Dim sum master class at Ping Pong

I absolutely love going to Ping Pong for the food, atmosphere and service. Although it’s not overly authentic, it’s great for vegetarians and for a quick meal out or a place to meet friends.

So, when I heard about the complimentary Ping Pong dim sum master class, I knew I had to book a session. It started off with complimentary flowering jasmine tea, before settling in to a demonstration by one of the masters from the Ping Pong kitchen. It was certainly a comical and fun experience learning how to make a decent dumpling in half an hour by two chefs – one being very and the other polite.

Dumplings aren’t so easy to make though – luckily Ping Pong provided pre-prepared pastry circles and a bowl of filling – mushroom and vegetable. We then had a go ourselves and got to make about 12 dumplings in two different shapes (triangular and normal ones). At the end, we got to box up the little parcels we’d made to take home to steam, along with a little goody bag of lovely Ping Pong bits and recipe to make the dim sum from scratch at home.

Of course as we were in Ping Pong, we had to have dinner there so tofu spring rolls, vegetable puffs and spinach and mushroom dumplings were consumed!

There are two sessions (5.30 and 6.30pm) offered every Wednesday night until the end of April at different restaurants. Each session lasts 45 minutes and has a maximum of ten participants. To find out about upcoming sessions attend book in advance visit the What’s On page of the Ping Pong website.

Brunch at Wet Fish Cafe Hampstead

I love going out for brunch and unfortunately have yet to discover any near us so the closest is either The Breakfast Club or going into town. Using Yelp, I found a place closer to home in uber trendy West Hampstead: Wet Fish Cafe.

It’s a great place to spend a lazy Sunday and the setting is cute, eclectic and casual – just like the menu! The brunch menu is available from 10-4 and my favourite French bread was on our table within ten minutes of ordering. Unfortunately the dish that hubbie ordered: Bubble and Squeak wasn’t available – slightly poor for 2 hours after opening. He went for the poached eggs w crispy pancetta on homemade corn bread which looked delish! My French toasted brioche was tasty but a little soft for my liking and not sweet enough.

Found this place a little pricey but a gem in West Hampstead. I do need to find a closer place to home for brunch though as so far nothing has tasted a great as The Breakfast Club.

Surprises at Sync karaoke bar

My amazing husband and sister threw me a fabulous surprise party at Sync Bar. For anyone who lives in North London, this is such a fun birthday place or simply a great night out.

Sync Bar is a karaoke venue in Pinner which serves up delicious cocktails – trust me when I say they were good as I’m a really fussy drinker (and eater!) so totally particular about the cocktails of choice. I’ve found myself a new favourite – Lychee Martini!

Not only were the drinks in full flow, those that used the karaoke rooms were able to sing their hearts out. As I was too busy socialising and dancing, I’m going to have to go back to try the karaoke. It’s been a while since I’ve danced like that and loved the music – The DJ played some classic old school tunes and new songs.

The highlight, obviously apart from my surprise and birthday cake, was the dance routine by the bar staff. Big shout out to the staff that went above and beyond to make it a special night. Oh and was very impressed they still had the remains of the cake and my forgotten jacket the next morning!!

See you there soon for more singing…and dancing.

Bohemian luxe at Sketch

As part of my turning thirty birthday treats my sister and mum took me to have tea at the very Bohemian style parlour: Sketch. It really is a destination place: food, art and music over two floors of a converted 18th century building in Mayfair.  Known for its curious interiors, pop-up art shows and fashionable clientele, Sketch is a quirky and eccentric dining spot with a fab patisserie.

We were taken to woodland bar: Glade which has a forest like feel having been designed by artists Carolyn Quartermaine and Didier Mahieu with 50s rattan furniture and quirky crockery. There are a couple of options for afternoon tea including champagne or cream tea choice, as presented in the vintage book-style menu.

We started with an assortment of sandwiches – they kindly made special vegetarian ones for us: feta and tomato relish wraps, cucumber cheese sandwiches and onion jam with cheese on focacio. My mum opted for the Chai tea and we chose to drink the Mango tea which was pleasant. The sandwiches were followed by home-made fruit scones, blueberry jam and clotted cream!

On the centre tier of the cake stand were ten mini deserts and bite size French pastries: madeline, macaroon, lemon drizzle cake, vanilla and strawberry tart, Japanese pastry  – quite simply delicious mouthfuls. All this is served on quirky crockery – the cake stand was made of teacups, saucers and larger plates and the plates we ate from were printed with scroll writing. The toilets were also very odd – capsule style cubicles with soothing music!

Overall I enjoyed my afternoon tea at Sketch, as it was quite different to the more traditional variety on offer across London. The surreal, informal and relaxed environment makes you feel comfortable.

Celebrations at Crazy Bear, Beaconsfield

I just love finding new cosy places to recommend to others – and the Crazy Bear is one of those places.  Being my dad’s 60th and my 30th, we thought we’d start the week celebrating in style at this flamboyant venue which is a hotel, Thai restaurant, English pub and decadent bar. Set within the village of Beaconsfield, Crazy Bear is a cross between a traditional English country house and an opulent bachelor flat combining brave creative design with bold animal prints, barn-like timber frames and French boudoir.

