Christmas Hampers by Harvey Nichols

It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas here in London: festive lights are on, shop windows are filled with party clothes and gift boxes, mince pies and Christmas puddings are on offer in supermarkets. So, unless you are one of those people who finish the Christmas shopping in July, it’s time to start buying presents!

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I’m the kind of person who leaves things till the last minute, so every year I find myself on Christmas Eve morning desperately looking for last minute gifts. When you’re running out of ideas or out of time, Christmas Hampers are a life saviour.

Harvey Nichols, a luxury fashion retailer which first opened its store in Knightsbridge in 1831, offers a range of luxury hampers to suit for different types of people (For Her, For Him, For Foodies and For Wine Lovers).


They must know me well, because they sent me the Rise & Shine Hamper to review this year, perfect for a breakfast lover like me!


It has all my favourite things to start the day: ground coffee, English Breakfast loose leaf tea, preserves (gooseberry and strawberry) and Acacia honey. The hamper also comes with two Harvey Nichols mugs.

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The small bottle of Prosecco is a nice addition to the hamper and makes it a little bit more precious. I will stick to the coffee or tea for breakfast, but I will definitely raise a glass on Christmas Eve to celebrate the holiday season with my family!


The Rise & Shine Hamper costs £65 and can be ordered online at Harvey Nichols. Store collection and same day delivery are available: perfect for saving you from that last minute gift shopping panic!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Rise & Shine Hamper for this review. All opinions are my own.

A Long Weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam: city of canals and bicycles, of museums and flowers. A hub for creative people, a place to have a good time and also one of the most romantic cities in Europe.


My husband and I travelled to Amsterdam two weeks ago and spent three beautiful days in the Dutch city. Dreams are already forming in my mind about moving there for a few years, wouldn’t it be lovely?!

We planned the trip to spend a few days away from London, re-visit a city we hadn’t been to for years and meet friends and family who live there. We found affordable flights and spent the nights at my cousin’s house, so we didn’t need to book a hotel this time. If you are looking for accommodation here’s a suggestion for a hotel in Amsterdam in a great location near the canals.

We were fortunate to be able to save some money and overall I think we spent the same we would have if we had stayed at home, as compared to London prices everything seems so cheap in Amsterdam! 600ml fresh pressed juices that would cost £10 in London for just 2.50? 16 for three days unlimited travel card that costs £40 over here? 30 for dinner in a fancy restaurant instead of the average £40 in London? Free ferry rides?!

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Saturday was a beautiful sunny autumn day so we decided to take the ferry from Amsterdam Centraal to NDSM Shipyard where we had lunch at Noorderlicht Café. It’s a little restaurant located in a transparent greenhouse-like hangar and surrounded by a garden that’s great for summer picnics and BBQs! It’s off the tourist beaten track so it’s a great spot to visit if you, like me, have been to Amsterdam before.

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I hadn’t been back to Amsterdam since 2002, so I was also looking forward to revisiting the Jordaan area with its picturesque streets and canals. We went for a walk in Amsterdam’s most charming neighbourhood on Saturday afternoon, walked past the art galleries, quirky shops and restaurants, and eventually stopped at Arendsnest to rest, get warm and stuff our faces with cheese and Dutch beer!

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The next morning we had breakfast at Coffee Company Branderij, a coffee roastery next to De Gooyer, the tallest wooden windmill remaining in Netherlands. Next door to it there’s Brouwerij ‘t IJ a brewery that serves a range of traditional Dutch beers.

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For the whole trip we didn’t have a fixed schedule, but since I was working on a coffee feature I had prepared a list of all the cafés I wanted to visit. I used app to create my own Amsterdam city guide which I then downloaded on my iPhone and used offline. Wherever you are at any moment you can consult the map and see if any of your pinned places is nearby! It’s very useful to find your way around a new and unfamiliar city.

As you may have guessed already, we drank a lot of coffee during our three days in Amsterdam! We visited some amazing cafés and roasteries like Coffee Company Oosterdok, Lot Sixty One, White Label, Headfirst Coffee Roasters and Sweet Cup.

