Naples, Italy

 

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Naples is a city in Southern Italy, sitting in the eye line of the imposing still-active volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
I spent 4 days in Naples, and if I’m being totally honest, I would not return for this length of time again. For a stopover on the way to the Amalfi Coast, its perfect and two days here would be enough to do it justice.
There are a few reasons why I would not return in any hurry. Firstly, I found the city to be very dirty. The Italian economy is under a lot of strain and this is certainly evident in Naples. The streets and pavements were very unclean, not helped either by many also being in disrepair. As well as this, there is a great deal of pollution in Naples. There appears to be far too many cars for the city to cope with, resulting in a lot of traffic jams and fumes, which, after a day in the city, leaves you with a headache. I found there was just a lack of green space to escape from it all.
Finally, there is A LOT of construction. Everywhere. The city of Naples is currently installing a new metro system but when digging down, they keep stumbling onto new archaeological finds. This means walkways are often hard to navigate as they are covered in boarding.
However, it does have charm, particularly on the waterfront, and I would recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, even if its just for a night. I have rounded up the highlights of my trip for you so you can pick and choose the best bits.

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There are of course the classic ‘must-visits’ in any city. The palace in the Piazza del Plebiscito is one of these. Inside, you will find beautiful ceilings and paintings, and even a theatre. The theatre is quite a statement as the Teatro di San Carlo is just a few metres from the palace, and yet the royals felt they needed one of their very own.

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The monastery is definitely worth a visit if you have a bit more time on your hands. To get there I would recommend taking the funicular from Toledo. Well, you can if it’s working, unlike when I was there when it was under repair. No surprise there… If it is still broken, you can catch the metro from Toledo to Piazza Montesanto where you can then pick up a funicular to the top.
The monastery has a stunning chapel as well as the most incredible nativity scene on show. They also have the old royal boats on display, another quite astonishing exhibit.

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If you haven’t got time to visit the archaeological sites of Pompeii or Herculaneum then a visit to the Museo Nazionale is a must. Here you will find the excavated pieces from the sites which will take you back in time to to that fateful day when the cities were buried under the ash from the Mount Vesuvius eruption. The ash preserved everything as they were, including perishable items such as bread. A history trip worth pursuing.

If you have a day to venture outside the city but don’t have access to a car, then I can recommend the Tramvia. There are numerous Tramvia stops across the city and you can buy your tickets at any newspaper stands advertising the trip. Having done Pompeii on a previous visit to the Amalfi Coast, we opted for a trip to Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. This cost just €20 a person for a bus from Naples to Herculaneum and then from there to Vesuvius and then back to Naples. At each pickup they were bang on time. We opted for this trip as we were not tied to a tour, it was simply just the transport to the sites.

Herculaneum was a fascinating site. It’s much smaller than Pompeii, but this made it much less daunting and meant that you could wander the whole site in a couple of hours unlike Pompeii, which, if you’re short on time, are left just picking a few bits out to visit. Herculaneum is better preserved than Pompeii, with many roofs still standing. There are also many stunning frescoes on the walls in the houses reflecting the wealth of the inhabitants.

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After Herculaneum we made our way to Mount Vesuvius. The drive up the mountain was beautiful and you could see out over the whole bay of Naples. The bus drops you at the closest car park to the top of the volcano, where from there you commence up the final part by foot. I recommend wearing a good pair off trainers for this last part. The walk takes about half an hour, up a rocky path. However, it is totally worth it for the view you get from the top and to peer into the volcano which has smoke coming out from it due the build up of sulphurous gases inside. It is an amazing experience and was my highlight of the trip.

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Of course no blog post would be complete without a recommendation of food! For a cool snack when you’re out and about exploring the city, I can recommend Venchi who do delicious ice creams and sorbet, or Gay Odin. This is a family run chocolate business, and have a couple of small shops in the city. They serve up the most fantastic chocolate ice-cream and I would highly recommend them.

For food, the best place to head at night is the Via Partenope. This is along the waterfront and is where you will find a whole host of restaurants. If you’re looking for a gluten free meal as I do, ‘Fresco’ does a scrumptious gluten free pizza, so good I couldn’t tell the difference. It certainly wasn’t the usual cardboard affair I’m used to.

