Alan Yau’s gastro pub, The Duck and Rice, is a Soho hit
Chinese food and Soho have been long-time bedfellows, and there’s certainly no shortage of affordable, authentic joints off of Shaftesbury Avenue. It’s impressive then that a pricier gastro pub serving elevated Chinese cuisine has moved in nearby and been so well received. The interiors – all dark wood, hand-painted tiles and cognac leather banquettes – evoke an opium den, and the crowd is a mix of young creatives and dressed-up daters, here for the delicate plates of puffed vermicelli and venison dim sum, or smoky jasmine pork ribs washed down with pints of Czech Pilsner pulled from large traditional copper tanks, installed at the restaurant’s entrance. Despite the risky choice of location, The Duck and Rice is quickly becoming a Soho institution.
I got the chance to try out a new festival this year, thanks to CRACK magazine, and although on a bleary-eyed Monday I couldn’t vocalise it’s epic craziness to everyone who asked, I just about managed to put a pen to paper for the magazine. If you’re interested CLICK for the review.
The small village of Fitou lies in the shadow of the French Pyrenees, half an hour drive from Perpignan, on the southern Mediterranean coast of France. The village is really nothing but a cobbled street strewn with wine caves where local producers of the Fitou grape sell their bottles at prices that make you want to return and fill the car. At the top of the road is a castle which is thought to date back to 990 which has curiously been turned into a tapas bar strewn with tasselled pillows, cacti and fairy lights twinkling at dusk.
We arrived on Tuesday and headed straight for the nearest beach, a long stretch of pale sand, azure, flat waters and an almighty gale force wind (perfect for the wind surfers who pepper the horizon.) After toasting in the unbelievable 37 degree heat we headed to seafood restaurant Le Sardine perched on the edge of the estuary and devoured freshly caught sardines and oysters, for which the Languedoc-Roussillon region is also known.
On the Thursday Fitou came into its own with the wine festival. For just three Euro deposit we each received a wine glass on a string and were free to wander in and out of the caves trying as many different wines as we could handle. There were oysters here too and we happily put away six for six euro.The cute little village put on a mighty show with locals dressed as Romans in honour of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus.
On Friday night we washed the salty sea off of our browned bodies and spruced-up to try the village’s most well-known restaurant Restaurant La Cave D’agnes, a converted barn adorned with ivy where we ate the softest poached squid in broth followed by thick and red rump steaks and fresh-baked french loaf. The house wine here was excellent but even more enticing was the aperitif we were served – a concoction of locally grown peach pulp, fizz and cinnamon.
Saturday called for another beach, this time further east where the wind was calmer and we were able to sit with a beer at the laid-back beach bar. For dinner Auberge Lou Courtal des Vidals satiated our huge appetites with an enormous fish, cured meats and seafood buffet as a starter, followed by crispy-skinned and oily mackerel and another buffet of desserts to finish us all off. I lost track of the amount of wine we guzzled that night between seven but the restaurant’s own vineyard certainly produced the best and for just 8 Euro a bottle. We happily sipped glasses of rich velvety Grenache until the early hours, the staff not int he slightest fussed about us hanging around and enjoying the night.
Getting there: London Stansted to Perpignan with Ryanair and car hire from Perpignan via Europcar
A couple of weekends ago my significant other and I hopped on a ferry and headed over to Normandy. I haven’t been on an England-France ferry since I was a whipper snapper and it’s safe to say that I was super excited.
I was writing a piece for a travel mag (more on that later) and here is a snapshot of what we found in the town that people normally dismiss as somewhere only worthy of a drive-through.
Sorry brick fans, Le Havre is all about concrete, after being almost entirely flattened by bombs during World War II starchitect Aguste Perret rebuilt the town to his own design and there is now a lot of the poured stuff in various shades, textures and shapes.
Very French cuisine
It might only be 3 hours by boat from Portsmouth but Le Havre is going its own French way with food. We ate plenty of fresh fish and steak, moules mariniere, crépes, smoked herring, paté and even snails at the Michelin-starred Pierre Caillet restaurant where we were invited to sit at the chef’s table, inside the kitchen (words cannot describe the flavours that man delivered to my plate)
Claude Monet decamped from fun-time Paris after being rejected by the conservative Académie des Beaux-Arts to the sleepy-town Le Havre during his teenage years, and in an act of rebellion against THE MAN started up the controversial impressionist art movement with his mates Renoir, Manet and Boudin (what a badass). We spotted one from his famous Waterlilies series as well as an extensive collection on the subject of cows by Boudin.
