Tuesday, 17 January 2017

PHOTO DIARY: Paris, France, January 2017

Last weekend I spent a lovely 24 hours in Paris with my Mum. We usually visit for a day every year but this time decided to stay overnight. Thanks to Eurostar Snap we picked up some super cheap train tickets and before long the day came to catch our train. It was a bitterly cold day with a pathetic drizzle of rain, but we made it work. We've been to Paris loads of times so this particular trip was mostly about food with a little shopping thrown in for good measure.

I booked a double superior room at Hotel Paradis Paris as it wasn't that much more than the classic double. The hotel is a gorgeous, boutique oasis only a ten minute walk from Gare du Nord. Our bed was exceedingly comfortable and we had a lovely view over a typical Parisian street. I can't recommend this place enough as it fits my affordable luxury mantra perfectly.

Our first stop was lunch as Les Papilles where we enjoyed an incredible four course set menu. Les Papilles is a classic French wine bar that serves simple and delicious food. The set menu is excellent value for a leisurely lunch time meal.

By the time we finished lunch is was 3pm and sunset wasn't far off. We walked through Jardin du Luxembourg en route to Le Bon Marché, a beautiful 19th century department store. You might recognise the famous escalator design. The store reminds me of Liberty London and whilst it's full of high end brands, it a gorgeous place to just wander around.

We visited City Pharma to pick up a few of our favourite beauty products and finally managed to pick up a box of macaroons from Pierre Hermé around the corner.

Whilst I've walked past Notre Dame many a time I've never made it inside as there's always a queue. We must have arrived at the right time as we managed to walk straight in. The cathedral is gorgeous and I'm so glad the Christmas decorations were still up as the place looked beautiful.

We normally try to visit a museum or gallery every time we're in Paris. Instead of finding a new spot on this trip we made it over to the Pompidou as I wanted to check out the Cy Twombly retrospective. The Pompidou is my favourite building in the city so I always like to pay it a visit, even if I'm just walking past and checking out the wonderful façade.

Dinner was a smaller affair but still delicious. Juveniles is a wonderful French wine bar with a Scottish twist. It does a great haggis and mash whilst also sticking to that simple but quality ethos of French cooking.

Our final stop of the night was a cocktail at Harry's New York Bar before heading back to the hotel. We had to catch an early train the following morning so we didn't have time for a Parisian brunch, instead we stopped by Dishoom in King's Cross for bacon and egg naans. We had a wonderful 24 hours in Paris and whilst we didn't get that much done it was nice to have a chilled day visiting some new places and eating wonderful food. I'm hoping we visit Paris again later in the year as I've still got a long list of French wine bars I want to visit.

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Sunday, 15 January 2017

HOTEL REVIEW: Hotel Paradis, Paris

My recent 24 hours in Paris meant I was able to continue my search for an affordable luxury hotel and I think I hit the nail firmly on the head when I found Hotel Paradis Paris. This small boutique hotel is located in the 9th, a 10 minute walk from Gare du Nord, which means it's a great spot for those arriving in the city by Eurostar. There's a ton of metro stations in the area as well as a huge selection of bistros and bars.

When it comes to design Hotel Paradis is awash with vibrant wallpaper, mid-century furniture and splashes of fun accessories. The overriding colour scheme is navy and light grey with wooden furniture making the space feel relaxed and comforting.

There's a few different room options with prices starting at €68 for a single and €81 for a classic double, however this does increase a fair bit come the summer. Come the less popular months this is a fantastic deal for such a well situated and unique hotel. We actually booked a superior double as it was only €10 more than the classic but promises more space and a sofa.

The king size bed in our spacious, superior double room was incredibly comfortable with a perfectly squishy duvet. The compact bathroom had a powerful shower and a lovely selection of Malin + Goetz toiletries. We even had a lovely view over the classic Parisian street with one of those tiny, barely-there balconies.

