Provence, Summer 2014

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A couple of months ago, I went on a much needed holiday to the South of France. For me, it was always going to be about the food. So if you’re already planning your 2015 getaway (the thought has crossed my mind), perhaps this post will tempt your tastebuds to Provence.

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We stayed in a pretty village called Le Rouret, which just so happened to have its own Michelin-starred restaurant (she says). Le Clos Saint Pierre serves delicious dishes on a magical terrace, which keeps it packed every night. It’s so charming, made all the more special by Head Chef Daniel Ettlinger, who enthusiastically chats food and France with his guests.

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Renting a car was essential for us to explore the surrounding countryside. The Gorge du Verdon is spectacular, whether looking from above the clouds, or pedalling across the turquoise water to its many waterfalls. This ‘Grand Canyon of France’ also gave us an excuse to eat yummy snails and wickedly good creme brûlée at La Table de la Fontaine in Rians.

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Antibes was our number one stop for sea, sand and sunbathing, along with a mooch round its daily food market. Le Marche Provencal is filled with beautiful fruit, vegetables, flowers, cakes, pates and hungry Frenchmen. It made us wish for a villa so we could stuff our baskets with local produce and cook up a feast for dinner. Maybe next time.

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One town we couldn’t miss was Medieval Mougins. Famed for its restaurants, art (Picasso lived there) and undeniable prettiness, it’s also home to a lake of Lotus Flowers that will literally take your breath away.

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We also went to Tourtour, Vence and Nice, which all have qualities you’d be mad to miss. In fact, you’d be mad to miss any of Provence, so go, explore and enjoy. I promise it won’t disappoint.

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Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, Bethnal Green

The word that best describes Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is ‘surreal’. You pay a £5 entry fee (the NHS doesn’t cater for small, furry animals) to spend two hours hanging around cat obsessed ladies and gents, who pat, play and photograph the 11 resident cats. To put it bluntly, it’s a cat brothel.

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We went to research (don’t ask), drink tea and eat cake. The selection of cakes is pretty impressive and, after waiting a good ten minutes, my brownie was as chocolaty and fudgy as I’d imagined. In hindsight, we should have gone at lunch for a tasty Brick Lane Bagel, Filled Croissant or Platter – choose between The Kitten, The Housecat or The Platter. It’s the Londoner’s Circle of Life.

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It was hard to think about anything but cats during our visit. Everywhere I looked, another fluffball was either asleep, running round a giant hamster wheel or being taunted by customers. Even the shelves were clear for cats to roam above our heads. It’s an ailurophobiac’s nightmare and a cat lovers dream.

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Before I finish, I must remind you of the Emporium’s House Rules. If you don’t follow them, you will be taken down on social media (yes, these cats have their own twitter handles):

  1. Don’t pick up the cats (they hate it)
  2. Don’t give the cats any food or drink (they’re getting too fat)
  3. Don’t wake sleeping cats (they apparently need 18 hours a day – what the hell?!)
  4. Don’t use flash photography (they have sensitive eyes)
  5. Don’t disturb eating cats (kitty doesn’t share)

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So there you have it. If you’re obsessed with cats, go. If you hate cats, don’t. As for me, I’m holding out for the puppy café.

Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, 152-154 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6DG

Raw Press, Mayfair

I never thought I’d say this, but I can now imagine life without meat and fish. Life where fruit and veg rule my diet, along with pretentious pulses and edible seeds.

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I can thank my lovely almost Vegan housemate for this, along with Deliciously Ella‘s recipe app, Yotam Ottolenghi’s incredible salads and cold-pressed juice bars like Raw Press, which just opened in Mayfair.

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Walk into Raw Press and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a hipster cafe in Brooklyn, or how I imagine every LA restaurant to be. It’s shiny, clean and white, with splashes of colour from glass juice bottles and big bowls of salad. It magically makes you feel healthy the moment you arrive.

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I was lucky enough to taste all their cold-pressed juices, which made picking my favourites easy. No. 2 Green is my ultimate thirst quencher, packed with superfood goodness from its combination of apple, cucumber, celery, kale, spinach, Swiss chard and lemon (£5.50/£7.50).

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Then, for something a little naughtier, it has to be No. 7 Coffee & Mylk (£5.50/£7.50). Made with almonds, coconut water, dates, Himalayan salt, vanilla bean and cold brew coffee, it blows any regular flavoured milk out the water.

