Hoot The Redeemer, Edinburgh

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Cocktails are everywhere around the Fringe Festival. Pop up bars and pubs are seemingly there in every direction. Not all of them are immediately obvious though. We headed to a speakeasy hidden underground just off Hanover Street – Hoot The Redeemer. 

Appearing as an extended doorway of the adjacent Bella Italia, you wouldn’t even know that this was the entrance to a bar. A quick walk down a flight of stairs to the bottom brings you face to face with a fortune teller. Behind the fortune teller is the door to gain entry to the bar. 

If quirky is your thing then Hoot The Redeemer is your place. We loved the small, intimate atmosphere. Heading to the bar, the staff were so nice and welcoming. With the Fringe being on we were glad to have reserved a table, highly recommended as this is a popular place.

The theme of the menu is based around tarot. The cocktail menu reads like a pack of cards. There are also cocktail slushies, ice creams and even options to put your trust in the hands of the barman. A large grabber machine is a popular choice for those of an indecisive nature.

By operating the machine, you can grab a ball that has the ingredients within it for a cocktail, or a certain flavour. Take that to the bar and the staff will knock up a cocktail using those ingredients. 

Narrowing down our choice of cocktail from the tarot cards menu was tricky – all of them sounded so good. In the end we went for ‘The Lovers’ which was a blend of apple brandy, creme de cacao, rose syrup, lemon juice, prosecco and bitters. 

I was feeling devilish so I went for ‘Death’. A cocktail consisting of bourbon, benadictine, cherry brandy, sherry blend, bitters and coffee mist. Table service is available but during quieter periods ordering from the bar is a lot easier. 

Our cocktails arrived looking simple and in keeping with the style of the venue. The Lovers cocktail had a pronounced fruity punch with a really good balance running through the flavours. Death wasn’t going to let me off lightly – this cocktail was incredibly strong. It tasted like cherry meets sherry, definitely one to drink at a slower pace. 

A unique feature of Hoot The Redeemer is alcoholic ice cream. Made fresh daily, the ice cream comes in the form of a cocktail. Each tub costs £4 and is dispensed via a vending machine by the bar. This is something completely new to us. 

There are a lot of different combinations to choose from but we settled on ‘Edinburgh Rocks’ containing whisky, honeycomb and salted caramel. To go with that we got an ‘Espresso Martini’ ice cream out of the machine. A mix of vodka, coffee liqueur and espresso. 

Each ice cream comes in a little pot with a small spoon (more of a shovel) secreted within the lid. The flavours of each ice cream are epic and go really well with a cocktail. The staff also bring over a unique flavour of popcorn which was lime and chilli on our visit. 

The bar began to fill up but this is one of those places that you can stretch your legs out and just relax in for ages. The staff are attentive and always ask if you would like more drinks. Considering this was a small room full of festival goers, the noise levels were perfect. 

As always though, there comes a point when you have to drag yourself out of your comfy seat and head for the exit. A final bill of £17 for the cocktails plus £8 that we had spent on the ice cream machine was a decent total for the experience. 

Hoot The Redeemer is something completely unique in our experience of cocktail bars. It’s like going back in time with added twists to bring out your inner child-like enthusiasm. It may be tricky to find but once you do, you will be glad that you took the time to look. 

Opening Times: Monday-Friday 1600-0100, Saturday & Sunday 1500-0100

Website: www.hoottheredeemer.com

Nearest Train Station: Edinburgh Waverley

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019 – The Venues and Shows

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The choice of shows to see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe can be overwhelming at first glance. Over 53,000 performances take place over a three week period in 300 venues across the city. Narrowing down the number of shows to go and see took us a fair while. 

The best place to start is the Fringe website. All the acts are listed on the site in alphabetical order. You can filter the date and time of the performances happening to help scale down the shows into some kind of order. From this, we created an itinerary based on what times the shows began and the distance between venues for the next show.

An itinerary is an absolute must if you want to take in numerous shows throughout the day. Also if you have a particular act that you would like to see or a popular show that is first come first served, as many are. The real benefit of the Fringe is that many shows are free to enter and you can pay what you like at the end, or what you feel that the show was worth.

We arrived in the city at midday. The perfect time for starting to hunt for venues and shows. To begin with, we took in the atmosphere of the street performers in and around the Royal Mile. These shows are often magic acts, musicians and daredevil acts – hugely popular with the visiting crowds.

 

The Free Sisters, Cowgate

Our first gig was a compilation show at The Free Sisters, Cowgate. This is a pub with a large courtyard that features a big screen showing live sport. There are also street food stalls dotted around the courtyard selling such items as burgers, ribs and ice cream. All prices for food were around £8-10. 

A huge bar sits one side of the courtyard with a real summer vibe, the kind of place that you would come to watch a World Cup football match with a nice cold beer. Inside, there are two rooms on the ground level with two on the upstairs. There is also a hostel on the upper levels above the performance areas. 

We were here for ‘Funny Cluckers’ a popular compilation show which drew a sell out crowd. We began queuing from 14.10 for the show at 14.45 which proved to be a good move on our part as the line ended up all the way down two flights of stairs! 

The room itself was a decent size with a low ceiling and much appreciated air conditioning. The weather outside was unusually warm for Scotland. Seating came in the form of fold up chairs, the kind that you see WWE wrestlers hitting each other over the head with.

The mixed bill allows you to really see a good number of comedians within an hour. Each act did 10 minutes with our MC Ian Fox working the crowd in between the comics. A standout act was a conspiracy theorist named Rod Shepherd who had a unique style of comedy featuring quick fire theories. It sounds mad but it was absolutely hilarious. 

Two of the four acts were really good but two were quite poor. That’s the luck of the draw with the mixed bill shows but either way you’re guaranteed a good laugh and a good time. As a venue, The Free Sisters is popular with the Free Fringe and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. 

 

Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC)

A world away from the merry pub vibe of The Free Sisters, the EICC is a plush conference centre literally on the fringes of the Fringe. A walk of about 15 minutes from Princes Street through the pouring rain got us to the EICC to watch Dead Ringers.

There are numerous staff on hand guiding you to where you need to be. The centre plays host to a number of different shows throughout the festival so it is key that you know where to go. We were pleasantly surprised to find a full bar and some street food in the show waiting area. 

Around 15 minutes before the show, the crowd began to line up behind a sign indicating the start of the queue. Everything was very orderly and the crowd a lot more mature for this show. A brief trip up an escalator and we were into the theatre. 

The Pentland Auditorium is a large theatre with ample seating for a large crowd. The simple stage set up was just four chairs, four tables, four microphones and a keyboard. It was such a treat to sit in soft, comfortable chairs after the hard backs of the chairs at The Free Sisters.

Dead Ringers is a show that I loved a few years back. I continue to be intrigued and entertained by impressionists such as Jon Culshaw, who would be performing. Joining Jon on stage would be Jan Ravens, Lewis MacLeod and Duncan Wisbey. 

