Afternoon tea is one of the few British traditions I can fully get on board with. You may not find me lusting after a Sunday roast, particularly as nut roasts have so far failed to impress me as none meat eater, or see me craving a Cadbury's chocolate bar- let's all take a second here and appreciate how much better German and Swiss chocolate is, and don't even get me started on the idea of a pie or pasty, but I will never turn down a scone with clotted cream and jam and some fine finger sandwiches which is why I was more than a little bit excited to sample one of the most renowned afternoon teas out there - the one served at
Yes, I may still not get the whole drinking tea thing, on this occasion switching to champagne after a couple of sips of a, don't get me wrong, lovely rose tea, but it is the whole fanfare, tradition and etiquette that surrounds this most English of tradition that, alongside the delicious finger food served as part of it, makes it so appealing to me.
I've had a few afternoon teas in my time already. These have however so far all been in London and with a decisively modern twist in their execution ( from a high fashion themed one at the Berkeley to a French leaning one at Sketch) which is why my lovely friend Maddie, who I stayed with during this weekend getaway to Yorkshire, warned me that Betty's would be serving a little bit more of a traditional and quintessentially English afternoon tea compared to my previous experiences.
For avid readers of the blog this of course is not the first time I have written about Betty's, I in fact already becoming enchanted with the old school interior, excellent service and delicious macaroons of their Harrogate tea room on my last visit up north. That experience in fact made me desperate to return, a place that after all has been serving the public with its afternoon tea since 1919 definitely one to add to the culinary bucket list which is why, dressed up to the nines, Maddie, her mum and I made our way to their York cafe for on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Not that we made it particularly easy for them to impress us. Maddie being lactose intolerant and me not eating meat would have seen a lot of other places respond rather rudely to our dietary requirements, let alone creatively work around them to still present us with a fantastic afternoon tea experience, but Betty's rather impressively managed just that.
In fact once we were seated in the slightly 70s leaning but all the better for it upstairs tea room (think printed carpets and cushioned wooden chairs), a pianist playing soothing harmonies for the duration of our stay, we were treates like kings by a brigade of absolutely wonderful waitresses in their meticulous uniforms, almost it seemed capable of reading any wish from our lips before we even got the chance to voice it.
After carefully choosing our tea, being talked through everything on the menu, the food began arriving, each of us presented with an individual stand of savoury and sweet goodies perfectly tailored to our needs, an attention to detail and wish to satisfy their diners that was like nothing I had ever experienced before. For Maddie that meant a selection of goats cheese sandwiches, a miniature pork and apple pie and dairy free prawn salad, followed by a dairy free scone that almost brought her to tears, so happy in such an esteemed place to be served what they are so famous for and she thought she wasn't going to be able to enjoy. Her patisserie pieces were replaced by a lovely bowl of summer fruit in a berry sauce with floating meringue pieces and a rather large dairy free chocolate coin. Managing to make a meal, if we can call it that rather than an afternoon indulgence, that is nearly completely made out of some kind of of dairy enjoyable for Maddie showed true commitment to excellence and though it may have been around for nearly a hundred years highlights how Betty's has managed to move with the times in order to successfully offer an afternoon tea that caters for all, allergy issues or not.
My stand was equally fantastic, the smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill roulade, served on a wholemeal croute gone in seconds and the goats cheese and caramelised onion sandwich so good that we all ordered seconds for the table. The scones were out of this world, no doubt the best I have ever had and of a crumbly almost shortbread like consistency without being too heavy. Where some afternoon tea's may think a big scone will impress with its opulence, the two types served here, sultana and Yorkshire lavender to be precise, alongside heavenly jam and clotted cream were perfectly sized bites of heaven that won't send you into a dough coma.
The highlight for me however was the patisserie layer of my little Betty's tower, a beautiful medley of a cream filled berry meringue with a white chocolate lattice, a cinnamon and apple macaroon that tasted like the essence of autumn with just the right amount of chew and a delectable coffee Religieuse. Though only bite sized, this is what I imagine Mary Berry would call patisserie perfection, not only beautiful to look at but a pleasure to eat.
Water and tea were constantly topped up and replenishments offered, always discreetly, extremely friendly and with a composure that I don't think you are going to find in a lot of places in this day and age. Heck even a stray pigeon that somehow managed to find her way into the upstairs tea room and decided to interrupt service for a few minutes couldn't stop this exceptional level of customer service - in fact our hostess for the afternoon rather bravely eventually catching it before coming over to us to apologise once more whilst we wanted to only applaud her for her bravery!
