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.

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

“Be The Barista” with Selfridges London

Specialty coffee shops are taking over London and all over the world many cities are ridong the same wave. The UK media are catching up too, so what was a niche trend now is turning into a global phenomenon.

One thing is clear: being a coffee connoisseur is a trend, Britain is now a nation of coffee drinkers, customers are better educated about coffee and more people want to learn how to brew the perfect cup at home!

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"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

For years I have used the same supermarket coffee blend and a Bialetti stove pot. Nowadays I like to have multiple coffee choices: from freshly roasted specialty espresso blends to single origin coffees; from espressos to filters.

My husband is even more of a coffee geek than I am, so between the two of us we now have a range of brewing devices at home: a stove pot, an aeropress, the Hario v60 and a chemex (and the Hario Buono Drip Kettle).

The latest addition to our coffee makers’ collection is the ROK espresso maker.

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

The ROK is “a finely engineered gearing that lowers the piston to generate the pressure to extract the coffee oils to create the perfect espresso”. It’s a simple machine that works without electricity: just the power of your arms!

I received a ROK espresso maker from Selfridges London as part of their campaign Be The Barista and for the past week my husband has been experimenting with it. I just let him practice with the ROK, while I’m enjoy having my breakfast coffee served to me every morning! I hope this new routine lasts! ;)

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

 

“The Selfridges campaign celebrates the art of specialty coffee, and being able to create coffee shop quality at home. From artisanal coffee masterclasses and demonstrations of essential coffee-making equipment and accessories to amazing bean-to-cup coffee machines, discover a world dedicated to coffee.”

 

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Making the perfect espresso with the ROK requires practice, so allow some time to master the machine. There are also many other variables to a good coffee: the quality of the beans, the freshness of the roast, the coffee grounds, the right water temperature and brewing time.

For the ROK machine you need coffee grounds suitable for espresso (not too coarse or the water will pass through too easily, not too fine or it will be very hard to push the arms down). I usually buy fresh roasted coffee online at Pact Coffee, a London-based roasters and monthly subscription service*.

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Fill the ROK cylinder with hot water, lift the handles and then push them downwards in a firm, smooth motion. Hold them down until all the water has been extracted (this should take between 20 and 30 seconds). Your double espresso is ready!

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London

Making good coffee at home is a priority for us and the day cannot start without it!

Whether it’s an espresso or a milk-based coffee drink, we can use the ROK to make a good coffee. As I said, it requires a bit of practice and it’s not as straight-forward as using a stove pot, but I’m confident we will master it soon and learn how to create a good espresso crema!

"Be The Barista" with Selfridges London
As part of the Be The Barista campaign, Selfridges have partnered with Origin Coffee Roasters to hold weekly coffee masterclasses in their store, in the “Cookshop” area on the lower ground. You can buy tickets online or in store.

Disclaimer: I received from Selfridges a complimentary ROK machine. All opinions are my own.

*If you live in the UK and want to try Pact Coffee, you can buy your first bag for only £1 using the code GIULIA-3DB5SG. Full disclosure: I paid for the coffee and this is not a sponsored post for Pact, but if three friends use this discount code I will get a limited edition t-shirt. You can get it too, if you introduce three friends to Pact Coffee.

A Cocktail Masterclass at Kettner’s

This post is about a cocktail masterclass my husband and I were invited to attend at Kettner's last month. And also about how we won a prize for creating the best cocktail of the evening! Let me explain…

My triumphant husband Sandy with all the competition cocktails

My triumphant husband Sandy with all the competition cocktails

The event was organized by Surgery PR to promote Kettner's, an all day brasserie and cocktail bar located in a Grade II listed building in Soho.

Originally a series of four Georgian town houses, Kettner’s was first opened as a restaurant by Auguste Kettner, (chef to Napoleon III) in 1867. Popular with deliciously colourful characters of the time including Oscar Wilde, Edward VII, Lillie Langtry, Agatha Christie and Bing Crosby, Kettner’s was renowned for hosting incredibly risqué parties.

Official Website

The masterclass was conducted by Kettner's bar manager Jason Palmer, a charismatic and skillful mixologist. During the class we learnt how to create four classic cocktails: Old Fashioned, Mojito, Martini and Porn Star Martini.

Jason gave us a demonstration of how to prepare the different cocktails, but he also explaining the history of each one of them, with fun anecdotes that kept our attention up.

