Thursday, 15 October 2015

Travel: The Temple House Hotel, Chengdu, China

En route to Tibet, and a mere 11 hour flight away from London on British Airways, the Temple House Hotel in Chengdu opened its doors a few months ago. I landed in Chengdu in the middle of a steamy 38 degree summer.  After being jolted around like a sock in a tumble dryer, the taxi driver promptly deposited me on the sweeping entrance to the hotel, and screeched away.  From there on, everything became so, so, much better.  A friendly greeting from the doorman, bags whisked away, I was settled into the quiet, tranquil lobby - and then introduced to the gracious luxury that is the Temple House.

A noble entrance leading to an oasis of calm

The Temple House was designed by UK-based architects, Make. The focal point of the hotel is upon the restoration of a traditional Qing dynasty building, Bitieshi.

Mixing the modern with traditional
The swimming pool with a futuristic sunroof
The hotel itself combines contrasting modern elements in a minimalist fashion, which in turn enhances the natural elements of the materials used throughout (timber, bamboo, brick).

The rooms are generously appointed and provide for every possible comfort. The inclusion of a delicate Chinese teapot with a selection of Chinese teas is an elegant touch, especially given that Chengdu is a city renowned for its tea culture. A black tiled bathroom with separate shower and free-standing bath, complete with a full bath kit (loofah, bath salts, and bubbles) beckoned. A king size bed, black-out blinds and comfy bedding was enough to send me straight to la la land on the first night.

Each room with a Chinese tea set, perfect for unwinding and gazing out the window over Chengdu
Luxury bath goodies

The hotel has a range of restaurants and bars, of which I sampled the fare at the Temple Cafe. Breakfast involved tucking into a seriously perfect looking (and tasting) omelette on fresh sourdough toast.
There is a skill in making a perfect omelette. Exhibit A - perfect omelette.

The Temple Cafe

The Mi Xun Spa is run by the delightful Kelly (from England!). The spa provides a range of luxury beauty treatments of which I was invited to try a massage. After a busy day visiting pandas (I will insert random cute photo of pandas, I can't resist), the massage was incredibly relaxing and I left feeling like a newborn baby. The Mi Xun Spa, in tune with Chengdu's tea heritage, uses products from the Themae range, featuring antioxidant ingredients found in red and green teas.

the MIXUN spa

Beautiful details everywhere.

The hotel also features a Tea House, located in one of the renovated Chinese buildings. The Tea House design is beautiful. It combines the traditional apothecary environment of an old-style tea house with modern touches, including Tom Dixon-esque bronze light fittings.  It was perfect for sampling some of Chengdu's variety of delicate teas, all served in pretty porcelain cups.

The TEAHOUSE - tranquil settings

The TEAHOUSE opens into a beautiful courtyard.
Travelling alone, and feeling thoroughly lost in the hustle and bustle of China, the staff at Temple House really went out of their way to look after me, especially when I accidentally left a whole outfit in the wardrobe, which they collected, dry cleaned and saved for me to collect two weeks later. This was one of a series of thoughtful and friendly encounters that I had during my stay, something that I will remember above all else at this beautiful hotel.

The pride of Chengdu.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Food: Hoi Polloi (Rooftop) Brunch Club, Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

The clever folk at Hoi Polloi have been holding rooftop brunch clubs at the Ace Hotel over the summer, collaborating each time with a different fitness concept.  It is held on the 7th floor rooftop of the hotel, with sweeping views over the city. 

On the menu:

Stone fruits, goats curd, elderflower, nuts and seeds
Crispy duck egg, girolles, asparagus
Hot smoked salmon hash, peas, spiced creme fraiche
Strawberries, creme fraiche ice cream, almond crumb

All of the food was excellent, combining fresh ingredients and impeccable presentation. The goats curd and plum dish in particular was delicious. 
Perfectly ripe plums with a light, light goat's curd
I've been twice to this gig already. The first class, led by 1 Rebel, a high-intensity RESHAPE class, made us work hard for our brunch, which, being lazy as hell, left me hugely resentful and furious every time the lovely, lithe and (obviously) super-fit instructor cheerily yelled out the command for more burpees.  This is not an indictment against 1 Rebel, as the rest of the group seemed to thoroughly enjoy the hour of pain.  

Crispy duck egg, girolles, asparagus
More to my style, yesterday's brunch was hosted by the Stretch Dynamic Yoga studio, and it was brilliant. Oliver took us through a gentle Sunday morning paced yoga session, with wit and clarity. 

