dinner at 100 feet... What Could Go Wrong?

NOTHING! 

Except perhaps looking a little windswept... & we certainly had a good ride with the DS Automobiles, Events in the Sky and of course the chefs from Club Gascon

A certainly hair raising experience, we enjoyed Michelin quality food, all while dangling our feet over the central lawn on the Chelsea College of Art. Before we boarded however we were treated to a little chat through the new DS 7 Crossback, which as of yet has only been ridden by the French president himself, Macron. Released for us mere mortals to drive in 2018 we were lucky enough to have a sneak peek inside a gorgeous burnt orange beauty. With clever little details such as an infrared camera to spot obstacles before even you see them, I'm hoping by 2018 I'll be looking for an upgrade from my old school Ford Focus! 

(Lucky I love smiling by cars so much, ey...)

Before long, however, it was time to board! We headed across the grass and took our seats - with a very 'racing driver' feel about them - even with an 'ejector' style lever that made for some very entertaining squeals when we were at the top. Shane kept our glasses topped up with some gorgeous New Zealand white wine and I have to say I think I got the best seat in the house! Being on a long side is definitely worth it if you're as much of a foodie as I am - I had a prime view of not only the surroundings but of the chefs themselves finishing the dishes right infront of me. 

To get everyone comfortable with eating at such a height and like any good meal should, we started with some freshly baked (and still warm!) bread with smoked butter and little crispy morsels on top. This was swiftly followed by a fois gras set creme with little pearls of aniseed and some other delights adorning it too. [Thanks to Lou for her fab photo of it!]

Shane kept us entertained throughout and we were soon on to the fish course - delicious black cod with baby corn, crisped corn, polenta cubes, a truffle sauce and a little oyster leaf to finish. The fish was perfectly cooked - even at this height and flaked its translucency with ease. The other elements added complimentary set of flavours and textures. 

We then moved on to the cheese course, although it was so sweet both Louise (www.lululoveslondon.com) and I thought that it was some sort of pre-dessert! It was a goats cheese mousse, topped with a very sweet beetroot gel and then a pistachio 'cake' for want of a better word. It was very tasty but I did miss the rich umami savouriness that proper roasted beetroot can give a dish and in this instance I think it would've added a lovely something extra.

We then had a quick trip down to the ground to get set for the actual dessert and then it was a swift ascent again into the beautiful sunshine and pud was served. A take on a millionaire's slice (or even my billionaire's version that you can find here) but with black olive and lemon thyme this time the dish wasn't sweet enough for me! I'm a real pudding gal as you know but do appreciate some less sweet dishes but the black olive and caramel mix may have just been one step too far for my little palette! 

With a final topping up of our wine glasses and a good few rotations up in the air, we were able to fully take in the gorgeous sites and see more of where we were - it's surprisingly easy to get your bearings once MI5 has been pointed out to you! 

Once back on dry (solid?) land we were able to also have a look at some of the other DS models that are available to buy now – including this hunk of a DS 5. Being able to see them up close and sit in them and not feel like a tiny girl in a big scary car was so lovely! Everything was perfectly proportioned and I could reach all the buttons! Sounds ridiculous but you wouldn’t believe the amount of cars with which this is an issue – let alone seeing over the steering wheel or reaching the pedals!

This experience was one of the quirkiest dinners I’ve had in a very long time and it was wonderful to be able to share it with some lovely people, our hosts Siobhan from DS Automobiles, Events in the Sky and of course our chefs from Club Gascon. It was a wonderful invitation and while it may not be for the faint hearted I can assure you, it is one of the coolest ways of spending a warm summers evening in London this summer.