Sometimes a bad food experience can manage to put you off an entire cuisine. With me that was very much the case when it came to Thai food. A very, very bad Pad Thai eaten many years ago and the, in my head at least, apparent dominance of lemongrass in their dishes which I can't stand meant that I had successfully managed to avoid this particular country's food for a good few years.
Getting older, wiser and more experimental when it comes to my food I eventually ended up eating dinner at the rather lovely Zaap in Leeds which just so happened to serve me up an incredible prawn Pad Thai that made me completely rethink my perception of Thai food, in fact surprising me so much with it's fresh, zingy and new flavours that I couldn't help but wanting to explore more of what Thai food had to offer now that I had finally looked passed my initial reservations.
Yes of course there are plenty of bad Thai takeaways in London, much like you get terrible Chinese and Japanese offerings, however I was lucky enough to find two real gems that have seen me slowly but surely branching out from my initial and rather safe noodle orders, though they remain my staple hangover choice, to things I would have never imagined choosing to eat only a few years back. Whether you are a fan of Thai food or not, these two places serve pretty fantastic food at good prices and are worth stepping out of our your food comfort zone for!
A stones throw away from Spitalfields market, on the formerly rough but now increasingly gentrified Bethnal Green rather than Shoreditch end, you'll find Som Saa and it's exposed brick dining room. Yes, a lot about Som Saa is unarguably text book hipster - the no bookings policy that means more often than not having to wait an hour or longer if you show up any later than 6pm (we got there at 5:45pm and still waited for 25 minutes), the small plates sharing concept, meant to help you explore a wealth of flavours but in reality resulting in a bill that very quickly adds up to quite a bit, and of course the cool and striped back interior BUT that is all kind of ok and bearable because the food served here is simple fantastic. In fact the queues have only built up since its opening because every restaurant critic worth her or his name has given this place a rave review (most recently my favourite restaurant critic The Guardian's Jay Rayner) and rightly so. Everything we sampled blew my mind and was not your typical Thai takeaway style dish either.
The menu is split into several sections like wok, curry and grill and with 4 to 5 dishes between two people recommended you get to try a little bit of each. Though a lot of the menu is meat heavy and I would like to see a few more completely vegetarian options, there was plenty for us to choose from even with my none meat eating. Highlights were the yum makeua yao, a grilled aubergine salad with egg and prawn floss, adding a slightly acidic note to this vegetable that made it taste like nothing I ever quite had before in the best of ways, and the incredible gaeng baa pla, a jungle curry with daily fish, thai aubergines, holy basil
and wild ginger, that blew mine and my dining companion's head away with its chilli power and spice combination, beautifully married with silky chunks of white fish and other herbs. Everything is served with fragrant sticky rice that proved too good to resist for soaking up juices even for someone that usually isn't a massive fan of rice like me.
Cocktails were equally delicious, taking classic drinks and giving them a Thai twist without going into the gimmicky- my 'bamboo planter’s punch' for example a refreshing and fragrant mix of Jamaican rums, guava juice, pandan syrup and lime that was way to easy to drink while my friend's 'dragon’s milk' a sweet concotion of sticky rice rum, kahlua, coconut cream, condensed milk, salt, sesame presented itself as one of the best creamy cocktails I have ever had.
Yes, you may have to wait for a table and not all dishes were flawless, one let down was the pad pak, a limp mix of veg that could have easily been eaten out of a plastic container and made at a below average Chinese takeaway, but overall where Som Saa tries to push the boundaries with traditional Thai food it thrillingly and exceptionally succeeds with a modern and elegant touch that few newly opened restaurants these days manage to have. I will be back to explore more of the menu and am even prepared to endure a bit of a wait to secure a seat here, a commitment I rarely make in London unless the food is truly worth it.
Yes, they absolutely nail a Pad Thai, not only the classic prawn version is delicious but their tofu one comes equally recommended by me which is saying something as I very rarely enjoy tofu, and their drunken noodles, a heady mix of flat rice noodles, Thai basil and a hell of a lot of chilli will beat even the worst of hangovers, but my absolute favourite of the menu so far, and heck I am slowly trying my way across the whole thing, is their incredible salmon red curry. This beautiful mix of lightly battered deep fried salmon fillet in red curry and Thai herbs absolutely blew my mind when I first ordered it. It screams with flavours yet is so delicate and well prepared that I was craving it for weeks after I first ordered it.