We drove 45 minutes to Fécamp (such a French word) to visit the Bénédictiné Palace where first monks then later an advertising-savvy boozer named Alexander have been producing this sweet spiced spirit since the 12th century. We admire some tiny 12th century bibles and tasted some concoctions (try it with grapefruit juice) in the beautiful botanical greenhouse bar.
This is a little out of date in terms of ‘latest news’ but via a new #burgerlove website that I have discovered called AbsoluteBurgers, I found out that HUBBOX Exeter won a national award back in February.
The best hair salon in London is hard to find, but luckily I’m here with the answer…
I’ve never had much luck with my hair. Ever since the age of 11 when, on the day before I was due to start secondary school my mother, a then-trainee hairdresser, cropped my barnet to within an inch of its flat, wispy life and for the first year of adulthood I looked like an 11 year-old Princess Diana. Fast forward to year nine and I asked for a perm. After that I think I pretty much decided there was nothing I wouldn’t attempt in the quest for a perfectly coiffured head. Needless to say I made many mistakes and countless times I would leave the salon vowing never to return or to ever speak to my poor tormented mother again. It was never her fault, her skills and dogged determination to help me achieve the look of whichever celeb barnet I was coveting that week were unmatched and she almost certainly deserves a medal of achievement for putting up with my asinine wants on such a regular basis. So despite her incredible ability to turn even the most obscure of my home hair dyes into something wearable I was definitely scarred by my experience in the black chair for life, until that is, I discovered Myla and Davis.
Now a three-branch mini chain (Herne Hill, East Dulwich and Brixton), the salon itself is like stepping into the pages of Cereal magazine: white walls, mahogany floors, lush fauna decorating the counter tops and some seriously stylish typography. At Myla and Davis everything is well-considered, from the beer, wine, tea or elderflower water you’re offered on arrival to the stacks of hot-off-the-press indie mags (Tank, Cereal, The Gentleman, on my visit), the Aesop toiletries and the partnership with everyone’s favourite salt spray brand Bumble and Bumble.
I’m sold before my ombre lengths are even revealed by hairdresser Sam. This is my second visit, and both times I’ve felt totally at ease, understood and very much a part of the Myla and Davis salon family, if only for a couple of hours.
If I were living in Devon (and if you are too) I’d be in to see Mother for touch ups regularly (we’ve made hair-friends again – find her here), but whilst I’m in London I’ll forever have my blunt ombre bob maintained at Myla and Davis.
Debating the finest of suckling pig at Brindisa’s newest outpost.
Food as theatre is no new phenomenon. Open kitchens where flame throwing and chefs with well-contained tempers have become de rigueur in Madrid, London and throughout the foodie world. But a new trend has trickled down from the grid lines of New York to London this season, and that is counter dining.
I was invited to try out Brindisa‘s latest counter dining notch on a Thursday evening, for those unaware of Brindisa, it’s an independent chain of tapas restaurants in London which originated as a stall in Borough Market, before being encouraged by fan and celebrated chef Mark Hix in 2004 and quickly whisked up the small plates pecking order to be heralded as one of the original, and best places to eat potatoes croquettes and garlic prawns in the city.
Refreshingly, as London’s obsession with tapas reaches saturation point, the company’s latest offering, Morada, is less about small and more about meat and their huge Asador grill. From our position at a table for two next to the (beautiful) marble counter I didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the thing responsible for the most tender, flavoursome (with perfectly crisp crackling) suckling pig I’ve eaten outside of The Philippines or Sardinia. But maybe it’s in the back, where the chefs must go to throw their tantrums.
The place was busy for a Thursday, and I could imagine with its location on Rupert Street in Soho that It’ll be a great spot to catch the after work nibbles and wine club. Speaking of which, the wine is fantastic, curated to just 19 reds, 10 whites, two rosé and a selection of sherries, it doesn’t leave you hot-flushing whilst desperately trying to look like you know which one to order – I’m not good with decisions! We drank a Valencian red called Altas Tierras, a light coloured lofty glass which was easy on the palate but velvety enough to slice through the ton of fatty pork we devoured.
