When it comes to food, I always have good intentions…until I see a burger on the menu.
When it comes to food, I always have good intentions…until I see a burger on the menu.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I’m all about the experience over the gift. Sharing a memory together lasts longer than flowers (which die), chocolates (that make you fat) or Champagne (which leads to a hangover). But there are experiences and there are VIP experiences, which in my mind is doing something that few people get to experience.
Now let me bring up the subject of handwriting analysis. It involves the jeopardy of seeing how compatible your relationship really is as well as uniqueness as it’s not something you do everyday. And it also involves the luxurious five star Corinthia Hotel in central London, which has to be one of my favourite hotels in the world.
As you walk off the street from The Strand, it’s impossible not to take a deeply satisfied breath as you feel instantly welcomed – by the attentive staff and the beautiful flowers in a large vase that reinforce the image that this is a hotel that goes the extra mile to get things right.
Up through into the lobby, there’s a huge chandelier in the shape of a sphere, making this hotel light as well as cosy. This is a hard thing to do as normally cosy means dark and imposing.
These comfortable surroundings will do a good job of relaxing you and your partner as you head to the Northall restaurant, where the handwriting sessions are taking place. When I visited for the press preview it took place on the balcony overlooking the grand dining area.
Emma Bache is one of the leading handwriting analysis experts in the world with lots of work for national newspapers and magazines. She’s interpreted the signatures of hundreds of celebs and when the media find handwritten notes by politicians or the royals , Emma is asked to read into what the style of writing says about the person.
I brought in a scrap of paper on which I’d scrawled a note and so had my boyfriend and it was deadly accurate. Without wanting to give too much away about the inner workings of my relationship, I’d say the prognosis was 85% positive, which is a relief. But the important thing is you can trust Emma to say what’s really going on, which I happen to like.
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I know this sounds mysterious, but that’s the point. If everyone knew about handwriting analysis then it wouldn’t be VIP would it? Emma is only available on 14 February from 3pm – 11pm so places are limited. Visit The Corinthia’s website for more information, or phone 020 7321 3000, and get ready to have a Valentines you’ll never forget.
One of the best things about London is there are so many hidden gems. Purl, although it’s just metres away from the celebrities’ favourite Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone is hidden down a flight of stairs and the outside is completely black. They do this on purpose as you can’t just walk in off the streets – you need to have a booking to drink at Purl.
One of the advantages of this is that you’ll never have to queue at the bar for a drink (and who likes queuing?) Another bonus is that it means the bar has numbers of how many drinkers will be inside so it can make sure it has some special ingredients. There are things on their cocktail menu that you won’t find at any other bar in London and the way the drinks are served is pretty special. It was the first time I’d ever drunk out of an empty suntan lotion container.
Here’s the drink – a pimped up version of a Pina Colada – in all its glory.
My date had a drink that was equally memorable. I did take a photo of the drinks menu but I lost it somewhere along the night. Instead I woke up with other photos that I don’t remember taking, but that’s another story…
Anyway, below is a whisky based drink, made creamy with egg whites. The balloon is needed as its smothered in a Chambord liqueur. When the balloon is burst, making a loud noise and drawing attention to you, the liqueur will drift down onto the cocktail, making it delicately sweet. Every mouthful is a joy.
So we had another one…
It’s not a long menu, but there’s something for whisky drinkers, gin lovers and vodka fans. Go with a group of 8 for a party and you could probably have one of each of the creations on the menu and swap. The bar has plenty of nooks and crannies, creating space for groups as well as couples.
It’s dark and feels like you’re in a downtown New York speakeasy stylebar that Big would have taken Carrie to. At the weekends there’s jazz, if the place wasn’t cool enough already.
There’s no smoking inside of course, but there is plenty of dry ice to create the same kind of effect. The barmen go the extra mile with these drinks.
Going to Purl is like going to the theatre, except you can drink the show afterwards. The cocktails are talking points so it’s great if you’re out with people that you don’t have much in common with.
Take mates, take a date but above all else take a sense of adventure and you’ll end up having a brilliant night, just like I did. The celebrities queuing into the Chiltern Firehouse are missing out – they’d probably have just as much fun at Purl, if not more!
