Wednesday, September 3, 2014

15 Foodie MUST Dos' in London

I've lived in London on and off for over 20 years, and have been compiling my Must List for a long time and will probably be doing so for a while longer, but recently I've been frequently asked for recommendations, so here goes my list of favourite places and things I would do if I was visiting for only a few days.
  1. Have traditional Sunday Roast at the Butlers Wharf Chop House. A very British thing to do on a Sunday afternoon (late morning). Here, however, it is served anytime, with incredibly delicious steak-thick slice of prime rib (not your regular tough-to-chew roast) and a gorgeous, oversized Yorkshire pudding. The view of Tower Bridge (my favourite landmark) is stunning day and night, so be sure to ask for a table close to the windows or outside. 
  2. Stroll through St. James Park – beautiful space with lots of gorgeous birds including pelicans you can pet. And there's touristy spots at both ends, in case you're hitting those. 
  3. Take Afternoon Tea at Sketch, because there’s an option of having it as elaborate or as simple as you like. And it's the most visually exciting venue in the city. You can just order tea (I recommend rose) and warm scones with clotted cream and fresh raspberry jam. 
  4. Grab a pint at The Golden Eagle pub – piano sing-alongs' Tuesday, Thursday, Friday – 8.30pm-11pm.
  5. Dine at Entrecote. Originally from Paris. No reservations, so you have to queue to get in or come early - just before 6pm or late - after 9pm. No menu, they just bring you amazing steak, yummy salad and french fries.
  6. Go for a nightcap at Purl. Prohibition style, unique cocktails (on fire, with liquid nitrogen, absinthe foam etc). Reservations suggested. 
  7. Indulge in a Milan-style breakfast of pastries from Princi (and possibly Prosecco) in Soho. Visit anytime, but don't go for the pizza...because London has, I dare say - one of the best in Europe...
  8. Grab a pie at Pizza Pilgrims in Soho. These guys travelled all over Italy learning about the best dough, sauce and toppings...and they brought back a taste rivalling the best pizzerias in Naples. 
  9. Have tea at Laduree. Another Parisian place, but if you're not going to Paris, it's also not to be missed. Apart from taking home some fabulous macaroons you should experience the lovely tea room and Jardin Bleu Royal tea with an Ispahan pastry...if not sold out. My sister said - it's what Jesus would taste like if he was food. 
  10. Enjoy a cocktail with a view (and the design of the hotel, and some sunshine...if there is any) at the Radio Bar in ME Hotel. 
  11. Devour a lobster at Burger & Lobster. Another very popular, no reservations, no menu restaurant with a modern New England feel. A great deal if you're going there for the lobster and very very satisfying indeed. 
  12. Sip on the most delicious, understated, cocktails at HIX. The name Mark Hix needs no introduction in London, but you might have not heard of Nick Strangeway, unless you've been on the "it scene" in 70's London. Strangeway is an extremely famous man in the mixology circles and creates unbelievable cocktails with seasonal berries and other fabulous ingredients. I say this with all honesty - I never had a tastier cocktail anywhere else.
  13. Have a light lunch (or dinner) at Sushi des Artistes, beautifully and uniquely presented sushi, served with delicacies like shaved truffle and caviar. 
  14. Get a bit drunk on Happy Hour cocktails at the Troubadour (and maybe even catch a band). Fresh strawberry daiquiris' – 2 for 1...enough said.
  15. Celebrate life at the most beautiful restaurant - Alan Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel. A place where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton would live while in London, a place where you can run into Martin Scorsese in the hall...harbours my dream restaurant. The private table has LED lights surrounding it like a fairytale and seasonal Hermes china for your choosing. You would have to book well in advance and put down a non-refundable 200GBP just for the booking of that table. Or...you can have a coffee at world famous Monmouth in Soho and walk into nearby erotic boutique Coco de Mer…(which is more like an art museum) and Neal’s Yard – very cute secret passage with café’s. 

