Monday, April 29, 2013

Aperitivo at Baglioni

Got a free Thursday in your diary and want a fabulous way to spend it?!

How about an afternoon of shopping?!  A stroll in the sunshine along High Street Kensington, a peruse of the latest spring / summer D&G handbags in Harrods and then a catch up with friends over the newly launched Aperitivo Menu at The 5 star boutique Baglioni Hotel?  Quite frankly, I can’t think of a better way to spend a free day…

Every Thursday between 5:30pm and 7:30pm during the summer months, the Baglioni now offers a superb Italian inspired Aperitivo which includes a cocktail and  a choice of antipasti, salami or cheeseboard platter for just £15, which will have you wishing every day was a Thursday!

We arrived around 6:30pm and made our way through the super chic hotel lobby area right opposite Hyde Park and through to the bar and restaurant.  An area which made us think immediately of a grand oversized reception room in an Italian mansion.  Stunning fixtures including clear cascading waterfall dividers, expensive glass candlebras, a giant champagne cabinet, huge round studded tables, black heavy curtains and ornate vases filled with fresh orchards on huge stalks.

We fell into the plush, gold, oversized, armchairs and got comfy while we waited for our cocktails to arrive.  A group of ‘Sex and the City’ style girlies arrived just after us, and headed to the bar area for champagne, while couples, families, and business meetings occupied the chairs and tables around us – a really nice early evening mix of the affluent.

Although the Brunello Bar and Lounge offers a wide range of specialities, sparkling cocktails, pre-dinner cocktails and sparkling martinis by the glass, the Aperitivo choice is also wide, and we decided after much deliberation to go for the Tulip Martini – a blend of Belvedere Vodka, blackberries, passion fruit, amaretto and apple sour, and for the Rossini – mixed with strawberry puree and prosecco.  I tasted both and couldn’t decide on my favourite so I’ll leave that down to you to decide...

We mopped up generous amounts of delicious tasting oil with an overflowing basket of breads – white and brown rolls, crispy flat breads and tomato and olive focaccia.  It was so good, that we really had to struggle not to eat it all before our antipasti platter arrived…  And it was definitely worth holding out for!  I’ve never seen such beautifully presented antipasti….ever!  The meats were swirled into flower shapes, and the cheeses, artichokes, olives and tomatoes were decorated with tiny flowers.  Simply stunning and a little too good to eat (thankfully this appreciation passed and we decided to get stuck in… clearing the entire wooden platter and feeling surprisingly full afterwards).  Our antipasti was also accompanied by 4 special Aperitivo dishes which included caprese, parma ham, feta cheese and smoked salmon with beetroot sauce.  Again, the presentation was exquisite.

A pleasant palate cleanser followed which was a fragrant combo of Tanqueray gin, lemon, grapefruit and mint… just perfect before a glass of wine.  We opted for the Sauvignon St. Magdalene which at £9.50 was a satisfying price and an even more satisfying taste.

What a wonderful way to while away the early evening hours!  The Aperitivo menu at Baglioni is available now and well worth free-ing up some Thursday space for!  Or if you’re after something a little more substantial from the main menu, the restaurant is now led by highly acclaimed Two Michelin starred chef Moreno Cedroni, so it’s pretty much a dead cert that you won’t be disappointed…


I'm a Rugby Fan! Who knew?!

Whoever said rugby was just for boys?!

Growing up, it was always football, football, football…  My dad and brother are Newcastle United fans through and through.  And my ex-boyfriend was a TV sports reporter.   There really was no escape from St James Park…

But newly single and out in Newcastle every weekend, my friends and I used to bump into many of the Falcons in Perdu and Apartment (now known as Florita’s – I am going back some years here!).  These guys were great fun to hang out with – downing drinks, buying more, daring each other to do the stupidest things and at least one of them ended up in their pants by the end of the night!  Added to the fact they were all ripped and could definitely protect you in a fight, what was not to like?!!  But still, I’d never seen a single rugby game.