Purl is located at 50 Blandford Street, Marylebone, 020 7935 0835. Visit the Purl website to reserve an area.Read more »
On paper, Salaam Namaste in London’s Bloomsbury appears to have it all. They’re regular nominees at The British Curry Awards and The Asian Curry Awards honoured chef and owner Sabbir Karim with Chef of the Year in 2012 and 2014. He also won Asian and oriental innovative chef of the year in 2013.
With all these accolades, I hoped for good things for my visit but I didn’t know exactly what as my experiences of Indian restaurants in London have been varied to say the least. One the one hand, London offers the trendy Indian street food opulence of Dishoom, the Chelsea classic Chutney Mary and the Michelin starred Quilon and on the other you have places that really shouldn’t have priced a hygiene test butchering the classics like korma and vindaloo and serving them with a side of food poisoning. Where would Salaam Namaste fit on this scale?
From the moment I walked into the restaurant located on a quiet street in Bloomsbury, close to Russell Square underground station, it became clear that this was no ordinary Indian. For a start, the decor is as far away from the chintzy, garish wallpaper, napkins folded into flowers Indian that only gets busy after pub closing time. Rather Salaam Namaste looks more like a bar in its own right, a classy minimalist one, with a clean laminate floor, painted walls and even some neon lights adding a pinky red touch to the interior. The tables didn’t even have tablecloths. I liked the lack of clutter.
The minimalist theme sort of applies to the menu if you take the dishes one by one. For example, ‘lamb shank kaliyan’ (grass fed lamb shank served in rich aromatic sauce, baby potatoes),’chilli garlic qualil ‘ (Masala marinated quail charred in tandoor, tossed in garlic masala with generous amount of ginger), ‘Moti Matal butter chicken from Delhi’ (grilled chicken pieces in a rich creamy butter tomato & fenugreek sauce). It all sounded light and healthy and delicious. I do like it when restaurants keep it simple as it means that the quality of each individual ingredient shines through. While we were looking at the menu, we were sent some delicious falafels gingered in a fruity sauce and that immediately set things off on a good note.
Talking of fruity, I went for a Namaste Delight cocktail (vodka with mango juice) and it was love at first sip. My friend may have thought their Delhi Devil (gin with fresh pomegrenate, mint leaves and ginger ale) was superior but I would not have swapped.
However, it’s not a short menu. My friend and I may even have had a disagreement about what dishes to select. The only way we could resolve this was to ask the waiter for his opinions. It turned out to be the best option as look at what came out of the kitchen:
Venison koftas (centre above and below) can only be found at Salaam Namaste. From the description on the menu, I thought it may be a posh Indian version of meatballs -pan seared mince venison spiced balls tossed with fresh asparagus and baby corn, garnished with spring onions. But I underestimated it. The venison had more depth of flavour than beef mince and there was plenty of fragrant sauce to refresh the palate. Asparagus was perfectly tender – not too crisp and not too soggy.
Aloo Chaat (below) came with a generous sized potato cake on a bed of chick peas in a combination of sauces and even a side-salad. I don’t think I’ve ever been served Aloo Chaat with a side salad in my life, which says something about the attention to detail in every dish.
But my personal favourite out of these three was chicken in a tomato and cheese sauce with additional spices, as the chicken slid succulently off the bone and it was flavoursome rather than spicy.
Now onto the mains and I opted for something that different to test out the Bukhara Grill. Tandori Rubiyani Duck was Gressingham duck breast marinated in yoghurt, cheese and carefully selected spices, charred in tandoor served with roasted Tiger prawn, tangy potatoes and cucumber salad and it was so good I told my friend he was not having any of it. I find it’s so easy to over-cook duck so it’s dry and charred but this was as tender as a piece of lamb with the rich duck flavour oozing out of every mouthful and the prawn on top was huge – a great contrast to the duck.
My friend, who loves spices, opted for Travancore chicken curry which was Chicken curry from Kerala, cooked in a lovely pepper masala made from garlic, mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chillies and ginger. It was definitely hot the more you had of it but not in a superfluous way. It wasn’t at all fatty, unlike some curries I’ve tried at other Indians, and with the protein and vegetables, it tasted like it was good for you. I don’t think I can go back to eating plain chicken breast after discovering the potential it has and ways it can be cooked thanks to Salaam Namaste.
