Moving to Instagram

28 Feb

I’ve jumped on the Instagram bandwagon (better late than never) and will be posting my steps from there – 22 to go!

Follow me on ainhoab89.

🙂

I’ve done the first one already – here’s a little preview:

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STEP 30: dinner at The Dairy in Clapham. To finish off… Biscuits, salted caramel and malted barley ice cream; baked pear, clotted cream and cinnamon shavings and complimentary sugar coated wafers and mini doughnuts. Best things come free. #thedairy#instablog #instacollage #dessert #foodgasm#chocolate #art #blog #saltedcaramel #igers

Step Twenty-Nine: ice skating at Tower of London

12 Dec

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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Especially when you hit the ice rink.

Somerset House, Natural History Museum, Winter Wonderland, Eyeskate… even Canary Wharf has an ice rink.

I decided on the Tower of London though as I’d never been and loved the idea of skating in a moat against a backdrop of fortress walls, of a monument that was built in the eleventh century. Bet Henry VIII didn’t see that coming.

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I admit I was hoping to see some Beefeaters on skates, and hear a few more Christmas tunes, but the overall experience left me feeling very festive and all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sessions last for an hour and as we went at peak time, the rink did fill up with some pros gliding around and some Bambis/Katies tripping up. The enamouring views made up for any shortcomings though.

Drinks are available to warm up after in the Ice bar and cafe.

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The details:

Location: Tower of London. Tube: Tower Hill.

Opening times: everyday 10am-10pm. For booking slots, click here.

Prices: £13.50 peak times, £11.50 off-peak times.

Here until 5th January 2014.

Step Twenty-Eight: dinner at cocoa restaurant Rabot 1745

7 Dec

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It’s all about the cocoa at Borough Market’s new restaurant, Rabot 1745.

At first I imagined sickeningly sweet chocolate-smothered dishes on the menu – pasta in chocolate sauce, chocolate chilli con carne, chicken in mole sauce (nothing wrong with that) – but no, Rabot is far more subtle and sophisticated.

The restaurant, founded by the guys behind Hotel Chocolat, is named after their cocoa plantation in St Lucia. The stylish decor harks back to the original look of the estate, and the animal noises playing in the bathroom transport you to the Caribbean.

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The focus is on cocoa-infused dishes, with cooking techniques inspired by the West Indies. Before even looking at the menu, the friendly staff encourage you to crack open the  cocoa beans and try them in their raw bitter form. We were given a complimentary amuse-bouche to follow – a shot of creamy vegetable soup and cocoa flavoured bread to dip.

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Between us, we went for the red mullet fillet and olive chickpea gnocchi, which came with a chocolate and mustard glaze and seasonal vegetables (very good), and the slow roast shoulder of lamb, basted in cacao balsamic and served with veg and roast garlic mash (gorgeous).

Other dishes I was tempted by were the cacao marinated rib-eye steak, the fresh market chowder and the alternative pearl barley scotch egg.

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For dessert, I had to go for one of my all-time favourites – the Rum Baba, which came with a sizeable serving of St Lucian golden rum to pour accordingly.

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We couldn’t pass up the Chocolate Genesis either, described as “the whole epic story from the beginning”. Split over two plates came truffles, pralines, chocolate bars and a shot of drinking chocolate, accompanied by coconut water to cleanse the palate after each tasting. Epic it was.

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The restaurant is on the second floor of the Rabot establishment, and overlooks the bustling Borough Market and *claim to fame* Bridget Jones’ appartment.

The ground floor is home to the cafe/bar, which serves lethal rum cocktails and roasts their own cocoa beans daily, and the shop, which sells everything from cocoa pesto to cocoa pasta to cocoa gin to slabs of 70% dark chocolate.

Enough to make you loco for cocoa.

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The details:

Location: 2-4 Bedale Street, Borough Market. Tube: London Bridge.

Opening times: 6:30-10/11pm depending on day. Also open for lunch.

Prices: starters approx £8, mains approx £20, desserts approx £7.

To view the full menu and website, click here.

The restaurant is also working on building a balcony to be opened for summer months, overlooking Borough Market.

Step Twenty-Seven: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

30 Nov

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So I’ve been making my way round London’s Christmas markets. Second stop: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.

