30 January 2014

Another Sunday, another brunch date. - this time it was a double one, with our lovely friends C & J.

We decided to try somewhere new to us - Raoul's.

It's a stylish, popular little place, with a deli next door full of more gourmet goods, and the restaurant itself was pretty busy given that it was a Sunday.

The menu is extensive, and covers a lot of different dishes from the more traditional brunch options to other, more unique ideas. It was quite hard to choose since everything sounded so good!

In the end, I went for the toasted crumpets with poached eggs, sweetcorn and chorizo, which sounded like just the thing for a savoury breakfast lover like me.

Seriously delicious. Their eggs are especially fresh and had bright orange yolks, which is always a good sign. The others enjoyed their dishes as well, I caught a sneaky shot of C's eggs benedict -

J, the bottomless pit who enviably eats a ton and can't gain any weight, decided to go for french toast after his eggs royale. We all laughed at him, but when it came, we were basically fighting over it and trying to steal bites…

So E ordered his own, and C and I ordered one to share. How could we resist?

It was definitely worth every bite - it was flavoured with a  bit of orange with was lovely, and smothered in maple syrup it was the perfect weekend treat.

We always love hanging out with these two, the food was great but the company even better. And that's saying something, because that french toast was delectable.

They have branches in Hammersmith, Notting Hill and Maida Vale - trust me and go, it's a good one.

american wife & sister land & prep

28 January 2014

Since one of my favourite things to read in blogs are book reviews, I thought that this year I would start talking about the ones I get through this year. I am a huge bookworm and always have been - there is nothing quite like escaping to a world that is not your own, and yet find pieces of yourself inside other people's stories.

My current obsession is Oxfam Books. A charity shop, selling tons of books for a mere couple of pounds? Yes please. I recently discovered one right in my neighbourhood, which is both wonderful and dangerous.

Anyway, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is one that I had been meaning to pick up but never quite got round to. And one day, there it was, waiting for me on an Oxfam bookshelf. This is possibly my favourite thing about charity shops and their books - you never know what you will find.

I adored this book. The writing spoke to me, it was easy to read yet substantial, the story kept me interested and I felt a strange connection with the main character, Alice. Although the blurb reveals that the story is about her reflecting on her life and how she became first lady, it's not really at all about her being the president's wife. More than anything, it was an expanded coming-of-age story, about Alice and her life, in a much broader sense. I highly recommend it.

Now, another thing I tend to do - if I like a book by an author I've never read before, I go on a little binge-read of their other books. This time was no exception, and I found Sisterland on offer in WH Smith, and Prep in another charity shop.

Sisterland is, at the core, a story about the relationship between twin sisters, and also about the relationship between them and their close family and loved ones. Prep is about a girl who grows up in a prestigious boarding school, and learns the ins and outs of being a teenager and, basically, how to survive high school.

Quite frankly, I was underwhelmed by both. Sisterland was my least favourite - I felt like the plot was too weak, even if the central interest was not supposed to be the plot, and Prep was interesting enough but nothing mind-blowing. I did finish them both though, which I do try to do with every book I pick up, but some have been so terrible I haven't been able to. So, that's something!

If you're interested in seeing what this author is about, I urge you to pick up American Wife. That was definitely worth a read, and I will probably try out whatever else she comes out with next, because I haven't written her off yet. I do like her style.

the real greek

26 January 2014

When we were looking for somewhere to have a bit to eat before the cinema, we came across The Real Greek. The branch we tried out was the Westfields one, but they are dotted around in different corners of the city.

I am game to try anything that might transport me back to our Santorini days!

We weren't going for a big meal by any means, since it was pretty early for dinner and neither of us were famished, but what we did have, we really liked.

The only thing that threw me off about this place? They list the calorie count of every dish on the menu.

Now, I wasn't hugely bothered by this, but I'm not sure that it's necessary either. I firmly believe in healthy eating the majority of the time, but not really on a friday night when you're going out for a meal after a long week!

Anyway, I chose what I wanted regardless. (The big shocker was that the dish highest in calorie content was the main course sized greek salad.)

I had been harbouring a craving for halloumi, so along with skewers of veg & that gloriously salty cheese, I also chose to try out the chicken wings.

E chose the chicken souvlaki.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my picks. The chicken wings were so good - I don't often order them in restaurants, but the seasoning of this was unique and flavourful. I also stole a few bits of E's souvlaki, which was delicious also (although not quite as good as the one we had in Santorini).

I would love to explore other Greek restaurants in London. Anyone have any suggestions?

Also, what do you think of calorie counts being printed on menus? I vote no, but that's just me.

the wolf of wall street

23 January 2014

To me, there's always something a little exciting about going to the cinema in the lead up to the Oscars. I know that the Oscars aren't the be all and end of all of the film industry, but I do like that the hype around it encourages people to go and see movies that they may not necessarily go to normally.

The cinema was completely packed the night we went to see The Wolf of Wall Street, which I personally love and much prefer to an empty audience. The atmosphere is different, everyone is somehow more involved in the whole experience, and we all laugh out loud and at the end of this showing at least, there was even a round of applause.

One thing to bear in mind before you go and see this: don't be offended, take it with a pinch (or a handful) of salt, and reconcile with the fact that it's really not a cautionary tale, or something that leaves you with "and the moral of the story is…" - it will, however, leave you feeling dizzy and on a high, by default. And happy (with a little bit of dirty).