The show began with the impressionists reading from scripts, just as they would in the Radio 4 show. A lot of the impressions and topics centred around politics with many of the same characters being done again and again.

For me, this was a bit disappointing. I had huge admiration for Lewis MacLeod’s Donald Trump Impression and Jan Raven’s take on Alex Jones but for us it was all a bit average. It’s definitely a show to go and see but we would have liked more variety in the sketches. For £17 it wasn’t a bad show as it did have its moments. 

 

George Aikman Lecture Theatre

The posters for this show were all over town and perhaps not surprisingly so. This is a former winner of the top prize at Edinburgh Fringe back in 1991. A stand up who is nailed on to sell out theatres up and down the country with this being no exception. Frank Skinner.

Skinner is a comedian that I discovered very late in the day. Watching him on the telly growing up, I saw him as more of a chat show host or a brief pop star. I hadn’t dipped into his stand up career until late last year and I was crying with laughter at what I saw. 

At the age of 62, I never thought Frank would return to stand up after sporadic tours down the years. Tonight though would be the night to see him live and in person. In the pouring rain, we dashed over from the EICC to the George Aikman Lecture Theatre. 

The theatre is part of the University of Edinburgh just off George Square Gardens. A huge street food village had been set up just outside, which was definitely warmer than we were. Standing outside in the pouring rain would have been pure agony but for a chat with a lovely couple behind us from northern Aberdeenshire. 

The organisation suffered massively at this point as another popular show featuring Irish stand up David O’Doherty was just emptying out. People stood in front of the theatre causing a delay in getting Frank Skinners audience in. Five minutes before the show was due to begin, we were let inside.

Staff, to their credit, were filling the rows quickly. We ended up on the third row beside the couple that we had met in the queue. Frank emerged to a warm reception and quickly settled into his act. 

If you are going to see any tour this year. Make it Frank Skinner’s. I had feared that following his rather tame ‘Man in a Suit’ tour back in 2017 that the old magic had gone. This was more like the Skinner that I had roared with laughter with on YouTube. 

It’s a pleasure to witness someone make a difficult job like stand up look so easy. Going back and forth with the crowd and his own material effortlessly, Frank is hands down the best stand up that I have ever had the good fortune to watch.

 

The Hanover Tap

A little way up Hanover Street sits the Hanover Tap. A popular pub during the festival and home to Comedy 101 – our second mixed bill show of the Fringe. The comedy would be held in the basement, a space known as ‘The Wee Tap’. 

I really liked the system at the Hanover Tap. You approach the bar, order a drink and the bar staff hand you a token for however many people are in your party. This guarantees your entry for the comedy.

The one slight issue with the venue is when a show is due to begin, the bar is full to capacity. When the basement empties out it can get a bit tight getting through the bar area. Other than that, the Hanover Tap is a cracking venue for a pint and a few laughs.

We took our seats at the back with a view to an early exit as we had a gig further down the road at the Newsroom. The Wee Tap can actually fit a heck of a lot of people in as the seating stretches all around the side of the stage as well as directly in front. Some people were permitted to stand near the bar area with the place full to capacity. 

The show was titled 101 Comedy Club. A mixed bill of four comedians, exactly the same format as ‘Funny Cluckers’ at the Free Sisters. The acts throughout the gig were all roughly the same level which made watching all the more easy. Many laughs were had and after act number 3, we made for the exit back out into the rain. 

 

The Newsroom

Photo Credit: Mark Row (@mrmarkrow on Twitter)

Our final stop on our journey through the Fringe was at the Newsroom to catch a show by a comedian actually known to us. Mark Row appeared on a show that we were attending in Nottingham at the Canalhouse. That night, Mark had a great set and stood out from the other acts by a mile. We had been keeping an eye on his progress since then.

This was actually made a lot easier as Mark had made a documentary back in 2017 following his journey from zero stand up experience to his very own show at the Fringe. This documentary is mandatory viewing for anyone wanting to step into the world of stand up. 

At this year’s Fringe, Mark wasn’t alone. A comedian based in Nottingham by the name of Matt Bragg was going to be joining Mark in the venue throughout the festival. We were delighted with this as we would be getting two comedians in one show. 

The Newsroom is a lovely venue with a sense of style about it. The bar staff were really friendly and a good group was starting to form inside for the gig. Downstairs, the room that Mark and Matt have managed to secure is a great size with superb air conditioning and decent sound. 

A scattered crowd came in to watch the show. Two lively Scottish lads keen on cocktails decided to take seats on the front row. With the show getting underway, Mark went on to do his stint on the stage.

What’s great about Mark is his delivery and building a relationship with the audience. Gags relating to his career as a teacher, his experiences as a parent and life in general all went down very well. The lads on the front row decided to talk amongst themselves which Mark quickly addressed and prevented any further disruption, the sign of a decent comic.

Matt Bragg then took to the stage and the pace changed completely. Matt’s set was a little more subtle and gaining giggles from the crowd rather than full on laughs. It was a thoroughly enjoyable set nonetheless and a show well worth going to see.

This was sadly our last gig of our tour around the Fringe but what a tour it was. The sheer number of venues makes getting around incredibly difficult just by picking random shows. An itinerary is highly recommended in order to get the very best out of your trip to the Fringe – have a wonderful time! 

You can find Mark Row’s documentary ‘A1: The Long Road to Edinburgh on this link

Mercato Metropolitano, London

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Tucked away in the Elephant and Castle, just off Borough High Street, sits Mercato Metropolitano. A food court with a range of stalls spanning a range of cuisines from all around the world. Braving the post-work crowds, we wandered in to check it out. 

shard london

Mercato Metropolitano originally started in Milan, Italy. An old railway station was converted into a small food market, not too dissimilar to what it is now in London. The market was so successful that the company expanded overseas and London became the lucky recipient. Sadly the Milan branch closed in 2016. 

mercato metropolitano london

The market is easily accessible from Borough tube station or Elephant and Castle. No doubt you’ll hear the beat of the DJ’s set or smell the tempting aroma’s to confirm that you have arrived. If those two elements aren’t enough, there is a large sign above the entrance declaring ‘MERCATO METROPOLITANO’. 

mercato metropolitano london

Inside, the atmosphere was lively. This being the evening and with many people having just finished work, it was probably to be expected. Large outdoor areas for seating are scattered around the site. Many people were taking the opportunity to enjoy a beer, a cocktail, a smoke and more importantly, the sun. 

mercato metropolitano london

We weren’t quite prepared for the scale of the site. On the various pictures and reviews that we have seen, it looks a little like Dinearama in Shoreditch. Just a ‘one room with all the vendors in’ sort of an arrangement. At Mercato Metropolitano, there are at least 3-4 rooms full of traders specialising in street food along with shops outside selling Italian products. 

