Archive | September, 2013

REVIEW: Kusmi Tea Party

27 Sep

I confess that tea has always been my drug of choice; I cannot function without it. Having once sacrificed my habbit for Lent, I proceeded to look ill and diseased for the entire 40 days of withdrawal. So epic was my decline, my work colleagues celebrated when my fast ended, proclaiming: “You have never looked so terrible, thank God it’s over.” Tea, it seems, is both my drug and my beauty therapist.

Thus, when I spotted a competition on Twitter, run by Sauce Communications, to win an exclusive invitation to Kusmi‘s Tea Party, I knew I had to enter! To say I was excited when I won would only scratch the surface of my elation!

Stepping into the Kusmi Tea store in Marylebone was like stepping into a Pirate’s treasure trove. Wherever I looked, there was a rich bounty of exquisite tea blends, in all different flavours. Coloured boxes lined the shelves like twinkling jewels, pulling me towards them like a magpie to shiny trinkets. For a tea addict such as myself, Kusmi’s shop was a Wonka-esque utopia of colour, flavour and charm.

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The tea party was the perfect soiree: hot and iced Kusmi teas, organic cakes by Marlette, makeover and beauty treatments courtesy of Michael John and Laura Mercier, beautiful artworks from YellowKorner and lovely, welcoming staff with a genuine passion for their products!

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I loved hearing about Kusmi’s origins; the esteemed tea company is steeped in history! Having begun life in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1867 – where customers included Tsar Nicholas II – the company, founded by Pavel Kousmichoff, had already launched a subsidiary in London before settling permanently in Paris, France, during 1916 (just ahead of the revolution in which the Tsar and his family were assasinated).

There were two teas available to sample at the party: BB DETOX from a new Wellness range and ANASTASIA, a signature Russian blend. Poured into the most gorgeous, branded cups, the Iced Grapefruit-infused BB Detox tea was served with an old-fashioned paper straw, adding to the evening’s party vibe. Refreshing, light and packed with health-boosting antioxidents, the tea smelt as fruity as it tasted!

Anastasia, served warm, was a comforting blend of Earl Grey, lemon and orange blossom. In truth, I have never been a fan of Earl Grey, hating its floral and bergamot notes, but this tea was beautiful. Named in honour of Tsar Nicholas’ most famous daughter (in the decades following the revolution, claims persisted that she was still alive), it was so addictive, I bought a box to take home – making use of the great discounts available on the night for party guests!

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Offered alongside the teas were a fantastic array of cakes, courtesy of home-baking brand Marlette. The French company offers a range of HOME-BAKE CAKE & BREAD MIXES – all organic and free from nasty additives.

I’ve never admired home-bake mixes, particularly as many seem to produce a cardboard crust or a chewy centre, but Marlette’s products had no such problems and I was impressed by the quality of their cakes.

Pairing Kusmi’s Anastasia tea with slices of Marlette’s moreish almond Financiers and squares of gooey Fondant au Chocolat (brownie), I was in sugar-high heaven. There was even a Cereal Bar Cake – a fragrant slab packed with figs and apricot – which nicely complimented Kusmi’s iced BB Detox.

I’ve since spotted the chocolate fondant mix in my local M&S store, priced around £7. I’ll be stocking up on these, along with tins of Kusmi teas, throughout December – for inclusion in homemade Christmas hampers for family and friends.

During the party, I paused for a sojourn in the rectangular store’s ‘Chill Out Corner’, created especially for the event with gallery chain YellowKorner. I was blown away by some of the dazzling prints on display, which included limited edition exclusives, vowing to visit the gallery’s Westfield and Mayfair outlets very soon to check out more show-stopping artworks!

I spent the rest of my evening chatting to fellow guests and admiring the amazing skills of Sara Chatterton, from luxury salon chain Michael John – who was blow-drying curls and ringlets with finesse – and the nimble fingers of a beautician from Laura Mercier, who was expertly transforming guests into goddesses with eyeshadows, liners, skin products, blusher and plenty of lippy!

Upon leaving, I was presented with a stunning goody bag, containing over £50 worth of treats! Items included a tin of Kusmi’s Anastasia loose leaf tea, a Laura Mercier Foundation Primer, a packet of Marlette’s Organic Fondant au Chocolat mix, a 50% off voucher for a cut and blow-dry at any Michael John salon, a discount coupon for YellowKorner and lots of fantastic information about the brands.