This isn't some shitty takeaway option you will feel gross after or order as last resort- Rosa's offers stunning food that I am lucky enough to be able to enjoy in the comfort of my own house. If you are in their delivery zone I urge you to do the same ASAP and if not I would suggest a visit to one of their restaurants just as much. You won't regret it and like me will want some regular Rosa's fare in your life.
Paris seemed like the ideal destination for a weekend getaway when me and one of my best friends Katie where planning a little trip to escape our London routine, it's mix of excellent food and drinking opportunities and more importantly ability to get there without having to board a plane (my fear of flying more often than not replacing any kind of excitement in the run up to a trip) seeming too irresistible to resist. Yes, I am always going to be a little critical of Paris, to be precise the Parisians themselves and their often rude and unwelcoming attitude when they realise you aren't French, but I was lucky enough to get some amazing recommendations of where to drink, eat and have a general fantastic time ahead of this trip and discovered some rather incredible places that left me in awe and would see me return at an instant. Even though we were only there for 3 days, with admittedly very little sleep in-between, we had an absolutely fantastic weekend, able to explore a very non-touristy side of Paris I had previously struggled to find.
With the Eurostar being so cheap and more importantly so comfortable to travel with, Katie and I barely noticing the two and half hours on the train whilst chatting away, and despite my initial reservations towards this city, I would definitely return to Paris for another visit and hope if you ever make it across the channel that you will at least try a few of the spots I discovered! They may not be your typical bistro, heavy on the charcuterie and cheese, or tourist hotspots, but they are definitely worth seeking out and showed me a side of Paris I simply could not help but fall in love with at least a little.
THE PERFECT LITTLE AIR BNB
I have over time become a huge fan of the whole airbnb concept, it of course allowing you to have your own private space in an amazing location at the fraction of the price a hotel would cost you. I've stayed in airbnb's in New York, Berlin and Barcelona now and have never had a bad experience, instead across the board surprised by the generosity, helpfulness and quality of the airbnb hosts and their apartments.
The world being a small, small place these days I, believe it or not, accidentally ended up booking the studio of one of her best friends for our stay and with that was somewhat already confident of another great airbnb experience even before our arrival. And I am glad to say I wasn't wrong! Marine, who our super cute and stylish yet extremely well planned out airbnb belonged to (it may have been a studio but it didn't feel crammed at all for two people) was incredibly forthcoming with advice and tips in the weeks before the trip and made us feel immediately welcome when we arrived around lunchtime on the Friday of our weekend there.
The apartment is in the Broadway Market / Shoreditch area of Paris, with all super cool bars, brunch venues and the like essentially a 10 minute walk or less away. I can only whole heartedly recommend a stay in Marine's lovely apartment and would not have swapped our experience for a stay in a generic hotel in the middle of the touristic centre of Paris at any cost. If you go to a new city you may as well be as much of a local as possible, an ethos that has rightly made airbnb such a success.
There are about a gazillion bistros with outside seating in Paris and I am sure at least a dozen are as good as Le Arts & Mertiers but we couldn't help but be endeared with the unusually (for Paris at least) friendly service, decent prices and good quality food that was served here and of course the amazing people watching we were able to do when perched on one of their outward facing chairs.
The rosé we ordered as soon as we sat down was perfect to quench our thirst on this scorching summer day and the food, to set us up for a long day of cocktail bar hopping, was equally satisfying- my properly crunchy and perfectly fried fries coming with a home made and incredibly delicious mayonnaise with a hint of mustard while Katie's seafood linguine not only tasting great but also arriving at the table in a rather impressive cooper cast pot.
We could have very easily eaten at a below average bistro, in fact ending up in just such a place the day after, being served two undrinkable cocktails and a Caprese salad that gave me a mild form of food poisoning, which is why this place is such a gem. It may not be extraordinary in what it delivers food-wise but I would happily return here anytime for a light afternoon snack, dinner or wine the next time I'm in Paris and would urge you to seek it out if a good Parisian bistro is what you are after.
I had a list the length of my arm of cocktail spots to try whilst in Paris and being in town for three days only obviously meant that I was never going to be able to try all of them on this occasion. I do however believe in fate of some kind in life and after we had tried and failed to make it into my first choice of outdoor drinking venue (summer+drinks+outdoors being just about my favourite combination of things ever), we, a few cocktails into the night, chose whatever we liked the name of most on my list to try as next potential venue.