Hot smoked salmon hash, peas, spiced creme fraiche
The brunch is held in the Britannia room, on long communal tables, inviting conversation amongst new friends. Our group tumbled into the room noisily, crying out for immediate refills of Bloody Mary's after our work-out. Convivial laughter, fresh flowers, endless slices of buttery toast and bottomless filter coffee. The perfect Sunday afternoon.

Strawberries, creme fraiche ice cream, almond crumb


Hoi Polloi Rooftop brunch, contact them directly for details but they do the brunches about once a fortnight. Sign up to their mailing list for updates here.

Ace Hotel: 100 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JQ

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Travel: Food and Shopping in Paris - walking from the 10th to the 3rd arrondissements.

In my imagination, I am a chic Parisienne popping to my favourite bakery on a Saturday morning, Du Pain et Des Idees, treating myself to a tarte aux pommes, brushing the buttery, flaky pastry from my perfected painted and insouciant red lips, before strolling down to my favourite shops.

Du Pain et des Idees - Tarte aux pommes. Quite possibly may make it onto the menu on my last supper list.
Fresh, thinly sliced apples encased in buttery puff pastry, with chewy, caramelised bit where the sugar granules and butter have melded together to add that extra bit of oh my gosh deliciousness.

In reality, I've just had a few French lessons and have managed to make myself barely comprehensible at ordering a "une baguette, s'il vous plait". Nonetheless, I proceed with my fantasy and skip down Boulevard Magenta, past the Place de la Republique, and onwards to the Merci store at 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais. The remaining photos in this post will be in black and white, to reflect the Marion Cotillard-like state that has suddenly overcome me.

John Lewis on Oxford Street doesn't have a cute vintage car parked in a cobblestone courtyard to greet its customers, but I (I mean, Marion), breeze through the glass fronted doors in search of notebooks from Khadi and Co, and then into the kitchen department to pick up some wine glasses for the dinner party I am hosting with my BFF, Vanessa Paradis.

Wine glasses purchased, I place them safely into the adorable straw pannier that is attached to the vintage bicycle that I have all of the sudden decided forms part of this fantasy.  I adjust the jaunty silk scarf around my neck and head into La Maison Plisson.

La Maison Plisson is a deluxe, all-in-one, grocery, butcher, fromagerie, boulangerie, and bistro for discerning, tasteful Parisiennes like myself.

I pick up a few special treats for the dinner party, including a variety of cheese and fruit to round off the menu (with Vanessa Paradis, remember?). I almost forget to buy a bottle of Madagascan vanilla extract, made by the Thiercelin, a 7th generation French company.

As a side note, I love any shop that has its own manifesto:

Food shopping done, I scoot back up to Maison Kitsune, to pick up a crisp white shirt.  I'm not sure whether Maison Kitsune is actually a French label, but their little fox logo makes for a modern twist on classic tailoring. I really love Maison Kitsune's playful and colourful attitude to design and it comes as no surprise to find that one of the founders is Japanese. The t-shirt and sportswear collections are especially 'kawaii', especially when matched with their gabardine, school-girl pleated skirts.

Finally, I head downstairs for a well-deserved coffee break in Cafe Kitsune, as I am meeting  my Director to discuss the next art-house film that I shall star in, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. Et Voila!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Food:"The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" at Cooke's Pie and Mash, Broadway Market, E8

A little bird flew into the apartment today. It was probably trying to escape the noisy din from three days of music in Victoria Park, bringing festival-going interlopers into the neighbourhood.

We walked to Broadway market late in the afternoon, following the path along Regent's canal, joining the strollers and cyclists lolling about. Sundays at Broadway markets are much nicer than the market day on Saturdays. This is when the cafes are free to breathe and spill tables onto the footpath.

The pie and mash shop has been taken over by a Japanese chef, but only on Sundays when the pie shop is closed. I cannot think of two things more incongruous and therefore more interesting.

"The Temple of the Golden Pavilion" at Cooke's Pie and Mash.

Handpainted watercolours adorn the exteriors
It runs every Sunday from 12pm to 9pm, serving either a set menu for £13, or takeaway bento boxes for £5.

Today's set menu: Tekkadon -- fresh tuna with rice, salad with rocket, cress, vine tomato, Hijiki with carrot and beans, Miso with clam, Pickles, Iced barley tea, or soba tea.

Isn't this the loveliest menu? 
Temple of the Golden Pavilion - set menu £13

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion specialises in Japanese home cooking. Every dish was fresh and crisp, presented beautifully. The clam miso soup was exceptionally tasty, the stock clear and sweet from the clams and not overly salty. A large bowl of soy-seasoned rice with large meaty slices of tuna sashimi. Cucumber pickles to round everything off beautifully.