When I moved down to London, I noticed rugby’s much bigger presence!  The pubs are packed out when there’s a game showing, in fact watching the game is pretty much a standard weekend for most in the Capital.  And football has slowly faded into the background… (for me anyway..)

I’ve watched loads of rugby in the last 4 years…  The girls and I have a few regular watering holes we like to head to, to watch The Wasps, The Falcons or the England team.  Added bonuses always include a table, good wine, a big screen and a clientele of mostly hot rugby type guys to cheer along with…

But… I’d never been to a proper game until this weekend!  It was actually Leonie’s idea.  The Army were taking on the Navy in the annual Babcock Trophy match at Twickenham and we figured both teams would be full of hot players.  Plus we could have lunch before the game and drinks after – a nice all day sesh with the girlies.

Turns out we were possibly THE very last people to get our tickets.. We ended up in the highest seats imaginable which meant walking up about 10 flights of stairs to get there.  It’s the most exercise I’ve done in about 4 months and I nearly passed out.  Twice.  But when we finally got to the top it was all worthwhile..  Over 72,000 fans filled the stadium - an excited, charged, electric atmosphere shaking the venue.  Who’d’ve thought it used to be a cabbage patch?!! (Well definitely not me anyway.  Thanks Wikipedia…)

Now for the big question… Who were we gonna cheer on?!  Army?!  Or Navy?!  A well thought out decision - the basis for this which was of course our dating experiences.  (I mean how else could we possibly decide?)  We concluded that out of the 4 of us, we’d all dated men in the Army, but only one of us had dated a guy from the Navy.  And the Navy date had been a bit weird apparently…  So ermm Army it was then.  (You gotta love our logic, right?!)

Thankfully our choice turned out to be a good one – the Army provided most of the action and kept diving over the line and racking up the points.  Half way through, Sylwi decided she quite fancied Navy Number 4 and switched camps to support the boys in blue. But it was a bad choice, Army beat Navy 43-26.  One of the highlights was an awesome try for the Army, to which Kristel jumped up to cheer, but forgot her seat had flipped up, so landed smack bottom on the ground.  Another highlight was the guy who stormed the pitch during half time and had to be escorted off the premises.  All in all, a pretty entertaining afternoon which we followed up with a celebratory drink in a very bad pub where a group of men were ordering Babycham. Yes that is correct.  Men.  Drinking Babycham.  I mean really…

So our next outing is Rugby 7’s next weekend!  Who’s in?!

 Whoever thought we’d find a sport we were actually good at?!.... (Watching, that is….)


Monday, April 22, 2013

A Quiet Dinner at Bunga Bunga....NOT

Saturday night…. Quiet dinner….

Sylwi and I got back last Monday from 10 days in Dubai filled with drinking, dancing, sunbathing and occasional gym sessions – I know what we were thinking?!  We partied like rock stars (I can’t go into details ha ha), drank lots of Champers, spent way too much on clothes and generally lived it up ‘til our credit cards were crying.  Ah well.  These things have to be done sometimes.

We got off a delayed overnight flight at 7am last Monday morning, bleary eyed and exhausted, but headed straight into work…  And for 9 days solid since then, we’ve been playing catch up (while also managing to fit in a wine tasting sesh and a night at Mahiki and Tonteria!), my point being that we were tired.  Really really tired.  So tired that on Saturday night, Sylwi, Kristel and I decided we would have a ‘quiet dinner’. 

These things are rare.  When is dinner not followed by dancing?!!  Usually on bad dates, pre-early shifts or after eating so much we need to skip clubbing and go home to hug radiators.

Our first choice was Bunga Bunga, but they were full – our own fault for being so last minute.  So after appealing on Facebook for a good Italian restaurant, we decided we’d head to Osteria in Notting Hill.  All set for 8pm.  Then Bunga had a cancellation…

With the best of intentions, I was still planning on an early night.  We had a fabulous catch up, the best Aubergine Parmigiana ever (I somehow need to try and bribe the chef for that recipe…) followed by pizzas and salad, washed down with 2 bottles of Sauvignon.  Perfect.  Then our friend and manager Robin dropped by...  And as a belated New Year’s Eve present, (I was in hospital at New Year while the whole gang partied at Bunga), we were given a bottle of Veuve.  And then a bottle of Moet.  And then a round of Limoncello’s.  And more Moet…and before we knew it, it was 2am and we were donning Bunga caps and dancing on the tables….

