The lady’s last week in London

London shone for us last week!

London shone for us last week!

It breaks my heart to write this post. We left London yesterday.

This post has been drafted several times over the last few months, then deleted because it wasn’t quite right. At one point it was a letter to London and I shed too many tears writing it, then deleted it. Another time I thought I’d make it like a little handover document to GLC, but then I deleted that. Then there was that post about Claridges which I wanted to be my last post but then the sale of our flat went on and on and on and on and we were basically stuck in Limbo for five months so it was published as a post about afternoon tea. So now I write this post straight from the heart, no scheduling or editing several times, I’m just going to write, give it a once over and push publish.

There were several final walks along the Thames...

There were several final walks along the Thames…

We went to the British Library!

We went to the British Library!

There were many coffees with dear friends, plus a handover to GLC!

There were many coffees with dear friends, plus a handover to GLC!

We made the decision on Good Friday to book our flights and “just go”. We’d had enough of nagging our solicitor every single day. She seems competent enough to handle the rest of the sale which is almost finished and all we were doing in London was just draining our bank account of money. Which brings me to the reason why we left London.

The wonderful mix of old and new in the City

The wonderful mix of old and new in the City

We didn’t leave our dear city because we’d fallen out of love with it, not at all. We thought we’d be there until BLC turned four and we needed to make decisions on schools. Mr Man Jr came along and after months of searching and trying to find a way to make London work, we realised that on our salaries (we’re both mid-career in solid professions) that we could afford a much better lifestyle for our kids elsewhere, but that elsewhere for my career as someone who works with governments for a living is Wellington.

We’re trading our one bedroom balcony-less East End Abode for what should be a three bedroom house with a garden with a 20-25 minute commute. The 24 year old me that arrived here 10 years ago would die of horror if she read that last sentence. Hello cute little Wellington, hello suburbia…

One last look at what will no longer be part of my day job - goodbye Houses of Parliament!

One last look at what will no longer be part of my day job – goodbye Houses of Parliament!

And that is what leaving London came down to. Major bonus is that grandparents will be super close by and I have loads of family there (oh hai there MacGregors!) and we are moving to the best mini city on earth. But here is my political bug bear, something I usually refrain from speaking about.

As written above, we were driven out of London because of costs of living. We could not afford for both of us to work and pay for two kids in childcare while also pay the mortgage (or rent) on even a two bedroom house unless we moved at least an hour out of the city. There is something massively wrong with that. We both have post-graduate degrees, work our socks off and have good jobs. Why is it that only those earning the mega bucks can afford to raise families without a massive commute in? That is not fair. There, I said it.

BLC on City Cruises - surprisingly so much fun.

BLC on City Cruises – surprisingly so much fun.

And now I move on from my mini rant.

We lived and loved London. Good heavens did we live that city. Every major event in our lives over the last decade has happened there, not least the arrival of our two little Londoners, one with the best cockney accent you ever heard.

We decided to really make the most of our last week there and be tourists in our own city one last time. On Good Friday we had an amazing afternoon as guests of the surprisingly very cool City Cruises going up and down the Thames. I highly recommend it and even Mr Man who usually refrains from joining me on cheesy tourist things was beaming from ear to ear.

Despite the cloud covering up the sun, that entire weekend was magical.

St James Park

St James Park

Macarons and coffee at Laduree

Macarons and coffee at Laduree

BLC totally ROCKING a bus conductor's uniform at the Transport Museum (brilliant fun for the munchkins)

BLC totally ROCKING a bus conductor’s uniform at the Transport Museum (brilliant fun for the munchkins)

Mr Man Jr having a moment with a bus~

Mr Man Jr having a moment with a bus and yes, that would be my daughter preparing a cup of tea for him~

The sun shone for the rest of the week and we were so happy. London really showed us what she’s made of.

One last perfect flat white in the sunshine at White Mulberries in St Katharine's Docks

One last perfect flat white in the sunshine at White Mulberries in St Katharine’s Docks

We FINALLY made it to the Tate Britain

We FINALLY made it to the Tate Britain. It is glorious.

