Category Archives: Bloggers
On a UK Monopoly Board, Piccadilly is the sixth most expensive property at a whopping £280.00 and bears the colour yellow. To build a Monopoly hotel on the site will set you back £1,200.00. In reality, Piccadilly is a busy, multi-lane thoroughfare in London’s West End, running from Hyde Park Corner past Green Park to Piccadilly Circus. It’s home to the Hard Rock Café, The Ritz and the Royal Academy. Piccadilly is where Russian spy, Alexander Litvenenko visited a branch of Itsu just after he was poisoned by polonium, a deadly radioactive substance, in a modern-day Cold War power struggle. It’s where to browse through book stacks at the amply-stocked bookstores of Hatchard’s and Waterstone’s, ogle gourmet delights at Fortnum and Mason and Caviar House or refuel at The Wolseley, where weekend brunch tables are a hot ticket. With such esteemed neighbours, both historic and present, it’s no surprise that Piccadilly is where the French hotel chain, Le Méridien, decided to install their landmark London hotel – a stone’s throw from Eros and the Circus’s famed flashing signs. It has now resided at the Regency property of number 21 Piccadilly for a sound twenty-six years, since 1986, in a purpose-built building that first housed The Piccadilly Hotel in 1908 and Masonic temples in its basement.
I’m ashamed to admit that Le Méridien on Piccadilly is a place I must have passed thousands of times yet never once entered and I cannot fathom why. This has recently been rectified; not only have I now entered Le Méridien Piccadilly, I’ve also luxuriated in its underground swimming pool and snored soundly in one of its gigantic beds, oblivious to the busy West End traffic artery located mere feet from my head.
My recent stay at Le Méridien has also educated me in their all-pervading approach to art. The arrival art is what a guest encounters first. As part of Le Méridien’s re-branding at the hand of the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group since they took ownership of the chain in 2005, art has been incorporated into all areas of the guest experience, starting the moment you walk through the door. Before I’d even reached the check-in desk I’d already noted a display of limited edition umbrellas by designer Duro Olowu, with snazzy geometric prints that any connoisseur would be happy to shelter beneath in a London rainstorm.
Even the lowly key card has been welcomed into the LM artistic experience. My card, a work of art in its own right, sported part of a Yan Lei Colour Wheel, its design being part of the LM Unlock Art incentive: not only does the key card open your door it forms part of a collection by a contemporary artist. The current featured artist at LM Piccadilly is Langfang-born Yan Lei, a member of the LM100, the collective comprising 100 influencers who contribute to the LM experience, through their expertise across a wide selection of the arts, from art and design to cuisine and perfumery. Some of the previous Unlock Art card collections, by fellow LM100 members, Hisham Bharoocha and Sam Samore, hang in frames by the lifts, but form and function are only two facets to the LM key cards; they also provide free access to Tate Britain and Tate Modern exhibitions – all you have to do is tell the concierge which Tate exhibitions you’d like to attend so he can arrange access for you, then just flash your key card when you get there, unlocking a local cultural experience for free.
Yan Lei’s Colour Wheel paintings hang in the Piccadilly lobby, the bespoke carpets underfoot are awash with lines, thoughtfully reflecting the inspiration for the company’s name – the meridian lines which criss-cross the globe, and in the ground floor internet den the shelves are set with contemporary ceramics, smart and stark against a dark background. There’s a video installation, created especially for Le Méridien, playing on a loop behind the Guest Relations desk and, on your way to the Longitude Bar, you’ll pass an elegant series of black and white portraits of the people responsible for the overall artistic experience that a guest will enjoy at Le Méridien – the LM100. As for that subtle aroma wafting through the lobby? That’s the signature Le Méridien scented candle, LM01, created by more members of the LM100 clan, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi. It’s a unique blend of frankincense, iris absolute and musk with cedar notes, gently adding to the sensory welcome so carefully constructed with a guest’s first impressions in mind.
The final and possibly most important part of Le Méridien’s atmosphere is the human component. In my time at the hotel I truly appreciated the comportment of the staff. From greeting to leaving, there was always a smile, a courteous hand, nothing too much trouble. Lift doors were held open without asking, a troublesome door catch dealt with immediately by not one but three kind and patient staff, an unusual breakfast order delivered on-time, without issue, a forgotten toothbrush taken care of, taxi doors opened and closed, a myriad small kindnesses. Whomever I spoke with on the staff seemed to genuinely care that I had a positive experience of Le Méridien Piccadilly. That’s what I call the Art of Hospitality, and in the travel environment it’s absolutely priceless.