I really enjoyed our stay in Hotel Paradis Paris and it was a real shame we weren't there for longer. Breakfast isn't included in the room rate but for €12 you can enjoy a continental spread in the morning. The staff were extremely helpful so if you can book a room when the price is at the lower end I promise you that you'll be in for a great stay.

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Friday, 13 January 2017

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Juveniles Wine Bar, Paris

My trip to Paris at the weekend was such a foodie affair. After a huge, two hour lunch at Les Papilles we weren't that hungry come our 8pm dinner reservation. Fortunately Juveniles offers an a la carte menu as well as a set menu so we were able to keep things reasonably small. Juveniles is a classic French wine bar with a Scottish twist, thanks to owner Tim Johnston, a Scotsman, who has subsequently handed down the reigns to his daughter and her boyfriend.

As with our lunch, the walls are lined with bottles of wine for you to choose from, however the menu does include wine per glass as well. We asked for a recommendation (again) and were given a bottle of François Crochet, Sancerre Blanc, Millésime 2015, a light and crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It was very nice.

Wanting to keep things small but still try a selection of courses we decided to share a starter. We went for the calamari risotto which was heavenly. The risotto was buttery with a refreshing hint of lemon. I enjoyed the deconstructed style of the calamari, butternut squash and parmesan. Any remaining risotto was mopped up with the crusty bread served on the side, this was an incredibly delicious dish.

My Mum knew she wanted the haggis as soon as I told her we were going to a French / Scottish bistro. Apparently she's been craving it since Burns' Night 2016... The mash was the creamiest I've ever tasted and the haggis was perfect. This was a huge portion of food and Mum was a little disappointed to not finish it.

I ordered the guinea-fowl with sweet potato, kale and almonds. The meaty was gamy and perfectly cooked. I really enjoyed the selection of winter vegetables plus the almonds gave this a nice crunch.

As soon as I spied a chocolate dessert on the menu I knew I wanted to order it. Rich, gooey and utterly moreish, this was a perfect way to finish our foodie, French day.

I thoroughly enjoyed Juveniles and would recommend it to anyone looking for a reasonably priced French wine bar that serves excellent quality food. The atmosphere is pretty casual but you can tell it's a really popular joint, I don't think a single table was empty during our meal. As with many French bistros, the food is simple but done well. I love this style of cooking and am ever thankful that Paris isn't too hard to reach from London.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Les Papilles, Paris

Last weekend I popped over to Paris for 24 hours with my Mum. I used the trip as an excuse to visit some of the restaurants that are forever frequenting the 'where to eat in Paris' note saved on my phone. I booked a table at Les Papilles for lunch, a classic French wine bar in the 5th that does a four course set menu for around €35 per person.

I expected this wine bar to have a classic bistro vibe so I was a little surprised when we turned up to a bright yellow fronted restaurant. Moving inside things felt a little more familiar. Classic, yet well looked after, the restaurant has a wonderful homely vibe with it's dark wood furnishings and closely packed tables. The kitchen at the back is tiny and I do wonder how it manages to work. Downstairs is a private dining room with a large table that has the ability to seat around 12 people. It looks like the perfect place to host a small party.

As you come into the restaurant the entire left hand side wall is lined with bottles of wine of all varieties and prices. Once the food menu has been explained you can go and choose a bottle to drink. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with asked our waiter to recommend us a bottle of white. The result was Domaine de la Bongran 2011, a lovely deep chardonnay with citrus and tropical fruit flavours. Whilst it didn't taste anything like my Mum's preferred crisp and light New Zealand sauvignon blanc, I thought it was rather moreish and different from anything I've tasted previously.

Before visiting the restaurant I was a little worried about the food. I'm not at all a fussy eater but when faced with the prospect of a set menu with no room to manoeuvre I can't help but worry that I'll be served everything I hate i.e. mushrooms and snails. I had nothing to worry about, the menu was perfect and I couldn't have been more thrilled with the ingredients in each course.