I went to Cats - the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 80's naff!

I went to Cats – the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 80’s naff! Apologies for the naff picture of me to match!

One last visit to the British Museum and its oddities

One last visit to the British Museum and its fabulous oddities

British Museum

British Museum

BLC in the Japan Galleries of the British Museum - so many times I have wanted to get up there but haven't, it was totally worth a visit.

BLC in the Japan Galleries of the British Museum – so many times I have wanted to get up there but haven’t. It was totally worth a visit.

We finished with a family picnic in Regent's Park Secret Garden (not its real name) - a place we have always loved. It was absolutely perfect.

We finished with a family picnic in Regent’s Park Secret Garden (not its real name) – a place we have always loved. It was absolutely perfect.

Last week kind of summed up what has been the most amazing adventure. We are now moving onwards to an exciting new adventure, but for now, I want to raise my glass to London – you were truly magnificent. And now I disappear to sob my heart out.

Thank you lovely London!

Thank you lovely London!

P.S. You may want to know what’s happening next on the blog… watch this space. I’ll schedule a post to tell you all about it.

In case you want to know where the secret garden is...

In case you want to know where the secret garden is… (I’d also recommend Googling St John’s Lodge)

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Filed under City of London, Life in general, London, Moving continents, St Paul's Cathedral, The East End, The West End, Travel

GLC visits Mele e Pere

A lovely vermouth to begin

A lovely vermouth to begin

When I first went to Mele e Pere I was really, really, really drunk.

I’d gone for a couple of quiet drinks on my birthday and, well, one thing led to another and I ended up in Soho with two friends.

Anyway, from the very hazy memories I have of that evening, dinner at this subterranean restaurant on Brewer Street was excellent, so I vowed to go back…and five months later I have!

Mele e Pere (apples and pears in Italian) calls itself a trattoria and vermouth bar. At street level, a small dining area looks almost cafe-like, but the basement opens out into a large and stylish dining room – an eclectic mix of tables and a large, copper (and well-stocked bar).

On this return visit it was very early evening and I was with my mum and sister for the pre-theatre menu – a very decent £19.50 for three courses.

The menu changes daily

The menu changes daily

Of course, I began with one of the house vermouths – sweet, yet bitter and served with plenty of ice.

Coppa with artichoke hearts and pecorino was beautifully presented as a starter (x2) alongside a San daniele ham, gnocchi fritti and parmesan dish from the a la carte menu (my mum just had to be different!).

Coppa

Coppa

The starters really set the mood – great ingredients, simply yet skilfully put together – but the mains really brought the skills of the kitchen team to the fore.

A great lump of porchetta with smoked aubergine paste ordered by my sister was nigh on melt-in-the-mouth. At the end she had left a small pile of the pork fat on the side of the plate, and in an act that made me realise I’m becoming disturbingly like my father, I swiped and greedily gobbled it all up.

Porchetta

Porchetta

If I’d ordered first I would have gone for the pork, but in the spirit of being different, I plumped for the hake served with courgette and in a sticky sweet sauce. Ordered with a bowl of chips, this felt like the most decadent way to eat fish and chips on Good Friday.

Hake!

Hake!

Ragu!

Ragu!

Tagliatelle with beef ragù was served to my mother – so simple yet absolutely spot-on!

Desserts were all winners – and like the starters all triumphs of prior preparation rather than on-the-night flamboyance. Tiramisu was packed densely inside a glass as was the Sicilian lemon custard with lychee ice cream and fresh marshmallow. A scoop of Pistachio ice cream actually tasted like pistachio and not just an exaggerated imitation of that most wonderful of nuts.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

However drunk I was on that birthday night, I remembered I’d had a really decent meal and this return visit proved just that.

The cooking is key to Mele e Pere’s success, but it also manages to do stylish and trendy, without being pretentious and a bit wanky!

