we had the freshest smoked trout on sourdough), and of course, the gardens to walk through.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

You can also stay on the property, which I highly recommend.  At the moment it offers 21 suites and cottages (some of them with multiple bedrooms), but they are adding a few more.   While from the outside these suites and cottages look like simple white washed farm houses, from the inside they are a sight to behold. It’s like walking into a Scandinavian suite; large open plan bedrooms with four poster beds, large windows, wooden floors, fireplaces, high ceilings and a huge white bathroom (the baths are heavenly). The family units also offer a fully functioning kitchen, ideal for those with younger kids or if you want to be more self-sufficient.

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

Their fine dining restaurant, Babel, was under construction when I went, but is usually booked months in advance. You can expect plenty of fresh, home grown produce and a seriously high standard of food.

Their pool was one of my favourite parts, in an old water reservoir, with lovely views of the surroundings.  They’ve now also built a ‘beach’, where you can have massages, and they have quite an extensive ‘Garden spa’, as well as a very modern gym.   And for the shopaholics, they have one of the best ‘hotel’ boutiques I’ve come across, with fantastic scented candles, wines, biltong and other souvenirs.  It goes without saying that they also offer daily wine tasting sessions, and are nearly finished with a new space for the wine tastings (it looks stunning).

Babylonstoren, FranschoekBabylonstoren, Franschoek

In short, Babylonstoren is a dream come true for couples or families – an authentic, warm experience, with the more delightful staff, in the most beautiful setting.

Rates from £220 per room in low season.

Other recommended places to stay in the Franschoek area:

*La Residence (if you want to splash out)

*Mont Rochelle (If you’re a fan of the Virgin Limited properties – who isn’t?) – also good to swing by for a picnic lunch

*Or this charming Airbnb property (if you’re on a budget).

Photo credit: Babylonstoren, and some my own.

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa: Best of

December 5, 2015
South Africa

VIEW – From the lovely winery Newton Johnson: of the Hemel en Aarde (meaning heaven and earth) vineyards, mountains and the sea.  Highly recommend it, and it’s only a 15 minute drive from Hermanus.  Shame the weather wasn’t a bit better!

Newton & Johnson, Hemel en AardeNewton & Johnson

SUNSET – From the top of Table Mountain.  Take the cable cart up, or, if you’re up for it, hike up (takes about 2 hours)!  But don’t underestimate how steep it is.  On a calm day it is still remarkably windy up on the mountain, but so worth it.  Watch the sun set and turn Cape Town a brilliant pink.

Table Mountain, Cape TownTable Mountain, Cape Town

WILDLIFE SIGHTING – A leopard trying to kill an impala at Rattray’s in Sabi Sands.  Sadly she failed, but it was thrilling watching her pounce.

IMG_3768

TOWN – Franschoek.  I loved the Cape Dutch architecture here: the white-washed cottages and the pretty churches.  Franschoek is filled with charm and lots of cosy restaurants, cafes and bars.  Grab the wine tram and stop off at all the wonderful surrounding vineyards (Mont Rochelle, Maison Estate).  Stay just out of town (15 minutes) at Babylonstoren, the most wonderful farm with the most beautiful gardens.

Babylonstoren, Franschoek

CITYCape Town.  It simply has it all.  Incredible restaurants and bar (from Kloof Street to Bree Street), the most phenomenal setting (surrounded by white beaches, Table Mountain and Constantia’s beautiful vineyards), lovely people, amazing wildlife (seals at the Waterfront, penguins at Boulders Beach, dolphins in front of 12 Apostles), so many outward bound activities on offer (hiking, surfing, horse riding) and super affordable.

Cape Town

COCKTAIL – Thai Green Curry Martini at the Pot Luck Club.  After a fairly disappointing run of cocktails during our holiday, I regained my confidence in South African cocktails.  I also tried their rosemary and elderflower Martini (equally good).  If you’re looking for a more casual bar, then 210 on Bree Street makes a fab Whiskey Sour for £2.

Potluck Club, Cape Town

BREAKFAST 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa. A combination of fantastic views (dolphins and seals playing in the beautiful ocean in front of you) and an array of treats like oysters and champagne.  Not a bad way to start your day.

12 Apostles, Cape Town

EXPERIENCE – Chasing lightening at Rattray’s on Mala Mala in Sabi Sands.  Super thrilling as well as just a tiny bit frightening.  I’ve never seen a sunset quite like it or lightning quite so constant and brilliant.

Rattray's Mala Mala

RESTAURANT – A toss up between the 10 course tasting menu at the Test Kitchen (awarded the number one restaurant in South Africa 3 years in a row) and lunch at the beautiful, elegant La Colombe (second photo).  Both meals I will never forget.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

La Colombe, Cape Town

AUTHENTIC MEAL – Lunch at Mariana’s, in the tiny town of Stanford, down the road from Hermanus, is as authentic as it gets. Peter and Mariana run a small restaurant at their home (the Owls Barn): Mariana cooks, Peter hosts. It is so unpretentious, such a warm experience, with lovely countryside views from their garden and truly excellent home cooking.