I do think December is the time to indulge so we couldn’t resist trying some breads. Date and ginger naan tasted as good as it sounds..and looks.
I also tried my first ever Paratha, which is a doughy bread that’s designed to be ripped and shared. To be fair, we probably would have been satisfied with just one of these breads but our eyes were bigger than our bellies.
Still, I always say the proof is in the pudding so we tried an Indian speciality for dessert. Tandori pineapple came with tasty caramelised sugar on top which was utterly more-ish but the coconut ice-cream with flecks of coconut on top was the piece de resisitance with as much attention to detail as the starters.
At Salaam Namaste I doubt you’d find a dish leaving the kitchen where presentation wasn’t spot on and I think that shows why this small restaurant in a quiet area of London I’d not visited much before was packed to bursting point from 7pm and still buzzing when we rolled out around 1030pm.
I’d defiinitely re-vist Salaam Namaste. If you make it down before Christmas it’s a great alternative to the heavy (and often bland) turkey and trimmings dinners and if you go in January you can find some super healthy dishes that fit in with your detox and taste great.
Salaam Namaste, 68 Millman Street, London WC1N 3EF
020 7405 3697
Visit the Salaam Namaste website
Photos: Merlin FoxRead more »
What gets you in the mood for Christmas? Is it the mince pies and satsumas? Is it listening to Christmas songs? Or is it decorating your house and tree with as much tinsel and fairy lights as you can find? For me it’s all of the above plus having a few tipples. I think all my readers know how much I love Champagne, but Christmas is a time when I try cocktails with festive flavours like cinnamon, gingerbread and butterscotch. Cheers!
Thanks to Late Night London, it seems that wherever you are in the city (Central, West or City-based) you will be near one of their bars that is serving a fabulous Christmassy creation.Bars include Grace near Piccdilly, Bar Soho, Strawberry Moons, Piccadilly Institute, Foundation Bar, The Warwick, The Gable, The Sterling and Abbey. Look at what you could be drinking:
With an impressive mix of Monkey Shoulder, Black Cherry and Vanilla Jam, Butterscotch schnapps and a serious squeeze of lemon juice this is a taste sensation like nothing you have experienced before. Foundation Bar, Covent Garden – £9.50
For the more health conscious the Rockin’ Robin offers all the superfood and antioxidant ingredients needed for a fun and healthy night out. You’ll have a Berry Christmas with this gorge blend of Absolut Berri Acai, redcurrant jam syrup, crème de mure, cranberry juice and lime juice. Available across London at only £7.
Espresso Gingerbread Martini
This warming little beauty contains all the Christmassy goodness you have been looking for, and by that we mean a shot of expresso, gingerbread syrup, a splash of Kahlua and a much needed kick of vodka. Available at Bar Soho, Piccadilly Institute and Strawberry Moons for £7.50
Bringing you the ultimate in ‘nut’ experiences the Snowflake combines Malibu, pistachio syrup and Coco Lopez with milk to give you the perfect White Christmas in a glass. This comforting and yet dangerously delicious mix can be enjoyed for a mere £7.50 across the city at Grace, The Warwick, The Last, The Gable, The Gallery, The Sterling and Abbey.
Bottoms up! Christmas is the time to eat, drink and be merry after allRead more »
I love Champagne. I love the sound of a cork being popped. I love watching it being poured into a glass as the bubbles in the liquid appear to make it sparkle with life. I love the sensation of feeling bubbles tickle the tongue like little stars exploding on the tastebuds.
I also love experimenting with different brands and different vintages of Champagne, which I don’t get to do nearly enough of. My experiences normally include picking the house Champagne or a Taittinger (my favourite brand so far), sticking to the same bottle and then forgetting if I liked that one more or less than ones I’ve previously drunk. I always tell myself I need to keep a list in the Notes section of my phone but it never happens. However, after attending a Devaux Champagne tasting evening at Notes Coffee and Wine Bar in Covent Garden, I feel I know a bit more about Champagne in general to be able to make a more educated decision when choosing what to drink.