Come here with your friends, family, loved ones…I feel there’s something here for everyone.

A fine addition to Soho and the West End generally. Will return…sooner this time.

www.meleepere.co.uk/contact

Mele e Pere can be found at 46 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 9TF. Nearest tube is Piccadilly Circus. 

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Filed under Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, The West End

Guilty pleasures – a whole raft of signed books…

Book market in Istanbul

Book market in Istanbul

That title probably wasn’t what you were expecting.

This month’s travel link-up is all about guilty pleasures. Now, you would think this would be the ultimate chance to write about just how much I love cake, coffee, ice-cream and gin, but no, today’s post is about this random quirk I have.

Since I moved to the UK in 2005, I’ve become slightly obsessed with buying signed copies of books. Not just any signed copies of books – they have to be by authors I know and love – and these have mostly been centred around their big adventures.

I don’t have a single photo of any of them. But I’ll point you to the book store almost entirely responsible for several awkward Christmas presents (other people don’t seem to think signed books are as cool as I do) and ruining a few pay-days. Hello Stanfords in Covent Garden. I love you.

When I hear Stanfords have had a certain author in to sign books I’m generally there within a few days to buy a copy. I have signed ones by Dervla Murphy, William Dalrymple, Michael Palin, The Gentle Author, Hilary Clinton (though her visit was to Waterstones and I lined up for 2 hours to meet her only to be completely tongue tied and left nearly in tears, don’t ever meet your idols basically) and Hans Blix. Mr Blix’s was actually a copy of his report on weapons of mass destruction and I got to have a nice chat with him after going to one of his lectures when he visited Wellington many moons ago – he was the nicest guy ever.

How I imagined Dervla Murphy to dress like when she hiked through Peru... (seriously, this is almost exactly how I imagined her~)

How I imagined Dervla Murphy to dress like when she hiked through Peru… (seriously, this is almost exactly how I imagined her~)

You all know Michael Palin, you may know of William Dalrymple but have you heard of Dervla Murphy? She is my travel idol. What a woman. She took her nine year old daughter and a mule to hike 1300 miles across the Peruvian Andes and for half that trip had a nail digging through her boot – she just drank beer and shrugged it off. She also cycled from Ireland to India and has probably used her legs to travel places more than any other travel writer on earth. What I’m saying is that she’s phenomenal and I was so excited when Mr Man introduced me to her books – go and buy a copy of Eight Feet in the Andes because it is excellent.

Cappadocia - where some of the earliest Christian monks built their monasteries

Cappadocia – where some of the earliest Christian monks built their monasteries

William Dalrymple is gifted. His books on India are amazing but the one that really got me was From The Holy Mountain, all about the Middle Eastern Orthodox Christians who still follow an ancient tradition today (think the Coptic Christians of Egypt for example). It’s a wonderful travel tale but also one woven with a lot of history and facts with fascinating tales.

Stanfords do book signings all the time. If you can make it to one, I highly recommend you do. There’s one coming up in June with Anthony Sattin who wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read. That book, Through the Gates of Africa is about the early European explorers to Africa and their mind-boggling often very misguided adventures. Most of us participating in this link up like to write and like to travel so what better way to be inspired than meet someone who makes a living from it?

Now tell me, what are your travel-related guilty pleasures?

Stanfords can be found at 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden 

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Filed under Books

GLC visits Smithfield – do not read this if you are hungry.

Smithfield London

Smithfield London

How do you define yourself? What do you actually like doing? What makes you you?

Forgetting the stuff I do to pay the bills, there are three things in my life: singing, coffee and eating. I’m a keen amateur in the former, have considerable skills in the second, and see myself as an out-and-out grand master in the third.

And if I were to define my eating skills more specifically, I would simply say ‘meat’.

I’m never happier than when presented with a large slab of consummately cooked cow; I take pride in my occasionally worrying addiction to pork; I’m happy to spend a week preparing salt beef; I even spent four months curing a ham.