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The ring in the this photo is by my friend Petra, she makes beautiful jewellery which you can see and buy online at Artep!

Scandinavian Embassy in The Pijp district was our first stop in Amsterdam and I had high expectations because of this Sprudge review, and I must say it didn’t disappoint! We had lunch with Salt Cured Salmon & Poached Eggs on Danish Rye Bread with Sheep Yoghurt, Swedish Caviar and Leek served with a filter coffee that complimented the taste of the salmon. This place is small with stripped down wooden furniture and white walls, yet it’s welcoming and warm. Also who could resist their cute dog Java?!


Another café I had marked in my Amsterdam guide was Rum Baba in East Amsterdam. It was not far from my cousin’s house so for us it was a perfect spot for breakfast.

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Rum Baba is popular for coffee and cakes, and I can confirm that the banana bread was delicious. Two women in the kitchen were baking more cakes, so they must sell loads everyday!

Walking back to the tram stop we stopped at a stall selling Oliebollen, old-fashioned Dutch donuts, a seasonal treat traditionally eaten for New Years (though evidently they start early!).


For our two dinners in Amsterdam we tried completely different settings on each night: on Friday we went to Marits, a living room where we ate a fantastic home-cooked vegetarian four-course dinner. The owner / chef decided to open a restaurant in her home to offer great vegetarian food she struggled to find elsewhere!

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On Saturday night we had dinner at De Plantage, one of Amsterdam’s restaurant hotspots. It’s located in Plantagebuurt and housed in a glass house in the botanical garden. I liked the setting and European menu, but I would recommend it as a lunch spot so you can also enjoy the garden view.


On Sunday we spent the whole day visiting coffee roasteries and none of them was serving lunch (thought they make delicious cakes and cookies!).

Lunch was a quick stop at Fa. Speijkervet which we discovered by accident after we got on the wrong tram and got off at a stop across the street from this cute restaurant. We had a simple lunch (sandwich and burger) with Dutch beer.

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We didn’t get to see a lot of the city during this trip, but it gave us a taste of what is like to eat and live in Amsterdam. I would have loved to also visit a museum or hire a bicycle, since that’s the best way to visit the city. This is something I need to make up for on my next visit!

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Franco Manca: Neapolitan Pizza in East Dulwich

When I moved to London eight years ago it wasn’t easy to find good, authentic Neapolitan pizza. Then, four or five years ago, one name began popping up in conversations with fellow Italian expats: Franco Manca. Like a secret code carefully shared within our community.

“You have to try Franco Manca, it’s a tiny pizzeria inside Brixton market online open for lunch, they make the best pizza in London!”

This is what one of my friends told me once and so I wrote the name down and made a note of visiting it as soon as I got the chance. A few months later my husband and I moved to Stockwell in south London, so we were finally close enough to Brixton to visit Franco Manca. I still remember that first lunch on a Saturday: we queued for about 30-40′ and were rewarded with the best pizza I ever had outside of Italy!

Fast-forward to today and Franco Manca is still one of my favourite pizzerias in London. Living ten minutes’ walk from the original Brixton restaurant (they now have ten branches in the city) means we eat there regularly. We know when to go to avoid queues and what to order.

Last night I had the pleasure to eat at the new Franco Manca restaurant in East Dulwich for a soft launch ahead of today’s opening.


It was my first experience in a “real” Franco Manca restaurant (the other two I tried before are in a market – Brixton – and in a shopping centre – Stratford) and I liked the modern and warm interiors.


Since it was a soft opening for friends and family, there was a cheerful atmosphere and all the staff was trying their best to impress.

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They didn’t need to try very hard with us, we were easily won over by the new Franco Manca!

While we usually order just a pizza and lemonade and are in and out within thirty minutes, tonight we enjoyed our dinner of starters, pizza and dessert. We shared a dish from the “small bites” menu: Burrata & Almonds, Wild Pig Prosciutto.


Only if you have done a month of Whole30 diet you can understand how we felt eating the delicious burrata with slices of warm focaccia!

When it was time to order the pizza my husband had no doubts: it had to be Margherita! I admire his resolve to always order a “marghe” (as he calls it), but I like to always try something different and so I usually order from Franco Manca’s specials board (one meat and one vegetarian).

