Le Big Fernand, Noho, London

This review was written for  Social Concierge  

This review was written for Social Concierge 

The Vibe

French gastronomy marries an American classic in the heart of London. This isn’t just another burger joint, it is a hamburger workshop called Le Big Ferdnand and it delivers on taste and quirk as promised. Think sexy French accents and a simple but tasty menu with a Parisian edge.

The Order

These guys aren’t messing around. The meat is all sourced from butchers that breed their cows outdoors and for the quality of their meat only. The chips are hand cut and the French cheeses are so superior to a processed slice of Monterey Jack. All of the vegetables in your burger are grilled to avoid that cold, watery effect that a normal tomato slice can have on your delicious hamburger which actually makes a difference. I love those Californian inspired eateries but this place is somewhere you can actually go with a date and not slobber burger juice down your hands. Très chic!

The Game

This is the perfect joint for a casual yet gastronomically knowledgeable bite to eat with your date. Europeans are sure to love it and its position just above Oxford Street makes it central enough to have that true London feel whilst still being off the crazy busy areas. Saunter down to London Cocktail Club after your meal or enjoy walking the lovely streets and mews down to Soho Square.

The Faults

I think there are enough burger options in London and unfortunately, Le Big Ferdnand don’t take reservations. But their responsibly sourced ingredients and the French accents do kind of restore the balance.

Sex Factor

4.  The upstairs room feels like a naughty country cottage in your Bourgeois fantasies. As far as burger joins go, this place has a whole lot of ‘Oui’!

108 Brasserie, Marylebone, London

This review was for  Social Concierge

This review was for Social Concierge

The Vibe

London does brunch. Light, clean decor with a warm, glowing atmosphere all wrapped up on a street in this most gorgeous part of London. Attentive service, the right kind of live music and spacious tables that leave enough room for private conversation and canoodling, make this refurbished joint a very pleasant surprise.

The Order

The menu is mouthwatering with lot of choice including some healthy options such as egg white omelette or home made granola, classic eggs benedict and more decadent buttermilk blueberry pancakes. The coffee is so good that it’s worth mentioning and the cocktails were expertly mixed and flowing. Indulge in something savoury and something sweet from the menu, fill your gorgeous table with food and cocktails and make sure you try their unbelievable Guinness bread smothered with real churned butter.

The Game

Meet on Marylebone Lane which has some of the chicest independent shops to swoon over, and provides a great backdrop to chat about how lovely an area of London it is. With the live music, big bright windows and comfortable seating, enjoy a lengthy, languorous meal with lots of cocktails, then saunter over to the Wallace Collection for a quick peek at some lovely art before continuing your date or fixing your next one.

The Faults

The bathroom is through a strange corridor maze that reminds you of the restaurant’s tired, less sexy past as a kind of hotel restaurant. Also the Guinness bread is so good that I have thought about it more than it is normal to think about bread, even for someone who loves food like me.

Sex Factor

4.  The flattering lighting and sexy art noir pictures on the wall of the corner booth table, coupled with plenty of bellinis and live music is the perfect mood setter for a hot brunch date.

Bravi Ragazzi, Streatham, London

Pizza dreams are made of this

Pizza dreams are made of this

Pizza is a wonderful thing. It's satisfying, tasty; different from other foods. Unless you are a student in a sitcom, you're unlikely to have pizza too often because let's face it - pizza should be a treat. I am an Italian girl from Rome who spent her summers growing up on the Amalfi coast and had Neapolitan next door neighbours. This means that my expectations of pizza are probably higher than most London girls, which is also why I rarely go out of my way to eat pizza here in London because, well, it's usually just not that special. 

I wouldn't say I was dragged to this hole in the wall pizzeria, but I probably would have skipped it if my lovely dad hadn't insisted I give it a go with him. To say that I thanked him for it afterward would be an understatement. Run by a bunch of Neapolitan guys and gals who may as well be the Italian version of the Friends cast, the menu is simple and the place is tiny. On a random little road in Streatham which is fast becoming part of the South London trendy area, Bravi Ragazzi offers up hand made, fresh pizzas made to order in a beautiful wood-fired oven and served on cheap but quirky furniture. 

But what makes it so different to say, Franco Manca or Pizza Pilgrims? I don't know how they do it but their pizza base, their dough is the lightest and most perfectly balanced I have had in a very very long time. Not in the slightest bit chewy and with ingredients so fresh and wonderful that you want to forgive the air miles they have accumulated by being flown over that morning, I left feeling positively happy and not in the slightest bit bloated, sleepy or doughy. 