The Kusmi Tea Party was a fabulous affair – stylish and entertaining, with plenty of delicious treats. The store was a grotto of delights – parading everything from funky tea pots to exclusive, Russian tea blends! A brilliant event with top-notch food, entertainment and staff, I walked away with loads of Christmas gift ideas and a range of new favourite tea flavours.

Kusmi Tea, 15 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 4NU

RECOMMENDED: Four Corners Café near the South Bank

18 Sep

Behind Waterloo station, adjacent to the London Eye and a stone’s throw from the bustle of London’s South Bank sits an airy and charming café: Four Corners.

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Located on Lower Marsh, its pea-green exterior is a welcoming beacon for the delights within. Hot and cold sandwiches, fresh salads, sweet pastries and fruit tarts are complemented by a wide range of loose leaf teas and smooth yet rich coffee.

Surprisingly, there is no kitchen on the premises but the café has no problem in finding ways to serve tasty food. Sourcing ingredients from the four corners of the globe, the simple menu is regularly updated; next week will see the launch of new, tapas-themed dishes. These will include slices of manchego cheese with forest honey, and a platter of lomo, chorizo and serrano ham with pepper jelly.

This comfortable and relaxed café only opened two months ago and its inviting interior – with a global travel theme – has already attracted a loyal customer base. Further charm can be found in the staff, led by owner Shaun. Everyone was wonderfully welcoming, helpful and cheerful, happy to answer questions and explain key menu items.

Having won free teas and cakes for two via a contest on Twitter, I took my mother along for a treat and arrived just after midday. We couldn’t resist buying a freshly-prepared chorizo and cheddar roll (£4.50) – complemented with rocket leaves in what looked like a sesame-seeded pretzel bun. It was delicious: a perfect mixture of texture and flavour.

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Our pastry tarts of fig and apricot were both exceedingly good – washed down with lovely teas and coffees – and it was difficult to select a favourite. After all, partake in a scrumptious tart and you can’t go wrong! We finally settled on apricot, buying one to take home. We plan to return to the café very soon for more!

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Offering great service and excellent food, Four Corners is well worth a visit during your next trip to London’s South Bank; the simple yet flavoursome menu is great value for money in a location were over-priced tourist-traps are usually the norm.

Four Corners, 12 Lower Marsh, London, SE1 7RJ, is opening from 7.30am – 5.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 10am – 5pm on Saturdays.

REVIEW: The Cake & Bake Show 2013

17 Sep

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Bruised shoulders, stubbed toes, sweaty foreheads, strained back muscles, full tummies and arms laden with bags – these were the side effects of attending The Cake & Bake Show in London’s Earl’s Court on Sunday (15th September).

To say that the event was mobbed would be like describing meringues as “white globs”; traversing certain ailses was akin to being caught up in the London riots (shin pads and helmets would have been exceedingly useful before venturing towards the cupcake stalls but, sadly, I left my riot gear at home).

The huge turnout – totalling over 30,000 visitors – reflected the growth of the Home Baking market and retail sales of baked goods in the UK. Recent figures confirm that 41% of Brits bake at least once a fortnight* and the nation consumes £23.5m** worth of cupcakes a year. The Home Baking sector is now worth a staggering £645m and the average consumer eats home-baked goods 4.6 times every fortnight*.

Flooding into the venue alongside all the other budding Mary Berrys, we exchanged a miserably grey weekend for a world of dizzying colour and creativity. From the neon glare of fushia pink cupcakes, pearly white icing and violet edible flowers to the warmth of glossy chocolate slabs, golden caramel fudge and red velvet whoopie pies, the London venue was a Dulux palette of sugar and confectionery. Willy Wonka would have sung in approval.

The Golden Tickets required for entry to this ganache-crafted world of imagination were available to buy, but the sugar Gods sweetened my fortunes with two free tickets. I entered a competition via Twitter, run by Stork in the week leading up to the event… and won!