Tonight it was a Mozzarella, Tomato, Aubergines, Pancetta, Watercress. I asked the waitress to have it without watercress and added Parmigiano Reggiano shavings instead.

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Franco Manca are famous for their sourdough pizza dough, which makes a highly digestible pizza and it’s true! I barely eat any bread nowadays and I was worried about feeling bloated after last night’s pizza, but I felt great afterwards.

We use a soft wheat flour that at the end of the long fermentation process exhausts its starch content, transforming it in to “noble sugars”. To reach this we need a flour with just enough gluten to hold the dough together at the end of a 24 hour fermentation.  The result is a digestible product where the enzymes have done most of the hard work for your stomach, breaking down starch and gluten.

As a result the Franco Manca pizza base is full of flavours and very tasty even without (or very little) tomato sauce.


After the pizza we treated ourselves to dessert: a sticky and light Neapolitan Caprese Cake made with almond flour and served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


Franco Manca East Dulwich will officially open its doors to the public today at midday (no bookings: it’s first come, first served).  You can find them in 21 Lordship Lane, SE22 8EW London.

Disclaimer: I was invited by the restaurant as a guest to the preview dinner. All opinions are my own.

PS: do you live in or near Dulwich? Read my post about brunch at Toasted.

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

JING Tea Pairing with Tuscan Chestnut Cake

When you live in a big city and you have a job to do, errands to run, friends to meet and a home to take care of, well it’s normal to feel like you are always running out of time. It happens to me a lot! And if I have some free time my mind immediately races to all the things I could be doing to fill my day: restaurants to try, museums to visit, recipes to try, sports to practice…  When everything else has been taken care of, maybe I remember to relax, sleep, take care of myself. And I admit it, I always feel a ping of guilt if I decide to simply do nothing. Being lazy: isn’t it the ultimate guilty pleasure?

Do you think it’s weird, this ode to being lazy? I get restless if I am not doing anything at any point in time (and guilty thinking about all the things pending to do). My husband constantly tells me to relax and to not take up on so many activities. So here’s to learning to do things slowly! To be fast is not my goal anymore, I take no pleasure in multitasking and doing things halfheartedly, simultaneously ticking off actions from my imaginary to do list.

I am much more aiming at doing things slowly these days; and allowing myself the time to enjoy the process and the end result, like for example baking a cake or brewing a cup of tea and then sitting down to eat and drink them.


I discovered Jing Tea a few months ago when I was invited to one of their tea tasting events at the COMO Metropolitan Hotel in London. Their range of loose leaf teas feature some of Asia’s finests, from those with rare and complex characters to more accessible teas, to suit all palates.

JING defines the modern tea ceremony, an experience that absorbs the senses and refreshes and inspires the body and mind. We offer more than just great tea; we find the finest tea producers, design simple and elegant teaware and share our knowledge and passion to create an inspired tea culture.


Tasting different teas at the JING event gave me the idea of a tea and cake pairing. Since it’s autumn, I chose a traditional Tuscan recipe of Castagnaccio, a plain cake made with chestnut flour, water and extra virgin olive oil. It’s grain-free, sugar-free and dairy-free so it’s also perfect for my Whole30 diet. Since it’s a Tuscan cake, I looked up Jul’s Kitchen for the recipe, as she’s the expert of this regional cuisine.

Local variations of Castagnaccio have pine nuts or rosemary or raisins, but I used what I had available at home: cashew nuts and mixed dried fruits.


For the tea pairing I chose JING Yunnan Dian Hong Cha tea, a strong and full-bodied black tea from rich-soiled Yunnan province.

Yunnan gold, known as dian hong gong fu, is a type of black tea from Yunnan, China. The Chinese name “gong fu” means “great skill”, reflecting the skill that goes into the production of this tea.

(source: Rate Tea)

This tea is particularly good first thing in the morning or with a late afternoon slice of cake. I enjoyed drinking it with a slice of Castagnaccio, as the tea is clean and refreshing, so it balances off the richness of chestnut flour and sweetness of dried fruits.