We started with a carrot salad and carrot soup. I love that you serve the soup yourself from the terrine that's left on the table. The soup was creamy and absolutely moreish. It was smooth, just the right thickness and not too sweet which is often the case with carrots. The salad of carrot, bacon and croûtons worked really well, making this dish one of my favourite things we ate that day. We were also given a basket of warm sourdough. I tried not to eat all of it as I knew we had three more course to come, but trust me when I say this was difficult as it tasted delicious.

The main course was surprisingly huge. Red wine braised beef paleron with baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The serve yourself nature of this dish added to the rustic, family vibe of the restaurant which I really enjoyed. The meat was perfect, it was so tender and flavoursome that I really regretted not being able to eat it all. The vegetables were simple yet wonderful, the perfect accompaniment.

As I'm not a fan of blue cheese so I was glad we were able to swap one of our third course orders for a salad. It was a pretty simple affair but nevertheless a tasty one thanks to the balsamic dressing. I did try the blue cheese but I hated it. Despite it being mild and creamy I just can't get on board with the mould, give me a brie any day.

Mango panacotta for dessert was perfect. Creamy and sweet thanks to the fruit, I couldn't think of a better way to finish our meal.

I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch at Les Papilles and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good value, classic French meal whether it's lunch or dinner. The menu was a little on the heavy side for lunch but if you're looking for a leisurely afternoon meal then this is a lovely place to spend a couple of hours. The staff speak English and will happily assist you when choosing what to drink. It's a popular spot so I'd recommend booking in advance. Every few minutes people were coming in looking for a table but the restaurant was fully booked. This is somewhere I'd return again as the changing menu means there's always something new to try. Simple and seasonal food that's full of flavour, c'est magnifique.

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Monday, 9 January 2017

Where to eat in Tooting Part 1

One of the (few) good things about living in Wimbledon is being so close to Tooting. Whilst Wimbledon is full of high street chains, Tooting is a treasure trove of independent and cheap restaurants. There are countless Indian restaurants where you can grab an excellent value, excellent quality feast as well as a number of other options if you're not in the mood for a curry. There's still a lot of restaurants that Steve and I haven't been able to visit yet but for now here's a list of my favourites so far.


I've only made it to Tota once, for brunch, but my crushed avocado on toast with two poached eggs was so good that I'm dying to return. The feta and lime really made this version of avo on toast stand out compared to other variations, plus the eggs were perfect. The actual restaurant has a lovely bistro vibe about it and with special evenings like steak night I think this would be such a great option for dinner, especially as the menu is reasonably priced.

Apollo Banana Leaf

When it comes to Sri Lankan food, Tooting has it sorted. For an authentic menu, rough around the edges décor and cheap but quality food, Apollo Banana Leaf has hit the nail on the head. The food here is excellent which translates into a busy restaurant with empty tables being a rare occurrence. Book if you can or turn up early because if you're sent away without a meal you'll be sorely disappointed. The aubergine curry and mutton rolls are two of my favourite things and I'll order these every time I visit. Whilst I'm not a huge fan of string hoppers (give me rice any day) they make an interesting option for soaking up the delicious curry sauces you wont want to leave. In terms of meat, the devilled mutton is a strong contender for best dish on the menu with it's hot flavours and tender texture. Best of all is that the food is cheap, seriously cheap, so much in fact that you'd be hard pressed to spend more than £15 per person. I really like Hoppers in Soho but every time I visit I can't help but think I'd rather be in Tooting spending a third of the price on a more authentic and probably better tasting meal.


I've blogged about Meza before, and all for very good reason. This tiny Lebanese restaurant near Tooting Bec station (with a bigger site that I'm yet to visit near Tooting Broadway) is one of my all time favourites. The meze plates are so delicious (and cheap) that I've never actually ordered anything from the main menu as I'd rather pick at the smaller options. Some of my favourites include the baba ganoush; thin slices of cured beef; labneh; gilled halloumi and pitta bread; chilli and garlic lamb sausages; and the sautéed potatoes with garlic, coriander, pepper and chilli. A big meal for two people at Meza will set you back about £30 which is another reason I love it so much. Amazing food in London does not have to cost an arm and a leg and Meza is a fine example of this.