To make matters even more appetising, their selection of desserts is handmade and genuinely perfect. The only place I have had real pastiera in London. I can't recommend it enough and I hope that the lovely team who run it keep up the awesome work so I can go back for more again, and again. They claim to be the best pizza in South London on their website, but I would extend that to the best in London without a shadow of a dough-t. 

 

New York, New York

NYCTaxi.jpg

New York is an amazing city full of brilliance and utter crap living loudly side by side. From the most expensive penthouse flats and beautifully crafted furniture to must-be-illegal windowless bedrooms for rent in dodgy LES buildings. NYC attacks the senses with loud noises, brilliant blue skies, steaming streets and more delicious restaurants than you can shake a Metrocard at. It's cold enough to make an adult woman cry in the winter, and hot enough to cause the roads to perspire in the summer.  

Not for the fainthearted, it is one of the best cities in the world and I am lucky enough to think of it as a second home. In this post, I outline my favourite spots to visit - not the tourist landmarks that everyone should visit at least once in their lives (Rockerfeller Centre, 9/11 memorial, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty...) but rather those little places and streets that make you feel like a true New Yorker. 

Hotels

I would actually recommend renting a flat in New York for the fullest experience. Look in the West Village, Nolita or Tribeca for a nice apartment and enjoy the freedom of feeling like a resident in one of the more residential areas of the city. If you want to stay in a hotel, below are my recommendations:

The Bowery Hotel: An absolute gem of a place. The interior design is wonderful, the restaurant and bar are so chic it hurts and the service is impeccable. The rooms are not huge and the prices are slightly eye-watering but the location and experience are phenomenal.

The Mercer Hotel: In the heart of Soho, this hotel's location can't be beaten. The rooms are surprisingly spacious and the breakfast is very good. This is perfect for those looking to shop and walk everywhere they need to go downtown.

The Crosby Street Hotel: A little gem in Soho, quieter than the Mercer and quirkier in design - the food is delicious and the rooms have real character. I would recommend this hotel for anyone looking to stay slightly more under the radar whilst still being in the heart of downtown NYC.

The Greenwich Hotel: Robert De Niro's stunning hotel with a glorious spa located in the quieter, more grown up area of TriBeCa, this hotel is perfect for a relaxing stay. There are some amazing restaurants in the area and service is exceptional. 

The Nomad Hotel: A beautiful quirky hotel in the up-and-coming area of NoMad, this hotel has an amazing restaurant and is the perfect in between spot for those wishing to be more centrally located. The beds are incredibly comfortable and the atmosphere is captivating. 

Restaurants

As I mentioned, there are a gagillion restaurants in NYC so I don't pretend to have tried them all (though I did give it a good go!) - below are my absolute favourites and the reason I rate them so highly. 

The Little Owl: This one room slice of heaven is a corner restaurant with enormous floor to ceiling windows which always seem to be drenched by the West Village sun. Located on one of the prettiest streets in the city, it serves fresh simple food that is also healthy and beautifully presented. It's also in the building that Friends was filmed in, making it a bit of an iconic landmark for kids who grew up in the 90s. I like it best at lunch time, make sure you book ahead. 

Café Carlyle: This is THE ULTIMATE NYC experience. The Carlyle hotel is a bastion of classic New York style and they have Woody Allen and his jazz band play there for selected dinners at the Café - you'll need to book so far in advance but it is by far one of the most magical experiences to have. I'm pretty certain I had goosebumps throughout the meal and it wasn't because I was cold, it was just so much New York-ness to experience all at once. 

Bond Street Sushi & Cherry: For excellent Sushi, both of these restaurants are a sure hit. They make the most beautiful flavour combinations, the venues are beautiful and their cocktails are completely delectable. I also love Nobu downtown, a classic and still a favourite.

Miss Lily's & La Esquina: Brought to life by the visionary Serge Becker, these two restaurants are undeniably two of the coolest spots in town. Miss Lily's must have the most attractive staff ever recruited and La Esquina was the first original speakeasy restaurant before a lot of people followed suit. I personally adore dinner at Miss Lily's because their take on classic Caribbean dishes is so spot on, it feels like a holiday every time I eat there.

Mr Chows & Mission Chinese: At opposite ends of the luxury spectrum, Mr Chow offers incredible Chinese food in plush surroundings while Mission Chinese is reminiscent of a student flat with a large paper dragon streaming overhead in the Lower East Side. Both of them however, offer genuinely mouthwatering food that will make you rethink Chinese food altogether. 