The appearance of Yunnan Gold loose tea is “long, olive-gold twists dappled with orange”, these are the golden tea tips.

I used the JING Glass Infuser Mug, which is part of the JING elegant teaware collection (the range is perfect to make tea gifts this Christmas). I added 1 tablespoon (3g) of tea and one cup of water at near-boiling temperature.


The ideal infusion time for this tea is three minutes and you can re-use the wet leaves for a second infusion.


When steeped, the golden down covered buds of Yunnan Gold develop into a brew with an auburn sheen. The leaves from spring’s harvest release a rounded caramel richness and a lingering finale of spice – ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

(source: JING website)


Yunnan Gold is a sweet tea with a floral fragrance and malty aroma. The taste is dark, rich and lightly spicy.


I used JING Tea Timer during the infusion; after the three minutes the tea had a dark amber colour and was ready to be enjoyed.
At your own time.


For the Tuscan Chestnut Cake (by Jul’s Kitchen):


  • 300g chestnut flour
  • 40g cashews
  • 40g dried fruits
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • water

Sieve chestnut flour and salt in a large bowl. Add water bit by bit, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Keep on pouring in water until you have a smooth and liquid batter (as thick as pancake batter). Add half quantity of cashews and dried fruit and stir again.

Take a large baking-pan (I used my brownies’ pan) and grease it with extra virgin olive oil. Pour in the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining cashews and dried fruit.

Bake in preheated oven to 180°C for about 30 minutes until chestnut cake is firm and covered with wrinkles. You can eat it warm or cold.


Disclaimer: for the purpose of this review I received from JING complimentary tea bags and teaware. All opinions are my own.

Trastevere Food Tour with Eating Italy

I have lived in Rome for twenty-four years so – even discounting the first ten when I was a kid – you would expect I’d know all the good, traditional places to eat Roman food right? Well, that’s not the case, as I discovered while attending the Eating Italy food tour of Trastevere. I had never been to any of the places we visited during the tour and all of them turned out to be pretty amazing. I can’t wait to go back to Rome to try them all again!

So let’s start from the beginning…

Eating Italy is a tour company based in Rome that organizes daily food tours (in Testaccio and Trastevere) and culinary classes.

“Our mission is to leave travelers with an unparalleled, non-touristy, food-related experience in undiscovered neighborhoods of the most fascinating cities in the world.”


I was invited to try their Daylight Trastevere Tour and so, on a hot September day, my mum and I joined a group of about 10 people (Australian, Americans, Israelis – the tour is in English) to explore the charming medieval neighbourhood that lies across the river from Rome’s city centre.

With its narrow cobblestone streets and laneways, Trastevere is the quintessential Roman neighborhood. While by night it is a happening destination for tourists and locals, during the day, Trastevere is like a small village with its timeless and artisan shops serving the same local families for generations.


The Eating Italy Trastevere tour is a 4-hour guided walking food tour; we did most of the eating while standing on the sidewalk in front of a shop or in the market, but we also had one sit-down meal at a typical Roman trattoria. We did 10 tastings in total and, with all the walking, I definitely needed a lie down! ;) But it was fantastic of course and I would totally recommend it to anyone visiting Rome!


We met our guide Valerio just before 11:00 at the “Antica Caffetteria Berti” and started the tour from a small pastry shop next door, where we tried bignè alla crema (choux pastry with cream). They are traditional Roman pastries and the bite-sized version that we tried on the tour is called mignon.

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Next stop was just around the corner at I Supplì where I ate one of the best supplì (fried tomato risotto balls filled with mozzarella) I have ever tasted! This Roman speciality is also known as “supplì al telefono” because when you break the oblong ball in half with your hand you should get a long cheese string resembling a telephone cord!

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Then we entered the nearby shop called L’Antica Caciara, a cheese shop and local institution where we tasted a fantastic Pecorino Romano (made from the sheep’s milk from the owners’ farm). 

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Followed by a juicy and delicious Porchetta at Norcineria Iacozzilli. Norcineria is an interesting kind of shop (rarely you encounter one in Rome nowadays) as it’s a place dedicated exclusively (at least in the old times) to the manufacture and sale of pork. They produce their own sausages, guanciale, pork, salami and ham as well as selling buffalo mozzarella, cheese and bread.