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Now some of you will be wondering what a cold-pressed juice is. Well, the answer is simple – instead of using a heat inducing centrifugal juicer that lowers the nutritional value of the juice, these bottles of deliciousness are made with a hydraulic pressed juice extraction that’s slow and, best of all, cold.

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But Raw Press isn’t just about the juice. There’s also an amazing range of vegan salads and snacks by the immensely talented Ella Woodward. For less than a tenner, you can order a giant plate of scrumptious Zucchini Noodles with homemade Brazil Nut pesto, Marinated Kale & Sweet Potato Salad, Broccoli & Avocado Salad and Chickpea & Squash Salad. All fantastically tasty and wonderfully good for you.

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And, there’s even a range of sweet treats (I particularly loved Ella’s Energy Bites and Banoffee Pie Pots). But the biggest surprise are her brownies – who knew they could be made with sweet potato and still burst with flavour? Yes the consistency is different, but the feeling of satisfaction when chomping your way through? Exactly the same.

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So there you have it. You can enjoy a varied, delicious diet free from fish and meat, which juice bars like Raw Press inspire. I’m not saying goodbye to sausage & mash, spag bol or fish pie, but vegetables are now playing a larger part in my life – hell, I even threw a vegan dinner party last night.

Raw Press, 32 Dover Street, London W1S 4NE

Fika, Brick Lane

‘Magical’, ‘authentic’ and ‘darkly seductive’. Ambitious adjectives used to describe Fika. Adjectives I chose to ignore, putting them down to pure PR drivel.

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Turns out, the PRs are spot on – Fika is a charming, Scandinavian restaurant that’s well worth a visit. The interior perfectly captures the delightfully unique nature of Brick Lane and the food looks good enough to be served at a banquet for fairies, elves and goblins.

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Em and I sat upstairs on the restaurant’s quirky roof terrace. We drank Prosecco and ate like Queens of an enchanted land, starting with Beetroot & Birch (£5) and Tre Sorters Sill (£5.50).

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Served on a round slab of wood, Beetroot & Birch was made up of a warm, miniature loaf of savoury beetroot bread, goats cheese, foraged wood sorrel and a shot of birch tree water. The flavours were earthy, simple and – even though I left the somewhat superfluous shot – really rather wonderful.

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Across from me sat Em’s Tre Sorters Sill – three flavours of pickled herring on crushed purple potatoes with blobs of dill yoghurt. The potatoes were deliberately cold, so not particularly tasty on their own. But, the overall effect was again very good.

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We chose completely different mains – I went for rich, sweet Swedish Elk Meatballs (£10.20) that I now want to replicate at home (pass the Elk please). As for Em, it was Foraged Salad with Goat Cheese (£12), which combined some unrecognisable leaves and flowers, along with quail eggs, samphire and black truffle potato. Calorie wise, it was nice to know you could be very good, or very bad when dining at Fika.

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My Kladdkaka was hands down the best chocolate brownie / cake / whatever you want to call it I’ve ever had (£4.60). Chewy on the outside, melting on the inside, it was beautifully presented as a flower (in case you were wondering…) with an equally pretty floral shaped scoop of Vanilla ice cream on the side.

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Em had Fresh Mint Granita, which was luminous on arrival (£5). I wouldn’t have traded my Kladdkaka, but the mixture of beetroot, fresh fruit and berries seemed to go down well.

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Fika proves you should never judge a book by its cover (or prologue). It oozed charm and made our eyes light up with every dish (example below). So for that, it gets a LLE Rating of 7.5/10.

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Fika, 161 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB

Fika on Urbanspoon

Blanchette, Soho

Blanchette was a dream come true. The waiters were my friends, the food comforting, and the drinks? Well, they just kept on coming. And let’s not forget the company – Crump Eats, The Edible Woman and handsome Steve Jones (sitting on the table next to us).

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I loved it from the start. The pretty dining room was filled with quirky French ornaments, colourful tiling, brushed wood and exposed brickwork. The memory will inspire when I decorate my dream home.

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Everyone had that Thursday feeling, so we started with a round of cocktails, olives and baked St Marcelin with bruchetta and large caper berries. An indulgent start that couldn’t have been more tasty.

