REVIEW: Chocolates by The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)

24 Oct

One of the highlights of Salon du Chocolat‘s London debut was Aneesh Popat’s impassioned talk and tasting session, introducing his exquisite chocolates and ganaches.

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Aneesh Popat at Salon du Chocolat

Applying chemistry to his art and challenging tradition – much like a certain Mr Blumenthal – Popat has quickly made a name for himself with his unorthodox techniques and experimental flavours.

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Talking chocolate with evangelical passion: Aneesh Popat

“Chocolate is a superfood and we should eat it everyday!” proclaimed the artisan chocolatier during his fervoured presentation – immediately gaining my approval and agreement. Not that I need any encouragement to partake in a daily chocolate fix: I’ve had that one down pat since I was seven!

However, I now have a reason to feel less guilty… Under the brand name of The Chocolatier, Popat produces his critically-acclaimed confectionery without any cream or butter – making them far healthier alternatives to other chocolates on the market.

Able to produce the most velvety creations using only chocolate and water (the trick is in the emulsification process and the generation of small particles), Popat’s dairy-free treats contain approximately 40% to 50% less calories than traditional chocolate. Depending on if you’re a glutton or a weight-watcher, you can choose to eat twice as much or stick to a healthy diet. I’m Team Glutton all the way!

Despite these vegan roots, the omission of dairy in no way impairs the flavour or quality of Popat’s chocolates or ganaches (believe me, my palette can detect even the slightest flaw within my fix of chocolate). In fact, so delicious are these dairy and gelatine free truffles, it’s not unusual to find them being showcased within Michelin-starred restaurants; a testament to the quality and flavour of The Chocolatier range.

Surprisingly, Popat isn’t from a science or food background … the former Mathematics graduate (he earned his degree at Nottingham university) went on to study Philosophy, in India, before returning to the UK to launch The Chocolatier, only two and a half years ago.

Pining for Fir Tree Truffles (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun)? Or how about a delicious Baked Bean Truffle instead … all the flavour but without the gas and bloating afterwards? Popat produces these unconventional truffles using no more than chocolate, water, fruit or vegetable purees, herbs, spices and lots of science. Incidentally, the Fir Tree Truffles were flavoured by obtaining a pine tree, removing the needles, boiling them and capturing the aroma (steam) to infuse with the chocolate. I told you the dude liked chemistry.

For the tasting session at Salon du Chocolat, Popat presented three unique flavours to sample, beginning with a smooth, sensuous Raw Coconut Bean which, Popat revealed, wasn’t tempered above 42 degrees to ensure its delightful texture and flavour: another nugget of science for you.

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Raw Coconut Bean Truffles by The Chocolatier

Our second treat was an eye-wateringly acidic Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar and Hazelnut ganache (the first bite was mild but the second packed one heck of a punch). All the flavours came through in stages, unfolding like a three course meal, reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s bubblegum – quirky and definitely fun!

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Beetroot, Red Wine Vinegar & Hazelnut Truffle by The Chocolatier

To finish, we devoured a marvellous Mince Pie Truffle, produced with an actual Mince Pie (pastry included) and caramelised banana ganache – a triumph and my favourite treat of the day!

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Mince Pie Truffle by The Chocolatier

Provenance, of course, is paramount to The Chocolatier and his ingredients are all carefully sourced, including working with chocolate brand Duffy’s original beans to produce a truffle especially for Salon du Chocolat. I would’ve expected nothing less from such a master of chocolate.

Quirky, fun, decadent and healthy, The Chocolatier‘s confectionery deserves to be on any Christmas wish list this December. It’s the ideal gift: you can eat them as an indulgent treat during the festive period or hold off until January, when you’re trying to lose the extra kilos you’ve gained from troughing through all that turkey, stuffing and cake. Now, it’s not often I get to say that about chocolate!

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Salon du Chocolat in London: The Gala Evening Review

23 Oct

As Brits rejoiced in celebrating National Chocolate Week, partaking in a range of cocoa-themed events in honour of our nation’s favourite confection, an indulgent finale was unveiled to the media on Friday 18th October: Salon du Chocolat. The world’s largest chocolate show opened its doors at the Kensington Olympia National Hall – its first London outing, despite gracing no less than 23 locations across the globe since its launch in 1994.