On our menu were the cured meats del día; a plate of thinly sliced salami and chorizo, a very good choice, accompanied by orange-stuffed olives and a side of the aforementioned perfect croquettes. We tried the sardine and kale escabeche, a refreshing lemony dish without a single whisper thin bone in sight, and for mains we chose from the Asador; the suckling pig and a charcoal-grilled squid which came stood to attention impaled on two spikes (theatrics).
For once I wasn’t hungry for pudding and for once we weren’t pushed to order any, it seemed our clever waiter had judged our moods perfectly and simply allowed us to finish off the rest of the gorgeous bottle whilst debating which suckling pig (Filipino/Sardinian/Spanish) was our new favourite.
When I booked flights to Berlin at the start of the year I had no idea how madly I would end up falling for this curious city. Joe and I spent four days exploring various wrecks and ruins, dining at my first Michelin-starred restaurant, delving into the epic vintage stores and markets (more on that later) and staying at two extremely sexy but affordable hotels that were recently featured in the brand new Wallpaper* City Guide to Berlin
What we discovered was a positively charged, multicultural city brimming with creative energy and a appreciation for decent food, design and coffee, which is pretty much exactly what I look for in a city break.
The people we met, be it the British tour guide who showed us around the artsy Turkish neighborhood of Kreuzberg (see more about the area in my article for the World Travel Guide here), or the waffler behind Berlin’s best chocolate-smothered delights, were absolutely enamored with their lives in this city, and despite a somewhat less than buoyant jobs market, these people had travelled, like me, to Berlin for week or two and ended up staying for years. They were making their lives here work by combining freelance designing, writing or curating with starting up new galleries, shops and digital businesses from the warmth of the city’s (excellent) coffee bars, running free alternative walking tours and generally creating the life they wanted to live.
Where to stay
Walking into the sumptuous lobby you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d entered Studio 54 circa 1970, such is the level of low lighting and velvet on display at the Mani. The lovely receptionist is busy dolling out maps to some well-heeled vacationers so we make ourselves comfortable among the design tomes and admire the artwork on the walls. Our room is a lesson in space arrangement, which is to say that although petite it still smacks of effortless cool with its tucked-away cracked-ceramic tile shower (White Company toiletries, no less) checkerboard tiled entry and mahogany wood flooring under large fluffy double bed. The views across the city are great, we can see TV tower, and most of the south of the city and happily everything from the minibar to the mini-wardrobe has its own brilliantly designed place in the world of Mani. The breakfast is of writing-home-about quality, and typically European (by that I mean there is literally everything on the counter to choose from as opposed to the average ‘Continental’ variety. We stay one night at Mani, and decide we’d happily return to its affordable, stylish halls.
The Mani’s sister hotel is handily just around the corner from busy thoroughfare Torstrasse, where we spend our remaining two nights. It’s a lot bigger and has the option to stay in apartments (which we gratefully take), but it’s still very much of the Amano Group style. In the lobby we are greeted by the same fluoro crocodile ceramics with the addition of an almost life-size elephant guarding the luggage room. Whizzing up to the third floor we find ourselves ensconced in a world of cream and olive walls, parquet floors, and a mix of midcentury-modern furnishings that nod to a love affair with late 1950s style. Breakfast is again a highlight and being able to hire bikes and iPods for the day gives the place the added hip factor.
Obviously most of our breakfast hours were spent devouring four courses of fruit, ham and pastries at our hotel, but on the day we arrived we found ourselves in the buzzing Cafe Fleury on the edge of Volkspark am Weinbergsweg in Mitte. The slight irritation of having to fight off locals for a table dissipated the moment my bacon and spring onion omelette landed on my plate. If you’re in need of a proper continental breakfast with a glorious selection of cakes to finish then Cafe Fleury is a good central bet.
I was recommended Maroush by a friend who used to live in the city and despite some trepidation (it’s really no more than a dimly lit kebab shop with three communal tables in the back) the place really flawed me. Lebanese cuisine is on offer, and it was hands down some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Order the sharable house platter, which comes with a staggering amount of chicken, tabbouleh, falafel, vine leaves, hummus and breads and marvel as you’re charged a paltry 8 euros. Shawarma wraps are even more bargainous at €4.50
When you’ve eaten such a large breakfast lunch isn’t always a priority, but make time in your schedule for the chocolate-smothered waffles at this kitcsch cafe opposite the Mauerpark fleamarket site. There are far too many varieties to choose from so ask the friendly Aussie servers to help you disseminate. The fruit covered options also look great.
La Soupe Populaire
If you’re looking to splash out there really is no contest. Michelin-starred Chef Tim Raue opened La Soupe Populaire inside of a disused warehouse in Mitte and is still drawing a healthy crowd to sample his elegant contemporary German cooking. On our visit I dared to try dishes I’d never heard of (exhibit a; the mustard egg) and was pleasantly surprised at the results. Even better is the fact that this restaurant is also an art gallery, and through a side door the botanical cocktail den Le Croco Bleu waits for you to sample a fantastical array of foaming, decorated drinks under the watchful eye of a pair of stuffed crocs and a large brown bear. It might sound a bit Alice in Wonderland crazy, but it all seems to work spectacularly well.
For a less fussy but certainly no less frilly dinner experience make a beeline for The Ballhaus in Mitte. This former Soviet-era dance hall now features two wonders; the upstairs Hall of Mirrors; a high-ceiling traditional ballroom with peeling, but extraordinary artworks on all four gold gilded walls, and the downstairs dancehall-come-restaurant where salsa and swing classes take place every night of the week whilst you munch on either traditional German fare (think schnitzel) or wood fired pizzas the size of your head. The downstairs is a lot more relaxed, and extremely good value. Check out the website for dinner, dance and musical events in the fantastical upstairs Hall of Mirrors.
Friedrichshein is a great neighbourhood to spend the day in, especially on Sundays when the Boxhagener Platz fleamarket is on. After perusing a bewildering amount of tat and some midcentury lighting gems that I was assured would absolutely not fit in our hand luggage, we headed over to Neueheimat, an area of disused factories turned into bars, an enormous indoor skate park and the undercover food and drinks market. We started in the building with the best band, making our way through some steins and an average but acceptable Riesling and snacking on cheese toasties (seriously not to be missed) and tofu bahn mi buns. When we’d finished the wine and the sun had set we moved on to another of the warehouse buildings, following a girl with pin curls who scuttled behind an unmarked door. What we found inside was a vast room with the type of bar too oft mimicked on London’s ‘secret’ bar scene; hundreds of spirits on the back wall, a dapper barman wearing braces and a sawdust covered floor. We ordered a Gin Fizz and a Dark and Stormy and settled down to watch an old bald Jewish man with a long beard take the young pin-curled girl for a spin on the dance floor. Their swing was impeccable and full of life – I think we must have easily spent two hours watching them and enjoying our drinks before heading to another tiny bar inside of an old shipping container and lingering until it became acceptable to didnt ourselves inside the second automat photobooth of the day (NB you must got to an automat when you’re in Berlin – they are quite common and produce these excellently kitschy black and white passport photos)
Edging Kreuzberg and the East Side Gallery the Michelberger is a great place to stop off for a chai tea or an expertly mixed cocktail. The staff are quite happy to let you while away an afternoon on their comfy sofas surrounded by art books and indie magazines.
We skipped the touristy Checkpoint Charlie in favour of the Berlin Wall Memorial, a much more informative museum with a roof deck overlooking the last remaining preserved spot of enclosed wall in the city.
East side gallery is a must-see but can be fit into an alternative graffiti tour in an afternoon.
Going slightly further afield but totally worth it in my opinion is a trip out west to Teuflesberg. This former soviet listening station is now abandoned but tours run almost on the hour for €15 a piece, guiding you through the various open air graffiti galleries and up to the tallest ball-shaped structure which has incredible views back towards Berlin and an amazing set of paintings inside the fabric enclosure. Note that when departing the train at Berlin Heerstrasse (take the U-Bahn S7 from Berlin Hauptbahnhof) our phones and my camera went crazy on us and we had to guide ourselves to the tower by sight rather than Google maps, read of that what you will conspirators.