The Waverly Inn: Possibly the most romantic restaurant with a private courtyard/garden and real fireplaces dotted everywhere, this place is magical. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is very special. Similar in style but slightly more laid back is the Freemans which has a gorgeous private dining room upstairs and some strange taxidermy that kind of works. 

Rubirosa Pizza & Roberta's Pizza: Two best pizza joints in NYC. One is in Little Italy and one is in Brooklyn - they are both incredible and both need booking ahead.

Peter Luger & American Cut: If you want to have steak in New York, make it the best. Peter Luger is an establishment - it is the oldest steakhouse and still the best. American Cut is a more modern take on a steakhouse with a wonderful menu and gorgeous interiors. Both are indulgent and a complete treat. 

The Fat Radish & The East Pole: Both of these joints are worth visiting just for the charming, modern interior design they have. Populated by New York's delightful British expat contingent, the service is always brilliant and the atmosphere is friendly yet chic. On top of being aesthetically beautiful, they serve fresh, responsibly sourced, seasonal dishes that delight every time.

Barchetta & Perbacco: These two absolutely charming restaurants lie at opposite sides of Manhattan and offer completely authentic Italian cooking. There are no shortcuts at either places: the amazing chefs handpick the ingredients from local markets and make all the dishes from scratch. For example, Clelia at Perbacco delicately puts together each raviolo made with freshly rolled pasta and chef Dave Pasternack at Barchetta slices all the crudos by hand and dresses them with delicately flavoured olive oils. This is Italian cooking at its purest.

Brunch Spots: There are SO many options for this but my favourites are Buvette for their croque madame, Whitehall for the avocado toast, Café Cluny for their brioche french toast, Joseph Leonard for their egg sandwich, Public for their tea-smoked salmon poached eggs, The Lion for chicken & waffles, Jack's Wife Freda for great bellinis and authentic food, The Butcher's Daughter for healthy vegan delicious everything.

Things To Do: Aside from the aforementioned tourist hot spots, don't forget to visit Chelsea Market, take a walk on the High Line, buy something from the Williamsburg flea market on a Saturday morning, go to Battery Park for a different view of the Statue, have a drink at sunset at the bar in the Wythe hotel for views of the city and go to a party at MoMA PS1. For one of the best spa experiences book in at the AIRE Spa and Ancient Baths, and if you want to drink rosé in the summer, head to the Soho House rooftop. For some amazing jewelry and piercings, head to NY Adorned and for an awesome tattoo head to Bang Bang. Eat at Red Rooster in Harlem, have a drink at the Boom Boom Room and a dance at Acme or Happy Endings before heading to No.8 for a nightcap. 

What an amazing place to be. 

 

Myla and Davis, Brixton, London

first reviewed on  Livincool

first reviewed on Livincool

Fashion week is coming up fast people, and nobody likes to have tired winter hair when everywhere shimmering model locks are gleaming. If you could do with a new ‘do but don’t want to look like a big hair salon chain prototype, head down to Brixton village where Myla & Davis have opened a new salon that likes to do things differently.

José is  the man you want to ask for – he will be honest about what will and what will not suit you. Not just because of the latest trend or a formulaic response to the haircut you want, but because he will actually tell you if a specific style won’t suit you because your hair is too frizzy (yes, that was to me. Luckily, I am well aware of my hirsute limitations and was not hurt by such honesty).

I am very grateful for his skill, his charm and the care taken over my hair cut, because too many hairdressers lie, rush and give you a style that looks more Sia on the Grammy red carpet than Brigitte Bardot in St. Tropez. Book in with him and check it out, then head back into central London to face the fashion crowd with extra flick in your hair.

More info: http://mylaanddavis.co.uk/

Tromsø, Norway

Tromso.jpg

This review was first published on Livincool

Witnessing the Northern Lights is probably on most people’s bucket list, and it was certainly on mine. Travelling far enough North to be able to see the light show put on by charged particles entering the atmosphere at millions of kilometers per hour and producing optical emissions needn’t be too effortous though – no camping in the snow and risking a frost bitten face necessary. We travelled to the lovely city of Tromsø in northern Norway for a weekend break, and it was brilliant.