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Pralus' amazing praline bars

Attending the exclusive Gala evening, the exhibitor list encompassed esteemed UK and international brands, led by Rococo, Prestat, Demarquette, Lindt, Divine and Vahlrona. High expectations and greedy appetites were fulfilled within minutes of arrival: an assortment of Chocololo treats at the stall for Peckham-based chocolate shop, Melange; Château Vert truffles with citrus and caramel undertones at Chocbox; and Fudge Kitchen’s creamy Caramel Swirl. A sighting of chocolatier Paul A. Young in the crowd raised hopes that he was also exhibiting, but sadly not.

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Comptoir du Cacao at Salon du Chocolat

Samples of velvety truffles, crunchy pralines, chewy nougat, and decadent sauces were flaunted on every stand and it was difficult to move more than three paces without succumbing to a new temptation.

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Chocolate Treats at Salon du Chocolat

Notable discoveries ranged from a salted caramel chocolate slab from Au Palais des Gourmets to nougat made with lavender honey by La Maison du Nougat. A pistachio praline bar by French chocolatier François Pralus was superb, rivalled by Comptoir du Cacao’s Croustines (chocolate-coated crystal pieces with fruit and caramel) and Sparkling Chocolate Spread from Charles Chocolartisan.

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Delicious nougat by La Maison du Nougat

The media frenzy at event sponsor Hotel Chocolat’s stand was entirely justified – the sighting of a bath tub filled with molten chocolate heralded a provocative display. A bikini-clad blonde slid into the tub and proceeded to bathe seductively in the warm liquid, much to the delight of mesmerised photographers. The pheromones released from within the excited crowd were palpable, emphasising the aphrodisiac properties of the confection.

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Chocolate Spa Bath at Salon du Chocolat

Almost as awesome as the spectacle itself was the restraint of the model, who somehow refrained from insatiably slurping handfuls of the intoxicating, vanilla-scented river (willpower of which Rosemary Conley would heartily approve).

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Hotel Chocolat’s Chocolate Spa Bath

The evening’s highlight was a much-publicised Catwalk Show, hosted by pastry chef Will Torrent, where stunning female models, clad in chocolate couture, paraded innovative collaborations between esteemed chocolatiers and fashion designers. Whilst the addition of handsome men in praline loin-cloths or nougat waistcoats would have perhaps balanced the evening’s titillation, the beautiful dresses were clever and inspired.

Favourites included: a cupcake-studded head-turner by French chocolatier and pâtisssier Madame Trignon (it took six months to perfect); a Macaron-encrusted slinky number from baker Loretta Liu of On Cafe, made using Original Beans’ rainforest collection; an earthy, feather-themed gown from Demarquette, featuring a show-stopping headpiece by Vivien Sheriff; and a funky steampunk dress from bridal wear designer Hannah Wilkins-Webb and award-winning Shropshire-based chocolatier Julia Wenlock (owner of Toot Sweets).

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Cupcake Dress at Salon du Chocolat

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Cupcake Dress


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Demarquette's Chocolate Dress

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Real Choc Leaves on Demarquette's Dress


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Steampunk Dress - Bodice Front

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Steampunk Dress at Salon du Chocolat

A playful night of fashion, flavour, borderline eroticism and humour, the Salon du Chocolat Gala was a feast for all the senses … and a heavenly, if fattening, excursion for chocolate lovers!

Verdict: ★★★★★

RECOMMENDED: Secret Garden Confectionery

16 Oct

It’s National Chocolate Week and, in the spirit of showing support, I have been indulging in every kind of chocolate, stuffing my face without restraint. Trying to pick a favourite variety or bar was proving difficult, until a visit to the Tuesday food market in Thomas More Square, close to historic landmark and tourist attraction, The Tower of London.

I came home with a bag of Rocky Road chocolates by Secret Garden Confectionery – blocks of creamy, milk chocolate, studded with soft marshmallow and crunchy, puffed cereal. I was hooked after one bite. Challenged not to devour the entire bag in one sitting, I had to force myself to remember that I’d actually purchased the chocs to share with my two nieces, aged 5 and 7.

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I gave them half a block each, and remembered my manners long enough to reluctantly offer the bag to their grandparents. The problems started when they all began pestering me for more, declaring the moreish treats to be “delicious” and “yummy”. Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is far too good to share, but denying them further access to such unbelievably tasty chocolate would have been exceptionally cruel. Fearing I’d be reported for some kind of human rights or domestic abuse, I had no choice but to succumb to their requests. Note to self: hide the next bag I buy at the back of the cupboard and tell no-one.