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Having exhausted all the food offers of via Natale del Grande, we moved on to Piazza San Cosimato to visit the local outdoor food market, which dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and is open from Mondays to Saturdays. We stopped at Pietro and Concetta’s fruit and vegetable stand, a family tradition as Concetta’s grandmother opened her stand in Piazza San Cosimato in 1945!

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We tasted their figs and melon paired with Parma ham from the the cured meats and cheese stall managed by Emiliano.

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It was time for something sweet and Fatamorgana located in the same square was the perfect destination for our tour. The famous ice-cream shop specialises in all-natural and gluten-free gelato and offers a selection of exciting flavours such as Chocolate Kentucky with Tobacco & Cinnamon Cream or Vanilla Tahiti with Apple Pieces & Raspberry Sauce! This is what famous food blogger David Lebovitz wrote about it:

I decided to go for it and had Kentucky, flavored with chocolate and tobacco, ricotta-coconut, and pure zabaglione. When I took my cup outside and spooned in my first bite, I almost started crying. In fact, I did cry a bit—it was so good.

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The following stop on the tour was about ten minutes’ walk away so we took the chance to explore the narrow cobblestone streets and laneways of Trastevere, while listening to Valerio’s tales about this quintessential Roman neighborhood.

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Forno La Renella was one of the most interesting stops for me, because we had the chance to visit the bakery and see the old bread oven. What a beauty! And did you know they burn hazelnut shells instead of wood to add a special flavour to their bread? It was indeed delicious (as we had the pleasure to taste it later at lunch).

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Before moving on with the tour we ate a piece of pizza margherita. I didn’t say slice, because pizza here is sold “al taglio”: by weight and cut into squares or strips (depending how much of it you want). Pizza al taglio can be plain with olive oil (pizza bianca), with tomato sauce (pizza rossa) or with tomato, mozzarella and different toppings.

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Now believe it or not, all the stops we had so far where just “starters”! Small tastings to tickle our appetites before lunch at Osteria Der Belli. It was nice to sit down and rest in the shade, while eating three different types of pasta and drinking chilled white wine from Frascati (a hilltown in the outskirts of Rome famous for its wineries). We had Ravioli with Ricotta and Tomato sauce; Spaghetti alla Carbonara (a must!) and Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini.

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Sitting all around the table for half an hour or so was a great way to get to know the other people on the tour. It was a nice group of people, all of them tourists and on their first day in the city. It’s a great idea to schedule this tour for your first day in the city, because the guide will not only give you lots of information about Roman food, but also about the city. It’s a great way to familiarise yourself with a new environment!


After lunch we needed a break from eating, so instead we visited the neighbourhood’s main attraction: Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome, which features a Romanesque campanile and beautiful mosaics with golden details. The square outside the church is the centre of Trastevere and a meeting point for youngsters.

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The last two stops on the Eating Italy tour were in a different part of the Trastevere, on the east side, across Viale Trastevere. We visited Biscottificio Innocenzi, a family-owned cookie factory that dates back to three generations (grand-mother, mother and daughter). We all gathered inside the shop to sample three types of biscuits. The brutti ma buoni (lit. ugly but tasty) were so good that my mum and I bought a bag to take home to dad (I even took some back to London for my husband to try, they were still fragrant and tasty after four days)!

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We finished our tour at Da Enzo al 29, a Roman trattoria that I had never tried before, but my mum knew about for being hard to find a table at!

A tiny trattoria tucked down a picturesque, cobbled backstreet of Trastevere, Da Enzo is run by three siblings. Boasting a menu offering the very best of Cucina Romana there is nowhere better to try classics such as carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes) and the coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew).


We didn’t try any of the main courses, but we did taste their fantastic Tiramisù, a generous portion served in a glass and unconventionally prepared with a dollop of Nutella in the centre. I’m picky about Tiramisù that deviates from the traditional recipe but who am I to say no to Nutella!?