How I managed to date two vegetarians in succession I’ll never know. (Although I should have known one of them was never going to work after she ordered a decaf espresso martini on our second date).

The shop front (image courtesy of Smithfields)

The shop front (image courtesy of Smithfield)

London is blessed with many fine eateries for the carnivorous, and, after pining about not enjoying dirty fried chicken on Twitter one evening, the ever-munificent Zomato stepped in and directed me towards the tiny little stretch of the famous Roman Watling Street, in the heart of the City.

Now Smithfield is a name you’ll be familiar with – the grand old market has been the centre of the capital’s meat trade for 800 years, and unlike its fishy (Billingsgate) and leguminous* (Covent Garden) counterparts, still operates right in the heart of town.

The restaurant which bears the same name has no actual link to the market, unless you count a passion for the product as a connection.

Decent beer!

Decent beer!

Myself and a colleague were due to head to this bijou eatery for a standard blogger’s dinner, (turn up and eat a few bits), but the next couple of hours were spent enjoying a full spread, deep in foodie conversation with the restaurant’s owner and communications consultant.

Now on the face of it this set-up has awkwardness written all over it, (nightmares of owner constantly asking if blogger likes food and blogger exaggeratedly smiling and rubbing stomach), but this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

David Haimes is a man who knows about restaurants. With Pizza Hut, KFC and Itsu under his belt, so to speak, including being the boss of the latter, I doubt many people know the quick-serve landscape better than him.

With Smithfield it feels he’s taken everything he’s learned over his career and added that extra heart, which only comes from a love of the subject. Like me, his love is meat. I also suspect he’s quite fond of his daughter, Chessie (formerly with Heston Blumenthal and Quality Chop House) with whom he runs the restaurant.

The menu

The menu

In no time we were being told all about the meat – fine cuts, sloooooowly cooked – and served mainly in the lunch rush, to busy, hungry City types who like their food but have little time.

The menu is short but seems fully formed.

Hot ‘Barnyard Buns’ can be pulled BBQ pork, brisket beef or spiced chicken thigh. These are all served in a brioche bun, the first two topped with leaves and the latter with grilled peppers. These all register as ‘hearty’ on the size chart and come in at £5.

Barnyard Buns! (image courtesy of Smithfield)

Barnyard Buns! (image courtesy of Smithfield)

Chicken salad (image courtesy of Smithfield)

Chicken salad (image courtesy of Smithfield)

Salads are topped with salmon, steak, chicken or even slow-cooked Portobello mushrooms (pretty crucial on this occasion as my colleague is vegetarian. Yes another one. She gave her thumbs up).

But the star of the show (and apparently the best-selling item) is the Smithy – a rump steak with mustard mayo and red onion marmalade, squeezed between a ciabatta sub. On taking my first bite, the juices ran down my chin and right then I knew it was a winner.

The lunch menu also has soups and the breakfast items (served until 11am) include a £3 bacon butty. Hot drinks, cold drinks and even some alcoholic drinks complete the menu.

A Smithy on the left

A Smithy on the left

My passion for the meat is clear, but it’s definitely worth noting the bread (both the brioche and ciabatta) which were softer than a puppy washed at 30° with extra fabric softener, even at the end of the day. It’s too easy to spoil a good sandwich with bad bread, but that’s not the case here.

Am I being a bit too praise-worthy of Smithfield? Well actually, no. For what it is, I can’t fault it. Here at Lady loves Cake we write about what we like, and like what we write about.

Look at all the air in that bread!

Look at all the air in that bread!

Smithfield has bravely jumped into the highly-competitive working lunch market, and with its smart restaurant, well-cooked meats and very agreeable prices it has all the makings of a fixture here for some time to come. Perhaps more restaurants will open soon.

The Romans famously built their roads, including Watling Street, as straight as possible. Perhaps they anticipated eager, hungry carnivores needing a direct route to Smithfield 2,000 years later.

*I realise this is absolutely the wrong word, but it sounds so wonderful.