New Opening Alert & Place of the Month - Duck & Waffle Local

 Red Ducky! @dandoherty_

Red Ducky! @dandoherty_

It's here folks! You've followed the red ducks and you've found yourselves in the new area of Piccadilly called St. James Market and the red doors of heaven have beckoned you in... Perhaps you're a local, perhaps you've come from far but wherever you've travelled from - be it in or outside the M25 - you are treated like the most frequent of customers when you first enter Duck & Waffle Local. With amazing staff on hand instantly to chat you through the ordering process, this friendliness doesn't let up the entire time you're inside - even if only for a quick trip to pick up a take-away back of gorgeous golden duck gizzards (something I'll be doing a lot...!)

Heading into the middle of a gorgeously bright central area you are greeted with more smiley, happy servers, a menu above your head and all the choice you could wish for. My top tip here is to not stress out! I even got panicky thinking I was holding up the queue when there was no one behind me! Stop being British and worrying - take your time having a look at all the delicious things on offer and if you really are overwhelmed - ask! I laid my faith in the lovely Amy (I think!) and she chose brilliantly - suggesting those gizzards, the duck hearts and the crème brûlée. Yep, you've read that right - in the small plates section there was a duck liver crème brûlée... life changing I promise you. 

 The Full Elvis

The Full Elvis

After ordering you're shown your seat and get to hang out a little bit before drinks are brought over and then everything as its ready - this keeps it in a nice stream of edible bites without them being too overwhelming. Still hungry? Grab a server and order some more from your seat or move straight onto desserts. These are the things of dreeeeeams. Huge waffle cones filled with basically enough dessert ingredients to feed two - but I of course managed one solo. I went for Elvis with everything that he had to offer me: peanut butter lined cone, strawberry jam drizzle, vanilla ice cream, bananas, raspberries, cacao nibs and crushed peanuts all packed inside and dribbling seductively over the edge. 

 

Something else that is totally worth a mention is the Breakfast Fizz. At D&W Local - the drinks are as special as the food. With a central bar serving all sorts straight from the tap including house brand beers such as the Duck & Stormy, there's also some fizzy options with cocktail blends made in house every day. The Breakfast Fizz was layer upon layer of the weirdest most wonderful drink I've had in a long time: buttered brown seeded toast topped with marmalade and a drizzle of honey and fresh grapefruit? How it works I don't know - all I know is that it does. 

So head down to the newly developed area of Piccadilly and get your hands on all these little ducky morsels before it's too late! Open all day with a special breakfast menu, try it out soon and let me know how you find it...

(Big thanks to Dan & the team for my treats)

Place of the Month: Fitzbillies, Cambridge

A crisp, shining February morning makes a little jolly to Cambridge all the more enticing so off we popped. Heading back to a University city always makes me nostalgic and with this being a reading week and half term, there were plenty of mums-and-daughters lunching around us and wandering the gorgeous streets of Cambridge. A trot down to the original Trumpington branch of my place of the month gave us a great start to our afternoon.

We headed straight to one of my favourite spots; Fitzbillies although Mum will kill me if I don't mention her favourite, the Michaelhouse Cafe - situated in a stunning church in the heart of the city centre. However for me, Fitzbillies, so called (presumably) due to its proximity to the Fitzwilliam Museum is one of the lovelier places to sit down for a lunch or one of their great coffees and a Chelsea bun.

Sadly by 1pm they'd already sold out of their goats cheese and red onion tart, which comes with some of the Chef's seasonal salad for a reasonable £9 and so we opted for a large portion of the salad, the 'Buck' rarebit and the obligatory Baker's potatoes to share between us. The salad itself was a perfectly seasonal affair - bitter radicchio and other leaves, blood orange and pickled walnuts tossed through with an excellently seasoned dressing. The Buck rarebit (the Welsh kind with an added poached egg) had only one little niggle, you used to just add the egg but now it comes with as standard, which is fine if the egg itself is poached to perfection. Ours however was a hard boiled one - rock solid throughout and while it may have just been poached in a little 'poachlet' contraption, the shape and texture was certainly not of the usual kind. Do not let this detract however! With a fluffy doorstop wedge of white bread, nutty stout and spiced cheese atop and a healthy green salad on the side lightly dressed in a mustard dressing this is a treat and a half! Splitting it between two, with some of the Chef's salad added too made for a delicious lunch. 

