The Christmas Season in Chelsea, London

I can’t believe Christmas is less than a week away…and I still haven’t finished my Christmas shopping! ;) I usually finish my online purchases at the start of December, but when it comes to the real shopping from the high street I always leave it till the last week!

Despite dreading shopping all year round, I love doing at least one trip to King’s Road in Chelsea before Christmas. It’s become somehow a tradition to go to Peter Jones to look at the store decorations and buy last minute gifts, then to do some window shopping in Duke of York Square and on King’s Road. Mostly just browsing as a lot of those shops are out of my budget sadly!

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Like anywhere else in December, King’s Road is busy, but it’s also very pretty and I love walking around the back streets and looking at the beautiful townhouses. It’s nice and quiet compared to Oxford Street and if I need some rest from shopping I can head to Tom’s Kitchen for a nice brunch or lunch!

Tom’s Kitchen Chelsea is the informal counterpart to Chef Tom Aikens’ Michelin starred restaurant and I love the bright ground floor brasserie with open kitchen, the cozy upstairs room and their menu of classic British dishes.

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I usually go there for weekend brunch (it’s best to book a few weeks in advance), but now that I am self-employed I had the time to visit for lunch during the week. Two of my high school friends from Rome were in London to do some shopping, so I suggested we meet at the restaurant. I think it’s great for tourists, as they get to try British dishes, made with good quality ingredients and cooked well, in a beautiful and elegant environment.

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I was in a festive mood of course, so I wore my new ASOS Christmas jumper! I love that it’s red and Christmassy, but not silly or tacky. It’s smart enough to wear around Chelsea and for lunch at Tom’s Kitchen (or at least I thought I was dressed well for the occasion!).

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After lunch I wandered through around Chelsea to take pictures of the buildings and homes, hoping not to be told off by the residents! I probably looked like a tourist myself, with the big camera and shopping bags!

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Whilst I wouldn’t like living in Chelsea all year round (as I always feel a bit out of place), I love being there at this time of the year. What is your favourite London neighbourhood during Christmas?

Disclaimer: I received the Christmas jumper as a gift. All opinions are my own.

Exploring Borough Market in London

This week I went back to one of London’s most beautiful and famous markets: Borough Market. It was a pleasure browsing the market halls on a week day, for a change! I have always been on Saturdays when Londoners and tourists visit en masse and it can be a bit tricky to move through the crowd and buying lunch from the street food stalls requires some queuing. Either way though it’s a beautiful place and if you have never been, then you must visit soon!

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My Instagram friend and fellow food blogger Asha of Fork Spoon Knife was in London visiting from the States, so we decided to meet up for coffee at Monmouth and for a walk in the market.

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Obviously you cannot visit Borough Market without stopping at Bread Ahead to buy doughnuts, so that’s exactly what we did! :)

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The main reason for our visit though was to meet one of the Borough Market’s marketing team to learn about the events they regularly organise in the Demo Kitchen and new Market Hall. They are currently organising an event taking place this Sunday 14th December, which I am happy to promote: Tom Hunt’s Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The Feast of 7 fishes is a traditional Italian christmas feast […] Tom will be representing 7 species of fish that will be caught using sustainable fishing methods from recommended healthy stocks. The banquet will be created using surplus fresh ingredients gathered at the end of the trading week, giving unwanted wonky vegetables, blemished fruits, wild, foraged ingredients and cuts of fish a new purpose. [Official Press Release]

Standard tickets cost £43, but you can get them with 20% discount using this promo code: GIULIAMULE20. 50% of the profits from ticket sales for this event will be donated to a food waste charity, Fareshare. The event will take place in the new Market Hall.

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After our visit, Asha and I had lunch at Elliot’s, a lovely cafe and restaurant which is part of the market.

Being based in the inspiring environment that is Borough Market, our menu is created using the diverse ingredients available and in season. We have a simple but mindful approach to our cooking that allows the ingredients to dictate the menu but to be prepared in such a way as to show them at their absolute best.

I had crab salad on toast with a side of cavolo nero, almonds and onions, while Asha had the lamb tongue.

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A stroll along the Southbank after lunch was beautiful, though quite cold this time of the year. I took these photos with my phone, just before dropping it because I couldn’t feel my hands anymore!

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I am definitely enjoying having the time to explore my city during the week and doing things I wouldn’t have had time to do when I had a full time job! :)

Travel in Style at Gatwick Airport

Picture this: it’s 4am, it’s raining and you’re about to drive for an hour to Gatwick airport to get a 7am flight to your holiday destination. After the long drive you will park in the long stay car park and get on a bus to the terminal, where your reward will be a coffee and pain au chocolat from Costa…

Now picture this: it’s 5am and you have just reached the airport short stay car park, where you have met a friendly and fully insured chauffeur who is going to drive your car to APH’s secure car park. Now you can begin your holiday in style, with a buffet breakfast in the Gatwick airport lounge!