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The menu had a ‘French Tapas’ theme as everyone in our city loves to share. We ordered as we ate, starting with succulent Braised Octopus with radish, tomato and a Verjus dressing (£7.50), along with a Roast Quail, Jamon Sec & Herb Croquette (£7.50). The dishes were totally different, but both were matched in impeccable presentation and taste.

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Steamed Mussels were juicy and enormous (£6) and Roasted Beetroot Salad with girolles, Fleur de Marquis and a tarragon dressing (£5.75) was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

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Frites and Béarnaise was a must at £3.75. We all remarked on the flavour of the chips and how well each golden wonder went with the sauce. Could Ketchup and Mayo be a thing of the past?

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At dessert, we were so impressed with Chocolate Marquise, salted caramel puffed rice and pistachio ice cream (£5.95) that we ordered a second pudding – Lemon Pot with Strawberry, Gin & Parsley Sorbet (£5.25). It was a modern take on a traditional French Strawberry Tart, brimming with beautiful creme patisserie and served with thin, crisp shortbread.

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Our last surprise came with the bill. We were stuffed and had drunk more than our fair share, yet only faced a charge of £46 each with tip. There is no doubt in my mind – I will experience this dream again and, for now, leave Blanchette with a LLE Rating of 9/10.

Blanchette, 9 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8DR

Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

Columbia Road Flower Market, Hackney

I’m a single, (late) twenty something girl looking for a tall, dark, handsome man that lives on Columbia Road. My friends call me picky. I call it discerning.

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Go to Columbia Road on any given day and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Go on Sunday between 8am and 3pm, and you’ll soon adopt my criteria list. Because on a Sunday, Columbia Road comes alive with flowers, music and plant loving Londoners.

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I went for the first time last Sunday and instantly fell in love. Although shorter than expected, the market is the perfect place to spend precious free time bartering over fauna and enjoying a bite to eat at one of the surrounding cafes.

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We walked slowly through the market, stopping for a yummy cheese & asparagus bagel at Cafe Columbia and an excellently made coffee in Start Space – a gorgeous contemporary art and furniture shop.

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Both had pretty gardens that made me long for my own outdoor space – somewhere I can entertain whilst feeling secretly smug.

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Next time I go to Columbia Road I’ll have to try one of the local restaurants. Laxeiro looked particularly tempting and would be an ideal spot to spy an unassuming man, who’s just popped out of his house to buy flowers…for me?!

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Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG

8 Hoxton Square, Hoxton

I think I’m suffering from ‘blogger’s block’. Over the past few weeks, I’ve chomped my way through Michelin starred food at Club Gascon, French fancies in Provence, breakfast at Shoreditch House and sharing plates at Blanchette. But have you heard about it? No.

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Well this is stopping, right now. The tonic? My review of 8 Hoxton Square – the newly born sister of 10 Greek Street that made me a meal I don’t mind re-living.

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In a medium-sized, rustic dining room, we shared plates of food over a bottle of Riesling, whilst enjoying a course of fresh air from the open fronted restaurant. I loved the crisp, golden croquetas (£6) almost as much as I enjoyed the fresh, simple flavours of Dorset Crab with a lightly battered courgette flower, roasted cherry tomatoes and salty samphire (£9).

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Fried Goats’ Cheese came topped with peppery rocket, beetroot and large, crunchy walnuts – a heavy ‘starter’, but no less delicious (£5). That said, it was the Shallot Tart Tatin with girolles, goat’s curd and truffle (£14) that stole the show for me.

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The light pastry was stuffed with sweet shallots that balanced the sour goat’s curd. Punchy truffle shavings sat atop watercress and green beans that added  freshness to the buttery girolles. This was a dish that could turn a carnivore.

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We greedily shared three desserts between two. Baked Ricotta covered in crumbled amaretti and a blueberry and grappa compote looked attractive, but was too savoury for my sweet tooth (£6). I far preferred the fun and aromatic Lemon Curd with meringues, strawberries and fragrant basil (£5), and the indulgent plate of cheese, chutney and crackers (£7).

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Aside from the Baked Ricotta, I couldn’t really fault 8 Hoxton Square. Everything from the food to the staff was lovely and more than enough to drag me out of my block. So to say thank you, I’m giving 8 Hoxton a LLE Rating of 8/10.

8 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

8 Hoxton Square on Urbanspoon