Secret Garden Confectinery is a regular at food festivals and Shepherds Markets’ sites across the Capital, where lovely co-founder and self-taught chocolatier, Belinda, braves the elements to showcase and sell a mouthwatering display of truffles, lollies, tablets and blocks.The seductive smell of cocoa, vanilla and spices draws you towards the stall just as much as the decadent vision of melt-in-the-mouth milk, white and dark chocolates.

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Made using ethically-sourced products, each beautiful treat is handmade – including the toffee and honeycomb centres – at Belinda’s base in Hertfordshire. The butter and cream used within each chocolate batch (produced in small quantities to ensure freshness), is also produced locally.

Despite such high-quality ingredients and an emphasis on fair trade, Secret Garden’s product range is reasonably priced – items start at a mere £2.50: a steal for artisan chocolate! With additional special offers available for multi-buys, it’s worth stocking up if you’re planning to put together some gorgeous food hampers for family and friends this Christmas.

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The smooth and tangy Milk Chocolate Orange Truffles are particularly addictive and the different flavoured tablet bars – crammed with fruits, spices or nuts – are sinfully sublime. There’s a luscious white chocolate Cranberry, Lemon & Macadamia; a heady Crystallised Ginger set in milk chocolate; a delectable Lime & Coconut white chocolate; a milk chocolate studded with tangy Sour Cherry, Orange and Hazelnut; and a superb Toffee Apple bar, also made with milk chocolate.

While Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road is the pathway to chocolate heaven, I also love the Chocolate Honeycomb blocks and large Chocolate Lollies – flavoursome, indulgent and rewarding; you can almost feel your brain cells doing Olympic somersaults in response to the Conga your tastebuds inevitability start dancing upon first bite. Nothing makes the body celebrate quite like the taste and feel of velvety, silken chocolate … a guaranteed high without the low of a hangover or withdrawal.

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Confirming my thoughts is the word of two discerning little girls. Having sampled Secret Garden‘s Rocky Road bites, some of the glorious tablet bars and the milk and white Chocolate Lollies, my nieces have given the range their official seal of approval: “Yummy”. Truth from the mouths of babes … you really can’t argue with that.

To find out where you can purchase Secret Garden Confectionery visit here.

Please follow @SGConfectionery on Twitter for details of their upcoming presence at Shepherds Markets locations across London.

RECOMMENDED: Cakes by KupKase

11 Oct

Cupcakes. Hmmm. I’m a fussy person to please, particularly when it comes to the ubiquitous Red Velvet variety, but KupKase‘s Red Velvet was one of the best I have ever tried. From the first bite to the last, the rich flavour of red-tinted chocolate sponge coupled with smooth, not-too-sweet icing, was nothing short of euphoric.

There are so many cupcake makers and sellers at every food event – from markets to church fêtes – it’s easy to dismiss them all as being much the same. Lately, I’ve been feeling exactly that: cupcakes are boring and look better than they taste. That is, until I came across KupKase at Startisans, the Saturday food market at One New Change near St Pauls in London, showcasing artisan products from the latest start-ups.

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The KupKase stall was beautiful: gold-dusted cakes topped with fresh fruits, regally perched upon cake-stand chandeliers! Kasey, the vivacious baker behind KupKase, was icing different flavoured cakes as I paused at her stall, mesmerised by the heavenly smell and twinkling colours.

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Striking up a conversation, Kasey kindly gave me a Red Velvet cupcake to take home – a gift that I was intrigued to receive.

Red Velvet is my least favourite cake variety, thanks to most amateur bakers’ highly unappetising penchant for obliterating the chocolate sponge flavour with copious amounts of food colouring, before topping with lashings of sugar-packed frosting, rigidly set into hurricane-defying peaks. Sickly, excessively sweet and adorned with icing stiffer than a stick of chilled butter, a Red Velvet cupcake usually makes my stomach churn with dread.

Yet, there was something about Kasey’s stall that made me think I wouldn’t be disappointed. Watching her deftly ice and decorate her pretty cakes was genuinely mesmerising – and it was clear that her frosting was the perfect consistency.