How could such a quiet night have descended into champagne fuelled chaos so quickly?!!   Kris left her purse in the taxi and Sylwi dropped her phone down the toilet (it’s alive again after spending the last 3 days in a bag of rice!)  I think next time we need to pre-book the taxis and stick to it.

But a change of plan is always so much more fun… Right?!!

The Address (Downtown) Dubai

If you in Dubai, you need this Address…

The Address, Downtown Dubai is certainly one address you’ll want in your little black book.

Whether you’re visiting on business or pleasure, this place is unmissable, but don’t just take my word for it… Neo’s on the 63rd floor has just been named as ‘Highly Commended for Best Lounge Bar’ in the Nightlife Awards for Timeout Dubai, while the hotel itself was named 'Best Hotel in the World' at the Global Traveler Annual Reader Survey Awards earlier this year.

But with such a fabulous reputation to live up to, would the experience be faultless?!  Well, in a word, yes…

As I took the elevator up to Neo’s, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  Many sky lounge’s in Dubai boast fabulous views across the skyline, yet the view from The  windows of The Address from the 63rd floor were jaw-droppingly spectacular.

There are actually 5 stunning hotels in the Address group currently gracing Dubai, (with another 2 planned in the near future) although the Downtown location of this one gives it that extra edge over the others…

Magnificent in stature, the hotel benefits from unrivalled views of the world’s largest choreographed fountain system set on the Burj Khalifa lake.  Every half hour, another show starts, always different and every time more breathtaking than the last.  And the back drop to these amazing fountains is the Burj Khalifa – the tallest man made structure in the world!  Needless to say, any glass of wine or platter of food is going to taste good with such a fabulous view of Dubai to look at, but thankfully, both the food and drink lived up to its 5 star expectation anyway. 

The seafood platter (which at nearly £50 is quite pricey), was actually worth every single penny – jumbo shrimp, Alaskan king crab, fresh oysters and tuna tartar.  The caviar melted in the mouth, popped on the tongue and was washed down with a very satisfying cold, crisp glass of Chablis.  A sharing desert platter followed including sweet sugary churros and a warm chocolate melting pot – deliciously sweet and indulgent.

The wine list is extensive, and there’s an elaborate cocktail menu to match.  If you’re looking for inspiration, try the ‘Level 63’ signature drink – a martini cocktail made with Smirnoff red vodka, red grapes, lime leaves, lemongrass and elderflower syrup.  Delightful.

So with innovative cocktails and the fabulous view of a futuristic cosmopolitan metropolis below, the décor at Neo’s, is by contrast, very different.  There’s a cool ‘James Bond-esque’ art deco theme to the design.  Dim lighting, decadent sofas, thick red curtains, black marble flooring, and twinkly star scattered ceilings make for an impressive setting, while metallic centre pieces, and black stalk stools add a retro feel to the classic designs.  It very much reminded me of the scene in ‘Casino Royale’ when Bond is poisoned at the poker table. 

The clientele wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie either.  There isa dress code here (and rightly so…), which gives it an exclusive air.  As my friend Isa always says ‘You can never be too over dressed in Dubai.’  So go glam, wear your best heels, and I promise you won’t look out of place. 

While the atmosphere is super chilled early on (there’s quite a calm, serene atmosphere around 8), after 11, Neo’s transforms into a buzzing, bustling lively drinking den.  It’s almost impossible to grab a seat around the elegant centre placed oval bar, while shots are downed and cocktails are shaken.  While there’s no dance floor, the beats are definitely dance worthy – I’m secretly hoping that’s part of the new grand plans as there’s also a flashy makeover happening in the next few months. 