Japanese wooden bowls.
It was quite a novelty for us to be having Japanese food in a pie and mash shop but the gentle, nonchalant ambiance inside the shop seemed to suggest that it was the most natural thing in the world.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion also does catering and events. Contact details on their website.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Food: Bistrotheque, Bethnal Green E2

Last week, I decided to revisit Bistrotheque in Bethnal Green to try their 'one night only' menu based on produce that the chefs had personally hiked all the way to North Yorkshire for.  They brought back lamb from Swaledale Foods, a brilliant concept developed to connect chefs and farmers.

Bistrotheque has been around long enough and reviewed often enough that I need not repeat what others have said. In the constantly evolving dining landscape that is London, it is comforting to know that if I want a good roast chicken, I can get it at Bistrotheque and not worry about what sort of new Korean friend chicken coating (don't get me wrong, I do love the stuff) awaits me. It's been the scene for meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, Christmas carols, and memorable performances in the downstairs cabaret area.  I digress but years ago there was an amazing drag performer who did a Britney Spears/Judy Garland mash up that was intensely beautiful.

Anyway. Even though it is great at the classics, Bistrotheque recognises that it needs to adapt to changing times and of late have introduced a few new tricks. The Swaledale menu is one foray into perhaps redeveloping their menu.  The kitchen presented five new dishes, which could be ordered separately, or as a tasting menu for £35. We of course opted to try the latter, and here is the low-down on what we had:

St James, broad bean, broccoli puff
Two bite-sized puff pastry parcels to whet one's appetite, with new season broad beans, broccoli and shavings of St James cheese.  It was light and fresh, but to be fair, this was probably the least successful of the dishes and could do with some tinkering as the pastry to vegetable filling proportion was unfavourably leaning towards the pastry side.

Smoked Swaledale lamb belly, peas, Wensleydale and pickled red onions.
Aside from looking a treat, the smokey, crisp lamb belly was perfectly cooked. Clever use of pickled red onions to cut through the rich belly fat, and accompanied by fresh as can be peas. This one can go straight to the main menu.

Slow and pink Swaledale lamb, fried marsh samphire, heritage carrots in Settle Brewery No. 4 ale, land cress

The main course relied heavily on the freshness of the Swaledale lamb, which was cooked beautifully. The chefs have turned away from traditional lamb flavourings and opting to add some Asian spice to the dish by introducing a chilli sambal type paste, which worked well for my palate, although my friends reported it to be a bit to spicy for their liking, but, they're wrong. Ha. I thought the spice and heat kicked it up a notch on the interest ratings.

Brown butter scone, berry jerry, elderflower cream
This was the pre-dessert, a tiny and delicate scone filled with fresh cream and jam. Great for afternoon tea but I'm not sure how this fits in on a dinner menu. Although, it was very pretty to look at and if Bistrotheque decide to open up for afternoon tea service I'll be there, first in line.

Gooseberry summer pudding, apricot brandy and milk ice-cream.

Initially I wasn't going to order the set menu because I have an irrational aversion to soggy bread, which means I have a tendency to steer clear of bread-based puddings. A difficult phobia given I now live in England.  The ridiculousness of this came into full view as my darling friend attempted to explain my so-called 'food allergy' to the waitress, and the shame of this public airing forced me to give the summer pudding a try.  I came away from the experience unscathed, still not loving soggy bread, but with a new love and respect for fresh gooseberries.

Bistrotheque: 23–27 Wadeson Street, London E2 9DR. 020 8983 7900

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Food: Fika, 414 Roman Road, E3

Trundling home on the 8 bus last night, an oasis appeared in the midst of shuttered shops and takeaway on Roman Road. Perching sprightly on the corner of Roman and Lyal Roads, Fika, a Swedish cafe and stalwart on Brick Lane, has now opened a new branch.

Being a Swedish cafe, the decor is unabashedly and predictably all light wood and industrial fittings, but the adorable motifs on plates featured by UK designer Donna Wilson match perfectly with the Scandinavian aesthetic.

Cinnamon buns on Donna Wilson plates
I cannot explain how happy the sight of fresh cinnamon buns makes me, especially when they are available for purchase on the way to work. Fika's cinnamon bun is a bundle of light brioche folds with the perfect amount of spicing and sugar.

Stuart the barista hard at work
 It is almost de rigueur nowadays to have an Antipodean barista and hooray(!) Stuart is our man.

Granola and yoghurt bar

As the Swedes are hearty, outdoorsy types, Fika provides a DIY granola bar, complete with jaunty flags perched in jars like hiking markers.