Christmas and all things Santa really have exploded in the city’s famous park. The organisers as usual go to town with their decoration, festive music, neon lights and fun fair rides and games. They’ve taken the Christmas theme and stretched it further. This isn’t just your average market serving bratwurst and mulled wine.

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There’s an apres-ski bar booming out cheesy tunes, giant santa and polar bear toys to be won, a packed ice rink with sweeping fairy lights and my personal favourite, a carousel – but not just any carousel, a spinning carousel bar.

There’s also the not so Christmasy but year-round fun on offer, like the bright red helter skelter, stacks of flavoured fudge, fish and chips wrapped in paper and Chinese takeaway, of course.

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The rides are a central attraction so naturally we had to try them. Lily was adamant on the big swing that takes you high up above the park and spins you round and round in a not so enjoyable manner. It doesn’t look scary until you realise just how high you are, and how you’re only strapped in by a mini seat belt and gusts of wind start howling in your face. Not quite so wonderland-esque.

But the rest was.

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The details:

Location: Hyde Park. Tube: Marble Arch.

Opening times: 10am-10pm.

Prices: drinks from £4, food from £4, rides average at £5.

Open until 5th January, except Christmas Day.

Step Twenty-Six: Southbank Centre Christmas market

29 Nov

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Southbank. One of my favourite parts of London. Not just for the views, the beautiful sunsets, the cultural buzz but also the Christmas market.

When I first started my blog, the aim was to do 52 Steps in 52 weeks. It’s been a year since I wrote about the market for the first time, when I was on Step Seven, and although I’m only half way through my Steps and haven’t exactly reached my target, it means I get to revisit the topic again.

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We pretty much did the same fail-proof routine.

Walk up the market, listen to the buskers, ooh and aah at St Paul’s lit up, get into the festive spirit, warm up with some Bailey’s hot chocolate, walk back down the market, touch all the soft Alpaca jumpers and not buy any because I already have five, watch the chimney cakes being made, drink the first mulled wine of the season, pick and try some cheese, take selfie photos in front of the Eye, watch the carousel swing round and finally, the main reason I go to Christmas markets, stuff my face with German food.

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The details:

Location: Queen’s Walk, Southbank. Tube: Waterloo.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm, Sat-Sun, 10am-10pm.

Prices: drinks from £3, food from £4.

Open until 24th December.

Step Twenty-Five: Maltby Street food tour

12 Nov

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London’s street food scene is mushrooming, and for the real London foodie in the know, Maltby Street market is a must.

While Borough market has a well-established devoted following, and is famous for certain stalls (the raclette), Matlby in Bermondsey isn’t as well known which makes it even more intriguing.

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In terms of appearance, it isn’t the typical food market. Stall after stall line both sides of the narrow street but some back into old warehouse spaces under arches, making them look even more makeshift and quirky. The planks and old scaffolding behind the stalls look a little unstable, but traders have embraced it all and use them as shelves to prop up bottles and hang sign boards from.

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On the Saturday morning that we went, we had to walk single file at times – it get’s that busy. Some people were already enjoying a tipple from bartenders serving drinks from a dresser, while the other option for diners was to take their food to an eating area in an antiques shop, and sit among old bath tubs and sinks. Trendy, but without the East Landan trendos.

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Food options on offer – smoked salmon, pastrami bagels (ultimate Jewish soul food), hummus and beef stew, fillet steak sandwiches and more, and moving onto the sweet stuff – cookies, waffles, French tarts and the like.

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Apart from the food stalls, some well-established businesses have set up shop permanently in the old warehouses, like Bea’s of Bloomsbury and St John’s Butchers, hinting that Bermondsey is well up and coming in London’s foodie revolution. The eateries were already packed by the time we got there, so I’ll definitely be going back for the half-restaurant, half-warehouse dining experience.

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And after the nibbling and eating, we walked around the antique shops which have the most bizarre finds on offer, including a headstone for Simon Cowell that was taken from the London Dungeon.

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Maltby Street is intriguing, and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were directed. It’s within walking distance of Borough market, which is where our tour, led by funnywoman and guide Emma Parker of Coutours, started.