Mariana's, Stanford

BEACHPlettenberg Bay and the surrounding beaches.  Too stunning for words.

Plettenberg Bay
CITY BEACH – Camps Bay.  It does not get more glamorous or beautiful than Camps Bay.  And to think it’s basically a ‘city beach’, a 15 minute drive from downtown.  The combination of the deep blue sea, lovely white sandy beach and the mountains as the backdrop is magical.

Camps BayCamps Bay

CAFEFournil de Plett in Plettenberg Bay.  Sip a homemade lemonade in the shade of a tree in their leafy courtyard, and enjoy a healthy brunch.

Fournil de Plett, Plettenberg BayFournil de Plett, Plettenberg Bay

SEAFOOD – The Look Out Deck, Plettenberg Bay.  I thin we just hadn’t expected the food to be so good, as the setting is impressive enough (stunning views of the – empty – Look Out beach).  The Look Out is not a fancy restaurant, it’s down to earth and a great day hang out, and that’s why when our food arrived we were somewhat taken aback.  Rob’s tuna steak was perfectly cooked and so fresh, with wasabi and soya sauce.  You’d pay a fortune for that in London, but here it was £8.

The Look Out Deck, PLettenberg BayThe Look Out Deck, PLettenberg Bay

HIKE The Robberg Peninsula. Wow.  There are three hiking options, one is an hour hike, one 2 hours and one 3 – 5 hours.  We chose for the middle option.  The hiking is easy enough, but is still a bit of work out.  You will see a huge colony of seals from above (and smell them – less pleasant!), as well as lizards, snakes and beautiful birds.  The beach you come to is deserted and breathtaking.

Robberg Peninsula South AfricaRobberg Peninsula South Africa

HOTEL –  A really tough one because all the hotels we stayed at were fantastic.  But I think Hunter’s Country House wins this one because it is just one of the most charming, prettiest places.  The gardens were incredible, and I loved all the cottages scattered around the estate.  It is such a peaceful place.  You’re 10 minutes drive from Plettenberg Bay, so it’s the perfect location.  Their main sitting room with huge fireplace was so cosy, the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks.

Hunters

SPAThe Marine Hermanus.  A Relais & Chateaux which unsurprisingly gets its spa right.  We enjoyed a grey afternoon being pampered in the spa – they offer couple treatment rooms, so while I enjoyed a facial, Rob had a Swedish massage.  Later we enjoyed the steam room.  It’s about £26 for an hour’s massage.  Too good to be true!  The spa at the 12 Apostles was also brilliant.The Marine Hermanus

VINEYARDMaison Estate, Franschoek.  All the vineyards around Franschoek are incredible, but we especially loved Maison, which have a fantastic restaurant ‘Kitchen’ and beautiful views of their vineyard.  The interiors have a Scandi/minimalist feel to them. Apart from that another wine we kept seeing in top restaurant’s was Paul Cluver.  The vineyard is in the Elgin Valley, on the way from Hermanus to Franschoek and Stellenbosch, and is also meant to serve very good food to accompany top notch wines in a beautiful garden setting.

Maison Estate, FranschoekMaison Estate, Franschoek

POOL – The Rock Pool at 12 Apostles. While their other pool is heated and has the view of the ocean, I loved the originality of the Rock Pool, and you really feel completely in nature here.  There are a number of hiking trails you can take or you can just relax on a sun lounger in complete peace and quiet here.

12 apostles

HOLIDAY READI am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes.  You just can’t put it down, from the first page you’re gripped.  It’s ideal for lying on the beach, or waiting at the airport, or relaxing by the pool.  My problem was I was so into it that I forgot to put suncream on (not recommended)…

Blog, Eat, London

Coba, Vietnamese BBQ dining in stylish setting

November 10, 2015
Coba, Kings Cross

Pho seems to have taken London by storm.  This Vietnamese broth, with noodles, herbs and meat is healthy and light and incredibly tasty.  But some places do it better than others.  The newly opened Coba is one of those places.

So the only negative thing to say about this place (I’ll just get it out of the way): it’s a bit of a mission to get to.  Yes, it’s near Kings Cross.  But it’s still a 15 – 20 minute walk, along York Way, but all the way down (towards Camden), past quite a few building sites.  It will seem like you’re walking completely in the wrong direction, but then it suddenly gets busier again and you’ll see more restaurants and bars and that’s where Coba is.

Coba, Kings Cross

Second thing to say is that it is so worth the walk.  You’ll realise that the minute you walk in.  Because the interiors are wonderful; simple but with lots of wood and copper (I am obsessed), and the lighting is very well done.   The staff will do their utmost to make sure you’re happy and are as friendly as their are enthusiastic (our waitress said practically every dish was her favourite and their ‘signature’ dish).

