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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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

Chocolate news~

Cold brew chocolate anyone?

Cold brew chocolate anyone?

I’m copying GLC today and combining two posts into one. Today’s news is about chocolate.

Mast Brothers and their lab-coated horn framed glasses staff have taken Shoreditch by storm. I recently popped in to check out if I could justify spending £8 on a bar of chocolate and try out their cold brew chocolate. The answer to the first question was YES – friend R is still chomping on her smoking vanilla dark chocolate – she said you only need one bite at a time as it’s so intense that you get that chocolate hit in one without the need for more.

Cold brew chocolate is cocoa beans brewed over night in cold water to produce something like an iced tea but with a dark chocolate taste to it (not creamy or rich). I found it quite refreshing and very unique, though I will admit it was definitely an acquired taste. New York native Mast Brothers are set to shake up the chocolate scene a bit here and it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

Mast Brothers - shaking up the chocolate world. I'm liking it.

Mast Brothers – shaking up the chocolate world. I’m liking it.

Cocoa Gin

Cocoa Gin

Hotel Chocolat does amazing gin. Who knew!?! I popped into their South Kensington cafe to have a mocha with their marketing guru and found myself taking home a bottle. Mr Man and I found ourselves wanting more of their gin and have been thoroughly enjoying their Easter range.

Hotel Chocolat's cafe at High Street Kensington

Hotel Chocolat’s cafe at High Street Kensington

Three things here.

Hotel Chocolat do an excellent cafe and their mochas are quite impressive.

A really really good mocha...

A really really good mocha…

They also have a range of dairy free chocolate which is made with almond milk and the result is surprisingly good.

I’ve sent Ed out to check out their restaurant in Borough Market. Watch this space.

This chocolate news was brought to you by an endless supply of coffee and a toddler drawling on my arm in the background. 

Um... I ate most of this...

Um… I ate most of this…

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Filed under Chocolate, Dessert, Eating, Food, London, London cafes, Secret London, Shopping, Shoreditch, The East End

Claridges – London’s ultimate afternoon tea

Perfection in an afternoon tea - welcome to Claridges

Perfection in an afternoon tea – welcome to Claridges

This was meant to be my last ever London afternoon tea post but as I’m still here and stuck in limbo (house sales are oh-so-fun~) and I like to tell my readers about the best things a place has to offer, I am now publishing a post that I wanted to save until we leave here. This post is about the best afternoon tea I have ever had. After more than 30 afternoon tea sittings in this city (yes, I was surprised at this number too), here is Claridges, that wonderful hotel in the heart of Mayfair.

My sister and I went there when she visited in October and while I drafted parts of this post back then, I decided not to publish until I was leaving London as it really was the cherry on top of an array of incredible afternoon teas.

When I do eventually leave, I know I’m going to miss London with every bone in my body. You don’t move on from a love affair with a city that you have embraced whole-heartedly for ten years within a few hours. I am going to miss my regular sessions of afternoon tea with London. My waistline won’t.

But you want to know all about afternoon tea at Claridges. So here we go. This is an amended version of the post I wrote for the High Tea Society:

Tea, cakes and beautiful China topped off with a lovely white rose

Tea, cakes and beautiful China topped off with a lovely white rose

“No detail has been forgotten at Claridges. They have a standard to uphold and it shows in everything from the carefully selected range of tea, to perfect food offerings and a menu that has been designed with some of London’s afternoon tea quirks included. Every guest is treated as if they are the only person in the room, making this not just about the food, but the experience.

The setting is extremely elegant, set in Claridges art deco foyer, with live piano music covering well known classics from across the musical world. You are offered a seat in either the main part of the foyer or their library, to which we chose the former where we sat in comfortable chairs, quietly people watching as we perused the extensive menu.

I agree with their take on the jam and cream debate!

I agree with their take on the jam and cream debate!

The afternoon tea begins with sandwiches alongside the first set of tea (the tea menu is created in partnership with Henrietta Lovell of the Rare Tea Company). We were served chicken with lemon and tarragon on granary bread, smoked salmon with brown shrimp butter and rock samphire on rye bread, and beautiful cucumber sandwiches among others. The bread was fluffy and went down so well. It went great with our first choices of tea – the Malawi Antler white tea (found only in two restaurants in the world, Noma in Copenhagen and Claridges) and the White Monkey Paw green tea.

Delectable sandwiches

Delectable sandwiches

The next course were Claridges world famous fruit and plain scones served with Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo gelee which is infused with bergamont and vanilla pods – divine. The scones certainly lived up to their reputation, and if we hadn’t seen the selection of pastries ahead of us we would have ordered more. We chose 2nd flush Darjeeling and steamed green tea to go with these and both complemented the scones well.

SCONES!

SCONES!

For the final event, the pastries were served and we felt like the gods had sent us cakes from the heavens. While we enjoyed the Claridges blend black tea and the lemongrass infusion served with these, we enjoyed the choux pastry so much that one of us actually had two (ok, I admit, it was me and I had three; I was heavily pregnant at the time…).

Simply perfect cakes

Simply perfect cakes

Details

Details

The quality of the food was incredible, the service beyond outstanding and the location, well, it was Claridges; it was amazing. This is one afternoon tea that is worth every penny of what may seem like quite a steep cost at first. It could possibly be the world’s ultimate afternoon tea and we were beyond delighted with our afternoon.”

Not High Tea Society lady here: 

This is one of those afternoon teas that is really for a special occasion. My sister took me to celebrate the impending arrival of Mr Man Jr and also the fact that we would be hearing our Great Grandfather’s name read out on the Roll of Honour at the Tower of London that evening. Take your best friend to celebrate her getting hitched, take your Mum to celebrate her just being awesome, just make it special as Claridges is really that perfect icing on the best cake ever.

Claridges can be found at Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR. Nearest tube is Bond Street. We paid £50 each plus 12.5% service charge. 

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Filed under Afternoon tea, Afternoon tea London, Cake, Eating, Experiences, Food, London, Tea, The West End