Naturally on your way over to all those restaurants you're bound to see everything you kind of have to see in London, like The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Primark, V&A, and The National Gallery...I recommend The National Portrait Gallery instead...it's less tiring and more exciting.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Island of Happiness, Love and Deliciousness - Santorini


One of the places I always wanted to go was Greece. Specifically a beautiful island I once saw on Pinterest. I actually didn’t bother to check which one it was at the time, but when I arrived I instantly recognized it. 

This year I’ve been lucky enough to find myself there on a surprise trip. As in, I didn’t know where we were going. Not until the plane started landing circa islands with white buildings and blue roofs did I realize I was in Greece. Unexpectedly I felt overwhelmed with emotion and things didn’t get better until I was offered some local wine in our hotel.


Speaking of hotel…it really appealed to my OCD - sparking white bedding, meticulous room… But the best part was breakfast with a view. Santorini has many charming places to stay, but as I only visited one, I will talk about ours, as it's something I can honestly recommend.


Mill Houses has a few unique features: 

 1. You pre-order your breakfast each day by ticking boxes next to many choices of food and drinks, and you can have as many of the same choice as you like…so it’s essentially a buffet without self service. 

 2. You eat at your own table just outside your room, with a view of very much alive volcano nearby in the beautiful ocean. 

3. Their restaurant - Mylos is what looks like, a very fine dining, Michelin-aspiring establishment.


We were very happy with our cosy room and the level of service. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly and made you feel like they don’t see 100 new faces each week. 


The island it self is very special indeed. Night-time views are magical, mornings are very tranquil and set you in a good mood for the day, the evenings…well, Santorini is famous for its sunsets. 

video

In general, many (including myself) report Greece to have an instant calming effect on people. Which is handy considering some only have a weekend here or there for getaways and don’t have 24 hours or so to get used to not being at work. 


Something to consider – if you’re elderly, it’s probably not the best place to be, as there are many many many steps and up-hills to be walked in the heat, due to the fact that hotels with the best views of the sunsets and volcano are on top of one side of the island, but the beaches are on the other, which means you have to take a bus, taxi or rent a car from the centre of the city (quite a walk). 


When not going to the beach, people go to visit the volcano or go out on boat trips. We went on a boat trip to the volcano. I must say – I didn’t think it was necessary to include that in our long weekend because once we were on the volcano climbing a huge dusty mountain for half an hour, I wasn’t sure why anyone would that. It’s perfectly ok to see it from your hotel. There’s no crater or anything interesting on top, in fact, the crater is under water…and one of the edges of that crater is the island you’re sleeping on. 


We were told that the only reason Santorini is inhibited and full of hotels is because it has a view of an active volcano. Which, personally, I find strange. I’m all for nice views, but do they have to be dangerous? Just in the 70’s the thing blew up and blinded a bunch of locals with its sulphuric smoke…that’s why there are so many churches on the island…they’re praying for volcano's lengthy sleep. 


When we were taken to swim in the hot springs…we were warned that light bathing suits will be stained. I’m not one to ever miss out on adventure because of faric, but once I saw these “hot springs” I decided to just take a dip nearer the boat and spare my swimsuit. They’re basically just warmer currents nearer to the land, which smell and stain. No complaints, just not something I personally think it's a must.


Although relatively far (if you’re not in the hotel by the beach) beaches are rather nice. Lots of lovely restaurants and free sun-chairs and umbrellas. Non-pushy and very welcoming waiters will get you anything you wish while you’re sunning. People talk about this beach or that beach being more amazing than one another, but in reality they’re pretty much the same, except maybe the red beach, which looks a bit more interesting visually, but you have to rent a car to get there. Most beaches are black pebbles (lava) and, a warning – you will need swimming shoes to go in the water, pebbles make it a bit painful getting in and out. 


If you opt for Kamari beach, which I recommend because of this...I highly recommend you take your lunch at Nichteri restaurant. And to make it easier on yourself, you should probably take up a sun-chair there too. Chef Vassilis is clearly very proud of his food, clued up on modern techniques and very much aware of what tastes good – fresh, local, organic, simple and traditional. Everyone around us was talking about how amazing the food was, which is always a clear sign. This is the place for incredibly delicious Souvlaki...as quality, taste and freshness is guaranteed. 