For lunch I would recommend Gran Gusto on Via Nuovo Marina. This is perfect if you’re near the University or have come in from the port as it just a short walk away from both. Gran Gusto is a food shop similar to WholeFoods, however it has a restaurant upstairs serving up some fabulous foods, and the locals seem to opt for the pizzas. Make sure to give it a visit if you’re in the area.

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Gran Gusto

The best restaurant we found was on the Borgo Marinari. This is a tiny island connected by a cobbled path from the Via Partenope that has an old castle on. Here you can find a smattering of restaurants around a square that feels like a movie set it is so quaint. The restaurant we ate at twice in a row as it was so good, was the Hotel Transatlantico. You can have dinner outside overlooking the marina and they serve up fresh fish. Here I had my favourite meal which was clam spaghetti (gluten free), and I’m still dreaming about it….

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Borgo Marinari

 

All in all, although Naples has its flaws, it is still worth a visit and I hope this post has given you a small insight into the worthy parts to visit.

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Raspberry porridge

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With the recent bout of chilly mornings, there is nothing better to set you up for the day then a good old bowl of porridge. Here is my fruity take on the classic:

Ingredients:

Handful of frozen raspberries
1 cup of gluten free oats
1 cup of Alpro unsweetened unroasted almond milk
1 handful of berries (optional)
sprinkle of nuts/seeds

Method:

1. Put the oats, frozen raspberries, and almond milk into a saucepan on a low heat. Stir slowly
2. Once the milk has been absorbed, remove from the heat. (Keep on the heat and add a little water if its not quite ready)
3. Pour into a bowl and top with berries and seeds
4. Enjoy!

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Pie

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I love when Autumn finally comes around, as it means I can indulge in one of my favourite dishes, blackberry and apple. I used to have it every morning in Autumn, blackberry and apple compote on top of Greek yoghurt, or my mums blackberry and apple crumble in the evening. However since been diagnosed with numerous food intolerances, these dishes have become a thing of the past. This week I decided to challenge myself to make an equally yummy dessert with blackberry and apple, which as well as being gluten and dairy free, is refined sugar free as well, and I have to say I’m over the moon with the result. So here it is, my healthy and intolerance friendly blackberry and apple crumble pie.

 

Ingredients:

Filling:

2 cooking apples (peeled and cored)
450g blackberries
1 tablespoon maple syrup
150g dates (pitted and chopped)
1 teaspoon mixed spice

Pastry:

200g gluten free oat flour
50g ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g dates
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g coconut oil (plus extra for greasing)
pinch of xanthum gum
pinch of salt

Pie dish: approx 2cm x 24cm

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C

2. Blitz the oat flour, ground almonds, cinnamon, dates, and xanthum gum together in a food processor.

3. Add the vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt and blitz. If the pastry is still too dry, add more coconut oil until it is less crumbly.

4. Grease the pie dish with a little coconut oil.

5. Take 2/3rds of the pastry and roll out into a circular shape, about 2mm in thickness. Line the pie dish. (Don’t worry if it is a little crumbly, you can press bits in to fill the holes)

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6. With the leftover pastry, crumble it into a bowl, and then place this and the lined pie dish into the fridge.

7. Whilst the pastry is chilling, chop the apple into chunky slices.

8. Place the chopped apple plus all the other filling ingredients into a saucepan, and leave to stew with the lid on over a low heat for about 15 minutes.

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9. Once the apple has softened, take the lined pie out of the fridge and pour the filling in until it is just below the rim of the dish. Take the crumble mixture and sprinkle it over the top of the pie.

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10. Place the pie into the oven and cook for about 25 minutes or until the pastry starts to brown. Enjoy!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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Amsterdam has to be one of my favourite cities to visit, just because there is so much to do and see. It is a city that I would find extremely hard to get bored in, and I know I will carry on returning to for many more city break trips.

I thought I would compile a list of things to do in Amsterdam that differ from the ordinary touristy attractions such as the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Hermitage, etc. Although they are must sees, there are so many other things that you can do to pad out a week in Amsterdam, so here are a few ideas for you.