mercato metropolitano london

The choice is incredibly vast. The amount of cuisines from around the world available really does give you a headache when it comes to what to try first. Some trader stalls were empty such as Cuban sandwiches, one of my favourites, which was a little disappointing. Many of the popular stalls seemed to involve cooking with fire. 

mercato metropolitano london pizza

Turkish Kebabs were doing a roaring trade as was the Neapolitan wood-fired Pizza stall. Vietnamese Banh Mi were tempting as usual but we have been practically living off these lately, so we gave them a miss. Other stalls were selling firm favourites like Venezuelan Arepas and Pasta dishes, all for around £8-10 per portion. 

mercato metropolitano london

With the crowds beginning to build and the noise level rising, we headed outside for a liquid refreshment. Around 3 stalls all sell cocktails, gin and beers to the merry Londoners passing by, all at very London prices. We stopped by a stall named Fruitler to grab ourselves a couple of freshly made cocktails. 

mercato metropolitano london cocktails

For £10, I treated myself to a Jimm’s cocktail, seemingly a relative of Pimm’s. Ali opted for a Strawberry & Watermelon Daiquiri, lovingly made with freshly blended strawberries. At £9.50 this wasn’t a bad investment but if a glass isn’t enough you can go for jugs of cocktails for £24-28. 

mercato metropolitano london cocktails

Getting a seat at peak time is a real challenge. With large numbers of communal seating at a premium, many people get selfish and spread themselves across the benches. This is a real gripe of coming to Mercato Metropolitano along with the loud music making conversation difficult. Great for the young crowd but for anyone wanting a more tranquil experience, perhaps not. 

mercato metropolitano london
mercato metropolitano london

By this point, we were starving. So we went ahead and ordered something typically Italian – wood-fired Pizza. The stall in question is La Pizza Napoletana who boast a huge oven filled with burning embers in order to cook Pizza in around a minute. 

mercato metropolitano london pizza

The process of ordering is simple, just approach the cashier and give your order. You then receive a ticket and a vibrating pager. Once the order is ready, the pager will vibrate and the Pizza is ready to collect from the counter. We decided to order a Pizza with Parma Ham. Exactly as it says on the tin but without any tomato sauce on the base. Similar to a Pizza Bianco.  

mercato metropolitano london pizza

Watching the ‘Pizzaiolo’ at work was the best way to pass the waiting time. The speed at which these pies are in and out of the huge oven is incredible to see. Within 5 minutes, our order was ready to collect. 

mercato metropolitano london pizza

For £10.50, this was a Pizza done extremely well. This comfortably fed the both of us. When a crust has that light, spongey edge and beautiful leoparding around the outside, you know that it’s good. Lovely and chewy with quality mozzarella, Parma Ham, basil and olive oil on the top, we would happily dig into this all over again. 

mercato metropolitano london

Mercato Metropolitano is undoubtedly a great addition to the London street food scene. In our opinion, if you want to get the best from the experience it’s highly advisable to arrive early. Depending of course if you prefer a loud, lively scene or a slower pace. The quality of the food is right up there, as are the cocktails. A return trip is a must the next time that we’re in the capital. 

Opening Times: Monday-Friday 0800-2300, Saturday 1100-2300, Sunday 1100-2200

Nearest Tube: Borough or Elephant and Castle 

Website: https://www.mercatometropolitano.com

Sunborn London, Luxury Yacht Hotel

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Living like a millionaire on a luxury yacht is something that many of us dream of. Now, that dream can become a reality thanks to Sunborn Yacht Hotel – which happens to be in London Docklands rather than Monte Carlo. 

That said, the scenery isn’t exactly a drawback. A beautiful view of the cable car line above The O2 Arena and a little further up in the sky, planes taking off from London City Airport. The Docklands has a past reputation as a rough and ready part of London but major redevelopment has turned the area into a hub for posh housing. 

With the new stylish look sweeping The Docklands, Sunborn fits in perfectly. Right beside The Excel Conference Centre and within easy walk of Custom House for Excel train station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). The beautiful yacht sits pride of place moored right outside. 

After taking a lift ride up from ground level to the reception, the grandeur of the ship reveals itself in full. The reception area gleams with gold and directly behind is the bar area leading out onto the deck. Beautiful views in the evening can be found here watching the sunset over the city. 

As it was our anniversary, the hotel had very kindly provided an upgrade. This now meant that our room came with a balcony. The room itself was stunning with one of the softest carpets we’ve ever laid our feet on. 

Everything that you need for a comfortable stay in London can be found here. A Smart TV with a good selection of channels sits above a counter containing a fridge and tea/coffee making facilities. The bed was like laying on a feather, incredibly soft and comfortable. 

The decking comes complete with two chairs on which you can sit back, relax and enjoy watching the world go by. Plane spotters will be in heaven as the aircrafts take off overheard at regular intervals. We were very impressed by the soundproofing as once you close the door to the decking, barely any sound is audible. 

One slight addition we could have done with was a bath but the shower was more than adequate. The bathroom was of a good size considering that we were on a yacht. Toiletries are also provided. 

After a peaceful night sleep, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the city. Full breakfast is available for a surcharge with WIFI free throughout your stay. In terms of transport, the easiest way into the centre of London is through the DLR and onto Canning Town to change onto the Jubilee Line. A journey time to the centre of around 30 minutes. 

When you look at other hotels in the same price bracket (£111 per night) the value is very good indeed. The hotel is in a great location for exploring east London and not too far out of the way for central London. Staying at Sunborn is both unique and luxurious, highly recommended. 

Website: https://www.sunbornhotels.com/london/

Nearest DLR: Custom House for Excel 

The Ritz Restaurant, London

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Fewer restaurants in London can boast a more breathtaking dining space than The Ritz Restaurant. A deserving holder of 1 Michelin Star, finally awarded in the 2017 guide, The Ritz Restaurant is one of the most popular places in the capital when it comes to spoiling oneself. 

The Ritz is of course very special to us. We were married in the private houses and took our reception in both the garden and William Kent room. As stunning as that experience was, The Ritz Restaurant is every bit as grand. 

Experiencing walking through the famous revolving doors and past The Palm Court, where afternoon tea is enjoyed, is an event all on its own. The restaurant sits towards the back of The Ritz with a scene greeting the diner such as it would have been many years ago. 

Waiting staff look immaculate in their bow ties and jackets. Male diners are expected to mirror that image by sticking to the dress code – jacket, shirt and tie. This is the perfect occasion to dress up to the nines and really get carried away by the experience. 

The setting may be formal but the atmosphere is relaxed. The staff are well trained to read the customer and give the best service. Something that The Ritz is notorious for. The beautiful chandeliers and gentle colour scheme compliment the incredible murals on the walls and ceiling. Why pay for a plane ticket to Le Louis XV in Monaco when such a scene exists right here in England? 

Lunch is a superb option at The Ritz. A menu of three courses for just £59 is available in addition to the A La Carte, Menu ‘Surprise’ and a selection of ‘Arts de la Table’ – a list of specials. 