The evening which consisted of learninhg about four of Devaux’s Champagnes was completely free to the public and the final of four Champagne tasting events run at Notes’ venues in Moorgate, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. I highly advise liking the Notes facebook page to find out about these free events as it’s not often you can live like a VIP for free, is it?
I mean, just look at the smile on my face with a rose Champagne in my hand…
So what did I learn?
We tried (from left to right):
(1) Devaux Grand Reserve NV – aged in the bottle for 36 months, it has a complex flavour. With 69% Pinot Noir, it has a rich taste with essence of apples and vanilla.
(2) Devaux ‘D De Devaux’ Le Rose NV – also aged in the bottle for 36 months but fresher and lighter with 47% Chardonnay. A gorgeous shade of light pink
(3) Devaux ‘D De Devaux’ La Cuvee NV – this wine is higher quality than the other as 34% of the mixture comes reserve wines of the best recent vintages.It’s also been aged in the bottle for 60 months! You could tell the bubbles were smaller in this than in (1) and it reminded me of toast with butter.
(4) Devaux ‘ D De Devaux’ Vintage 2005 – 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay makes it fruity with peach and citrus notes. This was slowly aged over seven to eight years, giving it greater potential for complex flavours. Even in a blind taste test, I would have said this was better than the rest.
If you like the idea of this, you’ll be glad to know that Devaux is very reasonably priced and is available at Notes from £28 – £80.
Cheers! Don’t forget to check the Facebook page.Read more »
Scandanavia has never been so cool. I don’t mean cool in terms of temperature, but thanks to it’s TV shows (The Killing, Borgen and Wallander), it’s fashion and it’s super tasty food and drink (especially the Finnish tipple Glogi), we’re seeing Scandanavian pop-ups take place around the capital this Christmas.
The chicest of the lot has to be at The Bluebird in Chelsea, where the entire garden terrace has been transformed into a cosy Winter lodge with reindeer hides, blankets, twinkling fairy lights and Christmas trees. We went along to the opening night and this pretty much sums up what the evening was about.
Basically, there’s the same attention to detail – and gorgeous Chelsea dwellers – that you get from the main restaurant just with a Scandanavian twist. As long as it’s not booked out for a private party or a networking evening (maybe call in advance) you and your date / dates can enjoy a menu packed with tasty nordic snacks and the most magical cocktails you’ve ever tasted.
How about Vinter Sval (Belvedere vodka, lime, mint, strawberry puree, sugar, rose liqueur and elderflower cordial) and Min Alkskling (Belvedere, Chambord, hot chocolate and raspberry puree) as well as the traditional Scandinavian Mulled Wine ‘Glögg’. Fridays are fondue nights, when you can share a fondue for two people for £25. It may not be as big as this mega 5-tier chocolate fountain but then it’s all about the quality, not just the quantity and I’ve never been disappointed at Bluebird,
Other snacks on the menu include traditional meats and fish on rye bread, including gravadlax and herring. You can get Scandi-dogs with crispy onions and house relish and those with a sweet tooth will be delighted to hear about Swedish pancakes with berry compote and creme fraiche.
The rye bread snacks served at the opening night were so delicious that I just had to take a photo as well as fight for them with the celebs including Casey Batchelor, Matt Cardle and some of the new members of Made In Chelsea. Shortly after I took the photo I scoffed the gravadlax one at the front!
Find out more on the Bluebird Chelsea website or call 020 7559 1000.