But as the hotel strives to out do all of those other super bars springing up, I’m pretty confident the face lift will be something extra special.  And with a brilliant manager, Daniel Hannich (who has worked at some of the world’s best hotels including The Ritz, London), Neo’s will undoubtedly be one of the most glamorous bars to be seen in for a long time to come.

While you’re at the Address, why not also check out…

The Cigar Lounge

On the 13th floor of the hotel you’ll discover a relaxing bar area with stylish décor, deep dark wood flooring, the finest Chesterfields and the pleasant yet intoxicating  smell of expensive cigars all around you.

While the private terrace overlooks Dubai Mall, the impressive fountains and the Burj Khalifa, the expert staff are on hand to guide you through their impressive cigar portfolio with 40 renowned brands.  There’s also classic cocktails, global vintages and a selection of the delicious canapés to choose from including foie gras, caviar and Scottish salmon.  Oozing with class and sophistication, soft jazz and swing playing in the background, this hidden gem is perfect for taking a little time out to unwind.


In sharp contrast, Calabar at the foot of the Address (on the 5th floor) is a vibrant Latino inspired lounge bar which attracts the ‘it’ crowd every night of the week.  Perfect for sundowner cocktails, with slouchy relaxing bean bags to lounge in on the terrace, Calabar is a chilled out hidden utopia with plenty of greenery outside and a stunning view to match, or inside, a classy stylish haven for cool sexy clubbers and drinkers.  There’s also a happy hour which adds to its popularity from Sundays through to Thursdays, while there’s 50% off drinks (including champagne) on Fridays 4pm – 8pm.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Drift by The Drift....

Just off London’s Liverpool Street, you’d be forgiven for drifting past this place without realising just what you’re missing out on…So thank goodness I’m here to tell you…!

Located in Heron Tower and overlooking a giant indoor aquarium which is said to be the biggest in Europe, The Drift won ‘Best Standalone Bar’ in the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards 2012 and is the latest creation from the people behind The Folly, The Refinery, The Anthologist and The Parlour.  

And what a beautiful creation it is…  Described as ‘An island of calm in the heart of the city’, the restaurant’s cool, calm, relaxing colour scene will have you instantly forgetting about the pressures of the day… Meanwhile the marble, mosaic tiles, kitsch comfy furnishings and fabulous high shelving adorned with treasure chests, shells and empty bottles, will definitely make you feel like you’ve been washed up on the shore of a tranquil utopia.

Now that’s not a reflection on the atmosphere…  Occupying both the bigger picnic style captain’s tables and the smaller round marble tables near to the bar, were a surprising cross section of clientele –girl friends drinking cocktails, couples enjoying an after work dinner, mixed groups taking advantage of the very reasonably priced steak night and city boys winding down after the stress of the day….  And that’s the great thing about this place, the menu offers something for everything.  In fact it’s one of those menus which will take your tastebuds on a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end while you decide which dish or drink to choose.

So, once you’ve taken in the fabulous décor, a delicious selection of nibbles, flatbreads and sharing boards, mains, salads, sides and deserts await... 

There’s also a very good selection of carefully thought out aperitifs, skinny cocktails for the calorie conscious, twisted classics and Bloody Mary’s to satisfy all manner of tastes and thirsts.  Choose your wine ‘by flight’ – a quirky breakdown of the glasses which offer ‘life beyond pinot grigio’ or ‘soft, buttery, mellow whites’, while there’s also a vast collection of bottles available (76 at the last count) and that doesn’t include their sparkling and champagne collection!

We selected a lively, fruity 2011 French Viognier which was reasonably priced at £23.95 and served by in a huge perfectly chilled glass by the very friendly and knowledgeable restaurant manager who was happy to chat through the wine lists and direct us to something we’d like.

Choosing food proved a huge dilemma – way too much choice!  Time consuming, but definitely not a negative!  In the end we opted for the aromatic shredded crispy duck which came with a pile of pancakes and the richest and most delicious hoisin sauce I’d ever tasted.