Coba, Kings CrossCoba, Kings CrossCoba, Kings Cross

I couldn’t fault the food.  The menu is succinct but you’ll want to try everything.  The starters were perhaps the best of it all – next time I return I may have all four as a main course.  The prawn toast was out of this world, and the summer rolls were some of the best I’ve had (and it’s hard to beat the Caphe ones) – so fresh.   But I was also incredibly happy with my main course: the beef wrapped in beetle leaf noodle salad is perfect if you’re looking for a healthy and light meal, full of flavour.   Jo had the pho – also the beef option – and considering she only realised she’d forgotten to add the spices half way through – it was delicious.
Coba, Kings CrossCoba, Kings CrossCoba, Kings Cross

And then to finish we opted for the carrot cake – a healthy (it seemed) take on it.  I loved it.

To drink we enjoyed their house wine, and Jo had one of their signature tea cocktails which was fantastic.  Their bar is beautiful and the barmen clearly skilled, so you can even just pop in for a drink and a starter.

Coba, Kings Cross

I passed the (also new) Greek Larder on the way there, so I’m going to try that next time, and Granary Square is not far if you want to try Caravan, the Grain Store or Dishoom.  Ultimately this part of London is so up and coming, with new restaurants and bars opening continually, that I’m sure soon its location will be a plus point, rather than a drawback.  Highly recommended.

Coba

244 York Way,

London N7 9AG

Photo credit: Coba

Argentina, Blog

Hub Porteno, Buenos Aires – STAY

November 10, 2015
Hub Porteno, Buenos Aires

The Recoleta district in Buenos Aires is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s top hotels.  One of the wealthiest areas of Buenes Aires and a big tourist hub (mainly because of the famous Recoleta Cemetry), it’s where you’ll see many ‘chateaux’ built in the late 19th Century, imitating the French palaces.  Many of these palaces have been turned into five star hotels like the Park Hyatt (Palacio Duhau) and the Four Seasons.  But amongst the five star chains, you’ll also find the smaller, more characterful boutique hotels, like Hub Porteno.

Located round the corner from the Park Hyatt, and walking distance to Recoleta cemetery, you’ll find the 10-room Hub Porteno.

All the rooms are remarkably spacious – the Queen Twin room we had was massive, and the two ‘twin’ beds were actually like small doubles.  The complimentary amenities are worth mentioning: Nespresso machines in the room, snacks, lovely bath products and afternoon tea served at 4pm with apple cake.   What really stood out for me was the bathrooms – practically the size of the bedrooms, you can expect a lot of glass, marble and metal.  I had the best power shower ever there.

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

I found the ‘living room’ (which also doubles up as a library) a little bland, it’s strange since while the interiors are all creams and whites, it felt quite dark dark due to a lack of natural light.  Still, all is forgiven when you reach their 4th floor roof terrace; an expansive green space, with comfortable seating and it does feel, as they say, like an oasis in the middle of the city.

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

For those looking for a bit more action, then their small gym is actually perfect for a quick work out, and they also have a spa and sauna if you want some pampering.

I didn’t get to try their restaurant, but I did have a (rushed – sadly) breakfast there, and it was truly superb.  The coffee was the best I had in Argentina, and their china so beautiful.  The croissants were freshly made, and I managed to enjoy some eggs and bacon too (if you put your mind to it it’s amazing what you can eat in 10 minutes!).

Hub Porteno, Buenos AiresHub Porteno, Buenos Aires

And finally, the service was wonderful – so helpful, so personal and very warm and welcoming.  It definitely made my experience in Buenos Aires.

Hub Porteno

Rodríguez Peña 1967,

Buenos Aires

Photo credit: Hub Porteno

Instagram shot: mine

Blog, Drink, London

The Blind Pig – Soho’s slickest cocktail bar

November 7, 2015
Blind Pig, Soho

This bar is always full.  Which is impressive considering that it isn’t particularly obvious from street level that it even exists (bar the blindfolded pig door knocker).  Then again, it isn’t perhaps that surprising, since it’s part of (and above) Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House (one of my favourite restaurants in London).

Still, it’s taken me a number of years to finally have a drink here.  I’ve been turned away a couple of times (‘or you can wait for 20 – 30 minutes, madam’ – no thanks), but late one recent Saturday evening we managed to get two places by the bar.  Which is fun because you can see the cocktail shakers hard at work, and observe the mad skills they have.

Blind Pig, SohoBlind Pig, Soho

I’d admittedly had quite a few drinks already by the time we had our first cocktail here.  But damn they’re good.   I had the ‘Ginger Spice’, a vodka cocktail with ginger juice, carrot, lemon and honey (it’s funny how I still try and convince myself that adding some kind of vegetable to my drink justifies the quantity of sugar that it accompanies).  Rob had a Negroni.  We had fun chatting to one of the bar men, and I tried to persuade him to add ‘Skinny Bitch’ (vodka, soda and fresh lime) to the cocktail list (he made us the best one I’ve had).

Blind Pig, SohoBlind Pig, Soho

The Blind Pig is a dimly-lit, seductive bar, where the cocktails are inventive and delicious and where the upbeat vibe is infectious.  It is definitely worth the wait.  And if you get hungry, the delightful Social Eating House is just a flight of stairs away.

The Bling Pig

58 Poland St,

London W1F 7NS

Photo credit: The Blind Pig

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