Cakes and Calligraphy

Happy Easter everyone!

I’ve been enjoying the last couple of days off from work,  and it has been a blissful time filled with leisurely lie-ins, lazy lunches, and plenty of retail therapy. It was so nice not to worry about all the usual holiday palaver of flights, accommodation, and struggling with directions in a strange destination, but I certainly managed to consume plenty of cake and empty my wallet shopping!

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I sadly didn’t photograph all the cakes but we ate delicious sticky toffee tweener from Selfridges, sugary doughnuts from Bread Ahead, and gorgeous french patisserie from Le Patisserie des Reves.

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I oohed and ahhed over beautiful cake displays, and pink flowers galore. The floral displays outside Liberty never fail to impress.

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I dragged poor A along for a calligraphy class which was so interesting – now I see what I’ve been doing wrong all along, and now I’ve got all the equipment handy will be keen to continue practising!

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Work hasn’t been great recently, and it’s been a real struggle getting myself to keep going every day. I’ve been thinking about ways to try and make my free time go further, and I think this break was a great way of utilising time without spending ridiculous amounts or going to a huge effort.

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Duck and Waffling

I’ve been thoroughly spoilt for my birthday, with A buying me my coveted 45mm lens for the perfect blurry background. I ran around the flat taking photos of everything in excitement, how sad am I?!

My new lens had its first proper outing when we headed out to Duck and Waffle. I’ve been wanting to try their menu for years, but we just hadn’t got round to it until now. It’s a meat-heavy post so veggies look away now!

Getting to Duck and Waffle for the lunch hour rush involved dodging many a suited-and-booted city worker dressed head to toe in black or grey. We went through the wrong entrance, got redirected by a security guard, then finally found ourselves whizzing up the speedy glass lift to what felt like the top of the world.

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The food and the ambience in Duck and Waffle were pretty special. It’s pricey – we paid £50 a head for a substantial meal, and two non-alcoholic drinks. For a special occasion, definitely worth it, but certainly not a weekly affair!

Crispy pig ears to start off with, smoky with paprika, and absolutely delicious.

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Then juicy bacon wrapped dates followed next, with a mustardy sauce for dipping. We had some spicy n’duja and gruyere bread on the side with this.

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Then came the small plates of oxtail doughnut and foie gras creme brulée. The doughnut was an interesting combination of sweet and savoury.

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Cut through to reveal the interior…

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The foie gras brulée looked incredible, and I really wanted to love it, but it was just too rich for me, so that one was happily polished off by A.

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Finally, the famous duck and waffle, with a side of beautifully cooked broccoli. Truly the star of the show, the duck glisteningly crispy, the duck egg golden-yolked and perfectly runny. This was a dish we really consumed with glee.

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Side note – nail colour is Essie’s Watermelon. My latest favourite – just loving bright colours again as we are heading towards Spring again.

So, after all that food, we really needed to walk it off, so went for a long stroll along the river, giving the tums a bit of a much needed rest, before heading down to catch the train back out of London.

It’s feels like such a treat so save up special occasions like this, and I would definitely recommend Duck and Waffle for occasions where you want good food, a central location, great views and don’t mind splashing out a bit more than normal. The other such place I have had my eye on for some time is the afternoon tea at Sketch, so that will probably be my next treat destination… perhaps this time again next year!

Inside London Part 3 – Shopping

Shopaholics, delight! This is YOUR day out in London.
  • Begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed. Don’t buy too much though, you need those arms for carrying more shopping bags later. If foodie shopping isn’t your thing, start the day off at Spitafields Market. Quirky stuff galore.
  • Admire the view of the Shard then head westwards to St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s worth a look, but don’t bother paying to go inside.
  • Head towards Covent Garden – it’s clustered with all manner of shops, quirky and posh. Don’t forget the shop dedicated to Moomins. There’s also a Laduree outlet here if you want to pick up some macarons.
  • From Covent Garden head up to Piccadilly circus. You can head towards Regent Street and Oxford Circus from here, where shops like Topshop have their flagship stores. Also Selfridges.
  • If Oxford Street or Regent’s Street don’t float your boat, head on the Underground and get the train to Sloane Square. You’re heading for the King’s Road in Chelsea.
  • Shop on the street where the rich and famous shop along. If you want to go for the big name designers, take right when you exit Sloane Square tube station, and head up Sloane Street. Gucci, Prada, Anya Hindmarch….you name it, they’ve got it. Harrods and Harvey Nichols are within walking distance.
  • Stop by the Saatchi gallery on the King’s Road if interested in art.
  • Stop at the Bluebird Cafe, or Beas of Bloomsbury along the King’s Road for a stylish spot of lunch, and to catch a breath.
  • Ready fuelled, head further along the King’s Road to West Brompton station.
  • Catch the overground train to Shepherd’s Bush, and head to Westfield Shopping Centre.
  • Then, exhausted with all that spending, finish the day off with dinner in one of the many many restaurants in Westfield.
  • Dump all your purchases home, and collapse!