Squealing as the shock sank in, I jumped up and down in elation and thanked my lucky [sugared] stars for such an amazing prize. Some people get babies… my Stork brings me Cake & Bake Show tickets. Methinks I definitely got the better deal.

One of the highlights of the event was the margarine brand’s spectacular “Cake Runway” where the models were all beautifully crafted cakes! ‘Plus Size’ got a whole new meaning as we looked at the curves of fat-tiered cakes sporting wonderfully intricate designs.

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The show was split into defined sections, including food retail areas, homeware and baking supplies, exhibition stands, masterclass theatres and demonstration stations. Many workshops with high-profile icons – such as baker, Eric Lanlard – had to be pre-booked, but the likes of Renshaw, Betty Crocker and Dr. Oetker ran several more informal events that attracted a spontaneous audience.

Goody bags were available to purchase upon arrival, priced at £5 each. Each branded cotton bag contained a wealth of money off vouchers, a Betty Crocker packet mix for Red Velvet Cupcakes, a bottle of Russian limeade called ‘Zeo’ and a fabulously glossy Christmas recipe book from sugar brand Billingtons.

Navigating the scrum of visitors was difficult, and at times unbearable, but the bruising was well worth it! Here are some of my favourite finds from the show:

MINCE PIES BY FLOUR POWER CITY BAKERY

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I have an obsession with mince pies and have spent many years on a mission to try every variety in London. These ones had perfectly short pastry and an old-fashioned, tangy filling – superb!

VEGAN CHILLI CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES BY SUGAR CREAM CAKES

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This vegan cupcake was a delightful surprise. A soft, chocolatey sponge was tasty and harmless – the heat was all in the icing! Delicious!

MUSCOVADO AND MOLASSES FUDGE BY BILLINGTONS

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The sugar brand had a wonderful hut at the event, showcasing their wares and a range of mind-blowing fudge varieties, especially made for the show to demonstrate how their individual products can be used at home.

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A fudge recipe was included in their Christmas-themed cookbook, included in the official Cake & Bake Show goody bag – which I shall definitely be making over the Yuletide period!

PAUL A. YOUNG CHOCOLATES & BROWNIES

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My favourite chocolatier once again had the best cocoa creations for sale – annihilating the competition in flavour, texture and presentation.

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Although I was none too impressed with his introduction of a Marmite Brownie – I hate the stuff! Nevertheless, I persuaded two doubtful shoppers to buy one of his Signature Brownies – one of the richest and delicious in the UK.

MERINGUES BY THE MERINGUE GIRLS

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Colourful, light, vibrant and inviting – I loved the girls’ stall at the show. With an array of flavours on offer, it was unsurprising to discover that their products were selling quickly!

OTHER AMAZING SIGHTS IN PICTURES:

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Sources:
*Kantar Worldpanel ^SymphonyIRI
**Companies & Markets (July 3rd, 2013)

REVIEW: Seduced in Selfridges by Godminster’s Brie

11 Sep

Temptation comes in many forms. Forget the biblical ones – the prophets and apostles were obviously deprived of a good Brie, or else they would have surely forewarned against the perils of its porcelain skin and creamy flesh. Many a diet has been derailed by its wanton allure.

Partial to parading itself in public – markets and festivals seem to be popular haunts – it is difficult to avoid bumping into one another; usually at the most inopportune moments, often after inwardly resolving to abstain from temptation.

I sheepishly share with you one such recent encounter:

Feeling peckish during a trip to Central London but with little or no money in my pocket, I headed towards a beckoning friend: Selfridges. Walking through its charming Food Hall is always a rewarding endeavour – an abundance of free samples should negate the need to purchase a full lunch. Or so goes the theory. In reality, the delicious morsels one consumes more often lead to dangerous impulse purchases.

I have been known to leave the store laden with a range of items I neither required nor intended to buy. In my time, I have carted home everything from expensive vinegars and piquant sauces to gluttonous cakes and healthy yogurts!

However, of all the options in the heavenly hall, there is one that has been known to frequently derail my budget: the cheese counter. Good Lord, what a temptation! Smoked, soft, hard, blue, international, British, pasteurised, unpasteurised, flavoured, plain – there’s a cheese for every palette and every mood. Whether you’re seeking comfort and consolation or pleasure and elation, Selfridges offers a cheese to induce the required emotion.