Having already perused the desert menu (and knowing full well that I’d not be able to refuse…), I decided on a salad for my main course – Californian hot smoked salmon with pine nuts, sun-blushed tomato and teriyaki dressing.   Again, the presentation was amazing and as far as salad’s go, I’d have to say this one was pretty special… The salmon cooked to perfection, the dressing just tangy enough, the sun-blushed tomatoes bursting with flavour.  My friend ordered the steak which she said was perfectly rare (as she’d requested) with sweet juicy tomatoes and those perfectly crispy home made chips served in a mini plant pot!  Needless to say, we both cleared our plates…

Desert, I’d have to say, was the highlight.  Our mini pudding shots at a very reasonable £7.95 we more than big enough to share and consisted of 3 pots – chocolate brownie, white choc and raspberry crème brulee, and knickerbocker glory.  For good measure, I also ordered a blackberry and apple crumble with creamy vanilla custard served in a super cute milk bottle.  Result!  Totally more-ish and if we’d had any room left whatsoever, we may have tried to fit some more in!

We rounded off the evening with two delicious cocktails while raving about how delicious our meal had been.  I opted for the Raspberry Daiquiri made with pamper especial rum, chartreuse and fresh raspberries.

I’ve read other reviews which suggest the service is slightly sloppy… I’d definitely have to disagree.  I found the service excellent, the atmosphere just right, the menu – vast, creative and experimental and the food – well, just perfect.  We seemed to be surrounded by happy customers too.

Although we ate on a week night when the restaurant was slightly quieter, there’s also a great after work vibe on a Friday night with a cool city crowd propping up the long marble bar.  And there’s also a more chilled out vibe at the bar downstairs with seating areas where you might want to indulge in a champagne or two.

Well worth a visit… drift by The drift, you won’t be disappointed.


Louboutins - a lavish spend, but worth every penny!

Why run, when you can walk?   

Buying your first pair of Louboutin’s is a fashionistas rite of passage…  Membership into an imaginary super club for the well heeled…  A ridiculously extravagant purchase that looks way to good to have to scrape that beautifully rich red sole… 

Last week, I became part of that club and boy did it feel good!  It’s a purchase I’ve been building up to.  It’s a lot of money to spend on one pair of shoes and yet they’ve fitted into my shoe collection so snugly, that I don’t remember what I used to wear before.  Pre-Louboutin shoe selecting was nowhere near as much fun… 

Christian Louboutins carefully crafted designs have been pushed into the public eye with great impact.  Sarah Jessica Parker wore a pair for her wedding.  Madonna wore a thigh high pair in her ‘Celebration’ video.  The first time I saw a pair, Posh Spice was wearing them.  Gracefully sauntering along as she does, with ridiculously elongated pins in the most beautiful black shoes I’d ever seen.  Probably a ‘Bianca’ or ‘Decollette 100’, they almost looked like any other pair… until I caught a glimpse of the infamous signature sole, and fell in love.  I actually remember painting the entire bottoms of my Zara heel with a red nail varnish just to see how it would look - don’t worry, they never made it outside! 

I’ve seen Posh in numerous pairs since.  She’s actually got the art of carrying Harper Seven while wearing a 6 inch pair, down to a tee (I’ve no idea how she does that…?!) 

So, fast forward a good few years and almost as heady an experience as buying your first Prada, I decided it was time.  The justification was simple – I go out and need to get dressed up.  Lots.  And I’m short, so therefore wearing heels is a necessity.  And on those two points, my debit card was about to take a pounding from the pin machine at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge.  Did I feel guilty as the ‘pin approved’ message pinged up?!!  Ermm no.  All I could think about was my beautiful patent leather peep toe prives nestled comfortably in their red cloth bags, in a shoe box I most definitely wouldn’t be throwing away this time. 