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Taking my cupcake home on the tube, I couldn’t wait to get indoors to eat it. Cutting it into quarters to share with loved ones, we each devoured our piece with a cup of tea, lamenting the fact that I hadn’t come home with a box of the delicious cakes rather than just one: a schoolgirl error that shall never be repeated.

KupKase‘s Red Velvet was exceptionally good – tasty, pretty and deeply gratifying. Add it to your list of cupcakes to sample before you die: KupKase is a little bite of heaven on Earth so don’t wait to kick the bucket before you try it!

You can find KUPKASE at Startisans, the weekly Saturday Food Market run by Shepherds Markets at One New Change (1 New Change, London, EC4M 9AF).

Startisans runs from 11am to 3.30pm every Saturday. The nearest tube station is St Pauls.

House of Coffee Pop-Up Café by Panasonic UK

10 Oct

Gone are the days of ugly coffee-makers bringing down the tone of modern kitchens – Panasonic’s latest espresso machine – the NC-ZA1 – is a sleek, elegant newcomer, worthy of its own exhibition space in a futuristic gallery.

The sophisticated, silver-coloured, beans-to-cup machine was unveiled to bloggers at an exclusive, all day pop-up café, called House of Coffee, housed in ‘The Caves’ – a tunnel-shaped venue near Farringdon tube station.

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Stepping into the space, the first thing I noticed was a breathtaking series of images on the left-hand wall. Sheets of parcel wrap were adorned with stunning retro portraits by artist Cosmo Sarson. The disco-inspired images were all cleverly produced using coffee and were a fitting welcome to the ‘café’, which hosted a range of events throughout the day: breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea and a cocktail evening with a DJ set.

 

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Opting for the brunch slot, I arrived at midday to indulge in bagels, pastries and plenty of warm, soothing coffee – it was freezing outside, despite the appearance of the sun, and I needed to defrost quickly!

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An impressive bar area was topped with three of Panasonic’s machines and, spoilt for choice, I started off my coffee binge by asking for a Latte: not too strong and generous in quantity, preferably served in a mug.

Invited to step behind the bar to witness my drink being made, the high-tech machine had no problem in catering to my picky request. Made with hand-roasted coffee beans by Union, and served in a stylish mug printed with Cosmo’s art, my Latte was creamy, smooth and perfectly delicious.

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Using the machine was simple: a touch-screen display offered Espresso, Cappuccino, Latte, Americano and Macchiato, after which further options included the desired strength of the drink and the volume – so if you fancy a super-strong double espresso or a big mug of weak Latte, you can have it within 60 seconds, all at the touch of a screen!

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Expecting something far more complicated (which is often the case with state of the art machinery), I was surprised by the ease and speed of using the machine – so effortless, it will make even the biggest technophobe feel like a professional barista!

Coffee beans were poured into the top of the machine, which can also be fitted with an optional milk chiller – available to purchase separately for attachment to the side of the unit. Otherwise, it’s fine to use a simple jug of milk: the machine includes a handy tube to draw up the liquid without fuss.

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Proving that coffee isn’t just for teetotal-ers, there were three varieties of coffee-laced cocktails on offer – shaken and blended by The Rum Runner (acclaimed bartender Sam Paget-Steavenson, who also made all the hot drinks).

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Whilst I don’t usually partake in cocktails before evening, I couldn’t resist Sam’s menu and threw caution to the wind! Opting for a Madrugada (Bianco Tequila with dark chocolate, fresh mint and espresso coffee, it was crisp and refreshing, despite an earthy undertone with a minty edge!

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By the time I left House of Coffee, I felt super-charged and pleasantly light-headed! I was sent on my [merry] way with a gorgeous goody bag, containing a bag of Union’s hand-roasted Equinox Seasonal Blend and a fabulous espresso cup, decorated with a portrait by Cosmo Sarson – a lovely end to a lovely afternoon.

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The NC-ZA1 retails for around £899, with the optional milk attachment costing a further £69. For regular coffee drinkers, it’s a great investment and worth the extravagance. Sadly, it’s a bit out of my price range, but would definitely be on my Crimbo ‘wish list’ if I had a wealthy boyfriend!

There’s not much to criticise about the unit: it’s compact enough for a kitchen counter, smart enough to look elegant and it makes a damn fine cup of coffee! A great gadget and an undeniable must-have for coffee addicts.

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.