I have been through the first scenario many times, until a few weeks ago when I discovered about valet parking and airport lounges and my life changed forever! Yes, it’s a treat and a little luxury, but it’s one of those things that makes travelling so much easier and less stressful! Especially if you have kids and / or big and heavy bags, the services offered by Gatwick Airport Parking will make a big difference to your trip.

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My husband and I tried the APH service a few weeks ago before our long weekend in Amsterdam and were enthusiastic about it. Dropping off and collecting our car before and after our flights was convenient, easy and quick.

After leaving our car to the APH chaffeur and passing security in Gatwick’s north terminal, we headed straight to the No.1 Traveller to relax for an hour before our flight.

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Spanning 10,000 sq ft of cool marble floors and gorgeous interiors, you can enjoy the best runway views, watch a film or enjoy meal from our Bistro Menu at No.1 Gatwick, our recently refurbished super-lounge. Waiting for your flight has never been this much fun.

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The lounge features: access to Premium Lane Security, free WiFi, TVs, cinema and games room, daily newspapers and magazines, showers and a spa (which is best to book in advance).

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The food and drinks options include a self-service buffet table, which was set up for breakfast at the time we visited with cereals, croissants, fruit salad, fresh fruit, yoghurt and porridge with toppings.

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In addition to the buffet, you can also order one complimentary dish from the kitchen: bacon roll, waffle with berry compote, scrambled eggs on English muffin. I ordered a Full English breakfast for an additional £8 and yes I might have also had a cheeky glass of Champagne!

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Unfortunately the batch-brew American-style coffee available in the lounge wasn’t up to the standards we are used to. As you know, I love good coffee! I was surprised they didn’t have an espresso machine to make cappuccino and latte, as I’d imagine these would be popular drinks for travellers, especially in the early morning. I am sure better coffee would make the lounge experience much more enjoyable to a lot of customers.

After breakfast we moved to the sofas, where read the papers and watched the action on the runaway until it was time to board the plane.

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No.1 Traveller can be accessed three hours before your flight time and entry costs £25.00 per adult. For valet parking prices, check their Gatwick Airport Meet & Greet page.

Disclaimer: I was invited to review the APH service and N1 Lounge. All opinions are my own.

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).

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

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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!

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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

Lunch at Duck & Waffle

If there’s one restaurant you don’t need me to review AGAIN is Duck & Waffle. After all, I have already written about it three times: my first visit for breakfast on my birthday, Sunday brunch with my parents and a special visit to taste their dosant last summer. But I cannot refrain myself from sharing photos of the lunch I had this week when I was invited to celebrate Duck & Waffle’s 2nd anniversary.

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Congratulations to Duck & Waffle for two successful years in the business and for consistently offering fantastic food, drinks and service.

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I had lunch there on Wednesday with my Twitter friends Tim @Clerkenwell_Boy, Chris @AllThingsMeaty and Nuvola @afoodfairy. We shared quite a few different dishes as you will see: old favourites and new menu additions.

We started with bbq-spiced crispy pig ears (served in a paper bag) and oysters, sea trout gribiche and scotch bhadji.

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The Anglo-indian dish (scotch egg meets onion bhadji) served with cauliflower, lime pickle and caramelised onion yogurt was delicious and representative of what Duck & Waffle offers: classic dishes revisited with original flavour combinations.

Duck & Waffle makes bread so well that they have a section of the menu dedicated to it. We loved the spicy ‘nduja and gruyère bread.

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We continued the lunch with the delicious bacon wrapped dates (as Chris said, you could just keep eating these all day), the baked beetroot with goat’s curd, roasted octopus with chorizo and foie gras crème brûlée.

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Are you still with me? Our lunch was not over yet, actually my favourite dishes were still yet to come.

The star of the lunch was obviously the restaurant’s signature dish duck and waffleduck leg and duck egg on a waffle with maple syrup. It’s spectacular!

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If that wasn’t enough to impress us, the puddings really stole the show: pistachio & dark chocolate macaroon sandwich; vanilla baked alaska with mulled pears (I had never eaten baked alaska it before but Nuvola said this was the best she ever had); torrejas with maple caramel apples and cinnamon ice cream. If you have never tasted this dessert, I urge you to go to Duck & Waffle asap and order one.

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The restaurant was also celebrating the release of the book “Duck & Waffle: Recipes and stories” by Head Chef Daniel Doherty. It’s a beautiful cookbook with stunning photos and recipes of Duck & Waffle’s famous dishes (and many more)! Signed copies are available to buy from the restaurant.

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I have said this before: if you live in London and haven’t been to Duck & Waffle yet, book a table now and just go. The ride up to the 40th floor is worth the trip alone, but you will get much more than that. You will thank me for it!

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon