Pumpkin field makes a perfect autumn day

I almost started driving out of the city too late on Friday but God of Traffic was merciful and it turned out into a slightly longer, but beautifully lit drive to Kent. With the sun on my skin and Maroon 5 ‘moves like Jagger’ blaring from the stereo among other songs, I just enjoyed the scenery, the leaves turning all colours of the rainbow and the peacefulness of the countryside.

Today my friend said we will make a detour and we all drove to a …field full of pumpkins that was so awesome, I just knew I had to take pictures and share them with you. Some things in life are just so simple yet so beautiful it just makes you pause and simply mellow in the moment.

pump1pump2pump3

Otto pizza on a rainy sunday

otto2_edited-1One rainy and gloomy Sunday we found ourselves in Notting Hill, feeling hungry but not knowing where we actually wanted to go, when all of a sudden I had a brain wave and suggested we try the pizza place called Otto.

Otto pizza is a small place and luckily for us it wasn’t too busy when we came in-beware if you fancy this place on Friday or Saturday evening! 

It doesn’t look like much inside-the tables and chairs are very basic and the wall paint looks a little dark, well on a rainy day it did but the food so makes up for the interior’s simplicity…..otto

Our order was taken very quickly and the guy taking it was very sweet and enthusiastic, telling us that we can order by the slice or the whole pizza but warning us that as they use a corn and organic wheat flour base, their cornmeal crust pizza tends to be more filling than the regular ones we all order from pizza chains. We waited while the pizzas were freshly made-you can see all the action taking place in the kitchen and then our feast began-the pizzas were brimming with flavour and looked so appetising we all rapidly tucked in. We tried the four cheese one, the ricotta & pesto one, the day’s special with mushrooms-my personal favourite on that day (!) and pepperoni-a little spicy but the tomatoes underneath cooled everything and made the combination just perfect.

It turned out that Tom, who was serving us, was one of the owners and he told us that he and his business partner Rich used to work in finance (marketing and consulting) but when the financial crisis happened, they went to the States on a trip and tried a delicious corn based pizza in Oregon and that’s how the idea of Otto was born-they even have a small toy Otto van for kids to play with.

The great thing about Otto pizza is that their pizzas are very filling indeed-I only mastered three slices (and they are very generous in size) and we all were quite full until dinner time but without the energy slump that you normally get after eating pizza plus Otto pizzas are really brimming with flavour, so you don’t feel guilty enjoying it and can easily play the game of ‘guess the ingredients’ with your children .) Another good thing that they do takeaways too .) which we used when we had friends over-suffice to say that they weren’t disappointed .)

www.ottopizza.co.uk

Baity Kitchen

I love my food with a passion that got ingrained in me by my parents, who started taking me out with them from a very early age, so I do tend to judge the place on the quality of food and lately in London one gets more average meals than inspiring ones but a family Saturday lunch in Chelsea last weekend, at the place called Baity Kitchen put a mouthwatering stop to that !

Saturday is always a good day, as far as I am concerned, to do things together with the loved ones and a chance to go to a nice, relaxed place for a great meal. After I had my hair cut, we wondered down Walton street, which is a nice, quirky combination of fashion, art, interior decoration, beauty and now food, with the opening of Baity kitchen by a very talented chef Joudie Kalla-Anagnou.

I have popped into this pretty cafe/eatery a few times before for my personal addiction-green tea matcha cupcakes and coffee but never had a chance to sit down for a meal.

So, it’s early afternoon and the place is really, really busy. People coming in, people looking in to come in. I thought there would be no chance to sit down but we were told yes, if you wait a little bit, we will get you a table-a hint, have cute kids and put them in front of you, or so I would think, wink, wink.

The place itself is small, with the counter full of delicious and freshly prepared salads, pastas, lasagnas, marinated poussins, cakes-the selection is so mouthwatering, you almost gulp. There is a high table where you can sit down on your own or with a friend, if you are in a hurry and want to grab a quick bite to eat and a few tables of various sizes in the back, overlooking a pretty terrace with young trees and bulbs waiting to burst into colour.

We ended up waiting for 20 minutes or so, but it was a pleasant wait, looking and choosing the food that we were going to order-the longer you wait, the more you want but throughout all this time staff came up to us with updates, smiling and a happy banter filling up the air.

Joudie, a pretty almond eyed young woman and a head chef, runs around, talking to staff and customers, checking on the food and smiling that little smile that only happy, fulfilled people seem to posses.

And then we were sat down and the feast began. My son had a delicious salmon quiche which we called ‘pizza’ to divert his attention, bringing Joudie in to be on our side and call it pizza too, while we started with goat cheese salad, which I ate and though I died and gone to heaven-yes, THAT GOOD, feta cheese surrounded by breadcrumbs and drizzled with pesto bursting with flavour and a beautifully sweet poached pear on the side-one word for it- ‘yum’!!! We also shared honey roasted vegetables and my husband had a large roasted pepper filled with rice and other ingredients which made him smile as he was eating it and then I just had to have one of the beautifully crisp lady marmalade raspberry tarts which I saw on the counter earlier and which had the perfect crust and cream filling-crispness and sweetness and a slight raspberry tang-what more would a girl want?

We were surrounded by couples in the  beginning of romance, limbs intertwined, groups of girlfriends laughing and catching up, and in that happy rumble the staff dips in and out, cleaning the tables, bringing the food and smiling happy smiles the likes of which I haven’t seen in cafes for a while-genuine smiles that envelope you hug-like.

The bill arrived, my boys went to the bathroom and I to pay and then we wondered out in the cold air, happy and sated, breathing Chelsea air and already planning to come back to Baity Kitchen. And when I came home and checked the receipt I realised that we were given a 20% discount for no obvious reason-happy staff and inspirational lady chef make a perfect combination and they treat you and the food that they serve you with love. I am already making plans to go there again, hopefully to have a chat with Joudie in part 2 to follow……

www.baitykitchen.com

Bar Boulud in London

Many of us are thinking about exercising restraint now that festivities are over but when a family occasion arises, you still want to eat delicious food, even if your waist line is moaning……….

I always think that saturday is a nice day to have family lunch with the kids in a restaurant-my parents started taking me out with them from the age of two (at the time not many parents did that is Moscow) but times have changed and my son made his first restaurant outing aged less than two months.

My girlfriends living in New York were always complimentary about Daniel Boulud’s  restaurants there so I decided to drag my loved ones to his London outpost, called Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in Knightsbridge.

First impressions were good, with the doorman carrying the bags for you .) while leading you in. The restaurant is at the basement of the hotel and as you descend and enter,you have staff awaiting you on the right and a nice cellar to the left. You have a bar area, some seats at the charcuterie area overlooking the kitchen (if you want to pop in for a drink or a quick snack),  and lots of tables to accommodate various number of customers. To me it looked very Swiss chalet decoration but a beautiful touch is added by the prints of wine stains on napkins on the walls-you can look at fancy wines and their colour left on the napkins while eating and drinking a nice wine selection on offer. 

We were quickly shown to our corner table which worked beautifullly for both adults and kids alike. The menu is quite extensive, offering traditional French fair of oysters, moules, home made pates, fois gras as well as salads and soups and famed charcuterie chosen by Gilles Verot. You can also have a selection of burgers, sausages, meats and fish as your main course.

I had a delicious fois gras with ginger as a starter and a Boudin Blanc (divine sausages with truffles and pommes frites which were piping hot and not too salty) as a main course. My husband’s tagliatelle with lamb tasted like home cooked meals should but my mother’s portion of coq au vin, even though tasty, was definitely on the smaller side.

The slightly ‘off’ point for me was the staff’s lack of enthusiasm-they were neither happy not unhappy to serve you and we had to wait a good 40 minutes for our main course, which made me slightly annoyed and my mum refusing to have dessert, thinking it will take ages too-mine didn’t, it arrived within 10 minutes or so.

 All in all, we enjoyed our lunch and the total bill was on the money-very good value for the food on offer. The place isn’t particularly geared for younger children food wise but they do have high chairs and drawing paper and crayons, so you won’t be uncomfortable. However the service can definitely be improved for me to want to go there again…… 

 

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Keeping warm with Teapigs

TeapigsNormally I start my day with a steaming and large (!) cup of coffee to get me going, but during the day I know that it’s the water that I need to drink in order to maintain my energy and hydration levels. All very well if it’s warm, but what do you drink when it becomes cold or just rains non-stop outside?

Well a good option is tea and Brits are known for their love of this powerful brew. I drink an odd cup of tea during the day and love Genmaicha green tea with popcornbut generally haven’t gone beyond 2 or 3 (at most ! ) cups of tea a day-not enough to sustain a daily hydration allowance of 1,5-2 litres. Lately, however, a love affair developed and his name, you will ask? A brand called Teapigs, if you have to know.

Teapigs offer a wide range of teas, from black to red (rooibos), to green to organic, to herbal, so you will be spoilt for choice. I am truly addicted to their ‘Camomile flowers’, which is made with crushed flowers and helps you unwind at the end of the day. You can also use those teabags/pyramids to infuse your bath, if you are really tired or nervous. My another addiction, which probably tops all others, is the Teapigs ‘Peppermint leaves’ tea. I like mint tea at any time of the year and often make it by infusing the teabag with some fresh mint, but Teapigs one is so fresh it cleanses your mouth and gives you a second breath of life-honestly, I have never tried such a refreshing mint tea in my life!

For current, cold times you can try their ‘Super Fruit’ (hibiscus, cranberries, blackberries, elderberries, currants and blueberries) or the ‘Spiced winter red tea’ which is also great if you are making mulled wine at this time of the year.So for now my hydration problem is sorted, keeping me well and happy plus it gives me a solution to some of my Christmas gifts dilemma, so have a look on their site .) 

 http://www.teapigs.co.uk/

Nordic bakery

NBRecently a Finnish friend of a Finnish friend has told me about the Nordic bakery in London’s Golden Square and after having tried their cinnamon buns-generously big in size and utterly delicious in taste, I now make an effort to go there if I want a treat to make my day .)

 There is now another branch off Marylebone High street, cleverly hidden in New Cavendish street-blink, and you will miss it .)

The interior of the bakery looks very spartan-grey walls, simple wooden benches, tables and chairs. I have to say that while staff is very good-looking, be it boys or girls, they aren’t overly friendly or attentive-yesterday I was standing in front of the till, waiting to order while the staff served other people or talked to each other, pretending I wasn’t there. I don’t know if it’s me or their ‘cool’ Skandinavian attitude, as in ‘our food and coffees are sooo good, it’s worth waiting for’ but I was a little annoyed, and it’s not the first time that it has happened-owners, please rectify !!

You can buy dark rye bread, jams, juices, pancakes and of course, cinnamon buns, for takeaway or to have it in and their coffee isn’t bad either, plus looking around at the cool crowd is an eye pleaser, so it’s a win/win situation.

www.nordicbakery.com

Best Polpetto in town

Polpetto, which means an octopus in Italian, is a tiny sized restaurant sitting about 30 people, in the heart of Soho in Dean street. It is situated above a lovely pub called French house and you enter via a small wooden staircase with beautiful white and black photos on the walls.  

Everything about the restaurant is small but it makes one feel like you are  in the middle of the most wonderful experience that is only known to a small group of people. There is a small bar and a few small tables with old chairs that seat mostly two or four people-we were a group of six people and were very lucky to be squeezed in-beware, Polpetto takes lunch reservations but if you want to have dinner, it’s only on the first come, first served basis, no exceptions.  

The menu consists of small Venetian osteria dishes and most of them are beyond exquisite. The wine list, including reds, whites or rose, comes from small producers in northern Italy. We were salivating just making the choices and most of the choices-meatballs with porcini mushrooms, white pizza, octopus in olive oil and spices, lentils with pesto and burrata (the taste stayed with me for a while because I just didn’t want to let it go, it was so fresh and so perfect!), cuttlefish in squid ink, steak with rocket and white truffle sauce-the list can go on and on, every dish turning into a small taste discovery. The only disappointment was the pigeon dish with delicious white polenta-the bird itself was almost bluey raw, which we mentioned-not only was it taken off our bill, we had desserts on the house and they-tiramisu, flourless chocolate cake with hazelnuts and roasted peaches with cream-were one of the best we have had-and believe me when I say it, me and my best friend know our desserts .)

The staff is young-two girls and a very sweet and handsome boy, who looks a little like Johny Borrell of Razorlight were my dream waiters-kind and helpful in advice but not pushy, so all in all, if you want an experience to remember, both for the atmosphere and for the food, I would highly recomend to have a date at Polpetto, which by the way only opned less than four weeks ago.

 

Local deli and farmers markets

Lucky'sCall me old-fashioned, but I love going to local delis to pick up fresh ingredients or cheeses or home made lasagnas for those days when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s always nice when the seller knows you and your preferences and gives you advice or recipe ideas to inspire you.

Lately I have been also going to my local farmer’s market where I buy fresh apple juice from Kent, lovely sun-blushed roasted tomatoes (perfect for salads or pasta dishes, or even on a brown buttered slice of bread, with ham and cheese), fruit in season and pasta sauces. It’s the relaxed atmosphere and the freshness of ingredients that attracts me and helps the community be closer to each other. With our high streets ‘crammed’ with estate agents, mobile phone stores and expensive dry-cleaners, delis or small cafes give you a respite and a chance to have chit-chats with locals or staff or just enjoy delicious food or drink while lazily looking around and gathering your thoughts.

But there is a downside sometimes and that is the ridiculous prices that some of the delis seem to charge. Recently my local butcher closed down after many years of very successful business and I nearly cried, as the whole team was lovely and humorous and the meat always tasty, fresh and honestly priced. there wasn’t another butcher within the walking distance, so when I heard that a big delicatessen was opening close by, with a butchers counter I cheered up but my joy was short lived, as the prices they charge for the meat are ridiculous, so instead I have to walk or drive to my local Sainsbury or Waitrose or pop into the butchers on the Marlybone High street when I am in the area to stock up on meat or sausages or poultry.

Today I was browsing in Clifton nurseries and decided to walk to the Clifton road, where they have Raoul’s deli and Baker and Spice. Raoul’s is great for unusual ingredients, but the staff is a bit stuck up and the prices are somewhat ‘grand’-for example they recently started stocking up Lucky’s luxury chocolate cakes which are tiny in size (90g) but cost almost £10-that’s about three bites of chocolate, albeit Valrhona chocolate-honestly, would you be tempted (the one I tried, a honeyed cake with apricot and brandy tasted way too sweet !) I would rather treat myself at Ottolenghi’s in Notting Hill where every dish, cake or salad looks mouthwatering, staff is friendly and the prices are way more reasonable. It all comes down to choice, price, preference and ambiance, doesn’t it?

Lameloise restaurant & hotel in Bourgogne

LameloisePlanning summer holidays can be somewhat frustrating, especially if you are planning to visit a new place and are not sure if it will become a memorable experience or a huge disappointment. While planning our summer break driving through France my husband came across a place called Lameloise, which is a Relais and Chateaux property and a Michelin restaurant under one roof. It looked really promising….

We arrived in Bourgogne around 7 pm, tired and frazzled from a long drive from London but driving through this picturesque part of France our tiredness seemed to disappear a little, mixed with sunshine, giggles and familiar names of vineyards that we were passing by.  Chagny en Bourgogne is small but very cute village?/town and we parked the car just in front of the hotel, right next to the little town’s square and bistro.

Staff came out, taking our luggage and guiding us in, where everyone was smiling, the decor was dignifyingly cute and we were very swiftly shown to our room, which overlooked the already mentioned square and had the most gigantic bed I have seen in my life .)

We refreshed ourselves, got dressed and descended downstairs, were we were the only people with a toddler-or child-in the beautiful Michelin starred restaurant. From then on a truly memorable experience took place.    

Every amuse bouche, every morcel  and every dish-and I do mean EVERY-was truly memorable. My son had the most delicious Bresse chicken breast together with souffle potatoes-both my husband and myself tried it, in the name of research, of course-every bite was delicious and my son polished the whole, adult sized portion with such relish, we weren’t the only people in the room smiling at him. His chicken was cut for him by the attentive waiter and my husband was laughing, telling him not to get used to such treatment at home.

I had a beautiful Tarte de pommes (apple pie) for dessert while my husband indulged in one of his favourites, which doesn’t appear on the menu of most very good restaurants often-Crepes Suzettes. When we walked back to our room my husband all but managed to say that it was the best dinner he had in the last 5 years or so-a high but truly deserved accolade indeed !!!!

We slept comfortably and in the morning had a really nicely laid out breakfast, which my son managed to combine with the flirting with an elderly lady whop was having breakfast with her husband, sitting next to us-it amused us and charmed the lovely lady.

I really didn’t want to leave but we did, armed with cool water bottles, kindly provided by the hotel’s staff for our outward journey-truly, that stay couldn’t have been any better and we definitely will return there again, for the sheer pleasure that we got on all fronts.   

 http://www.lameloise.fr/