One of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam, that I make a mission to do everytime I visit, is to stroll through the ‘Negen Stratjees’. These are nine shopping streets in Amsterdam, side by side, that contain individual and unique shops and cafes. You won’t find any chain stores along here, which in my option is fantastic. You can easily while away an afternoon flitting between the shops, and if you need a break from all the browsing (and of course purchasing!), I can highly recommend a cafe called ‘Pluk’ which serves up delicious juices, salads, and cakes. The best thing of all? They have lots of little interior items that you can peruse whilst you wait. Perfect.

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Pluk

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If you have an hour to spare and fancy something a bit different, you could head to the Museum of Bags and Purses on the Herengracht. It is only one of three museums in the worlds specialising in this field and its collection is the largest, with over 4,000 items, with handbags, purses and suitcases dating back to the 16th century. It also has exhibition changes, and at the time of writing, the current one is exploring the use of beads in the craftsmanship of the pieces.

If the weather is good, the best thing has to be to hire a bicycle and head to the Vondelpark. My suggestion is to pick up a few lunch items from Marqt (the BEST grocery store) so that you can spend the day picnicking in the park and taking in all the sights. If you are there during the summer months, check out the Vondelpark website, as there is often entertainment on that you can go and watch for free.

 

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‘Ticket to the Tropics’ in Vondelpark

Another lovely thing to do if the weather is good is to hire a canal bike (pedalo). If it is a first visit to Amsterdam, I would say that a boat ride is the best option as you will travel most of the canals and hear lot of information about them and the canal houses. However if you’ve done the canal boat tour, then the canal bike is a must. It’s likely you won’t get very far, but its just great fun to be out on the water, trying to avoid crashing into all the boats, with the added bonus of getting a workout!

If you have a week in Amsterdam, I would say it is also worthwhile taking a day trip out of the city. Trains run regularly from Amsterdam Centraal, and there are many places to see within an hours travel. Den Haag is 50 minutes away, and although nice, I would not return here as it just didn’t have the same buzz as Amsterdam. However if you do find yourself here, a trip to Hop&Stork is a must a they have the most amazing slabs of chocolate that you can break off and mix and match.

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Hop & Stork

The day trip I would recommend is to Delft, with a train time of 55 minutes. Delft is the perfect size for a day trip, in that it is small enough to walk around and there is enough to visit. Delft is renowned for its blue and white pottery, and there are three factories still producing this in the Delft area. On Thursdays there is also a market held in the main square of Delft and craft stalls set up on the banks of the canal. A visit to a Delft factory is a must, and of the three, I would visit the Royal Delft factory (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles). This is located just outside of Delft, so you can purchase a shuttle bus ticket from the information office for €2. At the factory you can visit the museum which shows the history of Delft pottery, as well as see how it is made and painted. A the end you will face the conundrum over which pieces of pottery to buy!

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Delt Painter

If eating and drinking in Amsterdam, you will probably face a similar dilemma of where to choose, as there are hundreds of places to pick from. However it is very easy to fall into the tourist traps, so here are a few places I would go.

I’ll start with breakfast, and for a good price, you can eat at Toon. This is a small cafe which has juices, pancakes, eggs Benedict and a scrumptious granola. For a fresh juice and main breakfast dish, the bill will come to under €15. The service here is also very good, with friendly staff.

For ‘elevenses’ nothing quite hits the spot like a little tart from ‘Petit Gateâu’. They have two stores in Amsterdam, one on Haarlemmerstraat, and one on Bellamyplein. There is a great selection and you can see them being made as the kitchen is in store.

Lunch is an easy choice for me. Any place serving frites and bitterballen is after my heart, however one restaurant which really impressed me was ‘George Loves Martini’. This restaurant/bistro is packed full of locals, and is a good alternative to a picnic in Vondelpark, as it sits just outside the gates. Expect simple dishes, done well.

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If you’re in the Dam area, then lunch at the Bijenkorf is always a winner. They have a selection of different cuisines, all cooked fresh in front of you. The added bonus is that if it’s a good day, there is a roof terrace to enjoy your lunch on.

Pre dinner there is always time for a cocktail or two, and the bar at the Hoxton hotel certainly gets my vote. They have an interesting list to choose from and the atmosphere is great. Although dinner here at Lotti’s is good, it was fairly basic and in future I think I would just come here for a cocktail and then go elsewhere for dinner.