The Baker's potatoes (although now called something else?!) - crispy thinly sliced potatoes and onions cooked slowly in ham stock and baked to perfection in duck fat - were as yummy as always and a meal at FB isn't complete without them! Believe me, you can always squeeze them in. 

The English Breakfast tea is from Kandula, which is a particularly fragrant type but I would recommend the loose leaf Earl Grey to go with your Chelsea bun for afters. Prepare for your teeth to ache too! I always grab a tap water alongside to help it all along as the gorgeously spiced syrup can get a little much after a while. The currants they use in the buns have a wonderfully long time to soak up all of the flavour from the bun and syrup mix making them particularly juicy yet still retaining the slightly bitter taste that makes currants so good in all baking - I'm a big fan of bringing it back in a big way; 'currants are for life, not just for Christmas cake...' etc etc. 

Do make sure you wander through the 'shop' side of the cafe and grab a look at all of the delicious bakes available - the buns are at the bottom of the cabinet in huge silver trays, shining with syrup. You can order cakes for special occasions or with a bun only £2 to take away, it's a no brainer for a quick snack on the go, whether you're a hungry student or a ravished shopper. 

There's always plenty of room with 60 or so seats in the large cafe out back and if you're lucky enough to sit under the skylights, the blue tiles around you along with old school decorations create the most relaxing vibe. The staff are always lovely and are always more than happy to give you a little extra hot water for your tea or bring you an extra portion of Baker's potatoes if you're not up to sharing... We left full and happy for under £30 including service and it's not only this great value but the bright feeling you get every time when you leave having had a wonderful experience. Not even a little poached egg can put me off this place...

 

Place of the Month: La Fromagerie

It seems my places of the month take a mid-month approach but I have to admit I don't mind that at all - many fun things can start and end within the first or last couple of weeks of a month, most notably New Year's Resolutions... It may seem mad to talk about, particularly as I don't ever make them not least stick to them, but as so many people do I want to add another to your list! If you can't go before Christmas to get the most wonderful cheese board imaginable, please head there in the New Year and take a seat for some wonderful food and leave with a bag full of treats. I have to detail my visit recently however as around this time of year, it truly is one of the loveliest places in London to visit. 

Marylebone in winter has become my new favourite places to have a wander, both in the day for window shopping and present inspiration and in the evening for stopping for a bite to eat or a lovely glass of wine in many of the cute eateries around. They each know exactly how to decorate their little boutiques with just the right amount of sparkle all while remaining inherently classy. Only a hop, skip and a jump away from Oxford Circus and Bond Street, I feel this little corner is far too overlooked! Paul Rothe & Son is a picture perfect little deli en route from the main drag and is well worth a look round and a purchase of a little jar of something sweet!

Only a little further on down the main street, a quick left takes you to the most magical window in the area. The cheese room's golden glow shines out to the street like only it can, begging you to come inside and try the delights it holds within. Golden towers of joy are piled high, the fast moving cheese maestros with their backs to you rushing around getting everyone as much cheese as they can carry and the produce spilling out of the front door just forces you to walk in. The hustle and bustle of outside continues on inside but with a slightly more serene air - one that vanishes the closer to Christmas you get! - but the service is always impeccable, both in the cafe, the deli and the Cheese Room itself. The menus change every day at both the Marylebone and Highbury outfits so I can't explicitly recommend anything but I've had wonderful salads throughout the year and this month was no exception - a warming winter version peppered with toasted seeds and jewels of dried fruit. If you can manage a soup too then do! Using produce from the shop, they always come up trumps and you'll soon be toasty from the inside out.

