Celebrate the 4th July in London

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We may be more than 3,000 miles away from our friends across the pond, but Londoners sure know how to throw a good Independence Day party.

If you're planing to celebrate the 4th July in the capital, The Diner is giving Londoners the opportunity to celebrate in true US style.

Leading the celebrations with an original limited edition menu, I couldn't think of any better way to celebrate the US's Independence then with some delicious American meals.

Last night Russell and I visited The Diner in Soho for a preview of their limited edition 4th July menu. With such delights as BBQ chicken potato skins and s’mores on offer, we knew we were in for a good night.

The quintessential Fourth of July starter of 'Frito Pie' was quickly placed in front of us by a very attentive and friendly waiter. Described to us as a classic US tailgate dish, a slashed bag of Frito corn chips was stuffed with beef chilli, sour cream, Jalapenos and coriander. This dish was a real talking point of the evening, and many diners remarked it was the ultimate 'portable nacho' (great for snacking on at a big game).

Next we tucked into a plate of potato skins loaded with BBQ pulled chicken and sour cream - this dish was Russell' favourite and I have to admit the chicken was simply delicious. I also ordered a G&T - which is part of the restaurants alcoholic iced tea offering. Paired with the spicy Jalapenos, it was the ideal choice for me as I'm not too good with spice.

The main included a ‘Taco Crunch’ burger - an 8oz pattie slathered in queso cheese sauce, crispy tortillas, pickles, smoked caramelised onions and topped with The Diner’s infamous burger sauce - accompanied with a side of grilled corn on the cobb. The corn was a real flavour sensation as it was rolled in lime mayo, grated cheese and chilli powder - I'll be trying it at my next BBQ (guests beware!). 

The evening finished with two S'mores - a true American classic of melted marshmallows layered in chocolate and sandwiched between two crackers. The dessert was small but mighty, and was a rich end to an already flavour packed meal.

By the time we decided to go home we were STUFFED. We contemplated ordering a milkshake, but decided our eyes where far to big for our bellies.

If, like us, you want to order the whole menu it will set you back £28.50 without drinks. Maybe next time they'll create a set menu and throw in a beer (or two?).

If you're looking for a place to celebrate on Saturday, look no further for perfect all-American dining.

For one day only, the menu will be available in all Diner locations.

Ratana Milano Review

Friday, June 26, 2015

white asparagus with poached egg

Whilst visiting the beautiful city of Milan last month, courtesy of Friends of Glass, we dinned in the most amazing restaurant on our last day.

Ratana Milano is based on the outskirts of the city, a short cab ride from the centre of town (costing around €10).

he restaurant has an ethos close to my own heart: it sources only locally produced ingredients. As you can see from the below pictures, the restaurant's vegetables are grown right outside their doorstep. 

ratana milano ratana milano

ratana milano

If visiting in summer I'd recommend booking in advance to secure one of the few tables overlooking the gardens outside.

With menus presented in both Italian and English, we found it hard to choose just one dish each (so I went for two!). Classic Italian dishes such as beef carpacio and fresh water fish soup are served alongside seasonal choices such as 'peas in a pod served with salva cremesco cheese, anchovies and pea sprouts' - a stunning selection. 

 trout with blood orange and fennel italian veal with tuna and capers

Asparagus Risotto with lemon

I ordered the prettily plated white asparagus to start which was served with a breaded poached egg and fresh thyme. Although simple, this was the best dish I ate in Italy. Fresh and flavoursome, it tasted as good as it looked.

Vitello Tonnato followed this, which consisted of tender pieces of veal served with a tuna sauce and Sicilian capers. I had planned to eat veal before my trip, and was beginning to become slightly concerned as this was our last meal in Milan and I hadn't yet had the opportunity to order it. The meat was extremely delicate, with its flavour enhanced with the saltiness from the tuna and capers. It was a bit too much for me to finish, but I'd always prefer to have too much than too little.