For dinner there are so many places to talk about but here are are my favourites.

The first is Cuarenta y Tres on Rembrandtplein. Although this area is full of touristy restaurants, this one really serves up something quite different. The few times I have eaten here, I have left fully satisfied. The risotto I had this time was simply delicious. They also do some great cocktails. (I can recommend the Moscow Mule)

For something a bit different you could try Ali, located just at the end of Utrechtsestraat. This is a turkish restaurant who offer the most amazing hummuses and dips, as well as their hot pillow-like flat breads, that you’ll be thinking about long after you leave.

My best dinner though has to have been at Guts and Glory. This modern restaurant has no menu. When you arrive all your are given is the theme, which changes every three months, and the option to order 5, 6, or 7 courses. You are asked if you have any allergens, but apart from that, the rest of the evening is a complete surprise! When we visited the ‘chapter’ theme was Italian, however expect no pasta. Instead we were delighted with dishes such as osso-buco with saffron risotto, melon granita with parma ham, and plenty more to tickle your tastebuds. Be prepared to book this restaurant in advance though during busy seasons.

After dinner, Door 74 is a great place to venture to. You do need to book in advance as it is speakeasy style where the outside looks like a rundown building, but inside you are greeted to a small cosy cocktail bar. However if you are after a bit more atmosphere, you cannot go wrong with having a couple of post dinner drinks on Rembrandtplein, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night when it really gets busy and there is a great buzz.

All in all Amsterdam is a city where there is always something going on and there are always new and exciting places to visit. I hope this has given you a couple of ideas of things to do, if, for some unknown reason, you find yourself with nothing to do. Highly unlikely I know..

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(Oh and if you’re really looking to push the boat out on your city break, why not book a room at the Waldorf Astoria as it mean you can relax in their pool after a hard day out exploring the city.)

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Barbados

Barbados is a small island located in the Eastern Caribbean. At only 21 miles long it is fairly small in size and has under 300,000 inhabitants. What favours Barbados over the other Caribbean islands, is that it is only a short 8 hour flight from the UK, as opposed to the more lengthy island hopping and transfers that are needed to visit many of the other islands. As well as this, Barbados can boast of some of the best food in the Caribbean which is a huge plus point if you have visited the other smaller islands and know the food variety is somewhat limited.

Although Barbados is small, there is certainly plenty to do and visit. Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados and offers a small number of shops. However Bridgetown is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, so hopefully with this, it will see a revival of more individual shops, cafes, and restaurants.

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If you want to see more of the local culture, head to the fruit and vegetable market in Bridgetown on a Saturday morning where you can see the huge array of fresh  produce and spices being traded.

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In the North Eastern part of Barbados is the ‘Scotland district’, is St Nicholas Abbey. This 350 year old sugar plantation house is certainly worth a visit. It still produces its own rum and sugar, and if you are visiting in the right months, you can still see the sugar cane being processed.

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st nic sugar press

Another way to learn more about the history of the island of Barbados, is to visit Harrison’s caves. Recently updated with a tram network this is a fantastic way of seeing how the island is made up of over 85% coral limestone. If you take the tram tour, you can explore the beautiful crystallised limestone caverns under the ground.

Another attraction to visit is the Flower Forest. Here you can explore Barbados’ rich flora and fauna and can easily while away a couple of hours winding your way through the different pathways and admiring the brightly coloured flowers on display.

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For a similar, but far more eccentric experience, head to Hunte’s Gardens. Created by well known horticulturist Anthony Hunte, this is truly an extraordinary work of art. Anthony has created a beautiful garden in a sinkhole with royal palms peeping out the top and classical music tinkling in the background as you explore. Afterwards you are likely to be invited into his house that overlooks the garden and have a drink, read poetry, or perhaps be asked to play the piano! All in all, a weird but wonderful experience.

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Finally, if you want to join in with what the locals do on a Friday night, head to Oistins Fish Fry. Here you enjoy dancing to music of two kinds, modern or older music whilst taking in the buzzing atmosphere. This is an informal place so dress down in t-shirts and shorts.

In terms of cuisine, Barbados has a lot to offer. Most of the good restaurants are situated on the West Coast of the island, so these are the ones I will be focusing on.