We were led round the stalls and given tastings, starting off with our morning bread and moving on to explore the raclette, oysters and more.

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The tour isn’t just a case of dine and dash though. At each stop, Emma imparts her wisdom and shares the “secret history” of London’s street food. Who knew fish and chips were a hybrid creation from Ireland and Portugal, and that oysters were the first, and very cheap, example of street food?

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Tours are available to guests staying at Presidential Apartments, luxury suites in Kensington, with pick-up at the apartments, then heading to Borough and then Maltby.

Tour prices: £28pp for minimum two people, or £75 for a family of two adults and up to three children.

Tour times: 10am-1pm.

Call Emma on 07934781 056 to book your place.

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Step Twenty-Four: brunch at Caravan, Exmouth Market

19 Sep

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Brunch. My favourite meal of the day.

I’d been meaning to go to Caravan for ages to try their infamous brunch, but never quite got round to it until last weekend. The place has been around for a while and so popular that I deemed it “unbloggable”, but after seeing how photogenic the food was, I just had to share. The owners opened another resto in Kings Cross last year, but we headed for the original in the more picturesque Exmouth Market.

Caravan seems to be one of those places that is perpetually busy, and although we went for a late brunch at 2pm, the restaurant was still heaving. We luckily didn’t have to queue but I’ve heard of waits of at least half an hour if you go at peak times.

The best thing about the menu is its originality. At first glance, it might look like the standard muesli, toast and spreads, hearty fry up and omelette fare, but the further down the menu you look, the more exciting the choices get.

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The menu is well-travelled and very original. There are bits of Spanish influence here, bits of French influence there, and just when you think you’re getting normal maple sauce, the chef adds a kick to the dish and throws in the “house” paprika maple sauce instead.

I had the ham hock hash with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce and petits pois, while my friend ordered the cornbread French toast, streaky bacon, rocket and avocado. Both dishes were beautifully presented, although I did get food envy at the Spanish morcilla on grain toast and fried egg passing by, and I don’t even like black pudding that much.

The other dishes I was tempted by were the coconut bread with strawberries and lemon curd cheese, and the baked eggs and chorizo with Greek yoghurt.

It’s definitely a more alternative and interesting take on brunch, and the pairings were quite unusual, but they worked. The coffee, which they roast in the downstairs “roastery”, was also just what I wanted for that cold, rainy day.

Next stop: Caravan King’s Cross.

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The details:

Location: 11 Exmouth Market, Angel/Farringdon tube.

Opening times for brunch: Sat-Sun, 10am-4pm.

Price: mains around £9.

For all food menus, click here.

Side step: jam-jar cocktails at Alice House, West Hampstead

17 Sep

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When I grow up, I’m going to live in Hampstead. That’s one of my many ambitions, and while I can dream and hope that one day, some day, I’ll own a house in this endearing pocket of London, for now I’ll just have to be content with visiting.

I usually go up to Hampstead Village – for coffee on a cold day, for banana and nutella crepes at La Crêperie, for the lively, outdoor beer gardens on those unusual balmy summer evenings (no longer), and on my latest visit, to explore Hampstead Heath and get a breath of fresh air.

West Hampstead, however, I’d never been to. Until last week to visit a friend who had just moved to the area.

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We went for drinks, and while there were quite a few options just walking from the tube, The Alice House was recommended and the outdoor decking area drew us in. It wasn’t a particularly warm evening, but the heaters did the trick and I’d recommend going before winter really draws on.

We ordered jam-jar cocktails which had spoonfuls of jam in and were very sweet, but that perfectly suited my tastebuds. I had the gin cocktail with Victoria plum jam and a splash of lemonade, followed by the tequila concoction with blackcurrant jam topped with ginger beer. They were very, very good and very easy to drink.

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The place itself is a restaurant-cum-bar, and a mix of modern and tradition. The interior has cool exposed brickwork and little light bulbs hanging from the ceiling that reminded me of fireflies, but also old wooden flooring and comfy leather chairs. The clientele was slightly older and quite sophisticated, in keeping with the area, but it still felt pretty relaxed and just what we wanted for a quiet night.

The details:

Location: 283 West End Lane, West Hampstead tube.