Norwegian Air travels direct to Tromsø from London, making the journey to a far away island in the middle of the Arctic much less daunting. Once there, Norwegian efficiency and organisation reigns supreme; everybody is bilingual and everything works perfectly, even at -10°C. We caught a taxi from outside the airport and went straight to our hotel, The Edge Hotel, which is much nicer than its website portrays. Right on the water’s edge and with gorgeous Scandi design, we had a corner room with views over the city which was warm, so comfortable and generally great.

We grabbed dinner at The Kitchen & Table by Marcus Samulesson, which served possibly the best cod I have ever had the pleasure of eating and awesome local beer from the brewery up the road. The bar on the 11th floor has a great vibe with undeniably attractive locals chatting happily against the gorgeous backdrop of the lit-up Tromsø landscape, with the stunning Arctic Cathedral stealing the show.

The next day we wandered around the city and took in the scenery for the full 4 hours of daylight (!) before hitting an incredibly lovely restaurant called Emmas Drømmekjøkken for an early dinner. 7 courses of pure Norwegian delights such as reindeer filet, cauliflower and truffle soup and delightful homemade chocolatea made for a really special evening. After dinner we took the slightly old school looking cable car to the top of the highest mountain nearby and that’s where the real magic happened. One and a half hours of non-stop bright-as-lightning Northern Lights danced in front of us in the freezing cold winds at the top of the mountain. The Lights were so bright that we could actually still see them when we returned to our hotel later that night.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner people! Do something cool and take your loved one as far away from the gutter that is Hallmark cards and as close to the stars as possible.

For more information, visit http://www.visittromso.no/en/

Discount Suit Company, Spitalfields, London

This review was first published on  Social Concierge

This review was first published on Social Concierge

The Vibe

In the very creative heart of London lies Old Spitalfields market, which is now becoming a sleek Manhattanite offering with sparkly new flats alongside the old school market shops. The area is buzzing and offers something to see for everyone; from quirky shops to art galleries and skyscrapers, it makes for a brilliantly diverse backdrop to a date.

Now, for the bar itself.  From the outside, you can only see an old sign that reads: Discount Suit Company, which for London history buffs like my date is already a plus. This is the area where all fabric used to be bought to make beautiful suits. And the attention to detail doesn’t end there, through the tiny entrance and past a speakeasy-vibe curtained door, the bar has one of the best atmospheres I have come across of late. It’s all about the exposed brick walls, clever suffused lighting and wonderful music at the perfect volume with big comfy seating or cosy bar stools. This place screams date, we instantly felt intimate and warm and happy to have found this little gem.

The Order

The menu is gorgeous (mini pegs!) and features some really interesting cocktails with ingredients and liquors that frankly, we have rarely ever encountered (if at all!) but they are also excellent at making something on the spot. Potent and delicious, all the cocktails are served with fresh fruit and garnishes in lovely glassware. I had a cocktail in a mini tankard which was very pleasing, not least for the novelty of holding a mini tankard. The cocktails are strong and sweet so prepare for the giddy rush that only sugar and alcohol can bring.

The Game

Depending on your style, choose from the plethora of restaurants to kick the evening off and then head to this bar for a nightcap. I recommend strolling down Brick Lane and eating somewhere along the way for a more relaxed evening. You won’t need an after plan to this little bar because you’ll no doubt be canoodling all the way home with your date.

The Faults

Steep stairs after a strong drink can be an obvious hazard so more of a word of warning. But honestly, there are no faults with this place. Loved it.

Sex Factor

5. I’ll have what she’s having.

Barbados, Lesser Antilles, Americas

This review was first published on  Livincool

This review was first published on Livincool

There aren’t many things in life that soothe the soul and regenerate the mind like a tropical winter break. Leaving the office in London wearing about 7 layers to land in the balmy, sweet smelling air of Barbados is the natural sensory equivalent of receiving a warm sexy hug after a really long hard day working outside in the cold. It’s better than you imagined.

I am no Barbados expert so please don’t take my word as golden – go and explore the island if you get the chance to. Hire a car and use a paper map to find your own way around the island and pick your own favourites but if you do want a pointer or two, then please read on.

We stayed at Fustic House which is on the North West side of the island and is breathtakingly beautiful. Designed by Oliver Messel, it is a place of architectural beauty and faultless design, with genius landscaping to boot. To be honest, the house itself is enough of a destination, especially with the brilliant management team that run it and the chef who is genuinely talented and inventive with every amazing dish he produces. His cheesy bread thins are a thing of tastebud beauty and his ability to cook every type of meal to perfection is delightful. If you’re lucky enough to visit or stay at Fustic House, make sure you go for a swim in the fresh water rock pool and take in the sunset view from the upstairs terrace.