God Jul! (Swedish for Merry Christmas)Read more »
If you like chocolate, magic, glitter, adventure and unicorns then the only place to fulfil all these needs is Choccywoccydoodah. If I began to list all the celebs that love it – the only British chocolate shop to have its own reality TV show – then I’d miss someone out. Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Wesley Snipes, Jackie Collins and even the late Joan Rivers have all wrapped their lips round a cake, tiffin, brownie, or chocolate truffle. I love it so much I was the 2nd person to use the secret room in the London store for a private party – one of the sweetest days of my life! Now 20 years since the shop originally opened in Brighton and 2 years in London, some of you may have been there before, some of you may even had ordered a wedding cake or bespoke cake. However, I bet you’ve never been to the Witches Kitchen as I was one of a few select bloggers to go to the Brighton shop and test it out. The new space is in the Brighton shop, just next to the cafe and there’s space for eight people to fit comfortably with some doodahs to help you out. Why? What is it?It’s your chance to play God / Tracey Emin / Rankin / your favoutite Masterchef or Bake-off winner and make chocolate even more fabulous…by decorating it. I started with a blank canvas – a lovely Choccywoccydoodah cake. And this is what I threw on top. I’m quite proud of it – what do you think? You don’t have to decorate a cake though. There are chocolate willies (perfect for Hen Dos) and chocolate skulls which are really really big and solid chocolate. I chose a cake because I wanted to try my skill at cake decorating as it’s something I’ve admired the Choccywoccydoodah team doing on TV and in person. However, when I saw some other bloggers’ skulls I was pretty jealous / impressed: During the experience you are actively encouraged to eat some of the decorations as it goes on top of the cake. I started off doing ‘one for me’ and ‘one for the cake’ but as I got more into it I started to concentrate more on the cake. That’s so unlike me! I was surprised to find that I actually learned something from the experience too. When I was first handed a piping bag full of chocolate I squeezed it too hard and it exploded over the table. A very patient Doodah showed me how to hold it and then positioned my hand so I was doing it correctly. How often do you go home from a party having learned a skill? And if you were with a group of friends you could add a competitive element like ‘Best Cake (Judged by the Witches)’ gets a prize that the losers chip in for. Hoewever, there are no real losers at Choccywoccydoodah as everyone gets chocolate. While my cake was being wrapped up to take home, there was just enough time to explore the cafe where I ate my way through EVERYTHING on the menu. The shop in the Brighton lanes is pretty new (combining what used to be at two separate locations in one place) and there’s quirky furniture and unique knick knacks every where you look. Plus exploring is encouraged – if you want to take a photo in the tigers mouth it’s cool. If you want to go into the shop wearing crazy costumes or face paints even better (another plus for Hen Dos). If you like the idea of this, I’m excited to say The Witches Kitchen is now officially open for bookings. Call the Brighton shop on 01273 329462. ENJOY! And Tweet us your pics – @livelikeavip – or tag livelikeavip on InstagramRead more »
I love cocktails but they don’t always love me. My problem is that I can’t stop at one and I can’t bear to have the same one twice, which means my body has to process a lot of different types of alcohol. For example, if the first cocktail has vodka and a liqueur and the second cocktail has whisky and bitters, that’s a lot of stuff my stomach has to deal with.
However, what if you knew exactly what went into every single cocktail because you had bought the alcohol in yourselves? This is where BYOC is absolutely genius. You pay for a two hour period, bring in the spirit or spirits you want to drink and the BYOC team will create your cocktails using their own home-made mixers. These are independently produced so there’s no artificial sugar that leads to hangovers but homeopathic tinctures like lavender essence and cacao that at least sound like they’re good for you.
Bring in vodka and you can work your way through the seasons, feeling like you’ve had a completely different drink each time and feeling fresher than you thought it was possible to feel the following morning.
For example, they created a light summery vodka based drink made with apple juice, lemon juice, summer loving shrub, egg white and a strawberry garnish. Each flavour really sings through and thanks to the egg white, had a real fluffiness to it.
A truly autumnal taste can be made with vodka and yellow pepper juice, raspberry juice, pink peppercorn extract and fresh raspberry garnish. The yellow pepper juice makes it almost savoury and sour but the raspberry juice sweetly evens it out.
For Spring, how about vodka with basil, basil syrup, alfalfa tincture, apple juice, lemon juice, cucumber and lavender syrup? This light concoction is dry and had all the good bits from a G&T, but with a more complex flavour In your mouth. The basil gives it that extra savoury note.
Has this tickled your tastebuds enough yet? It’s little wonder that BYOC, which started off in the Brighton Lanes, is now so popular they’ve added two new venues in London to their portfolio in Camden and in Covent Garden. All of them are decorated so you feel like you’re in a secret speakeasy. The Camden Town branch is like a sexy casino, but it’s one where everyone’s a winner as you all get delicious drinks.