A luxury hotel, lashings of fine dining and a whirlwind of contemporary art? Chez Epicurienne, that’s what I call a killer combination that I’d be happy to dive into on any day of the week. Courtesy of the Le Méridien hotel group, I was recently invited to partake of just such a tantalising synthesis of sensory stimulants during an arts-focussed stay-cation, based at their landmark hotel in London’s Piccadilly. I’m still recovering, in a good way.
A top hotel’s relationship to food is a no-brainer; the two go hand-in-hand, but where does art enter the equation? In this case, Le Méridien, the forty-year old international hotel chain, has incorporated art into its properties so that wherever guests look, art will meet their eyes – be it on arrival, on relaxing, even on using their key card. Steering Le Méridien’s artistic intentions is Jérôme Sans, the French art curator and critic, in his capacity as the LM Cultural Curator. What’s more, for the past five years Le Méridien has been a principle partner and supporter of an arts initiative called OFT – the Outset/ Frieze Art Fair Fund to Benefit the Tate Collection. Through OFT, the Tate is able to bypass purchasing bureaucracy to acquire work by emerging artists featured at the annual London fair for contemporary art: Frieze.
Over two days, our small group of bloggers along with various members of hotel management and Le Meridien’s PR company, Fleishman Hillard, managed to experience one art discussion panel, several types of unforgettable hors d’oeuvre, one unusual afternoon tea, six delicious meals, one international art fair, three world-famous art galleries, exhibitions various, two nights of sumptuous sleep, meetings with key art experts and personalities, a lesson in Le Méridien’s history and brand and various forms of London transport – including the water kind. For obvious reasons, I will not attempt to squeeze everything listed above into one post, lest it resemble a hefty artistic monograph. Instead, I invite you to join me on a multi-post tour of Le Méridien’s London art-u-cation. It’ll be an inspiration – for locals and visitors alike.
Photo above courtesy of the Le Meridien website, http://www.lemeridienpiccadilly.co.uk
My New Best Friend on the other side of The Pond is Adam Zettler of MetroMarks. He’s recently launched a regular feature called My Favourite City on the MetroMarks website, where you can find all sorts of insider info about an ever-growing number of cities around the world. They kicked off My Favourite City with a post about Toronto, Zettler’s hometown, and this week they’ve given me some space to rave about Venice, Italy. If you click on the link below, you’ll find out my top three must dos in Venice, my favourite restaurant for both memorable views AND food, as well as other reasons why I find this city so special. Most importantly, perhaps, are my tips on how to enjoy Venice without falling into the typical tourist traps.
Click here to read My Favourite City – Venice.
Click here to find MetroMarks on Facebook.
Follow MetroMarks on Twitter: @MetroMarks
To sign off, here are a few photos of Venice from earlier this year:
Casanova and his latest squeeze, spotted near Frari
A trio of palazzi
View of St Mark’s Square from the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore
Recently, I was chatting with @champagnediet on Twitter and mentioned my recent experimentation with a bottle of bubbly in the kitchen. I’d made a truly scrummy dish of scallops and king prawns in a champagne and cream sauce – plenty for two people as a light evening meal, or a decadent starter if you’re hungry. Anyway, I promised @champagnediet I’d send her the recipe for her site, which focusses on how to eat (and live) well without over-indulging. Then I thought it would also be a good idea to share it here.
This dish is ready in a flash. There’s next to no preparation time – just as long as it takes to get everything out of the fridge and chop the onions. Cooking time is max 10 minutes.
200g king prawns, uncooked and 200g fresh scallops, coral removed. In the UK queen scallops are good for this recipe as they’re smaller, but king scallops would work just as well, only you might need a minute or two more to cook through.
**(Please do ensure that the seafood is as fresh as it possibly can be. The champagne component in this recipe is too expensive to waste on close-to-expiry-date produce!)
3 Tablespoons of butter
A dash of light olive oil
1/4 cup of sliced salad onions (aka scallions for our American friends)
2/3 cup of champagne – don’t skimp. This has to be the real deal! I’ve tested with bubbly alternatives and the taste is still nice but not as good.
3/4 cup of reduced fat crème fraîche
Salt and pepper to taste
Take a frying pan and melt 1 Tbsp of butter, adding a dash (literally) of light olive oil to prevent scorching.