My fellow dinners, including Zoe London and Claudia Bach, ordered the trout with blood orange and fennel (which I must admit I didn't try) and the Asparagus Risotto, which contained a vibrant mix of asparagus carpaccio and lemon zest - utterly refreshing on a sunny day.

italian coffee

We ended the meal with a coffee, which is served alongside a tray of mini desserts, and a walk through the gardens. 

If you're visiting Milan, you HAVE to visit this rustic restaurant, it really was the highlight of my trip. 

East London Gin and Tonic

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

East London Liquor Co

Gin and tonic is the tipple with a national obsession.

In recent years it has caused quiet a stir, thanks to the birth of pioneering craft distilleries dedicated to producing small batch gin in copper stills (far from the bathtub gins of the 18th century).

Gin has quietly undergone something of a transformation in recent years - what was once mother’s ruin is now Britain’s most fashionable spirit. Not long ago our choice on the shelves was restricted to Beefeater and Gordon’s (and the odd bottle of Bombay Sapphire for a special occasion), but now new boutique brands are emerging on a seemingly weekly basis from the most unlikely of places. 

East London Liquor CoEast London Liquor CoEast London Liquor Co

Last week the lovely team at Zomato invited me to Mile End to visit the East London Liquor Co for an evening of G&T taste testing followed by a distillery tour.

In recent years gin and tonic had been crucified by the English pub - topped up with tonic from a gun and served with a soggy lemon, the drink had begun loosing its dazzle.

The East London Liquor Co presented us with three gin's to try: London Drlony Gin, Premium Batch 1 and Batch 2. My first sip of these gins was without the tonic, but instead straight, and surprisingly I didn't grimace once whilst sipping the contents of my glass.

East London Liquor Co East London Liquor Co
East London Liquor Co

The smoothness of the gin is created by distilling it in small batches in copper stills. The copper reacts with the alcohol and removes impurities producing clean, pure spirits that are smooth and less likely to result in a hangover. 

 My favourite was Batch 2, which was served with a sprig of sage. Including botanicals such as coriander seed, angelic root, thyme and bay leaf the gin is distinctly herbaceous and savoury. 

For summer, however, I'd recommend the Batch 1 which contains pink grapefruit peel. Unlike other gins that contain citrus, the East London Liquor Co zests theirs from fresh fruit at the distillery to maintain a refreshing and vibrant taste.

East London Liquor Co
East London Liquor CoEast London Liquor Co

 Gin is very similar to vodka, the only real difference between the two is the predominant flavour and aroma of the juniper. In both, you start with a spirit that has been derived from an agricultural source like grain. With the gin, you then flavour this with botanicals. Gin must, by law, then be bottled at a minimum abv of 37.5%.

First references of the spirit date back to the 13th century during the 80 year war. British troops fought alongside the Dutch, who were all drinking Geneve (gin) before battle, thus giving rise to the term Dutch Courage.

Before it got tangled up with tonic, lime and ice, Gin went through a bad patch. William Hogarth's iconic 1751 print, Gin Lane, exposed the starvation and madness that he associated with a drink that had become the tipple of the poor. Nowaday's, this quintessential British invention is seen as utter perfection when done right: a classic, clean, crisp drink perfect to quench a thirst of a warm summers evening.

East London Liquor Co 
If you're interested in learning more about gin, get in contact with the team at ELLC, who run distillery tours for the general public.

Sophie la girafe review

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sophie la girafe review

This week my baby nephew Riley turns 6 months old, and boy, what a journey it's been!

Over the months I've witnessed my sister buying various toys, milk formula's, sleeping bags and clothes. When Riley was born, he wasn't very well - having had a bumpy start to his life, my sister now spends hours researching each purchase to ensure she's made the best selection out of the hundreds of options to help with his development and co-ordination.