If you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated than downing as many cocktails as you can then this is the venue for you. It’s the VIP way to do things – enjoy yourself on the night and enjoy yourself the following day as you’re hangover free.
All bars require you to book so the bar staff can accommodate everyone. It works in our favour in the end as it means no queuing at the bar. Instead you relax in the goregeous décor while the staff create your dream cocktail.
All you need to do is head over to the BYOC website and you can book online.
Have fun! Tweet us your thoughts @livelikeavip or tag us on Instagram livelikeavipRead more »
Do you know what you’re doing on Friday night yet? You’ve worked hard all week so you don’t want to waste a night out on anything average. That’s why I’m reviewing the hottest places in London, to see if they live up to the hype…
As lots of new restaurants open every week in London, it’s easy to forget about the old classics. However, sometimes we need to slow down. We need to stop believing the hype about the latest restaurant opening having a absinthe bar / raw food spin / 10 ingredients on every plate and question what we actually want.
In a recent restaurant review I said my perfect night out involved great drinks, tasty food that I couldn’t cook myself and a late license for dancing. However, if you’re on a first (or early days) date or you’ve already danced a lot that week then I’d swap the dancing for fantastic service that meant I didn’t have to lift a finger along with a comfortable dining experience.
It was the comfort that I first noticed at Gow’s Champagne & Oyster Bar, which is located a few steps from Liverpool Street station. Upstairs it’s a Champagne and Oyster bar, with a lively atmosphere and the buzz of conversation and laughter from the crowd of revellers, a lot of whom come from the city offices nearby. You can sip champagne and have an oyster or two while watching the hustle and bustle of Liverpool St nearby. The people outside are busy so you don’t have to be!
The hardest thing you’ll have to do is walk downstairs to the main restaurant where you see tables that are decently spaced out (so you don’t feel like the table next door is eavesdropping on you), comfortable red chairs and lots of white linen and silver. It’s old-school, it’s classy and the waiters pull the chairs out for you.
To start with, we had to try the oysters that the restaurant is famous for. Six oysters, fresh from Billingsgate market that morning, they were presented beautifully and tasted even better, just like the sea.
Outside it was raining and blowing a gale so a starter of crab crumble was just as it sounds. Rich, creamy flakes of crab with a crispy potato topping on top. I almost wished I ordered another one to have as the main…(Also, I really should have taken a photo of the middle but once I started eating, I really couldn’t stop!)
I say almost as I had such a delicious grilled plaice as a main course that I could never have started to cook myself. It fell apart easily as I cut it with my knife so it was soft and succulent in my mouth. It was so more-ish that after every mouthful, I wanted to cut another piece and put it in my mouth again.
It’s rare you can order mashed peas as a side dish in a restaurant – normally it’s all steamed spinach or a side salad – so I was quite excited to see it on the menu. It didn’t disappoint.
My friend ordered fish pie, which was full of high quality fish. I could taste the freshness and I loved the creamy potato topping. It was a more flavoursome version of my crab crumble starter and as I tried a few bites I ended up getting my original wish of having the crab crumble again as a main
After all that my stomach was pretty full but I am the sort of girl that can never say no to chocolate. And thank goodness for that or I would have missed out on what has to be one of the best brownies I have ever tasted. I could tell immediately this was home-made, which straight away makes it better that 95% of restaurant brownies. Plus it had warm gooey chunks of chocolate inside. I’d go so far as to say this was a cross between a fondant and a brownie, which is better than both. You get the crispy top of a brownie with a moist texture and really chocolatey molten lava bits. A salted caramel glaze over the icing adds to the orgasmic ‘mmmmm effect’ with every mouthful.
I can’t share desserts so I was glad my friend chose a vanilla crème brulee. He said it was very good, true to the vanilla taste, but I still believe my chocolate was better. I love the way it was presented with a side of berries so we could pretend it was a tiny bit healthy!
Gow’s is the ultimate treat for stressed out city workers or people that have been partying too hard. With top class service, divine food and a relaxed and cosy dining room, you get the same relaxed feeling as going to a spa without having to get your hair wet.
Visit the Gow’s website for more information and booking details. Think of it as your next Friday treat!
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