You may think that given the reputation of The Ritz that your wallet is likely to take a kicking. It’s probably a good idea to examine the wine list very carefully. Many wines come in at above £50 for a bottle with a few good options such as Beaujolais red coming in just below at £41. We chose a half bottle of The Ritz Champagne – Baron de Rothschild for £55. 

The Ritz Champagne is lovely stuff. A fizz that is light on gas but big on oak flavour. Even a glass as an aperitif is a great way to begin any meal. With our choices steering towards the lunch menu, we placed our order. 

Within moments, a tray of amuse bouches landed on the table. A mico-macaron of smoked salmon mousse and lemon, a coronation chicken filled tuile and goats cheese, black pepper and basil mousse were all beautifully presented on a small tray. 

The macaron was incredible. The skill to get such a small, delicate shell looking so perfect and then to fill it with a sensational mousse is mesmerizing. The lemon flavours in the shell were also a perfect match to the smoked salmon.

Tuiles are tricky little devils to get right but The Ritz have it down. This particular coronation chicken tuile was amongst the canapes served on our wedding day. A sweet sugar shell and rich filling packs more of a punch than the size of it first suggests. Delicious.

Black pepper, goats cheese and basil are three elements that work superbly well together. A really enjoyable mouthful and once again a nod to the skill of the chef who had a hand in preparing them. 

First courses to begin the lunch menu arrived in the form of Red Mullet with Fennel, Basil and Lemon alongside another fish dish – Chalk Stream Trout with Apple, Fennel and Radish. Both dishes looked very easy on the eye. The intricate dots of puree and gel on the trout dish were astounding. 

My Red Mullet succumbed to the light pressure of the fish knife. Perfectly cooked with a nice crisp skin and an intense Lemon Sauce. The dish did seem a little on the simple side but with a great collaboration of flavours on the plate. A touch of Italy in a predominantly classic French restaurant. 

The Trout was just brilliant. The style of cooking a piece of quality fish at a low temperature to almost confit is very popular around this time of year. With fresh and beautiful garnishes to enhance the visual attraction as well as the flavour, this was a flawless dish. 

Along with the amuse bouches, we had been given a small loaf of wholemeal bread which arrived at the table steaming hot. After letting it cool throughout the first course, we dug in. Lashings of butter on good quality warm bread is always a good thing. 

I had been looking forward to my main course ever since I had seen it beautifully displayed in The Ritz Cookbook. An all time classic of the French repertoire – Saddle of Lamb ‘Belle Epoque’. I couldn’t quite believe this was on the lunch menu as it is usually a staple of the A La Carte. 

One dramatic lift of the cloche and there it was. A beautiful mosaic of lamb loin and fillet with chicken mousse, mushroom duxelle, foie gras and spinach. A quite brilliant sight. All rested on rich pomme puree, a vegetable garnish and a rich lamb jus. 

The taste of this dish puts a smile straight onto your face. The medium-rare cooking of the lamb is the chef’s recommendation, and believe me, he knows what he’s talking about. From a dish wrapped in lamb fat and containing foie gras, you would be forgiven for anticipating a heavy plate of food – wrong. 

Sure it’s rich, yes it’s indulgent, but there is a real lightness that comes from the mousse and the airy pomme puree. Nothing stodgy here. Just the touch of a chef that knows exactly what he’s doing in order to achieve the perfect balance. 

Bresse Duck with Beetroot and Pickled Blackberry was also being enjoyed across the table. A thick port sauce really brought together the sharp elements of the dish. Walnuts are not something that I’ve really seen paired with duck before but they went so well in this dish. 

The Bresse region is world famous for producing amazing poultry. These French ducks really are full of flavour and well worth ordering if you happen to catch them on the menu. Likewise with Bresse Chicken which we tried at Daniel et Denise in Lyon, the quality is just astounding. 

Desserts at The Ritz are always a highlight. With incredible talent lurking in the pastry section,  you can be assured of a quality end to any meal. We decided to play ‘opposites’ again and select one Apricot Souffle and a dish cryptically named ‘English Raspberries, Vanilla and Elderflower’. 

We had gone from gazing at artwork on the walls to artwork laid before us on plates. A dainty ring of raspberry mousse with vanilla cream was stunning to look at, as was the perfectly risen souffle. 

The mousse was set on an extremely delicate biscuit tuile. The skill level on display was completely off the scale. Appearances are one aspect but the flavour has to match it. This had every single box ticked with the sharpness of the raspberry, creamy richness from the vanilla and a rich raspberry jelly hidden within the mousse. 

That’s not even the best part! The sorbet, oh the sorbet. An unbelievably fresh flavour of raspberry and elderflower with a perfectly smooth texture. It’s like a mouthful of summer. Absolutely stunning. 

Equally stunning was the souffle. One of the hardest things to get completely bang on the money in the kitchen. There’s such a small window between success and failure when it comes to a souffle, it can be too eggy or runny in the centre or dry and overcooked. This was completely on point. 

Like an apricot cloud, melting in the mouth, the best souffle that we have ever had. The smooth and refreshing yogurt sorbet containing flecks of vanilla seeds just made it all complete. A fantastic dessert and a classic for a reason. 

Petit Fours arrive on the table to signify the end of the food experience. Coffee and Tea is an optional £8 but really gives you a taster of the afternoon tea experience so it is well worth doing. The selection of chocolate pralines, passion fruit jellies, vanilla macarons and raspberry choux buns are just perfect with a lovely cup of Ritz tea or coffee. 

For the overall price of £195 for two lots of three courses plus half a bottle of Champagne, this is outstanding value in our opinion. The Ritz is a notable venue for the rich and famous but you don’t have to be either of these to enjoy an experience here. 

The Ritz Restaurant, London

 

Opening Times: Daily 1200-1400, 1730-2200 (Sunday 1900-2200)

Website: http://www.theritzlondon.com 

Nearest Tube: Green Park 

Bill’s Restaurant, Highcross Leicester

6

Summer is here and so are the offers. The Highcross in Leicester are giving away a multitude of discounts and free samples to celebrate the arrival of summer using the hashtag ‘#summersavour’. With the PLUS app, you can enjoy these offers between 1-22nd of August 2019 – one key player featuring in the offers is Bill’s restaurant. We went to check it out.

If we’re talking restaurants that are full on a regular basis every time we walk past, Bill’s is easily one of them. It is a bit of a mystery as to why especially given the polished names and reputations of the nearby competition. Cafe Rouge, Carluccio’s and the like regularly sit half to three quarters empty, so what are Bill’s doing differently? 

The vibe was chilled from the moment we walked in. A relaxed setting with friendly staff is always likely to tug you by the arm and persuade you to stay. The restaurant slowly began to fill on a Tuesday night with couples and families out to enjoy the warm summer evening. 

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the style of cuisine while going through the menu. Greek, Cuban, Thai – there are a lot of varied dishes from all over the world. Many of which are crowd pleasers with a good range of healthy choices plus vegetarian and vegan options. 