It may have meant bit of a trek, well more an expensive uber ride across town, but it was absolutely worth it, this pot luck choice of a bar ending up being one of the best spots I have ever been lucky enough to enjoy a drink at. Why? Well this bar hidden within a park and surrounded by low hanging tree branches and ferry lights, felt almost magical and as if we had unknowingly ended up in some kind of Woody Allen movie, only further reiterated by the jazz band that performed live right next to us whilst we were sipping on our drinks. That is not to say that it felt poncey or unwelcoming, no the bar staff were absolutely fantastic with the drinks mixed together at their expertly equipped outdoors bar, most of them in fact trained up at one of London's finest cocktail temples, and the whole vibe of the place so enchanting that we almost forgot that we were actually in the middle of a capital city.
Go, enjoy and drink many, many cocktails and before you leave don't forget to make use of their outdoor photo booth to get your very own little keepsake from Pavillon Pueblo... not that there is any chance you would really forget this unique venue and absolute must visit in Paris for some time to come.
Finding a decent hip hop night out in Paris was my biggest worry whilst planning this trip, knowing too well from going out in mainland Europe on more than one occasion that big clubs tended to be Eurotrash on the one hand or proper techoney and housey on the other hand when it came to the kind of music played and clientele present. Of course I am also a little spoiled living in London and with that having Visions as my to go to for a Friday night out, Visions by now being a pretty infamous and well regarded hip hop club that regularly sees live and unannounced performances from Skepta, Jammer and even ASAP Rocky- all the more reasons that I kept my expectations for Paris relatively low. Luckily we somehow ended up meeting a friend of friend in Paris, equally into his hip hop, on the Friday night who quickly sparked our interest when he mentioned an outdoors hip hop party taking place exactly on that night...and boy all I can say that it was a party worth attending.
Hosted at the amazing outside space that is Cafe Barge, all lit up and right by the river, this was pretty much as close as you can get to the perfect night out in my eyes. On this hot summer evening being outside and listening to some really rather good hip hop, this was basically like being in Visions minus the hot and dingy basement, providing us with a night I won't forget in a hurry! It was nothing I ever expected but everything I wanted from this night and if you go to Paris, whether you like going out or not, it better be added to your to do list. You can thank me later.
I was admittedly feeling a little rough after our long night out in Paris that didn't end until the early hours of Saturday morning and was in desperate need of some food to perk me up and make me feel alive enough to brave the streets of Paris and look semi presentable at the same time.
Thank God that my weekly saviour when it comes to hangovers in London, ubereats, had also arrived in Paris which meant, with a little help of Google translate, I was able to order food directly to the door of our airbnb without having to face the outside world in my fragile state just yet. Of course I had literally no idea what the quality of the takeaway I ordered was going to be like which was why I was the more surprised when the pad thai with prawns I ordered actually turned out to be one of the best I've had, overpriced London versions included!
If you do ever find yourself hungover (or indeed simply fancying some amazing Thai food delivered to your front door whilst in Paris) I can only recommend Guo Min with its fresh, authentic and reasonable priced fare that did more than the trick of getting me up and ready to explore the city even if my head was still a little sore.
I have always been a big fan of a good old brunch yet in London I rarely treat myself to this particular weekend indulgence. Why? Well firstly there aren't that many truly amazing and inventive brunch options left in our capital, in fact many of my former favourites changing their menus and owners and with that also loosing their appeal to me, and secondly I tend to spend too much money on other frivolous things on a weekly basis to justify treating myself to having one regularly.
Holidays are of course a completely different kettle of fish and meant that I spent a considerable amount of time researching where I would find the best brunch in Paris whilst there. One name kept on popping up when I enquired with friends and was googling around- Paperboy apparently the hippest and best spot in town to enjoy this meal time.
Once we made our way to this little spot in the Marais around noon on our last morning there and despite having to endure a rather lengthy wait (nearly an hour though it didn't matter too much as we were happily chatting away) plus some typically Parisian rude service, this brunch was still every bit worth the hype. For around 25 euros each you are able to enjoy a sort of brunch package- a hot or cold caffeinated drink, a fresh juice, a selection of fantastic breads with jam, butter and peanut butter and to finish things off a savoury main with a sweet treat on the side. We went for the eggs royale (classic eggs Benedict finished off with smoked salmon rather than ham) with a fantastic sweet side of banana bread, topped with peanut butter, banana and whipped cream.
From the perfectly poached eggs to the delightfully light sauce hollandaise, to the sweet and unexpected juxtaposition of the banana bread addition to your plate, this brunch compilation plus so much more. This was neither Parisian nor what you would typically expect from brunch but it was refreshing, incredibly tasty and and challenging to your taste buds in a way few brunch places would ever manage to plate up. Go, ignore the slightly ropey service and have one of the no doubt best brunches of your entire life.