You should also make time to shop in Berlin, especially if you’re a fan of vintage. In Mitte there’s PicknWeight, a store stuffed to the gills with suede, sequins and vintage Levi’s and the price is determined by weight. I didn’t find this to be the most cost-effective way of paying for clobber but the quality of the stock was really excellent. I came away with a very modest purchase – a 1970s printed silk scarf.There are many other pay-per-weight style stores in the city and of course the Mauerpark flea market is a must for picking up vintage cameras, boots, old soviet-era paintings and jewellery and the aforementioned waffles at nearby Kauf dich Glücklich
The area of Kreuzberg deserves its own caption entirely, for herein lies the beating heart of Berlin’s creative scene. We took an excellent free tour by Alternative Berlin (meet daily at 11am underneath TV Tower, outside the Starbucks at Alexanderplatz) on which we were introduced to the history of the area and why it’s come to be known as Little Istanbul. We bought our body weight in Medjool dates, Turkish Delight and humus at the Turkish market along the canal before ducking into Bateau Lvr on the corner of buzzy Orienstrasse for a beer. Had we more time we would have tried out the cocktails at Hotel Bar and Pandora but I guess that’s for another visit.
Anyone with a severe hankering for good, fresh, and bloomin’ cheap seafood needs to drop everything and book the next train to Colchester now. Yes, you heard right, Colchester in Essex – I thought so too, but trust me, book that train I and promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Last weekend was my birthday, and also Joe’s, and we’d challenged each other to plan day trips. I got to go to London Zoo and eat at my favourite local hang, the Pedler in Peckham with a lovely group of mates. On Joe’s birthday I took him to Essex, or Mersea Island to be precise, to scoff platters of fresh-caught crustaceans and fish.
We took the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester and hopped in a taxi the rest of the way (about 30 minute drive) to The Company Shed, a seafood institution run for over 30 years by Richard and Heather Haward. The premise is really simple; you bring the bread/wine/condiments, they catch and supply the mussels, crab, lobster, smoked fish, prawns, cockles, squid and…well, you get the idea.
The best thing about The Company Shed isn’t its anonymity (since Chef Jay Rayner reviewed it here back in 2011 it’s actually become a bit of a well-known joint. Miles Kirby – he of Caravan in Kings Cross also recommended it in the second edition of Phaidon’sWhere Chefs Eat), but rather the prices, which have happily stayed low even after visits from said celebrity chefs. The overflowing platter which we were too stuffed to finish cost a mere £15 a head, and half a dozen native oysters were a laughable 40p each. Bringing our own booze kept costs crazy low, and we got to build up our appetites strolling along a seemingly endless shell-strewn beach. A perfect day, by all accounts, in Essex.
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ll have noticed me incessantly banging on about Siargao for quite some time now. If you don’t then this next post will be a bit of a treat for your eyes and will likely make you want to become one of the tourists I’m trying (probably not too sucessfully) to deter from visiting the island. I went to this tiny teardrop-shaped isleo back in April. It’s part of The Philippines archipelago and is not known to that many travellers let alone the general public. It is however a mecca to the surfing community, which is the reason I went there myself. I spent four incredible days surfing with the locals, eating fresh-caught tuna sashimi, doing yoga on the beach by sunset and exploring the island on a moped, staying at both backpacker accommodation run by an affable Brit and a five-star eco resort usually reserved for honeymooners which I was lucky enough to experience because of my work for Wallpaper* City Guides.
What struck me was how undeveloped the island was, even more so because I learned during my stay that the island would soon be facing it’s biggest challenge – keeping its USP after an airport extension on the island threatens to increase tourist footfall enormously in the next few years.
I wrote about the island through rose-tinted specs for the beautiful travel and fashion journal SUITCASEhere and about the more serious concerns facing some of the island’s local and expatriate communities for World Travel Guidehere. Take a look, and let me know if you think it is truly possible to retain the desert island appeal of such a beautiful and ultimately lucrative part of the world.
On a separate note I’ve gone and bought a URL for the blog in an attempt to force myself into posting more often. There’ll be a little bit of re-design over the next few days also. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it looks, and please check out the About page to find out what to expect from me from now on.