It was here, by the side of the counter, where we finally met, in the most unexpected and illicit of encounters. I had been strolling along, admiring a particularly beautiful roasted, Organic pork leg when there it was… sprawled naked, ivory curves on show for all to see, lying in the most provocative manner on top of a discarded wrapper.

Posing seductively, its intent was abundantly clear; Godminster Brie wanted to seduce me (oh, how ironic to have the Lord’s name within its title). My rumbling tummy betrayed my growing hunger; I was insatiable, too weak to resist its smooth, silky skin. It was love at first sight.

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Its chaperone, a delightful lady from Godminster Farm, did little to curtail my hunger: “It’s Organic,” she revealed. My heart briefly stalled as my mouth began to water. My new love, such a rare and delicate treasure, was not only beautiful but also angelically pure. I chided myself for ever doubting its virtue.

A longing smile must have seeped across my unworthy features, for the kindly chaperone suddenly uttered: “Would you like to try it?”

I caved to inner desire and there, in broad daylight, within the expanse of the Food Hall, I succumbed. Fireworks exploded! Produced on a farm in Bruton, Somerset, using Jersey milk, there was a delightful depth to its flavour, as if all the beauty of that glorious region had converged into one.

As I lost myself within the pleasure of its melting strokes upon my tongue, the chaperone announced its superior, award-winning status (a Great Taste Award with which I heartily agree).

No sooner had I finished with my fair love, the chaperone coyly introduced its unexpected companion – an exotic-looking, freckled specimen, intent on spicing things up: Brie with Black Pepper!

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Where my fair love had been subordinate and soothing, this new offering was bold and unapologetically dominant. Pulled into the delicious delights of a 50 Shades-esque slap upon my taste buds, I was now torn between the two beauties.

“They’re £5.99 each if you would like to take them home,” explained the chaperone. My word. A bargain at twice the price! You certainly don’t get this sort of offer on the high streets of North London, although one does wonder about the fridge contents of certain Tweed-clad neighbours.

Who would have imagined that an innocent visit to Selfridges would lead to a cheesy seduction and the offer of a private threesome at home? As my mind roved to thoughts of wild abandon over a cheeseboard with my two new loves, snap shots of the props awaiting in my kitchen brought forth a heavy sweat from my brow.

Images of thick, quince jam and plump, curvaceous grapes – vigorously sandwiched between the fair and fiery duo laid before me – were too tantalising to dismiss. I knew then that my inner resolve to be ‘good’ was futile. The two Bries had generously supplied a taste of their charms and I couldn’t be so impolite as to turn them away; such rudeness wouldn’t be Christian.

However, with funds somewhat absent at the moment of our meeting, I had no choice but to reign in my appetite and mumble my excuses. Upon returning to my abode, I consoled myself with the internet. It was a brisk session, over within minutes – I had found the strumpets causing my pain on Godminster’s website, reiterating their offer to join me at home for the tiny additional cost of postage!

Resigning myself to future weekends hugging the Weight Watchers cookbook, I added Godminster’s site to my list of ‘Favourites’ – reflecting our meaningful encounter. It was no slap-dash ‘one bite stand’. Goodness no. We’re involved.

Baker Street Quarter Food Market

11 Sep

The bustle of Baker Street gets an extra injection of excitement on the second Wednesday of every month – a thriving Food Market offering everything from sandwiches to truffle oil. 

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Located in the outdoor atrium of 55 Baker Street, the market features a variety of stands showcasing foods from across the globe. Attracting hungry diners happy to queue for a lunchtime treat, there’s plenty to choose from:

Sandwiches & Wraps

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Greek Cypriot outfit Petros Produce dished up Grilled Halloumi Wraps (£5), a popular choice from a menu which also included Smoked Ham. Watching the thickly sliced cheese grilling slowly over a hot plate, it was easy to see why queues had formed!

A fundraising meal-deal from The Radisson Blu Portman Hotel offered a homemade sandwich, a piece of fruit and a smoothie for £3.50 – with all money going to Variety, the children’s charity.

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Large, soft baps housed fillings of Chargrilled Vegetables & Hummus or Chicken Chilli Mayo & Rocket – both looked very tempting!