Back on top of the mountain there are a couple of restaurants I want to mention as well. We ate at Vanilia, Mylos and Aktaion Taverna. All recommended by the hotel. Vanilia was good, but there are better places. Not the best value for money, but not bad and the sunset view was great.


Mylos is high-end, but worth the spend in terms of the elegance, the view and chefs efforts as well as the exceptional service. However, I thought some of the food was not spectacular for the price. For instance, the fish was lovely, but only OK and in French portions. But my country-style lamb and potato creations inspired by the chefs memories of his grandfathers village – was truly mouthwatering and satisfying. This was the kicker – they were told it was my birthday, so they baked a cake. A whole cake. It was absolutely gorgeous and so delicious we ate the whole thing (with a little help from our neighbours) by breakfast. I felt really touched. 


Best for last – Aktaion Taverna. A tiny, very old tavern with the most incredible food. Where better to eat on holiday, than somewhere truly authentic? This place was my dream. Old furniture, old photos everywhere, very traditional menu, cheap local wine, which is delicious despite its price tag and of course, spectacular food. My aubergine wrapped goat cheese and piping hot moussaka were so good, we came back the following day and ordered more before we headed for the airport. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

To All My Ukrainian and Russian Brothers and Sisters

No War
Being originally half Russian half Ukrainian many ask me how I feel about Ukraine. 

Let's start with the fact that I always considered myself Ukrainian because I was born and grew up in Ukraine and was taught to love my country in school, which, lets face it, is easy! I'm blessed, I travelled a lot but I honestly believe Ukraine is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The people are warm, funny and proud. The food is phenomenal. The women are world famous beauties. The culture is extremely rich. 

Therefore, I sympathise with Ukrainians. I am sore as hell about Crimea, like all Ukrainians and I frequently mutter on about Putin's blatant Machiavellian ways executed in the wrong century. 

But...

I'm glad the way things occurred...simply because there was no blood. 

Now, however, there IS blood and pain. Russians and Ukrainians are left paying for someones gain.

Neighbours are at war because Russians watch Russian TV full of Putin's propaganda and Ukrainians say to them - if you want Ukraine to be Russia, go live in Russia. 

Knowing my people, I'm worried, as I think this can go on and escalate further and further.  

Remember "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"? 

We have to stop fighting for our side...that will only lead to pain. Let us take the wise approach and read about what happened with the India/Pakistan conflict and learn from history as intelligent people would. 

Realise that every one of us, from those like me, who are comfortable in London and just voice their opinions about the conflict, to those in Ukraine who are actually fighting...all fuel the conflict. So please...do/say something to pacify it instead.

In the India/Pakistan conflict, a hindu man came to Ghandi, whose son has been killed by a muslim...he was enraged and tried to explain to Ghandi why he was so adamant to fight his cause...but Ghandi said to him "You and your wife lost a son...find a muslim child who lost his parents and raise him as your own". That's how you end a conflict.

I know I sound like a naive and sentimental girl and my words are a bit cheesy, but I'm willing to look un-cool if I change even one persons perspective from taking a side to bettering the situation. Then, the time I spend writing this would be worth it. So please send this to your Russian and Ukrainian friends...and post it wherever you can. To do your little good deed for the day.

Lets all make a decision to rise above our emotions and personal opinions and aspire to Ghandi and Jesus instead. Make some smart steps, the world will thank you. Do something kind for your Russian neighbour...offer a Ukrainian some words of comfort. Are we blinded by emotion and pride or are we the most intelligent, resilient and resourceful nations in the world, which together, sent the first man into space and concurred Hitler?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Best Hotel in Frankfurt, Best Breakfast in Europe

#TravelTuesday Germany 5* Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof
Last year I had 13 trips in 12 months. As you can imagine, that's a lot of hotels. Luckily, I had the pleasure of laying my head on a few fancy pillows. This post is about one of my top three hotels. 


Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof remains in my memory for a few reasons, but primarily because I've never seen such an elaborate breakfast. There were so many international options to choose from, it was hard to not overeat. English breakfast, French bakery, American breakfast, Japanese breakfast, German breakfast, exotic fresh fruit, pancakes and omelettes made to order...and that's just what I remember. 

Naturally, the Hof also has a few of outstanding restaurants - Michelin Starred "Français" and grill-type bar-restaurant "OSCAR*S". Both exceptionally good, with highly knowledgeable staff and incredible wine lists. There's also a lounge area, which serves beautiful afternoon teas and cocktails in the evening accompanied by live jazz or piano music. 


The aura of the hotel is stylish sprinkled with traditional elements like grand 300 year-old German wardrobes displayed in the corridors. Some features from the historical original building were also saved and if you have time you should ask one of the staff to give you a tour and tell you about the fascinating going ons of this 130 year-old palace. 

The rooms are focused on comfort and design, grand luxurious beds, deep tubs with in-the-wall flat screen TV's, and all the traditional (as well as some extra) features of paramount hotels. 

Frankfurter Hof also has a beautiful spa, a Turkish hammam, a beautiful pool as well as relaxing treatment rooms. 

All in all, you might not want to leave the hotel. 

Hammam

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Food Lovers Find - New London Restaurant Review


Sour Plum Sour and Spice Island Iced Tea Cocktails
When my sister was recently spending some time with me in London and I have been showing her around, pointing out all the great places to eat, I kept saying - "This is a great place, I love Thai food", "That is a great place, I love Spanish food"...she would say "Sofia, you love food, period." 

Duck Pot Stickers
I know I'm not the only one, as food is not only one of our main pleasures but also a subconsciously linked comfort provider...since as babies we associate feeding from our mothers breast with safety, physical and emotional comfort. Well, there's nothing more exciting for a food lover than finding a place you can't wait to come back to. 

Sweet and Sour Chicken Served on a Banana Leaf
Recently opened South-East Asian restaurant The Noodle House in Shaftesbury Avenue, is such comfort provider. Not everything in the restaurant is a winner (sweet and sour chicken is prettier and healthier but tastier at nearby China Town), but there's definitely a few dishes and drinks I can't wait to come back for, so for me - that's what gets the five stars.

Mee Goreng
The dish I can't wait to return for is Mee Goreng. Yummy, chewy, satisfying Vietnamese noodles satayed with juicy prawns, egg and vegetables. Duck pot-stickers were also delicious, and even the hackneyed vegetable spring rolls become a 'must' at this venue thanks to the tangy sauce they're served with, as well as the story about a local Chinese family hand-rolling them for the restaurant. 

Another must is the Malaysian Roti Canai flat bread. If you're worries about extra calories, I will tell you - enjoying yourself is really good for you, and that is one very enjoyable piece of bread. 

Chocolate Molten Lava Cake
On to the desert - I know that unless the Lava Cake takes 20 minutes to prepare, which usually has to be pre-ordered, it's not something that's made in the restaurant. Nevertheless - wherever it came from, it didn't disappoint.

Moonshadow
The venue is newly republished from whatever it was before, which makes for a clean, comfortable dining room, but the exciting bit is downstairs. The Noodle House harbours a very cute bar, which not only produces unique and wonderful cocktails, but the prices are much more reasonable than most places in central London. I will definitely order the delicious Sour Plum Sour (pictured on top) again, or the fun Moonshadow (above and below) which you half-make yourself and guaranteed to take the edge off, as its quite punchy.

The atmosphere is warm, the delicious food comes out really quickly, the prices are reasonable, the staff are knowledgeable and nice and before you go, instead of a boring fortune cookie, you get a cute teabag with special blend and a lovely message "From our House to Yours". 

Jasper Conran Sample Sale


#fashion #samplesale #style RT

Friday 16th May 2014

10am - 4pm


WOMENSWEAR - Samples, shoes, bags, and hats.

All major credit cards and cash payments accepted.


1-7 Rostrevor Mews (off Chesilton Road) Fulham, London SW6 5AZ

Nearest Tube: Parsons Green