So as not to completely overwhelm everyone in the Cheese Room on Christmas Eve, it's advisable to get in early and get your Christmas cheese board all sorted well before the big day. I also love being leisurely about it and taking my time chatting to the ridiculously knowledgeable guys behind the cheese (physically and metaphorically) and using them as a source of inspiration for choosing the best things to go together. I have to have a Comte and a Stichelton but everything else is left to them to have fun with. Marcel was as helpful as ever helping me choose a delightfully fruity goats cheese, a soft and rich textured cows milk cheese and a hard but mellow cheddar-esque one to finish. I'll do a little info-graphic with far more detail once I've got over the inevitable cheese coma that's waiting for me... What's also wonderful about getting your cheese properly is that you can pick exactly how much you want and if you take more notice than I do, can remember your favourites and learn about when they are best in season - something I didn't know was a thing until speaking to the guys here! As you know, I'm a big seasonal gal, so if my cheese can get in on the action, then I'll take it! 

La Fromagerie is one of those little nuggets of London I love so much, hideaways from the rest of the city but a magical part of its woven fabric nonetheless. The staff here are amazing (as I had to tell them all the week before Christmas when the Cheese queue was out the door most days all day...) and what they produce is equally as good. Look no further for all your cheesey delights but just don't forget to take your mother, or like mine, they'll be ever so disappointed ('regardless of how bloody good the cheese is...')!

A couple of the images are from La Fromagerie's own site, as I went in the dark and took terrible ones... apologies!

A Rococo Christmas Eve

My forays into West London are, admittedly, few and far between but after my evening with Rococo, it shall become far more regular indeed. Nestled beyond the brash glamour of Sloane Square, down Motcomb Street, lies the most wonderful little chocolate shop. As you'll know, my love for chocolate reaches its peak at Christmas-time and I usually rarely treat myself to it at any other time. This evening may have just changed that and indeed exactly what chocolates I now have to buy myself over the holidays... 

The reason? That SNAP. You don't realise just how good properly tempered chocolate is until you have some of the best and Chantal Coady's Rococo Chocolates are just that. We got a little master class in tempering and truffle making and I feel fully ready to tackle some proper chocolate making for gifts but for myself, I'll be in the corner with some chocolate and cheese. Don't freak out. Honestly.

While I'm quite familiar with both of these treats separately, having them together and learning the theory behind it was something I hadn't got a clue about... I'm a big fan of pairings - wine flights with dinner are a match made in heaven for example but these two?! I'm a changed woman. Salty, beautiful, tangy cheese and crisp, sweet, heady chocolate have made me rethink everything I thought I knew. Admittedly I do have one weird food thing; I LOVE having a bar of chocolate in one hand and a bag of salt & vinegar crisps in the other and taking a bite of each at the same time, but this was a sophisticated world of its own. I really really encourage you to give these pairs a go but it has to be with proper chocolate, Rococo if possible. You neeeed the snap of beautifully tempered choc and with anything else the flavours and textures just wouldn't match. Rococo lovingly use all British cheeses in the majority of their tastings - something I can totally get on board with and as I am already quite the fan of Stichelton (the olde English name for Stilton) I couldn't think of anything better to finish the evening with. The other two were equally delicious and have certainly been added to my Christmas cheeseboard list. 

My takeaway obsession however, has to be the award-winning Cardamom White bar. Winning gold in the World Finals of the International Chocolate Awards in 2013, this little beauty combines two things I never thought would work. White chocolate has such a distinctive flavour, often filled with rubbishly high levels of cocoa butter but Rococo's has at least a 30% cocoa solids content making all the difference - this paired with organic, ethically sourced cardamom makes a beautifully fragrant bar that's perfect for any occasion. I'm totally happy to admit I've had some for breakfast before (but what's Christmas for?!) 

Their new shop is now open in Seven Dials so pop down (check here for details) to see their typically gorgeous shop front and keep an eye on the site for my chat with owner Chantal Cody OBE coming in the new year!