Price-wise the starters sit comfortably in the £5-7 bracket with the mains coming in at £10-15. Steaks will set you back a maximum of £19.95 for a ribeye served with pea shoots and fries. Dessert prices mirror the starters with a tempting selection of sweet treats. Each night there are also selected single-dish specials. 

As the weather was beautiful, we began our meal with a couple of gin and tonics. We love to try different gins and Bill’s really have a good selection to choose from. Narrowing it down to a raspberry gin and a Seville orange gin, both served with classic tonic water, we were off to a great start. 

Our starters arrived soon after the drinks, each of which looking fresh and inviting. A classic Prawn Cocktail is something that you don’t see on a lot of menus these days – and that’s a shame. This cocktail was stacked with fresh salad and topped with prawns all wrapped up in a delicious Marie-Rose sauce, retro but in a good way. 

Devilled Chicken Skewers did sound like a fearful night in the bathroom awaited the unfortunate recipient. Fortunately, these wings had a tingle of spice as opposed to the wrath of Satan – certainly nothing compared to the ‘Judas is Scary Hot’ from The Rib Man. 

The chicken was juicy with the sweet, tingly glaze matching the charcoal treatment perfectly. A sauce of Greek Tzatziki cooled down any potential flames on the side. A simple starter, much like the prawn cocktail, but a very enjoyable one. 

With our diet in mind, we tried to be savvy with our main course order. Steak and Eggs is the kind of food a boxer would consume during a training camp, so I went for that. The steak was requested medium and arrived looking quite thin but still juicy. Topped with a couple of fried eggs, fries and the ever-present pea shoots. Garlic butter on the steak was a lovely addition. 

Across the table, Ali was getting stuck into her Mojo Chicken Skewers with Tzatziki, Wild Rice and Flatbreads. The flavours of anything with Mojo sauce are just brilliant. Anyone who has seen the movie ‘Chef’ can’t help but get addicted to this garlicky, citrusy sauce. Bill’s have this combination spot on. 

Dessert is meant to be an indulgence. This dessert was the very definition of that. A Bill’s favourite, The Chocolate and Hazelnut Praline Sphere. A large ball of tempered chocolate encasing salted caramel ice cream with a chocolate and hazelnut mousse. It tasted every bit as good as it reads.

Rich and indulgent. Enough to make you forget all about the diet for the small window of time that it takes you to demolish the pud. Heaven in a bowl and worth the trip to Bill’s alone. Maybe we had finally discovered why this place is so popular. 

Part of the August offer at Bill’s is a free sample of our other dessert – Warm Strawberry Dusted Doughnuts. In contrast to The Sphere, these Doughnuts were simply presented with strawberries and melted white chocolate for dipping – a delicious combination. 

As day turned to night, we left Bill’s full and satisfied. Was it the perfect experience? I think from a casual standpoint this place is ideal for relaxing while eating a well-priced menu. If I had to pick out a criticism it would be that the staff hand the plates over to you, in some cases, instead of walking around the table to place them down. 

Other than that, Bill’s is worthy of all the bums on the restaurant’s seats. It may be a chain throughout the UK but Bill’s doesn’t have that ‘feel’ to it. Ideally situated in the hub of the restaurant scene at Highcross, this is the perfect break from retail therapy. 

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Opening Times: Monday-Thursday 0830-2230, Friday & Saturday 0800-2300, 

                          Sunday 0900-2200 

Nearest Train Station: Leicester

The Rivoli Bar at The Ritz London

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London is home to an incredible bar scene. Whether you are wishing to dance the night away in Shoreditch or sit down to a classy cocktail in Piccadilly, London simply has it all. Piccadilly is of course home to The Ritz and the stunning Rivoli bar. Home to sublime traditional and inventive cocktails. 

The Ritz Hotel, London

The Ritz itself is an iconic landmark of the capital. A beautiful five star hotel which was modelled on Parisian architecture by its creator – César Ritz. From the outside, the hotel does appear to resemble the style of many buildings in central Paris, a success for César Ritz’s vision. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

The Rivoli Bar continues to showcase the Parisian theme. The bar is said to be presented with the intention of making each patron feel like they are in ‘a glittering jewellery box’ once they arrive. The bar also operates a ‘no reservations’ policy and is open to anyone either dropping in to The Ritz or staying as a guest. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

We arrived for our visit bursting with excitement. We were married in the private houses at The Ritz in 2015. Our wedding took place in William Kent House using The Music Room, The Queen Elizabeth Room, gardens and of course The William Kent Room. There is honestly nothing quite like it. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

Before our wedding, a lot of the planning seemed to take place in The Rivoli Bar, but with tea replacing cocktails. So we never actually got to try a cocktail at The Rivoli Bar. As you enter the famous revolving doors you can walk past the lobby and take a right by The Palm Court (famous of course for afternoon tea) and find the cloakroom to store coats and bags, free of charge. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

You could be forgiven for thinking, with the hotel being so grand, that the service is going to be snooty and catering only to those who have serious money. You couldn’t be more wrong. The staff at The Ritz are some of the best in the world at what they do. A relaxed atmosphere is created allowing for the guest to have the perfect experience. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

As we entered the stunning Rivoli Bar, we were guided to our table. The menus are then presented and do also include food. The food menu consists mainly of sandwiches and canapes to give a teaser of the Michelin cuisine that chef John Williams and his team are producing day to day. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

The cocktail and champagne menu is packed with tantalising options. Classics cocktails are dedicated to leading figures in The Ritz’s history such as Auguste Escoffier, a key figure in the culinary style of the Ritz, Winston Churchill and of course César Ritz. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

Price-wise, the cocktails won’t hit you too hard in the pocket. Given the location, £22 is fair if you fancy trying one of the classics. The seasonal specialty cocktails also come in at £22 with the price rising to £24 for Champagne cocktails. Wine, beer and spirits are also available to order with high-end Vintage Ritz cocktails costing up to £500! 

The nobleman cocktail, The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

We decided to choose a Nobleman cocktail – featuring a mix of Japanese Plum Wine, Vodka and Chamomile. To go with that, we just had to go for a signature Champagne Cocktail, The Ritz 110. A blend of Gold-infused Absolut Elyx Vodka, Grand Marnier, Peach Liquor and finished with Champagne and a sugar cube in the base of the glass. 

The nobleman cocktail, The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

Rather moreish snacks are presented on a metal stand for you to enjoy along with your drinks. The snacks include sugared nuts, salted nuts, flavoured crackers and olives. All of which are refilled free of charge and all of which are delicious.  

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

So how does a signature Ritz 110 Champagne cocktail taste? Like heaven is the honest answer. The balance of all the flavours within the cocktail were superb. The twist of fruit peel on the edge of the glass and the bubbles rising from the dissolving sugar cube really add to the theatrics. If you are wanting a cocktail to match the venue then this is the one. 