Inside London Part 2 – Eating

So, this is the more Foodie Version, given that I do nom my way around London a fair bit. Still plenty of other tourist sights packed in for good measure though!
  • Again, begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed, getting baking inspiration, and carrying away a loaf of gorgeous artisan bread, and something for lunch later. Or pay a trip to Maltby Street market, which is less touristy.
  • Then head for a appetite-inducing walk along the river towards Westminster. Head up the OXO tower and admire panoramic views of London.
  • Admire the quirky shops of Southbank, and the Houses of Parliament.
  • Cross Westminster Bridge, and head over towards St James Park. Have a nice picnic lunch here and feed any leftovers to the ducks and squirrels (but they are fat enough).
  • Admire Buckingham Palace and take some touristy photos.
  • Hire Boris bikes and head across Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens towards Notting Hill. Find a blue door and take a photo in front of it, pretending you are searching for Hugh Grant.
  • Wander the streets of Portobello Road Market, and pop into the Hummingbird Bakery or Primrose Bakery, or Ottolenghi for a slice of something sweet. Take back to Kensington Gardens, and nibble, keeping an eagle eye out for Kate Middleton strolling past.
  • Head down to South Kensington, and get a bit of culture at one of the museums there.
  • Head along Brompton Road towards Knightsbridge, and Harrods.
  • Find the Laduree boutique at the back of Harrods, and pick up a beautiful box of macarons as a tasty albeit French souvenir of your London trip.
  • Finally, finish off the day with fine dining at one of the many recommended restaurants that central London has to offer, including The Hawksmoor (Covent Garden), or The Harwood Arms (Fulham).
  • Walk off that wonderful dinner with a gentle stroll along the Thames.
  • Perhaps fit in a cheeky gelato from Oddono’s on Bute Street before they shut at 10/11pm.

Inside London Part 1 – Sightseeing

I love taking friends and family around the capital, and have a well established tourist route that I take them along. It’s great! I’ve given a very thorough example below, don’t feel like you have to do all of it, or you will be totally exhausted. But it gives a lot of ideas for the main attractions and a good geographical method to get around efficiently.
  • Begin the day early exploring Borough Market before all the tourists ram it packed, getting baking inspiration, and carrying away a loaf of gorgeous artisan bread, and something for lunch later.
  • Admire the view of the Shard, then head across the river to climb up Monument and admire the panoramic view of London.
  • Pop by St Paul’s Cathedral out of interest, but not worth paying the extortionate fees to go inside.
  • Picnic lunch in the form of goodies procured from Borough Market.
  • Ready fuelled, head over to Trafalgar Square, and soak up the atmosphere at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. Or if you are more gorily minded, head over to the Hunterian Museum.
  • Then give your legs a break by popping into the cafe under St-Martin-in-the-Fields and definitely try their apple crumble with generous dashings of custard. If apple crumble isn’t your thing, and you still have some energy in those legs, pop along to Chinatown, grabbing some bubble tea and a slice of Pandan chiffon cake on your way.
  • Then hire a Boris bike and cycle through Green Park and Hyde Park until you reach South Kensington. Admire Buckingham Palace along the way.
  • Get even more cultural education from the V&A, or the Science Museum or Natural History Museum.
  • Dinner somewhere like the Dutch Pancake House near High Street Kensington
  • Finally, an evening concert at the Royal Albert Hall, or a trip to the Piano Bar just further along High Street Ken to call the end to a busy busy day!

Borough Market and more

I hear from foodie bloggers that Borough Market is more of a tourist destination that food nirvana these days. Whilst there was much to tempt the eye and the other senses, I was certainly fighting my way past the heavy tide of tourists.