On the Caribbean side of the island, there are a plethora of gorgeous beaches. For a lively yet beautiful beach to sip beer on and enjoy the sunshine, head to Miami beach – there’s food stalls and fresh fruit and more hustle and bustle. If you’re looking for eye-watering beauty and a beach that feels a little more private, head to Gibbs beach. Park your car under the shade of the trees across the road and lay your beach towel under one of the gorgeous palm trees. Ogle at the beautiful houses, swim in the ridiculously azure sea and take a walk up and around the beach to buy some cold beer from Wanda’s beach bar.

Take one day out to take a road trip to the East Coast of the island – please don’t plan to swim there though as the currents are crazy strong and the waves are unpredictable. Make your way over to Bathsheba and marvel at the rock formations and wind-swept palms, then head to Dina’s bar & cafe for a cold Banks beer and a plate of genuine Bajan fare, sat on the park benches facing the ocean. If you fancy a long luxurious lunch then opt for the Roundhouse and take in the Atlantic breeze with a glass of champagne. Carry on driving and you’ll find Crane beach further south, where the sand is pink and the beach is beautiful. You’ll see some lovely churches and old sugar mills on your drive, as well as some awesome views of the island from above where you can really see the difference between the East & West Coast.

In the evenings, there is one restaurant that reigns supreme in terms of decor, food and atmosphere. Make sure you book ahead at Lone Star and enjoy their amazing cocktails (the Cadillac is potent and delicious) and their perfectly executed dishes (crispy coconut prawns being a personal favourite). This place is a Barbados classic and a complete treat. Another lovely beachfront option is Daphne’s, but I would go there for the beach view and a snack in the afternoon – the food is not as good as others.

In the unlikely event that the weather is anything less than perfect whilst you’re there, Barbados has a shooting range where you can practice your archery skills or even shoot a gun in a very controlled and safe environment. There’s pottery and beautiful tropical flower gardens as well as shopping and baby sea turtles hatching on the beaches at night. My lovely man tells me Barbados was named so in Spanish as it resembles ‘two beards’ on a map, but in my vocabulary Barbados may as well mean terrestrial paradise. Take me back!

Lyle's, Shoreditch, London

This review was first published on  Livincool

This review was first published on Livincool

Lyle’s is one of those restaurants that you would probably walk past and think “oh look, another New York inspired minimalist eatery in Shoreditch. Quelle surprise.” and you would be so wrong. Yes, the decor is reminiscent of a pared down, tiled industrial kitchen – which seems to be the rule for any interior space of the Tea Building; and yes, it is the kind of place you have to eat the set tasting menu, which is put together every day according to what’s fresh. But you can book ahead, the price is completely reasonable and the vegetarian menu is as good as the non-veggie option.

When we arrived, my date and I were welcomed like returning regulars, asked how we were and seated at our very simple wooden table. It feels like a supper club, not a run of the mill restaurant. The sommelier is this absolutely awesome woman who you’d want to be friends with, and who introduced my palate to wines I could have never imagined – she knew exactly what she was doing. The waiters all seem to love their job more than normal. They are knowledgeable, happy and colloquial but never too present. I bet their staff parties are awesome.

I could write a page about how surprisingly good the boring sounding brussels top, pickled radish & XO sauce was to eat, and how the hay seared red deer sashimi with wild onion & crab apple. when accompanied by its wine chosen by my girl-crush sommelier, made me immediately think of a beautiful autumn day spent in the woods with a bubbling brook. Every single small beautiful plate was like a story being told through food, served on unfussy white crockery by the very chef who prepared it. The passion that goes into this place and every single dish prepared is something to admire. Also to admire is the completely awesome taste of duck fat caramel which I basically licked off my plate. Thing is, the menu changes daily so there’s no point reviewing the dishes – just go and see what delicacies will be prepared for you on that day.

We ate and drank for hours, nobody was threatening to throw us out – they don’t try to turn tables around because they want everyone to enjoy their dinner, which I think is very cool. Our neighbouring tables were full of happy customers: young and older, families and lovers and also some bona fide food critics who were just loving the food. The atmosphere is lovely, casual and unassuming and to be honest, everyone is too busy delighting over the awesome food, wine and even bread to care too much about anything else.

More info here:

www.lyleslondon.com
Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E16JJ
020 3011 5911