Smithfield can be found at 31-32 Watling Street, London EC4M 9BR

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Filed under City of London, Eating, Food, Gentleman loves cake, London, Restaurants

Afternoon tea cruises

The wonderful Thames and Tower Bridge

The wonderful Thames and Tower Bridge

I’ve been going a bit stir-crazy when not trotting around London for coffees with my friends or fabulous uncle who lives in Kensington. I’ve realised in the last few months that it’s not my toddler or baby that needs to get out of the house – it is their highly strung mother.

Anyway, while sitting down waiting for my solicitor to call and say “YOUR HOUSE IS SOLD. BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS OUT OF HERE AND STOP BUGGING ME” (that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon) I’ve found myself delving deeper and deeper into the internet.

In that process I discovered something that I think is going to be a hit once the sun’s rays turn into real heat… Afternoon tea cruises.

St Paul's and a cruise boat

St Paul’s and a boat

Hot off the amazing success that has been their afternoon tea buses BB Bakery is launching an afternoon tea cruise mid-April. Expect those amazing cakes that they’re famous for and a quirky cruise run by Anglofile French foodies (a rare but wonderful type of person). Prices are £85 per person but the afternoon tea lasts for three hours and there is the potential option of going to Hampton Court. If eating on a boat isn’t quite your thing, they are also due to launch an afternoon tea taxi soon.

BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Boat Tour route

BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Boat Tour route (Image from BB Bakery)

But even more interesting in my view is City Cruises “Royally Rich Afternoon Tea” which includes a fascinating talk by two royal photographers. According to City Cruises, “Ian Pelham Turner and Helena Chard, have worked with four generations of the royal family and on this cruise will show images of kings, queens, princes and princesses while everyone enjoys a great afternoon tea experience complete with Battenberg cake. The expert duo will tell you stories of royal children, the “dollar princesses” who saved the British aristocracy, Prince William, Prince Harry and much more.”

Royal Photographers Ian Pelham Turner and Helena Chard

Royal Photographers Ian Pelham Turner and Helena Chard (Image from City Cruises)

That cruise is running every Monday and Tuesday throughout April, looks to be really cool and not a bad price at £40 per person for a window seat.

Annoyingly I’m probably not going to get the opportunity to go on either of these but hopefully one of them will still be going when I bring BLC back one day. I love a good view, adore the water and any excuse to add cake really…

Both cruises depart from Tower Bridge. See their websites for departure times and further details. 

City Cruises Royally Rich Afternoon Tea

BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Boat Tour

This news was brought to you by a dose of adrenaline from yelling down the phone at an estate agent (sorry estate agents, it’s not you, it is me, OK, it is kind of you, actually, it is mostly you).  :)

Houses of Parliament and that still wonderful Thames...

Houses of Parliament and that still wonderful Thames…

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Food, London

My favourite London afternoon tea locations

My favourite afternoon tea date of all time...

The best afternoon tea date.

As most of you lovely readers know, the time has nearly come for me to leave this amazing city, so I thought I’d take a moment here to share what have been my absolute favourite afternoon tea places.

High End: 

Pret-a-Portea at the Berkeley Hotel. I have never blogged about this as I visited with my sister years ago, at least a year before I started this blog but I’ll be honest – it actually set the bar for afternoon tea. The quality was amazing, the sheer creativity put into it just as good and the service top-notch. My only bug bear is that it’s so popular that it’s almost impossible to get a booking if you don’t book exactly three months ahead (hence I’ve never got back there to blog about it). Years on from visiting I’m still hearing great things about the Berkeley from others so I’m certain it would be worth another visit, maybe I’ll take BLC one day.

The fabulous Pret-a-Portea

The fabulous Pret-a-Portea

Claridges I only wrote about Claridges last week so I won’t harp on here too much but if you only ever have one afternoon tea in your life then make it Claridges. Their standards for everything are unbeaten as far as I’m concerned.