Unfortunately, this trip was more under than over-whelming. There was major disappoinment from a promisingly-named kangaroo burger, which lacked any distinctive flavour, basically tasted like a cheap beef burger, and perhaps it really was. Certainly there were many delicious samples of cheese, charcuterie, oils, spreads, turkish delight and chocolates, but so much was over-priced beyond imagination. For instance each portion of baklava commanded £6 apiece. I’ve made a mental note to seek out decent Comté cheese next time I am in France.

Anyway, onwards we headed and in Chinatown we found much more reasonably priced (and tasty) nibbles. Also bubble tea – I love that stuff!

London is one of these places where there is always something bizarre and entertaining happening round the corner. We came across a completely random epic pillow fight taking place in Trafalgar Square. Brilliant! Feathers flying everywhere (including sticking en masse in my hair) we fled via Boris Bikes onwards through to the Royal Parks.

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I’m afraid I made a detour to pop by Ottolenghi – as I wanted to satisfy my curiosity – having never paid a visit to this foodie emporium before. I came out significantly poorer, and slightly disappointed by the offerings, but I’m glad I tried it at least!

To end the day off we curled up with Borough Market bread, pate and Ottolenghi salads, watched Never Let Me Go, which was horribly sad. Finally finished off with super quick baking spree for tomorrow. I’m moving houses soon, and fairy cakes are a great way of using up the contents of the baking cupboard. This particular batch was very girly, but I did another (more manly) lot in yellow fondant icing with melted dark chocolate writing piped on top. Brilliant fun.

Fairy Cakes

  • 2 large eggs (record their weight)
  • the weight of 2 eggs in soft margarine, caster sugar and self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • apricot jam
  • ready-rolled fondant icing
  • edible lustre
  • writing icing
  • wafer daisies

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line 2 bun tins with fairy cake cases. I get 16-18 cakes.

Whisk the margarine and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Put the eggs into a jug, and break up with a fork. Then gradually dribble the egg into the other bowl, little by little whilst whisking by mad to stop the mixture from separating. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Dump the flour and baking powder into the bowl, and fold it in gently with a big metal spoon. Using the spoon, place a spoonful of cake mix into each paper case, and pop into the oven for 12- 15 minutes until risen and nicely golden on top. Set out to cool on a cooling rack.

Brush the top of each cake with warmed apricot jam. Roll out the fondant icing onto a surface sprinkled with icing sugar, and cut out circles with the aid of a glass, or cookie cutters. Stick the circles onto the tops of the cakes. Brush with a little edible lustre, pipe on some writing and stick on the wafer daisies.

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The Courtauld Gallery

Located in the heart of central London, along the banks of the Thames, the Courtauld is an absolute gem of an art gallery.

The gallery is inside Somerset House, which is itself worth a visit. There are three floors, each devoted to an exquisite collection of art. The staircase that leads to the galleries is itself a beauty, and I just wished I’d brought my camera along.

I started on the top floor, and worked my way down. I’m not an expert on art, but there were a lot of heavyweights hung up on the walls.

Vogue, Fashion, Dogs

Yes. Today was Vogue’s Fashion Night Out. It was epic. Full of fantastic freebies. I can vouch that the Hotel Chocolat chocolate coated coffee beans were pretty fabulous. I wanted to buy everything, but with incredible willpower, I managed to reign myself in, and stuck to a cute pair of Anthropologie sunnies to go with the fantabulous warm September weather.

We spotted several of the rich and famous including Jameela Jamil DJ-ing away in the Longchamp store.

There were models and fashion bloggers galore everywhere! Just get a look at these cute Radley terriers….

Paralympics

Hello folks! Hasn’t the September weather been gorgeous so far though? As I look out of the window I can see loads of slightly sunburnt bodies trying to soak up the last of the summer sun before autumn well and truly sets in.

I’ve been watching the Paralymics, and headed off to one of the equestrian events in Greenwich Park to see Britain win gold – woop!

I’m not really into horses, but it was very enjoyable to be a spectator all the same, and you got free travelcards to go home with afterwards! Brilliant.

I love Greenwich, it’s full of quaint little streets, the Royal Observatory, magnificent buildings, and a market that I’ve yet to explore fully. On the shopping front, I haven’t been doing much in the way of that, and nothing I have bought seems to have been delivered. Come on, Royal Mail!