Opening times: Mon-Thurs, 9am-11:30pm. Fri-Sat, 9:30am-1pm. Sun, 9:30am-11pm.

Prices: cocktails from £6.75.

For the drinks menu, click here.

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Step Twenty-Three: eat cake at Swedish bakery Bageriet

10 Sep

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Cake. Chocolate. Muffins. More cake. Sugar in general. I LOVE all things sweet. So when I heard about the new Swedish bakery that’s been hiding in Covent Garden, I immediately dashed to it.

When we walked in to Bageriet (meaning bakery in Swedish) on a mid-Friday afternoon, the cafe was empty besides the solo smiling Swedish waitress at the till, and a fully stocked counter of treats. Just how I like it. We had the place to ourselves and it really felt like sanctuary.

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It took about a good five minutes to decide what to get after asking for recommendations – this was my day off, I wasn’t going to be rushed – and we finally settled on the raspberry and coconut tart and the brioche muffin with gianduja chocolate.

Now I’ve never tried gianduja, but it’s kind of like Nutella, only better. The brioche was flaked with almonds and had a gorgeous silky chocolate centre, while the tart was just out of this world. Fresh coconut shavings mingled with bittersweet raspberry chunks, on a crisp tart base. Served next to my bowl of tea on a cold, hungover day – perfection.

It was hard to choose though. I was also keen on the gooey coconut pyramid, the dinky chocolate balls, the vanilla custard hearts, the cute raspberry caves and the traditional apple pie. Most of the counter display really. Bageriet prides itself on its cinnamon buns, so that was another option too.

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Just as we were leaving an elderly man came in and bought two carrier bags worth of goodies, and it sounded like he had made Bageriet his local. He left, and then about a minute later came back just to try the savoury sandwich cake, because it was just so intriguing and you can’t really not try it now, can you?

Princi in Soho is still top of my list for desserts, but I have to say Bageriet, which opened just a few months ago, is creeping up there too.

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The details:

Location: 24 Rose Street, Covent Garden tube.

Opening times: Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm. Sat, 10am-7pm.

Prices: sweet treats from roughly £3, hot drinks from £2.

For the full menu and to read the pastry chef’s story, click here.

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Side step: cocktails and stand-up comedy at Simmons

9 Sep

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King’s Cross used to be an area you passed through, but in the past few months its seen a massive rejuvenation and has become a destination in itself.

While new haunts like Plum & Spilt Milk have arrived on the dining scene, and old gems like Shrimpy’s Bar pop up during the summer, there are a few rough-around-the-edges places that still have that distinctive, original King’s Cross feel about them.

Simmons Bar could be classified as one of them. We went on a Tuesday night as they do free stand-up comedy in the very dark basement, but that won’t stop you from being singled out and picked on…particularly if you arrive late.

The comedy is open to everyone and I’m going to skim over the quality in keeping with the purpose of my blog (things worth doing). As it’s open to everyone, it can be a little hit and miss (quite a bit of toilet humour in one act), and most of the audience seemed to be part of an amateur comedian gang.

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So why you SHOULD GO… the cocktails come in retro tea pots, so you don’t feel that guilty for having cup after cup on a Tuesday night when they’re served out of something from granny’s kitchen. The bar also has an impressively long happy hour until 9pm on most days, including Friday, and drinks are a steal.

Simmons itself is very quirky and has mismatched decorations that all add to the retro charm – wooden school desks complete with graffiti, bunting and royal memorabilia hanging on the walls (including a photograph of Prince Charles and Diana), lampshades of all shapes and sizes lined up in no particular order, comic book strips that double up as wallpaper… oh, and you can’t miss the massive diamante disco skull that twirls from the ceiling in the middle of the room.

The music doesn’t particularly match the setting, of course, but does take you back to the 90s. Expect tunes from Shaggy, Sean Paul and the like.

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The details:

Location: 32 Caledonian Road, King’s Cross tube.

Opening times: Thurs-Sat, 4pm-3am. Sun-Wed, 4pm-midnight.

Happy hour 4pm-9pm, Sun-Fri.

Prices at this happy time: Beers, wines, spirits from £2.50. Two cocktails for £10. Tea pot cocktails for £15.

To visit the website, click here.

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