Curries

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An array of vibrant-looking curries from Fire & Spice Bar & Kitchen attracted quite a crowd. The Marble Arch based restaurant dished up meat and veggie options of its signature dishes: Chicken Chettinad infused with coconut; Vegetable Korma made with yogurt and saffron; Lemon Rice; and Poppadoms.

Baked Goods – Breads, Pastries, Tarts, Cakes & More

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Samples of Karaway Bakery‘s beautiful breads and pastries all tasted superb – particularly a Lithuanian Scalded Rye and a Pumpernickel loaf.

I brought home a bag of Pancake Biscuits, priced £1.20. The vanilla flavoured, bite-sized puffs have an airy texture and are exceedingly moreish!

For something sweeter, visit Galeta‘s stall. The bakers are well known for their chewy, giant cookies and an award-winning, decadent chocolate brownie (£2).

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Giving the latter strong competition is their Pastéis de Nata (Portugese Custard Tart): layers of light, flaky pastry containing a scrumptious egg custard. The tarts are priced at £1.50 each but it’s worth splurging £4 for four – restricting yourself to one could prove difficult! 

Hush Hush Chefs‘ filo pies and tarts also drew crowds. Crisp triangle pastries filled with Roasted Aubergine & Peppers and Mushroom & Cheese were huge, while open topped tarts, sliced into giant wedges, included Caramelised Onion & Parmesan and Roasted Vegetables & Goat’s Cheese.

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I opted for a slice of Spinach, Feta and Nut (£3.50) pictured above. The flavour and texture of the cheese seemed more akin to an unsalted Ricotta, but no-one else seemed to notice!

Truffle Oils & Sauces

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Newcomer Marche Food was a great find at the market! Their delectable White Truffle Oil with Courgette was incredible, as was a sample of the oil served separately, Tartufo Bianco (£8) . Selling products from Marche, Italy, a region renowned for its produce, the quality of the oils was exceptional, with a luxuriously rich flavour.

Deli Items

Flying the flag for charcuterie was Picco Salumi, an Islington based outfit famed for its cured meat products, made with the finest free range, British pork.

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I couldn’t resist buying three varieties of salami: Soppressata, made with garlic, chilli, oregano and hungarian paprika; Saucisson, spiced with ginger, garlic, ground white pepper, and whole black pepper corns; and Salt & Pepper with Mulled Wine – all delicious!

An enticing array of plump Olives, Nuts and Turkish Delight were also on offer from another vendor which I cannot name.

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Unfortunately, their branding still needs some work – the stall didn’t carry a sign with a company name – but their produce is great!

Confectionery

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Simply Handmade Chocolates had a glorious assortment of truffles (from 95p), fudge (from £3.50) and macarons (£5 per bag) to choose from. I particularly enjoyed a smooth and intense dark chocolate Raspberry Fondant Heart and a creamy and crunchy milk chocolate Manuka Honeycombe Cluster. I’ll definitely be returning for some fudge and macarons very soon!

Tea and Coffee Blends

Bellevue Teas had a wonderful stall, with a fabulous selection of blends and gift sets.

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Both bags and loose leaf varieties were available to purchase, from classic Peppermint and Camomile to Nilgiri Silver Tip and Sweet Orange Rooibos.

An unexpected, yet welcome, discovery came in the form of a smooth coffee that wasn’t actually made from coffee beans!

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Innocente‘s Caffè d’Orzo is a caffeine free alternative made from roasted barley and produced by a family-run business in Tuscany. Looking like espresso, it lacks the expected aroma yet tastes just like decaf – but without any of the nasty chemicals used in the manufacturing process! You can buy a cup for £1.

Exotic Fruits & Juices

Toucan Fruit had the most colourful stall, showcasing exotic produce also available from their London store.

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I found a good mix of familiar and unusual fruits, from Coconuts and Melon to Cacao Fruit and Colombian Pitahaya. I recommend picking up an Exotic Fruit Pot – a healthy lunch or dessert option that will only set you back £2.50.

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Toucan also offered freshly squeezed juices: the only cold beverage available to buy at the market – great for washing down a hearty sandwich or chocolate treat!

Baker Street Quarter Food Market, is held on the second Wednesday of every month, from midday to 4pm.