Want to Fika at home?
Fika: 414 Roman Road, E3. Open for breakfast and lunch. See also their Facebook page for more information on their crayfish festival coming up soon!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Food: Efendi Restaurant, Bethnal Green, E2

Efendi is a seriously delicious Turkish restaurant in a neighbourhood that holds stiff competition with the likes of Tas Firin, a local institution and my usual go-to place for Turkish food.  Whilst I am no expert on Turkish cuisine, I feel pretty comfortable in adopting the views of several Turkish friends who have given Efendi the seal of authenticity.  Memorable meals are those where food comes in fresh abundance, and served with simplicity and an easy grace.  Efendi manages to do all of this well. The chef has apparently been headhunted from a top Turkish restaurant in Upper Street, and on the evening in question we nodded with approval as we saw him sternly direct his staff in the finer aspects of his trade.

Cacik, Patlican Soslu, Hellim
A creamy yoghurt and cucumber cacik, with just enough garlic to hit you (but not too hard), golden pieces of grilled halloumi cheese, and a rich aubergine and pepper dish.  Generous servings, all of which insanely good value at about £3.50 each. Served with turkish bread, Efendi puts in the extra bit of effort by brushing the top of the bread with a light coating of olive oil and powdered paprika to give it more of a kick.

Efendi Feast Platter (for two £24.50)
We were introduced to Efendi by a friend who happily lives around the corner and claims the title of being Efendi's best customer. He is also Turkish so I believe him when he says that the doner meat is the business.  The mixed grill includes doner, lamb chops, lamb ribs, adana shish, chicken skewers and chicken wings.  The healthy portions of fresh salads and fluffy rice, on their own were terrific but the call of charcoal-grilled meats was too much for us.  After wiping the meat juice from my chin, and flicking the lamp chop bone back onto the table, we heaved a hearty sigh of satisfaction, reclining on our chairs and watching the drunks sidle by and the ambulances careening past on a hot summer's night.

Efendi Restaurant: 270 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9DA.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Food: Tajima-Tei Japanese restaurant, Leather Lane, EC1

Occupying the ground floor of an unassuming office block on Leather Lane, Tajima Tei should be regarded as an institution on the London dining scene. For over 10 years, it has quietly and thoughtfully turned out some of the best Japanese food I've ever had.
Clockwise L-R - Sashimi, Sushi, Marinated mackerel, Deep Fried Squid, Tempura, Black Cod
I mean, look at this. A bento box fit for kings. We also had our standard favourites. The first being the Agedashi Tofu, four pillow like cubes of tofu, tempura crisp shell, soaking up the goodness of the soy, mirin and radish broth. The second, Tonkatsu, is a panko-crumb coated pork schnitzel served with tonkatsu sauce (a Japanese bbq sauce, if you will), a squizz of American mustard, potato salad and Japanese coleslaw on the side.

Tajima-Tei is a family run business, as over the years, I've seen the same staff behind the sushi counter and in service, providing a reassuring calm that in the fast pace of the London dining scene, there are some oldies but goodies which ought to be treasured.

Tajima Tei: Unit 1, Doorington House, 9-15 Leather Lane, EC1N 7ST. Open Monday to Friday only, lunch and dinner.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Music: Sofar Sounds

I first came across the founder of Sofar Sounds, Rafe Offer, when he spoke at a recent Lost Lectures event. Rafe's inspiring talk about setting up his own live music community led me to a recent gig held at the Foxcroft and Ginger cafe in Whitechapel.

Rafe was sick of going to gigs where the music served only as a feeble backdrop to the crowds of people jostling their way to get to the bar, talking loudly to their friends, and using mobile phones. His idea was simple: bring together artists, musicians and music lovers. Find a host who will provide a space (venues so far have included private homes, warehouses, restaurants, galleries), and let the music speak for itself.

Rafe's initial brainwave has now spread to over 100 cities and towns across the world. 

Solar Sounds in Whitechapel, Foxcroft & Ginger
It was strangely liberating to put away the iPhone that is normally welded to my hand and just sit back and enjoy the music.  

The exact location of the gig is kept under wraps until shortly before the date. Drinks are BYO.  The line-up is a surprise, but when we went, it turned out to be a very happy one.  We were treated to an eclectic set list comprising of the Bloom TwinsCharlotte Carpenter, Osca, and spoken word poet, Suli Breaks (who also happened to be the resident artist at Foxcroft & Ginger). It might sound cheesy but there was genuinely, a really happy vibe in the room that night.