The Old Fashioned was the most complicated cocktail, as it required 9-10 minutes to make. This time is necessary to let the brown sugar completely dissolve in the drink. You can cheat by soaking the sugar cube in angostura and orange bitters, hence cutting a few minutes off the preparation time.

Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

Garnish: orange peel twist & cherry. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

The Mojito is one of the world's most popular cocktail, but to get it right you need to balance its flavours correctly: the strong liquor and the sweet, sour, bitter and herbaceous notes. That's why it's the best cocktail to judge how good a barman is: the art of mixology is about balance!

Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.
Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.

Garnish: mint sprig behind straws. Glass: highball. Ice: crushed.

There are a number of techniques for making Martini (shaken, stirred, thrown) and variations on the traditional recipe. When you order one at a bar, you should be asked to choose the spirit, the vermouth and the garnish.

Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.
Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.

Garnish: citrus twist, olives. Glass: martini. Ice: none.

The Porn Star Martini is a relatively recent creation, a decadent mix of passion fruit and vodka served in a chilled glass with a shot of champagne on the side. It's a Soho cocktail classic, invented around the corner from Kettner's in honour of Paul Raymond, "The King of Soho".

Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.
Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.
Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.

Garnish: passion fruit boat. Glass: coupette / martini & shot. Ice: none.

At the end of the masterclass, each guests was asked to create its very own cocktail which was then rated out of 10 by a judges' panel. And as you already know, we won the first prize: a gin distillery kit!

I take the merit for the cocktail presentation, but the recipe was created and executed entirely by my husband Sandy. He used our favourite cocktail ingredient, elderflower cordial, and built the drink around it. We named it the Sunflower!

It was delicious and I can't wait for Sandy to prepare one for me again!

Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.
Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

Garnish: orange twist. Glass: old fashioned. Ice: cubed.

If you are curious, here's the recipe:

  • 50ml Elderflower Cordial
  • 5ml Orange bitter
  • 75ml Vodka
  • 3 to 5 Lemon/Lime drops
  • 1/2 Passion fruit
  • 10ml Vanilla Syrup
  • a splash of lime juice

Thanks a lot to James and his assistant for the lesson and the invaluable tips we learnt during the masterclass!

A Cocktail Masterclass at Kettner's

Disclaimer: we were guests of Surgery PR and Kettner's. All opinions are my own.

Kettner's on Urbanspoon

WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common

When I heard that the team behind my favourite local coffee shop, Brickwood Coffee & Bread, was going to open a wine bar in Clapham Common I was obviously very curious. And that was before I knew that the bar was located in a 100 year old former public convenience underneath Clapham Common tube station!

WC Wine & Charcuterie opened a few weeks ago and it has already changed the look of the Clapham Common crossroad, thanks to the outdoor seating space behind the station's exit. It's a welcome addition to the area!

WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common

I went down to WC last week with fellow Claphamite Jacintha, editor of the lifestyle and photography blog Urban Pixxels.

We ordered a glass of Italian white wine from the ever-changing wine list and a cheese & charcuterie board to share. The waiter presented the food to us in great detail, with information about the provenance of the different cheeses and cured meats (mostly sourced from British suppliers). We wiped the board clean, except for the Roquefort which sadly we both left, not being fans of blue cheese…

We had a lovely time and I really enjoyed sitting outdoors having an aperitivo, it all felt so Italian! Prices unfortunately are not very Italian at all: I would have liked to try the Aperol Spritz, but at £9 a glass I thought it felt a bit over-priced.

Anyway, this is London and WC is in a prime location, so I was happy to pay the price for a nice evening out.

WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common

The amazing part obviously is the bar downstairs, which the owners worked on for two years to clean, restore and bring back to life as a charming wine bar. Everything that could be saved from the previous incarnation of public toilet has been kept there, from the wall tiles to the sky windows located at street level. Thanks to these sources of natural light WC is not as cavernous and dark as you might expect. It's also not too small either, in fact it apparently can sit up to 40 people.

The bar is nicely decorated with quirky beer tabs and cured meats hanging from the top railings. I was pretty impressed by it and I can certainly imagine myself spending many winter evenings down there with a glass of wine in my hand! I'm looking forward to it actually!

WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common
WC Wine & Charcuterie in Clapham Common

WC, The Pavement, Clapham Common, Clapham, SW4 7AA. Open seven days a week from 6pm til late Mon-Fri and from 12pm til late on Sat-Sun.

Wc - Wine & Charcuterie on Urbanspoon