Jaffna House 

Jaffna House is another star in the Tooting Sri Lankan food scene. The dining room is basically the house's living room which makes for a super cosy vibe, if not a little cramped. The menu has a lot of similarities with aforementioned ABF but still has plenty of it's own gems. I love the variety of bread options, from fluffy naans to hoppers and other Sri Lankan classics. The curry list is huge and can be a little intimidating for a non Sri Lankan expert so we usually steer clear of usual curry house classics and go for the likes of special mutton curry under the Sri Lanka speciality list. As with the theme of this post, this restaurant is cheap and cheerful. Last time I went the bill came to £60 for four people and a ridiculous number of beers. If you're in a pickle on what to order just ask the staff for a recommendation and they'll help you out. Sometimes we purposely order too much so we can take home the leftovers and have it all again the following night.

Dosa n Chutny

Dosa n Chutny was the first Indian restaurant I ever visited in Tooting, thanks to a recommendation from a flatmate, and I've since returned time and time again. Don't be put off by the bright orange interior because this Tooting classic serves up wonderful, and you've guessed it, cheap food. The restaurant specialises in South Indian cuisine but you'll find your usual curry house classics as well. Always start with a dosa, the filled pancakes are wonderful. Crispy on the outside but soft once you reach the middle. I particularly like the special masala potato as it's tangy and moreish. The dosas come with an array for dips, the spicy lentil sambar and coconut chutneys are rich in flavour, spice and a hints of sweetness. They are addictive and really help make these dosas stand out.

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Saturday, 7 January 2017


I think I might just have found one of the best dinner deals in London. Honey and Smoke, Middle Eastern newcomers from the same team as Honey and Co is serving delicious grilled meats, meze and sweet treats in Fitrozia.

I visited Honey and Co back when it first opened and with memories of incredibly tasty food I've been dying to return. Cue a dinner date with a good friends who doesn't mind splashing out, we decided to book ourselves a table to see if the menu was as good as my memory. First thing I noticed about Honey and Smoke is the ample sized dining room. I've you've been to Honey and Co you will know how small the place is.With plastic chairs that reminded me of being in school the restaurant has a distinctly casual vibe but don't let that fool you into thinking the food isn't anything special.

I noticed a set menu option where £34.50 will give you a taste of ALL the meze, and a choice of grill, side and dessert per person. One of the best things about Middle Eastern dinning is the meze and it can add up when you start ordering copious amount so it felt like a no brainer to go with the set menu and try everything.

The gin and tonic is slightly sweet and so delicious that I told our waiter to keep 'em coming.

First up was the Moroccan sourdough, Kalamata olives, pickles and Greek olive oil. I'm not a fan of pickles or olives so I skipped straight past those for the bread. Fluffy yet dense, this loaf was extremely tasty and acted as the perfect vehicle for wiping up leftover dips.

The baba ganoush and seeded lavoush was delightful. I love the texture of the creamy deep and crunchy crisp bread. The baba ganoush was less smoky tasting and more tahini based, but still delicious.

The burnt celeriac with urfa chilli butter, sour cream and chives had a distinct earthy taste with an addictive sauce, perfect for using the bread with.

I loved the spicy and sweet contrast in the warm goats cheese with red onion, walnut and pomegranate.

The falafel and tahini was perfect.

I really enjoyed the charred pears, almond tahini and raw honey. Sweet and moreish.

The cauliflower florets with homemade amba and tahini was cooked perfectly, with just the right bit and a addictive tasting sauce.

The winter tomatoes and citrus salad was wonderful, so fresh, juicy and packed full of flavour. A hint of chilli gave this dish a nice kick of heat.

I love chickpea dish and this msabaha dish did not disappoint. Flavoursome, moreish and comforting on a cold winter night, it was delicious.

For mains my friend chose the charred octopus with lentil meshwiya. I only had a small bite of this but it tasted great. The chopped salad looks lovely but I didn't manage to try any (too much food on the table).