Royal Opera House Oh my gosh, I loved afternoon tea at the Royal Opera House so much that I don’t hesitate to recommend it to friends over and over again. The setting is truly gorgeous. I LOVE the design of the decor and menus but the food, oh the food, just exquisite. The Royal Opera House afternoon tea really ticked all the boxes for both friend R and I.

Tea cocktails and champagne at the Royal Opera House

Tea cocktails and champagne at the Royal Opera House

The Goring Hotel You want traditional afternoon tea? Then this wonderful establishment will treat you like Royalty while they serve you the most quintessentially English afternoon tea you will find. Think comfortable furniture and somewhere your mum would love. My review can be found here.

Afternoon tea perfection at the Goring

Afternoon tea perfection at the Goring

Quirky:

The Biscuiteers Again, I only blogged about the Biscuiteers super recently so won’t harp on again here but this place is just so cute! A great little break from the crowds of Portabello Market just one street over.

The adorable Biscuiteers in Notting Hill

The adorable Biscuiteers in Notting Hill

Mari Vanna Another afternoon tea I don’t hesitate to recommend. Everyone I’ve sent there has raved about this wonderful little Russian dose of quirky fabulousness. I highly recommend Mari Vanna’s cherry jam by the way…

Mari Vanna afternoon tea

Mari Vanna afternoon tea

Good value: 

Bills Bills has been a regular standby for me. They’re reliable, a great excuse to spend a few hours catching up with a friend and in a way that won’t break the bank. Ed says similar things about Paul Bakery so it’ll be interesting to see if others follow suit with good value afternoon teas like this.

Afternoon tea at Bills - only a tenner!

Afternoon tea at Bills – only a tenner!

There are so many hotels and restaurants now serving afternoon tea that there’s no way I could have covered them all. I’ve come to find that afternoon tea can actually be quite subjective. For example – you tend to either love or hate the Ritz and the same applies to Bea’s of Bloomsbury. But these are the ones that really shone for me. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the world (I’m looking at you LA and Wellington!) has to offer.

Cheers to your wonderful afternoon teas London!

Cheers to your wonderful afternoon teas London!

What are your favourite afternoon tea locations? 

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Filed under Afternoon tea London

London’s best flat white: Cream in Shoreditch

The achingly cool but friendly Cream in Shoreditch

The achingly cool but friendly Cream in Shoreditch

I know this is a very individual assumption but I’m certain I’ve found London’s best coffee. I’m also certain this place has completely scuppered all efforts to get my old waistline back but I kind of don’t really mind.

CREAM came into my life when Mr Man Jr was six weeks old and I headed back to Frame in a mission to reclaim my fitness. Unfortunately in my sleep deprived state I turned up 30 minutes early to my first class and the receptionist suggested that I was probably in deep need of a decent flat white and that I should check out the cafe next door.

And so entered my mission to get a mediocre flat white from Cream as I was determined that they couldn’t always be perfect (even my beloved AllPress has served me a bitter one in the past~). While I was sipping on that very first flat white Silverchair happened to be playing in the background – nostalgia and good coffee meant we were off to the start of a beautiful relationship.

Perfection in a coffee cup

Perfection in a coffee cup

Every single flat white that I have had from there ever since has been exceptional. Their barista has yet to let me down. I found out what beans they use and they’re the magic ones – Alchemy beans, the smoothest coffee beans you’ll find in London…

Last weekend I finally decided to bite the bullet and order one of their beautiful looking sandwiches thinking they surely can’t be as good as they look… Again, Cream didn’t let me down. Even Mr Man raved about his avocado brioche bun that I bought him home after one of my hardcore Body by Frame classes.

A mighty avocado sandwich

A mighty avocado sandwich

And so this cafe lives on to impress me. The secret is out. This is a truly excellent cafe with a magician for a barista and someone who knows what they’re doing in the kitchen.

Cream can be found at 31 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EY. Nearest tube is Shoreditch High Street. 

I'm sure it does.

I’m sure it does.

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Filed under Brunch in London, Eating, Food, London, London cafes, Secret London, Shoreditch, The East End