Lone Star used to be a petrol station but has since been turned into a restaurant. It has some quirky features that have been kept from its former days, such as the waiting staff being dressed in mechanic overalls. Lone Star has a great following and is always full, however the food is basic and nothing to rave about. It seems to be trying to do too many different things, and Chinese duck pancakes and macaroni cheese are not the sort of things you want to be seeing on menus in Barbados.

Fish Pot is quite far out as it is up towards the North of the island. The food is also fairly basic but good with, as the name suggests, an emphasis on fish on the menu, however there are plenty of other options too. What makes the Fish Pot a worthwhile visit is its cosy setting on the water, and the food and atmosphere seem to make this a firm favourite for family dining.

Tides is also a restaurant that seems to always be full. Again it has a waterfront setting and the food is good. Although I would return here, I feel the menu needs updating, so some may feel the menu is a little old fashioned.

Cin Cin is a very modern restaurant and has a delightful setting. The menu is great and the food was of quality, however for me, the menu was a little too long and needed cutting down.

The Cliff restaurant has the finest setting out of all the restaurants in my opinion. It is set literally on a cliff, and when you arrive, you look down onto the water crashing onto the rocks below. The food is pleasurable, however the bill less so. This restaurant is more of a special treat than a frequent haunt as it has probably the highest menu price on the island.

For exceptionally good food, head to restaurant 13°/59° in the Port Ferdinand marina. This newly opened restaurant offers exquisite food with local produce being used in the dishes. For me the setting was not the best, as you are dining in a marina which is a  fairly boring outlook, but if you are interested in fantastic cuisine, this is without a doubt the place to head.

The Sandy Lane has to be my favourite place to eat, due to the whole package. Their main restaurant L’Acajou is formal with an excellent menu, however for a food indulgence, book one of their buffets. Although they are all delightful, the best in my opinion has to be the Asian Buffet on a Saturday night. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what is served, but I can say you will not be disappointed. After dinner there is live entertainment,usually a singer, which you can enjoy listening to with one of their many scrumptious cocktails. What really puts the Sandy Lane experience ahead of the others, is the staff training. Their informal approach to the customers is perfect and makes you feel relaxed as soon as you arrive. A special mention has to go to Stacey who was just the most perfect host.

Overall Barbados, is a place you must make a visit to if you haven’t already. There are so many things to do. Even if you venture no further than the beach, you may be lucky enough to see turtles laying or hatching, and if you venture a tad further, you can swim with them in the sea. The temperature pretty much stays between 28 and 30 degrees all year round, with December to February being the cooler months. So for a relaxing but cultural trip, head to the island of Barbados!

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Taste of London, Regent’s Park

Taste of London is a food festival that celebrates the great culinary delights that London has to offer. It give people a chance to try dishes from the top restaurants for affordable prices, and to engage with chefs and food & drink suppliers. Taste festival started in 2004 at Somerset House in London, and since then it has spread to cities all over the world. What makes these events so likeable is that they take down the barriers between fine food and money. It allows people of any background and income to sample dishes from michelin starred kitchens without paying michelin prices.

This was my first Taste festival and it did not disappoint. The entry was very well organised and quick, considering the crowds of people they had to get into the park. Once you were in you could go and buy your ‘crowns’. This was the currency used to buy dishes from the restaurants, where 1 crown = £1. About 20 crowns is enough to sample a wide variety of dishes with most costing about 4-6 crowns. On the food and drink suppliers stalls you could generally just use normal cash to purchase items. What I really loved about this event when compared to other similar ones, is that there was plenty you could do and try for free. Samples of food and drink were being given out at every other stall, there was music to watch, a silent disco at Mortimer’s Orchard, cookery classes, and talks from many of the chefs exhibiting at Taste.

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Chef Gina with Ox heart

One such talk I attended was by head chef Gina Hopkins from The Drapers Arms. This was a fantastic talk as she talked about using offal in cooking. At the beginning when the crowd heard that this was what she would be talking about, there were a few disgusted faces. However by the end,  everyone was fully on board, mainly because of Gina’s genuine enthusiasm for her ingredients, and no doubt, her menu at The Drapers Arms will be a testament to this.