Ritz 110 Cocktail, The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

The Nobleman fared well in the flavour profiles with the sweet Japanese wine forming a perfect partnership with the flavours of Chamomile but I did think this cocktail was a little on the simple side. Served in a glass on the rocks, it was devoid of the bells and whistles approach given to The Ritz 110. 

Ritz 110 Cocktail, The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

The Rivoli Bar is an oasis of relaxation and calm. Large groups were in the bar enjoying a drink but you would never know that they were there. The service throughout had been attentive and professional without being overbearing. The Ritz know what they are doing in regards to the customer experience.

Ritz 110 Cocktail, The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

Our final bill totalled £46. A respectable amount for an experience in such amazing surroundings. It’s rather like stepping back in time going to The Rivoli Bar but in the best way possible. The Ritz continue to honor tradition by offering a flawless experience. 

The Rivoli bar, The Ritz Hotel, London

The dress code is a lot more relaxed in the bar compared to other areas of the hotel such as The Ritz Restaurant or The Palm Court. Smart casual is the requirement but with no shorts, sportswear or trainers permitted. 

Palm Court, Christmas Afternoon tea, The Ritz Hotel, London

Overall, The Rivoli Bar is the perfect introduction to any experience at The Ritz. Superb cocktails, reasonable prices and decades of tradition and elegance to admire all around you. There really is nowhere else like it in London. 

Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 1130-2330, Sunday 1200-2230

Nearest Tube: Green Park

Delicious Destinations

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Food inspired by travel, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Having travelled from the UK to India in a campervan, Charlie Bigham became inspired by what he saw and what he ate during his trip. The adventure then resulted in Charlie producing tasty meals for the UK market.

Following the epic journey to India back in 1994, Charlie set up his own food business in 1996. With three recipes under his belt, Charlie then pitched his food around various London retailers. This then resulted in major supermarkets stocking Charlie’s ever-expanding range such as Waitrose, Asda and Tesco. 

The whole aim for Charlie was to bring the flavour of each delicious destination to the kitchens of people back home. Having been obsessed by hunting out authentic food in the very place that it all started, we can really relate to Charlie’s mindset. 

As I headed into my local Tesco, it didn’t take long to spot Charlie’s range. The packaging is eye catchingly colourful and occupies its very own section. The range to choose from is varied and tempting. In the end I managed to narrow it down to Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice and Spanish Chicken with Roasted Potatoes. 

Of course, there are many others to choose from. Depending on your mood you could easily opt to head in a more easterly direction for Thai Green Chicken Curry or take the French route with Beef Bourguignon and Dauphinoise Potatoes. Many of the meals comfortably serve two people. 

Time to cook dinner. This couldn’t really be any simpler. I began with the Chicken Tikka Masala which came in a wooden box along with the rice in a separate box. Interestingly, Charlie Bighams provide foil within the rice box in order to get that perfectly steamed result. Very good attention to detail. 

Most of the packaging is recyclable other than the wooden trays. Although many people opt to use the boxes to grow herbs in – how clever! Onto a tray and into the oven for 25 minutes, no stress whatsoever. 

Instantly, the smell hit me. The smell unlike any ready meal that I have ever had in my kitchen. The curry had a fresh aroma, almost like it had been cooked there and then from scratch. This is something that I hadn’t seen previously across the ready meal market.

As predicted from the giveaway scent, the taste was authentic. A rich, creamy sauce with proper pieces of chicken. Nothing reformed, nothing added, everything 100% fresh and on the money. The rice also was perfectly done with the foil trick allowing it to steam. We were very impressed. 

The next day, we headed from India to Spain. Spanish Chicken is one of my favourites, who couldn’t get excited about Chicken in a rich tomato sauce with chunks of chorizo? This meal also contained olives and chickpeas for a variance of flavour and texture.

A top tip from Charlie is to tip the potatoes out of the box and onto the baking tray in order to get maximum crispness. I decided to leave mine in the box due to the aggressive nature of my oven when it comes to browning. It later proved to be the right call. 

As with the curry, the aromas coming from the oven were promising. The chicken and chorizo emerged beautifully golden with the potatoes perfectly crisp. This meal took 30 minutes in the oven from chilled which is ideal for anyone short on time. 

I was astounded at the flavour packed into these wooden boxes. The freshness of these meals is incredible. Exactly as it would be fresh from the pan. Flawless quality in the chicken yet again with a rich tomato sauce packing tonnes of flavour to enshroud it in. 

Chorizo, olives and chickpeas are classic mainstays of the Spanish pantry. Each element brought something to this in a big way. The crispy potatoes were a world away from the soggy, greasy efforts that you tend to find in many ready meals. 

For £7.50 per meal, this is a very fair investment. Dinner for two has never been simpler, nor has it been better quality. Ready meals often get bad press and in some cases rightly so. With Charlie’s range, I think that we have turned a corner. Pick your delicious destination and Charlie will gladly take you there. 

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Website: www.bighams.com 

Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream

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Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream

Tiramisu is given an Asian twist with this amazing Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream from the wonderful range at Yee Kwan.

This Tiramisu is traditional for the most part but the ice cream really gives that intense coffee hit along with a new texture. The two parts work incredibly well together to create something halfway between a traditional Tiramisu and an ice cream sundae.

This recipe can be made well ahead of time. In fact, the Tiramisu benefits from a few hours in the fridge to set and for the flavours to develop. The silver leaf decoration is entirely optional but highly Instagrammable.

 

For two people, you will need…

250g Mascarpone

50ml Espresso Coffee, cooled completely

150g Madeira Cake

3 Free-range Egg Yolks

50ml Marsala or Brandy

100g Caster Sugar, plus 1 tbsp

Yee Kwan Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, to serve

 

1. Start by filling a saucepan one third full with water. Bring to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl and place the bowl onto the saucepan, ensure that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Begin whisking.

2. Add the brandy to the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture becomes creamy and thick. A good way to know when the mixture is ready is to drag the whisk through creating a ‘ribbon’ effect. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Cream the Mascarpone in a separate bowl to loosen the mixture. Whisk in 25ml of the coffee followed by the egg yolk and brandy mixture. Whisk together to combine then reserve in the fridge.

4. Slice the Madeira cake into rough cubes, around an inch thick. Place the cubes in a bowl and pour over the remaining coffee.  Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and toss the cubes until they are well covered.

5. Layer up the Tiramisu. Take a wine glass, or shallow bowl. Add a layer of coffee soaked sponge followed by a good helping of the mascarpone cream. Cover the glasses or bowl and leave to chill in the fridge for 2-4 hours or even overnight.

6. Finish the Tiramisu with a scoop of Yee Kwan Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream and, if you’re feeling extravagant, a leaf of edible silver. Bellissimo!

Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream Tiramisu with Coffee Ice Cream Tiramisu with Coffee Ice CreamYee Kwan Tiramisu

Yee Kwan Ice Cream: www.yeekwan.com

Purchase Yee Kwan Ice Cream direct from Ocado here

This is a sponsored post for Yee Kwan

The Rib Man, London

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When legends of the street food trade are spoken about in London, this man’s name is often right amongst them. Mark Gevaux AKA The Rib Man has been trading at Brick Lane Market for the best part of a decade. Mark’s stall has been on my list to pay a visit to in London for as long as I can remember. Today was the day that it would finally happen. 

The backstory of The Rib Man is quite incredible. After suffering a terrible leg injury following a car crash in 1991, Mark went through a series of operations before asking for his leg to be removed. This unfortunately terminated his former employment as a butcher. A trade that he had been involved with all his working life. 

With a knowledge of butchery, and in particular ribs, Mark had the idea to set up a street food stall selling slow cooked ribs in sandwiches complete with his very own hot sauces. The sauces have become legendary and regularly sell out on his website. If you needed any insight into just how hot the sauces are, the names include Holy F**k, Christ on a Bike and Holy Mother of God. 

We arrived in Brick Lane on a pleasant Sunday Morning. London was strangely quiet but nicely so. It was a pleasure to actually get around without having to dodge the crowds. Brick Lane Market starts at the northern end of the street so just follow your nose and sure enough you will find the mass of food stalls.


There are no actual set hours for The Rib Man. As a rule of thumb, the earlier you can make it to the market, the better. The stall usually begins trading from around 7am and looks to finish at around 2pm but regularly the ribs sell out before then. 

The Rib Man stall, incredibly, was empty when we arrived. This provided a good opportunity to chat to Mark and find out about his upcoming appearance at Digbeth Dining Club. A place that we know well near us in Birmingham. Whenever you approach the stall, you can be guaranteed friendly service and a good chat about all things meat and hot sauce. 

The lure of shredded meat in a bun, plus an ever-growing line of people, meant that we couldn’t put off eating any longer. Mark put together two small sandwiches for £6 each, complete with the standard issue sauce – Holy F**k. If this is a small size, i’d love to see what an XL looks like!

Our first bite had us hooked. You can really taste the quality of the meat with the pork coming from Norfolk and Suffolk. One of the best areas in the country for pig farming. With rib meat being closer to the bone than say pork shoulder, the flavour was a lot more intense. Very juicy and melting in the mouth with a smokey hit from a combination of charcoal and the rub dusted over the ribs prior to cooking.


How about the sauce? Holy F**k is a good name for it. The sauce has a real kick from juiced Scotch Bonnet chillies and a mix of spices. What I love so much about the sauce is the balance. Many chilli sauces either fall into the ‘too sweet’ category or completely blow your head off. This has a superb blend of heat and sweet.

Other hot sauces also have a tendency to knock my stomach sideways. With Mark producing his sauces completely from natural ingredients, I had no reaction whatsoever to it. I can’t speak highly enough of this sauce. When you grab a sandwich, be sure to have some.

Many people venture to The Rib Man to cure hangovers from the previous night. As far as breakfasts go, this was right up there with the best and probably most unique that i’ve ever had in London. The Rib Man also operates outside of The Boleyn Tavern before West Ham United home matches if you can’t wait until Sunday for your rib-fix. 

After a further chat with Mark about Digbeth, hot sauces and all things ribs, we had to sadly leave the stall and head back into central London. Before we went, Mark was kind enough to give us a bottle of his hottest sauce to date – Judas is Scary Hot. This sauce is made from pure chillies and is not for the faint of heart. 

It was a genuine pleasure to meet such a prominent figure of the street food world. The food is outstanding from The Rib Man and I would happily demolish another of Mark’s sandwiches in a heartbeat. The best ribs in London? Yes, without a doubt. 

Website: www.theribman.co.uk

Nearest Tube: Aldgate East (Brick Lane Market), Upton Park (The Boleyn Tavern)

Japanese Afternoon Tea at Ginza Onodera, London

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When it comes to Afternoon Tea, the options in London are simply overwhelming. Many places offer various different menus and styles but none are quite as unique as Ginza Onodera. A Japanese style of Afternoon Tea is available here and we would be heading along to try it. 

Situated down Bury Street in swish Piccadilly, Ginza Odonera is quite simply a stunning venue. Ginza Onodera is part of the Onodera group founded in Ginza, Tokyo. With branches in New York, Paris, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Hawaii and now London. Incredible given that the group began with a single 9 seater restaurant in Tokyo. 

Walking into the restaurant lets you know straight away that you are in a classy London venue. The restaurant itself is situated downstairs below ground level. Complete with Teppanyaki stations and private dining for those experiencing sushi made before their very eyes, this was like stepping off a London street and into Japan. 

The dining room is equally beautiful. Mirrors along the wall and lights overhead really bring to life the spacious aspect of the room. Chairs and tables are spread a good distance apart with the hum of relaxing music for company. An ideal place for a relaxing meal. 

We then met Shunpei, the restaurant manager. A kind man who explained both the menu and the ideas behind the concept of taking the Afternoon Concept a little further east. It makes complete sense to provide specialties found in Japan, both savoury and sweet and to serve them alongside a formidable selection of teas. 

The menus begin from £29 for a choice of one tea plus food. Prices increase to £72 for bottomless Champagne with the food inclusive. A Japanese tea ceremony option allows you to try a variety of Japanese teas along with the food selection. A cocktail option is also available. 

We began our experience with a glass of Drappier Champagne. The bottle even proudly displays the logo for Ginza Onodera exclusively for the restaurant, a lovely gesture by the people at Drappier. The Champagne was of very high quality with a refreshing taste and not as gassy as many vintages can be. 

The Japanese are famed for their precision. When it comes to presentation, this left us spellbound. Each small dish was displayed beautifully on a circular wooden stand. The dishes included Beef Teriyaki, Chicken Karaage, Spider Crab Rolls, Wagyu Sliders, Salmon Tataki, Crab Croquettes, Kinako Blancmange and Chocolate Gateau. 

Starting with the hot items, we began with the rather tempting Wagyu Slider. Widely regarded as some of the best beef in the world, Wagyu is highly prized by the Japanese. Upon tasting the rich, flavoursome and almost buttery meat – I can now see why it is so revered. Complete with cheese and a slice of tomato this was outstanding. 

Crunchy on the outside and soft in the centre with a fresh flavour of the sea, the Crab Croquette was by no means overshadowed by the Wagyu. Our Afternoon Tea experience had got off to the best possible start. 

The crispy Chicken Karaage was up next. Fried chicken in any form regularly hits the spot with us, however, there is such a lightness to Japanese fried chicken. A squeeze of lemon juice is all that is needed to produce a taste sensation. 

Shunpei would inform us later that because refrigeration was not an option years ago in places such as Tokyo, other methods were in fact used to preserve fish. Many households would either cure, sear or eat raw seafood straight away. The Salmon Tataki was a prime example of this. 