I went for the short rib of beef with spiced quince glaze and pickled quince. The meat was so tender that it fell away from the bone with the slightest touch. The quince gave it a nice sweetness. I opted for the sweet potato in embers with date honey and spring onions which I loved. Even though I sometimes find sweet potato too sweet the honey brought out the earthiness in the dish and the slightly sticky texture made it taste incredibly satisfy. Whilst I probably wouldn't order the short rib again as I left it was the most exciting of flavours, I'd definitely try the sweet potato again.

Middle Eastern desserts aren't usually my thing, I find the sweet and savoury balance doesn't really appeal to me. However, I really did enjoy the signature feta and honey cheese cake. The kadaif base gave this a crunchy element I haven't experience in cheese cake before whilst the topping tasted fresh and not as heavy as I was expecting. I didn't try the warm chestnut cake with salted caramel sauce but I've been told it was delicious.

I was really impressed by the food at Honey and Smoke. Some of the meze options stood out more than others but I did enjoyed everything. The amount of food you receive for £34.50 per person and you'd need to be ravenous to finish it all. We struggled which is saying something. It wouldn't take long to reach this amount if you order a few meze dishes, a main and dessert individually so you might as well go the whole hog and order the set menu. I'd love to return once the menu changes as I think this is a wonderful restaurant to enjoy a casual yet special dinner, all for an excellent price.

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Berber and Q Shawarma Bar

There's no lack of great restaurants in the Clerkenwell / Farringdon area (just check out my lunch time guides) but I think it's safe to say I've found my absolute favourite, Berber and Q Shawarma Bar on Exmouth Market.

I was late to the Berber and Q game as I've never visited the original Middle Eastern grill house in Haggerston. However, whilst I would like to pop over at some stage I am utterly satisfied with this newcomer for the time being. The Shawarma Bar make an excellent stop for lunch or dinner thanks to it's versatile menu and excellent value prices. At lunch time you can choose a few meze dishes or a kebab / rice bowl but come dinner time when you're after something more substantial you can order an array of small and large plates. I've been for lunch quite a few times now, sampling something different each time so I think I've got to know the menu quite well.

I love the meze options and for £5 each or £22.50 for five, it's definitely worth ordering a few. My favourite by far is the labneh, pistachio and dill. The strained yoghurt is thick, rich and moreish. I order this every single time I visit.

I also love the blackened aubergine, chilli and anchovy; braised lentils, Urfa roast pumpkin and charmoula; and the cauliflower shawarma, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds which is technically a side dish but works well as a meze options thanks to it's size. The beetroot salatim, walnut and orange; and ezme, pine nuts and red chili are nice options as well but they didn't quite stand out as much as the aforementioned. I'm looking forward to trying the za'atar roasted tomatoes, crème fraîche; and roasted butternut squash, mograbieh and curd cheese next time. All of the meze options are served with bread and are veggie friendly which is great news for all you non meat eaters.

For something a little more substantial you can choose between the rice bowls, kebabs, or shawarma plates. I adore the rice bowls. You choose a meat (I really like the tender and tasty beef) which comes in a bowl with mejaderah, fried onions and tahina as well as meat (or cauliflower) specific additions. Mix it all up and you've got yourself a real good treat. Slightly spicy, slightly creamy and packed full of fresh, punchy flavours, this dish will satisfy a lunch time hunger yet leave you begging for more because it really is that delicious.

The kebabs are another big contender on the menu, after all this is a shawarma bar. Similar to the rice bowls, you choose your meat (or cauliflower) and the fluffy pita breads come stuffed with tahina, herb salad and pickles. The beef, lamb and chicken options are both lovely but it's the rice bowls that keep me coming back as they're that bit more satisfying.

There's an array of side orders and extras. So far I've only had the za'atar pita crisps, garlic yoghurt which is basically delicious slices of grilled pita bread.

I love Berber and Q Shawarma Bar and plan to visit as much as I can whilst I'm working in Farringdon. The food is delicious and it's great value making this an excellent stop for lunch or dinner.

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