But then the first outing. Ouch.  Pinch at the toes?!!  Understatement of the century!  They’re definitely not quite as easy to walk in as a classic stiletto from Office.  They take some serious wearing in.  And under no circumstances do I think I’ll ever be able to do a full on dancing sesh at Mahiki while keeping them on all night - but then again, that’s what the fold up shoe was invented for? Right?!  I’ve decided to keep mine for dinners, and walking very short distances… from car, to restaurant, and back to car - the perfect solution.! (Looks like those Office classics may see another outing after all…) 

And let’s face it, as ungraceful as it is, if you’re gonna fall flat on your face while trying to totter with poise and purpose, at least you can be comfortable in the knowledge that the soles of your shoes look absolutely amazing

Nikki Beach Koh Samui

Ahh Nicki Beach… Famous.  Make that infamous.  Synonomous with style and which immediately conjures up the image of honed and toned body beautifuls wearing Burberry bikinis and showering in Veuve Clicquot while still managing to maintain a hair do that wouldn’t look out of place at Charles Worthington’s salon.

The legendary Miami venue plays host regularly to Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell (what a shame if you happen to rock up on that night…!)  In Marbella, the white parties are sold out affairs every time, and now, the same experience has arrived in Koh Samui, Thailand…

We heard about Nikki Beach while on the other side of Thailand.  We were extremely busy whiling away the days on Koh Phi Phi drinking out of coconuts, chatting to hot guys and hiring boats to take us out to Maya Beach (where the movie The Beach was filmed…)

But, as huge fans of the oversized beds, glamorous crowd, and also curious to see what the Koh Samui beach club had to offer, we hopped on a flight and booked in for ‘Sunday Brunch’.

Without a taxi in sight, we ended up getting there on a motorbike – 2 of us squashed on the back, clinging on for dear life while our manic drive weaved in and out of the traffic at 100 miles per hour, and we clutched our Marc Jacobs beach bags, praying our Juicy couture flip flop wedges didn’t quite come into contact with the road!

We made it one piece and with our now oversized Beyonce style blown in the wind hair and our wedges still in tact, we hot footed it into Koh Samui’s hottest new venue.

A gorgeous bed awaited, plumped up pillows, a drink on arrival, and some chilled out tunes playing in the background.  Either side of us, the sumptuous lounge beds were occupied by the rich and beautiful.  Trying to look good in 30 degree heat must take some practice but our neighbours seemed to manage it effortlessly!  (Should have made notes…)

Champagne followed (rude not to at brunch hey…)  while the VIP Manager Michael (what a lovely guy), told us all the celeb stories we wanted to hear from his time working in Vegas and Miami, and explained how popular Nikki Beach Koh Samui was becoming.

Then it was ‘Brunch’ time!  And ‘wow’ is pretty much all that comes to mind when I think of all that food!  A huge assortment of the finest quality crab shooters, oysters, sushi, king prawns, salmon, swordfish, Thai food, cuts of meat, caviar blini’s with cream cheese… And then desert!  Well, a pretty awesome selection of crepes, chocolate brownies and cheesecakes to name but a few.  We didn’t indulge in too many of these as were still trying to maintain the flat tummy illusion…

By mid afternoon, the DJ turned up the bass, the pool filled up with beautiful people, frolicking, posing (and occasionally swimming) and the sax man added some real glamour.  After a quick dip and a discussion on which girls were sporting the best bikinis, we thought we best try some cocktails…  The mango margheritas were cool and refreshing, the champagne sangria was a fun fizzy concoction with just the right amount of alcohol and the strawberry daiquiri’s were thirst-quenchingly to die for.

All in all, an amazing and memorable afternoon partying with the brand who pretty much created the beach club experience…  Next stop is Marbella Nikki Beach and quite frankly I can’t wait.

So if you’re planning a visit to Koh Samui, then their ‘Amazing Sunday Brunch’ is not to be missed…  You might even want to check out their hotel which is also renowned for its’ world class service.

Just don’t forget your jewelled hairband and a high factor red lip gloss.  (By the way, Hawaiian Tropic do actually make one!  Awesome hey?!)

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