A lightly seared piece of salmon, barely cooked, garnished with a salad dressed with plum and cucumber. So delicate were the flavours within the salad that you could really taste the freshness of the fish. This began to unlock a whole new level of Japanese food for us.

The Beef Teriyaki also had that rich flavour from good quality meat, quite possibly Wagyu again. Garnished with Teriyaki sauce and a cherry tomato, the skewer had a ton of flavour for something so small in stature. 

Time for a tea break. Our first two teas to try were Kabusecha and Sencha. The Kabusecha consisted of leaves that are covered for 10 days to produce a sweeter tea. While the Sencha aimed for more of a balanced cup of tea.

Having a sweet tooth naturally, the Kabusecha was my instant favourite. Both cups contained a really clean flavour and refreshing hit to the palate. Very good options in the Japanese Tea Ceremony style of Afternoon Tea. 

Like many, we would associate Sushi with raw fish wrapped up inside both rice and seaweed. The Sushi at Ginza Onodera is not only raw fish. The fish, in this case, was Spider Crab. Deep-fried and rolled with a spicy sauce, rice and seaweed to encase it all in. 

Every single flavour stands out in this roll. The sweet crab, the spicy sauce and the precise cooking of the rice just make this one of the best rolls ever. The whole Sushi experience at Ginza Onodera really began to look tempting off the back of tasting the Spider Roll. Skill on a very high level. 

Just the sweets remained as our stand began to look rather empty. The first of the dessert dishes was a take on panna cotta – a Kinako Blancmange. The actual Blancmange is made from soybean flour which takes on a flavour similar to pistachio. The glaze on the top is a dark sugar caramel with a fresh blueberry and raspberry garnish.

The texture is comparable to Creme Caramel. The flavour, as described, more like pistachio. Either way, this is a delicious dessert and satisfying to any sweet tooth. Equally so, the Chocolate Gateau had a soft, flourless texture with a rich flavour. Perfect with a crisp sesame tuile and a great way to round off the meal. 

A couple more pots of tea accompanied our digestion. Two Matcha Green Tea types, in this case Hojicha and Genmaicha. The Genmaicha was described as having a buttery taste and it really does! A lovely tea. Both cups possessed a fascinating scent and it was hard to choose between them as to which we favoured more. 

After a tour of the restaurant’s private dining areas, including Teppan-yaki stations and Sushi bars, we thanked the service and Shunpei and said our goodbyes. We really didn’t think that Japanese food could get any better than Kushi-Ya but we have found a firm favourite here in Piccadilly. 

At Ginza Onodera, you can expect a classy meal to remember. Courteous and kind service along with food to take you thousands of miles east. The concept of the Afternoon Tea is a real stroke of genius. Absolutely the most unique way to spend an afternoon in London. 

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Website: www.ginzaonodera.uk

Nearest Tube: Green Park

Help! I Don’t Speak French…

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la marine paris canal saint martin

I have always been more word-orientated than numerical. This is a huge advantage when it comes to travelling. As I have hopped from country to country, I have endeavoured to learn at least a few basic words and phrases.

My most proficient second language happens to be French. I hold GCSE qualifications in both French and German but France is a country that I can’t stop returning to. The food, the people, the culture – France has it all.

If you are a first time visitor to France, you may have heard the horror stories before you go. “The waiters in Paris are rude and snooty to non-French speakers” “The people will ignore you even if you attempt to speak in their native tongue” these are two examples just for starters.

The fact is that the people in France and Paris in particular are, on the whole, lovely. They will appreciate any attempt made by visitors to their country to engage in their language. No matter how basic the word, phrase or how dubious the accent may be. Do not be scared to try.

Here are some key phrases to help win you new friends and give you confidence when in certain situations. No matter what comes out of your mouth, a smile and showing interest in what is being said will get you a long way.

Let’s begin with the basics…

 

To say hello it’s simply “Bonjour” (bon-jaw) or “Salut” (sal-oot) this will often be followed by “Ca va?” (sah-vah) which generally means “How are you?” The way to respond to this is “Ca va bien, merci!” (sah-vah bee-an mur-see) which means “I’m fine, thank you!”. Congratulations! You have now mastered a traditional French greeting, plus the two kisses of course.

If you happen to meet someone in the evening for example, you can adapt “Bonjour” to “Bonsoir” (bon-swah) which translates to “Good evening”. This is particularly handy when visiting a restaurant for dinner or meeting friends for drinks.

Now you’re in a shop or market. Help me! What do I say?!..

marche d'aligre paris

Quite often, if it’s a boutique shop or retail outlet, an assistant will approach and ask “Puis-je vous aider?” (pu-ees juh voo’s ay-day) which means “Can I help you?” quite often i’m just having a look around. So, if this is the case, a simple “Je cherche juste, merci” (juh shur-shay jooste mur-see) “I am just looking, thank you”  and a smile is enough to allow you to carry on browsing.

Of course, to go into more detail the language barrier starts to get a little higher. Luckily, many shops in France have staff who do speak English or various levels of other languages. In this case, you can ask “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (parlay-voo ong-lay) “Do you speak English?” and this usually makes proceedings a lot smoother.

When at a food market, the prices of certain items are not always displayed. This was very much the case at The Aligre Market in Paris. Armed with your new found confidence and broad smile, ask the vendor “Excusez-moi, combien s’il vous plaît?” (excuse-ay mwah, com-bee-an sill-voo-play?) and politely point to the product that you would like, this simply means “Excuse me, how much please?”.

Many times in my experience, the stall holder can detect the non-French lilt in my accent and will respond with the figure in English. On other occasions they have been kind enough to write down the number which really helps.

La Terrasse at Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Other key phrases that really come in handy in everyday situations while in France are as follows….

“Oui” (wee) – “Yes”

“Non” (non) – “No”

“L’addition, s’il vous plaît” (luh-addi-see-yon-sill-voo-play) “The bill, please”

“Je m’appelle” (jum-app-ell) “My name is..”

“Au revoir” (oh-rev-wah) “Goodbye”

“Je voudrais” (juh-voo-drays) “I would like..”

“Aidez-moi!” (ay-day mwah) “Help!”

“Tres bien” (tray-bee-an) “Very good”

“Je suis” (juh-swee) “I am”

Of course, this is just the basics. For additional learning, this company are just fantastic. Listenandlearn.org offer a range of language courses specialising in various different languages taught by native speakers. Other highly recommended language courses can also be found at Rosetta Stone and Babbel.

Each course comes with a tutor that has the language that they teach as their first language. Complete beginners can accelerate to elementary level in just 12 sessions of two hours duration.

My confidence became so much greater the more French that I spoke in social situations when in France. Once you begin to immerse yourself in the culture and language of a foreign country, the need to know more really intensifies.

Communicating with a foreign individual in their native tongue ranks as one of the most rewarding experiences of my travelling life. With the help of Listen & Learn, this becomes so much easier.