My sister has worked in a school for years and is a trained nursery nurse - having an understanding of child development she tries to choose items that will stimulate and engage Riley. Wanting to share these pearls of wisdom with you, I've decided to start 'Auntie Blogging'. Our first review is of the beloved Sophie La Girafe.

Sophie la girafe review Sophie la girafe review
Having seen a lot of buzz around the teething toy online and rave reviews on John Lewis, we decided to buy one to test it out.

We noticed it was more expensive than other teethers on the market, and have to admit we were sceptical if it was worth the extra money. The fact that it is made from natural rubber derived from the sap of the Hevea tree, meaning it is phthalate-free, swayed our decision.

Another main selling point was that the toy is painted with non-toxic food-grade paints and contains no vinyl or PVC - perfect for soothing tiny gums without any nasties.

Sophie la girafe review Sophie la girafe review

We've found the toy was very easy for Riley to hold due to it's long neck and limbs. As you can see from the pictures above, his favourite area to chew is its head (probably due to the bumps representing the giraffe's horns).

Before we bought the toy we had read that sterilising can destroy the squeaker, so my sister uses cold water and sterilising tablets which seems to have kept it in tact. Riley doesn't seem too fussed about the squeaker however, but that may change as he gets older and has the strength to squeeze the toy himself.

If you're looking for a teether we'd highly recommend Sophie, it's a tad on the expensive side but seems extremely durable, meaning Riley should enjoy chewing it for months to come.

It also comes packaged in a beautiful gift box, making it an ideal gift for a new birth or Christening.

Milan Duomo

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Milan Duomo
Earlier this month the lovely team at Friend of Glass invited me to Milan to visit their stand at Expo 2015
Whilst in the city we visited the Milan Cathedral (better known as Duomo di Milano), which is based next to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II - one of the world's oldest shopping malls. 
Having looked online before our trip, the thing I most wanted to do in Milan (besides eating a copius amount of Galto) was to visit the Duomo and walk along it's beautiful roof. 

They say there are more statues on this Gothic-style cathedral than any other building in the world, with over 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures decorating the roof. I read that to fully appreciate it's architecture a visit to the roof is crucial. 
Milan DuomoMilan Duomo
Milan DuomoMilan Duomo

Although we arrived early the line to buy tickets was extremely long. After queueing for a little while and not moving, a passing tour guide informed us that there was another ticket office round the back of the cathedral that had no line. Amazingly, based behind a large double door in between retail units, there was indeed another two ticket offices - saving us a very long wait in the blazing sun - which were also near a side entrance to the cathedral roof (again, with no queue).

We purchased tickets including access to the lift and made our way to the rooftop. The Duomo is the fifth largest Christian church in the world, outdone by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil, Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and Seville’s Cathedral - its size is even more impressive considering it’s the oldest church on that list.

Unlike other European churches the Milan cathedral has no campanille or bell tower. Instead it has 135 spires, each mounted with a statue depicting important people in Milan’s history. Exploring the roof of the Duomo was the highlight of my short visit to Milan - as you can see from my pictures, the view is spectacular.

Milan Duomo
 Milan DuomoMilan Duomo 

 Inside, the cathedral continues to reveal more surprises. Near the main entrance you’ll see a sundial on the floor and a ray of sunlight from a hole on the opposite wall. Though ancient (it was placed in Milan Duomo in 1768 by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera) the sundial is surprisingly precise, and is even used to regulate clocks throughout the city.

 Above the apse (the arched part above the altar) there is a spot marked with a red light bulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Every year on the Saturday closest to September 14 the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail.

Milan DuomoMilan Duomo
Milan DuomoMilan Duomo

 There are a few thing to remember before visiting the Duomo, however:
Wear something that will cover your legs from the knee down and completely cover your shoulders and back (as you can see from the above picture, I had to wrap a friend's spare maxi skirt around my shoulders!). 
Keep your selfie stick in your bag - there's lots of salesmen outside selling them but you can't use them inside or on the roof of the cathedral.