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Calves brain

Another way that visitors could get hands on with cooking was through one of Taste’s sponsors, AEG. They had set up a cooking theatre, where guests could free of charge, take a cooking class with some of London’s top chefs. I was lucky enough to take part in a session with Jeremy Pang, founder of School of Wok. This was a thoroughly entertaining session, where we learned how to make wontons and venison stir fry, using AEG’s induction cookers, of which we also learnt about. Jeremy helped guide us through each step and taught us the correct way to use a wok. Although my wonton folding technique was questionable, and the end result looked nothing like Jeremy’s (a bit more practice needed I think…), they certainly tasted delicious, and in my mind, that was all that mattered!

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A bit of relaxation was needed after this, so we perused more of the many food and drink stalls, drinking cocktails, and sampling plenty of tasty morsels. We also headed over to Mortimer’s Orchard to take part in their silent disco, the perfect way to while away a summers afternoon. Highlights for me were the Chinese roast duck in mantou bun from Chai Wu, the iconic duck and waffle, from (you guessed it..) Duck and Waffle, macerated strawberries and yoghurt mousse from chef Ben Donkin (one to watch), and of course the gorgeous endless cups or refreshing iced T2 Tea that were being given out, which were appreciated by many I am sure.

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Overall I cannot praise this event highly enough, and I hope to return again next year. What I loved about it was that there was plenty to try and do without having to pay extra, and you could even fill yourself up without having to buy any dishes due to the many samples that were being offered. My only criticism would be that there were perhaps one too many coconut water stalls, but then of course, if you like coconut water, this is just one more strength Taste of London 2015 had to offer…

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Early bird tickets on sale now for the Winter Taste festival at Tobacco Dock London: http://www.seetickets.com/search?q=taste+of+london&search=

Yauatcha, London

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In the heart of bustling Soho is this gem of a restaurant. What makes this so special is that it manages to combine two very different cuisines seamlessly. How they have managed to connect Chinese dim sum with European patisserie I do not know, but they have done it, with a michelin star for proof. The interior is slick and modern, dim lit low black tables, shelves of tea containers, and a cool blue fish tank wall. Then menu has plenty of choice and everything looks delectable, but for me there were a couple of stars. The first was the ‘char siu bun’. The steamed bun was fluffy and light and the filling of Cantonese barbecued pork complemented it beautifully. (Make sure you don’t agree to share when ordering these because believe me, when they come, you will want to eat them all yourself!) The sticky rice in a lotus leaf with chicken and dried shrimp was equally as scrumptious. In fact the food was so good, I didn’t even get a chance to take photos. The way they had steamed this dish meant that the gorgeous, tea like taste of the lotus leaf absorbed into the rice, giving it another dimension of flavour. menu For mains we shared the aromatic duck and the crispy sweet and sour sea bass. The duck was perfectly cooked, crunchy on the outside and sweet and succulent on the inside, and the pancakes that went with this were very much enjoyed, a classic winner. Perhaps, the only disappointment of the evening was the crispy sweet and sour sea bass. This was because it seems that they had deep fat fried the fish. This was such a shame because the sea bass inside was delicious but was ruined on the outside. I feel steaming would have done it far greater justice and would have kept it moist and flavoursome. So my tip for you if you are going, would be to have the steamed halibut or dover sole instead. Finally I move onto the desserts. Everything looked delicious, but unfortunately my stomach capacity was somewhat limited by this time, so I could only try the pomegranate yoghurt (pomegranate compote, yoghurt, wild flower honey, granola) and the chocolate pebble (65% Amazonian Peruvian chocolate, brownie, mousse, liquid chocolate). The pomegranate yoghurt was a hit with me as it cleansed my palette with its fresh and crisp taste and was not too sweet as I expected it to be. The chocolate pebble was of course the complete opposite, a sure favourite with any chocaholics, this will certainly give you your fix! Also on offer are handmade macaroons and chocolates, an accompaniment to your after dinner drinks perhaps? macaroons Overall this was a superb meal, food wise and service wise, and I cannot wait to come again. However next time I think I’ll leave a little more room to experiment their desserts, of which I’ll leave you with a couple of photos to tantalise your tastebuds… chocolate pebble Yauatcha, 15 Broadwick Street, London, W1F ODL Tel: 020 7494 8888 exotic pandan 2