The place isn’t easy to find and luckily having been to the one in Charlotte Street, I knew we needed to look for huge wooden doors with no sign. And once you open them up you see velvet curtains, a piano and a staircase decorated with foliage. We started off in the bar area enjoy cocktails made by leading ‘mixologist’ Anthony Peart with a champagne Rossini, Crazy Bear Mule and Lychee Mojito. All v delish and even more so in the surrounding plush area with Persian pony skin on the walls, chairs studded with crystals, dripping chandeliers and toilets that are unmarked and impossible to find but tres glam inside!

Once we had our drinks, the waiter came over to guide us to the barn two doors away. There is an English restaurant decorated in gold leaf with an open fire where you can enjoy traditional English fare but we opted for the modern Thai which is apparently prepared by chefs trained at The Royal Thai Palace. You get your usual dishes here with an added twist and we went for: dim-sum, spring rolls, tempura (vegetables and prawn) and Japanese tofu with asparagus for starters. This was followed by Thai green curry, pad Thai, aubergine penang curry and the boys had a venison stir fry. I wanted the salted caramel (remember my love for this) but we opted for a birthday cake instead!

Definitely pricey but I feel due to the sheer coolness of a combination of opulence and traditional surroundings, it’s a place for a birthday or anniversary. Oh and hot tip – if it’s warm you can sit outside next to the heated pool which looked magical.

PS: Scenes from Brief Encounter, Thunderball, Hot Fuzz and Midsomer Murders were all filmed in Old Beaconsfield.

     

Hotel bookings – trials and tribulations

 

 

 

It’s so difficult to find a decent hotel – and by that I mean, somewhere centrally located which has some character and will look after you with a high quality of facilities and decent reviews – not that much to ask for…right?

Well, when I was looking for hotels in Rome, this was proving to be really tricky. Although there’s a plethora of hotels (not to mention B&Bs, apartments and hostels), the process of booking your bed for the night can be more overwhelming than deciding which destinations to visit! The ones I saw were either dire and dated or super modern and expensive!

And once you find somewhere that looks good enough and fits your criteria, you then read the reviews and it’s not as good as you thought it was or worse still there are no rooms available! Having been through this trauma, I’ve now got a simple strategy:

– Location: chose which area you want to be, either near the main sights or on the outskirts so you can experience the local culture over the tourist sights. Aim to be able to walk to the sights from your hotel if you’re in a city.

– Type of hotel: do you want somewhere to sleep and leave your things, or somewhere you can spend some time relaxing – boutique, brand hotels, B&Bs where you will meet the owner or staff, farm-houses.

– Reviews: as much as TripAdvisor has taken a bashing over the reviews being fake, it’s a great place to start to get a ranking of the hotels and it’s facilities. Put in your location and type of hotel and then start going through the top 20 to find a few you will like.

Other sites: I also take a look at Mr and Mrs Smith and Tablet Hotels to see what hotels are listed for inspiration.

Once you have a shortlist of hotels, then check prices and availability on the hotels’ websites, hotels.com and booking.com. I find that the hotel can usually match what you’re getting on other sites so worth calling them.

You want to make sure that you leave the hotel feeling like it was worth it and you wouldn’t have wanted to stay anywhere else. If you would return to the same area and stay in the same place again, then you know you chose the right place!

Thanks to: Shilo, Kathryn GradyChristophe Huck and Paris Hotels Boutique

Coffee, latte, mocha, cappucino, espressos….

My mouth is just watering thinking about a decent Latte like how my old boss used to make for me every morning (yes it should have been the other way around but he made it so well!!).

My fascination with coffee started when I was school and I used to venture down to the Starbucks on Marylebone High Street to study – many hours spent here! The fascination hasn’t passed and I like discovering funky places around London and the rest of the world and the London coffee movement seems to be marching on against the ubiquity of the chains with cute little boutiques where you can take in the world and people watch whilst sipping.

They say sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation and it’s so true. Personally, I love a Starbucks latte because I find it appeases my tastebuds BUT I won’t say no to trying one of the new specialist coffee shops that seem to open on every corner of London. There is an amazing culture surrounding these funky places and my favourite magazine: The Stylist has covered the top ones to visit. My list is below:

1. Monmouth: there are always queues outside and it’s definitely worth the wait. There are 3 branches – Covent Garden: 27 Monmouth St, WC2; London Bridge: 2 Park St SE1; 34 Maltby St, SE1

2. Milk Bar: sister to Flat White on Bateman Street, Soho. Lattes come with amazing artwork and it’s a fab place to people watch in Soho. Flat White was one of the first to  bring Antipodean cafe culture to Britain. 17 Berwick St, W1F; flatwhitecafe.com

3. Lantana: Australian run Lantana Café can be found on Charlotte Place, a little lane a few blocks from Tottenham Court Road. It’s comfy and laid-back.

4. Cafe Gourmand: a small and charming little French cafe with retro-styled frontage, marble and glass display cabinet. Tea is drunk in a very quirky way. Must-try! 53 Lexington Street, Soho,

5. Workshop Coffee, formerly known at St Ali combines a roastery and café bar with a full restaurant. Has a cool fun vibe about it and its in the middle of Clerkenwell. 27 Clerkenwell Rd, EC1; workshopcoffee.com

6. Kaffeine: Voted Europe’s best independent coffee shop, this place has very helpful baristas. 66 Great Titchfield St, W1

7. Cafe Vergnano: with the chocolate in the 1988 sign – so cute and a really delish latte here this morning. This decrepit shop has been resurrected it to its former glory, in order to make it the jewel of a coffee shop. Staple Inn, Chancery Lane and Southbank Centre.

Are there any more I should try out?

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