Top 5 Things of the Week (September 2nd – 8th)

8 Sep

#1 Meatopia in London

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The annual New York meat and barbecue festival finally branched out to London and the result was an epic celebration with a carnival atmosphere.

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The intoxicating aroma rising from Tobacco Dock in East London must’ve been detected for miles around: grills sizzled with a mix of quail, beef, venison, chicken and an abundance of pork! There were too many dishes to choose from, and it didn’t help that queues were lengthy, but everything sampled was a juicy delight of smokiness and texture.

My full review of the event is posted on The Upcoming so read more here.

#2 Desserts at Vivo in Islington

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The Upcoming sent me to attend a private preview event of this brand new bakery, café and bar, set to open on Islington’s Upper Street at the end of the month.

The pizzas were fabulous but the desserts were out of the stratosphere! My particular favourite was a Cassata Siciliana: a fondant-like Italian meringue housing candied peel and contrasting cream and sponge layers – heavenly! Read more here.

#3 Hiver‘s Honey Beer

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This is the nicest craft beer I’ve sampled in aaaages! Discovered at Meatopia, it’s the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, with a pleasant floral undertone.

Made with urban and rural honey, the beer is long matured and unpasteurised. Hiver tone down the hops with an organic speciality malt to bring out the honey flavours.

#4 Spanish Manchego from Mallorca

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Ah, nothing beats food gifts from relatives returning from a sojourn abroad. Presented with a lovely wedge of fresh Manchego, one of my favourite cheeses, I’ve been layering it with Membrillo and crackers for the perfect daily snack. Delicious!

#5 Barclays Business Seminar
The amount of free seminars, workshops and courses in London never ceases to amaze and inspire.

This week, I attended a seminar sponsored by Barclays and hosted by my local borough council. Offering useful advice and tips on how to launch your own business, from funding opportunities to tax laws!

Top 3 Things of the Week (August 26th – September 1st)

1 Sep

With my recent bout of ill health continuing for much of the week, I was unable to partake in as many events or food trips. Compiling a Top 5 was unrealistic but I’ve managed to up my game from last week – when I was so ill I could only list one measly item! It is with great pleasure that I write: behold this week’s Top 3 Things of the Week!

#1 Proud Cabaret in the City

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The 1920s themed Speakeasy proved to be one of the most entertaining nights in London! With waitresses clad in basques, exquisite martinis and an awesome burlesque murder-mystery, called The Silencing of Miss Scarlett it was a fun-filled night of glamour and naughtiness. Read my full review for The Upcoming here.

#2 Palmers Green Festival

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Held within the lush beauty of Broomfield Park in North London’s cultural and culinary capital, Palmers Green, this annual festival was the perfect Sunday escapade.

The community event was a celebration of all the borough has to offer, from food and entertainment to shopping and education.

It was difficult to resist the delicious international cuisine – delicacies hailed from a global trail spanning the Caribbean to Asia! Added to mouth-watering cakes from local tearooms such as Baskervilles, the sights and smells were beyond intoxicating.

Arts and craft stalls offered everything from ceramics to jewellery and, if not content to buy, both parents and kids were encouraged to try their hand at making their own from porcelain, under the instruction of Doodle Designs.

A children’s fun fair and separate activity and games stalls proved highly popular, while a local dance studio took eager volunteers through their paces, creating Palmers Green’s very own Strictly Come Dancing masterclass.

The park’s pavilion area, hosted by Tropical FM, was used to introduce a range of performances from local school children. Singing and dancing with equal passion and nerves, the kids excelled themselves. The entire afternoon was an endearing hybrid of The X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent – amazing!

Festivals like this are what community is all about: congregating, celebrating and appreciating. Witnessing the multicultural residents of Palmers Green coming together to interweave their many cultures into a gigantic tapestry of fun and colour for all to enjoy was truly magical. Roll on next year so we can do it all again!

#3 McDonalds

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Left thirsty and famished after attending the launch party for new Soho restaurant and bar, Coal Vaults, there was little choice but to seek sustenance elsewhere.

Luckily, McDonalds on Oxford Street was still open for business. Never before has a “Mickey-Ds” hit the spot to this extent. Delicious, filling and a huge relief.