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The Eating Italy tour was so much more than just a food tour. It features some unique cultural and historical sites that few tourists (or even Romans) get an opportunity to see! Our guide was fantastic and, reading all the positive reviews on Trip Advisor I can see that all the Eating Italy guides have made a great impressions. From what I have experienced (and I speak for my mum too), Eating Italy food tours are a great way to discover Rome.

 You’ll enter a tourist and leave a local, a feeling you won’t soon forget.


Disclaimer: I attended the tour as a guest of Eating Italy. All opinions are my own.

Brunch at Toasted in Dulwich

In the happy days when I could eat things like pancakes and drink flat whites, my husband and I went for brunch to Toasted, a restaurant and wine shop in East Dulwich, South East London. Sandy’s mum was visiting us from India, so she came with us and so did my brother Paolo.


Toasted has been open for a couple of years, but it’s only recently that I have noticed it popping up on my Twitter and Instagram feeds. I have a few friends who live around Peckham / Dulwich and Toasted seems to be a regular brunch spots for locals. I was curious!

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I am also always on the hunt for interesting brunch spots, particularly ones that offer elaborate pancakes / french toasts dishes such as this one: Sourdough Pancakes, Fig, Damson, Walnuts and Mascarpone.

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It looked so good, all four of us ordered it and liked it! The Allpress coffee wasn’t bad either!

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The atmosphere was very relaxed and informal, as Toasted is the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that locals would want to keep a secret. It’s also a wine bar specialising in ‘vins naturels’ (wine made with a natural fermentation) so I’d love to visit for lunch or dinner someday.

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As for the menu, Toasted offers “a daily-changing, produce-led menu focusing on seasonal ingredients and based around ‘small plates’, to encourage people to eat across the menu and try a variety of dishes and flavours”. I only tried one dish, but from what I tasted, I can definitely recommend Toasted!

PS: after brunch at Toasted we walked around Dulwich and discovered a lovely farmers’ market on North Cross Road. What a nice discovery!

Toasted on Urbanspoon

[Paleo] Date and Almond Bread

Did I tell you I’ve been on the Whole30 program for the past three weeks? Well, I cheated twice, so technically I cannot say that I’m doing the Whole30, but apart from those two cheat meals I have been following it strictly and so is my husband. Aside from the  struggles of eating out and attending press events, I am not finding the diet too hard to follow. I feel better and lighter already so that’s enough for motivation! My main issues come with baking without grains, dairy and sugar.

After the first week of eating eggs for breakfast every day, I couldn’t take it anymore and I just wanted to eat some cake. Last weekend I made a Date and Almond Bread (adapted from this vegan recipe by Food52) and I knew immediately I had found the perfect Whole30 cake recipe for our breakfasts!


We finished the first loaf in a few days, so on Wednesday I baked another Date and Almond Bread. I corrected the amounts of the ingredients and added a handful of dried fruits to the batter: the result is a softer and moister cake. That might also be because I used the softest and sweetest dates ever from Brixton Market! They were really cheap too! :)



  • 200g pitted dates
  • 2 1/2 cups ground almonds
  • 6 tbsp flax seed
  • 2 tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • handful of dried fruits



Preheat oven to 170°C.

Start by making a date paste (ideally the day before): pack your pitted dates in a jar and cover them with water, making sure you fill it right to the top. Cover and let your dates soak overnight or at least 12 hours. Alternatively soak the dates in water and warm them in the microwave.


Transfer the dates and the water to a food processor and blitz them on high speed for a few minutes, until smooth and creamy in consistency.


Mix together the dry ingredients: almond flour, flax seed, tapioca starch, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, whisk the vinegar and almond milk vigorously, until it’s frothy. Add the coconut oil. Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ones until just mixed.

Fold the dates into the cake mixture, along with the pecans. Add a splash of almond milk if the mixture is too dry or add more almond flour if it’s too wet.


Pour into a lined 2lb bread loaf pan and bake for about 40-50 minutes (check after half an hour to avoid burning the top of the cake), or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Leave the cake in the pan for 10 minutes to cool down, then transfer onto a wire rack to cool down completely.

Enjoy a slice with a cup of coffee! It’s also delicious if you spread a layer of cashew butter over it! :P