The thing to focus on here is not how accurate the plot is to the life of the real Jordan Belfort, or the apparent tactlessness with which some lines are created (I say apparent, because as an adult with a brain it doesn't take much to know when to forgive a tasteless joke), or how the antihero is glamourised beyond moral comprehension. It's cinema. It's Scorsese taking risks and being outrageous, in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way. It's the acting, the larger than life di Caprio drawing us into a person and a life that we're in equal parts disgusted and fascinated by. 

Nothing in life can be loved by everyone, but this was definitely loved by me.


21 January 2014

Chain restaurants can get mixed reputations in London, but there are definitely a few that manage to boast the personality and quality of a one-of-a-kind place.

I hadn't tried Bill's before, despite it rapidly popping up on every corner of the city. They just landed in my area, so last weekend we promptly went over for an indulgent breakfast.

There is something so luxurious about going out for breakfast, probably because it's very rare (at least for me). Perfect for a Sunday morning!

The place has a relaxed, diner slash delicatessen vibe, and they also had the tiniest salt & pepper shakers known to man.

Since I was feeling that familiar dread of a cold coming on, I ordered a carrot, orange & ginger juice to kick my immune system into gear. Very fresh, though I could have had even more ginger to spice it up a little.

Quite predictably, I chose the Eggs Royale (I am crazy about smoked salmon), and E chose the Bill's breakfast. We clearly weren't going the healthy route…

My eggs were poached to perfection which, as we all know, is no easy feat. E was very happy with his breakfast as well (neither of us knew what bubble & squeak was until we looked it up when we saw it on the menu. how did that weird name come about?), and raved especially about the mushrooms.

Their large selection of desserts definitely did not escape our eyes - we (or rather, I) went for the lemon drizzle cake, and it was one of the best I've had.

Topped with a big dollop of mascarpone, I was full to the brim and rolled myself home.

I've heard only good things about their lunch and dinner menus, so I hope that one of these days we will be popping in again to try out their other dishes - so far, so delicious.


19 January 2014

Although I didn't set out at the beginning of this year with any real resolutions, one of my longterm goals is to work on my Japanese, and to improve my French.

When I moved to the UK aged 9, I spoke next to zero English. Thanks to very patient and kind teachers and friends (and my young, sponge-like brain), I became 100% fluent in about two years.

Along with that, my Japanese got lost. I speak it, but reading and writing is a huge struggle and I have been wanting to rectify that for a long time. It's just one of those things that always got put on the back burner, with other, more pressing matters taking priority.

Which sounds silly, because what is more pressing than being able to read and write your mother tongue (I consider it my mother tongue, but not my first language)? It is definitely something I need to make time for this year.

As for French, I really should be better at it, considering I studied it at school for 7 years. My (somewhat feeble) excuse, is that whilst living in Austria for three years to complete my masters degree, I had to learn a basic level of German, and that pushed the French out of my brain. There's only so much space in there, you know?

Wrong. There is enough brain to go round and anyway, it's not even as though I learnt a huge amount of German (my uni was so international that everyone ended up speaking English). I could understand and speak very simple conversations, follow my lessons and know the basic language to work in a little shop once a week. I hope to retain at least what little I learnt.

So, French. I understand about 70 per cent of what is being said, provided they are not talking about anything too intellectual. I don't speak it well, at all. I can listen to people talking in French and catch enough words to get the gist of the conversation, but I can't find the words myself to join in.

I have always loved the language, and being married to a Frenchman really gives me no excuse to avoid learning it properly, once and for all. I think I'm incredibly lucky to be exposed to different cultures and languages, so I need to make the most of what I'm given.

Any languages you're working on right now?

e cooks: fresh pasta

16 January 2014

For E's 30th birthday in a few weeks' time, he's planning to cook up a storm for us and a few friends. To say he's excited about it is an understatement - he's already planned the menu and the timeline of his preparations!

One of the dishes he plans to make involves fresh pasta, so he decided (three weeks early…) to practise his pasta making skills, with the aid of a traditional machine that he got given second hand from a friend. And as usual, I was there as paparazzi.

With some red pesto and salami, this was one decadent dinner. He used the recipe from this book, which he's tried before and swears by, and I have to admit the dough is perfect. There's no denying that making pasta at home is a little more hassle than buying pre-made, but for a special occasion or a relaxed weekend it's so worth it. You don't even need a pasta machine, I've tried it without a machine before and it definitely works, you just need some elbow grease.

Do you have a favourite pasta recipe? Please inspire us so we can have an excuse to make this again!

dark chocolate & walnut biscotti

13 January 2014

I'm neither on a new year diet nor doing a dry January, but I am always up for healthy alternatives that don't sacrifice taste. So I tried my hand at something semi-virtuous that I could nibble on with a cup of coffee - wholewheat biscotti.

Biscotti is generally a lighter snack, considering their lack of butter or any other added fat, but they are normally also made with almonds. Although I like the original taste, nothing quite goes as well together as chocolate and coffee…

and so, I made mine with dark chocolate chips, and walnut pieces for the nut factor.

After preheating the oven to 160 degrees celsius, I first mixed the dry ingredients together - 2 cups wholewheat spelt flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, half a cup of walnut pieces, 100g dark choc chips, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and a pinch of sea salt.

Then I directly cracked 3 large eggs into the mix, and added 2-3 tsp vanilla extract.

The mixture is pretty sticky at this point, but I made them into fat log shapes and baked for 30 minutes.

After they cooled completely, I cut them into thin slices and baked again for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway.

Fresh out of the oven, paired with a nice strong espresso, it was a nice little pick me up on a weekend afternoon.

So easy, one bowl to wash up, pretty healthy to boot. Winter baking is full of perks.