Add the chopped salad onions and stir over medium heat for 1 minute, no longer. We want them to retain their colour if possible.
Slowly pour in the champagne and allow to reduce to approximately one third, stirring occasionally.
Add the seafood and stir until the prawns have turned pink (2-3 minutes).
Add the crème fraîche and stir until the cream has combined with the butter and seafood juices and now coats the seafood easily. Allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes. Stir regularly during this time, then add the remaining butter and stir through until the sauce thickens slightly.
Season to taste.
Garnish with a sprig of dill or sprinkling of chopped chives. Serve immediately, preferably with a flute of the leftover champers! Et voilà!
Once inside I found a lively L-shaped room filled with the happy buzz of people whose appetites were soon to be sated. The decor is Manhattan loft-style, with exposed terracotta brick walls, cosy booths, an open kitchen with bright stainless steel surfaces and when I walked in the kitchen counter was already covered with plates of Iberico ham in different guises. I’d starved myself all day so that I’d have capacity for everything on the menu, so you won’t be surprised to hear that one glance at the ham caused some (discreet) dribbling into the flute of delightfully dry cava that had been offered at the door.
In his welcome address Simon Majumdar, one of the Dos Hermanos behind the event, explained that there had been one thousand applications for tickets for tonight and we were the fortunate fifty to receive them. That was certainly interesting to hear – only five per cent of applicants would share the Dine With Dos Hermanos experience at Pizarro tonight and I was one of them (HOORAY!). I took my seat at a table with three lovely strangers, ready to begin the serious task of eating Mr Pizzaro’s fare.
First to arrive at our table was a plate of croquetas –perfect orbs of gold and so very creamy that they disappeared in a flash, causing me to dub them ‘flash croquetas’. I adore croquetas and these were at the top of their league – no gristle or tough old chunks to distract from the smooth, cheesy potato, just the right consistency with a smoky ham flavour wafting through the middle.
Next to appear was a spread of Jamon Iberico in three different forms, my favourite of which was the chorizo. Sliced paper-thin each mouthful brought more strange noises of contentment. My husband, a die-hard sausage-lover, would have hogged (pardon the pun) the plate for himself, had he been there, so I’m quite selfishly relieved he wasn’t. The accompanying bread was also good – bouncy, yeasty sour-dough, but the quality of the ham before us was such that it fully warranted being eaten on its own.
I went slightly bonkers with delight over the carpaccio of cod with fennel and orange. As the self-dubbed Queen of Carpaccio this combination was right up my street. The fish was fresh with the versatility to add the smack of ocean to the aniseedy fennel and zing of citrus. The only problem with Neptunian carpaccios such as this is that I’m always left wishing for more, still, there’s a way to get around that: I’ll just have to order double quantities next time.
We were next presented with the head of hake – this was understandably ugly yet delicious, with forks about the room excitedly excavating cheeks and precious fleshy bits from all parts of the fish head. Softened red pimentons were scattered liberally about the dish and these were a revelation in themselves – packed full of flavour but with an unexpected velvety texture on the tongue.
By now the guests were all heads-down, merrily eating and critiquing each plate. Meanwhile, the staff didn’t stop. Plates were cleared and new ones presented in a very efficient operation, especially considering that this was soft-opening week so everyone was working hard to get it right before inviting the public to come in and chow down. Such seamless professionalism was impressive, a testament to organisation skill. Not one of the wait-staff looked harassed, just focussed. What’s really amazing is how friendly they all were – no mean feat given the pressure they must have been under.
A side of tiny florets of cauliflower was a pleasant surprise. Cold, crudité-like, with the unexpected tang of vinegar, the cauliflower was simple, refreshing and palate-cleansing before the shift towards the heavier tastes of the evening: duck livers and Iberico pork cheeks.
The duck livers were served with red onion – or were they shallots? Small, red skinned, onion family… the liver was heady, stronger than chicken liver, yet smooth and gamey. The Iberico pork cheeks then arrived – morsels of porcine paradise. They practically dissolved in the mouth requiring next to no mastication – therein lies the beauty of slow-braising.
Then we were onto the cheese course – I regret I didn’t get the names of the cheeses, but being a fromage fan I was easily pleased here as there was a good representation of types – a couple hard and manchego-like with rind, one I’m sure was made from sheep’s milk… some black grapes and fruit chutney were the accompaniment.
And lastly, some cake – my single mouthful of this was enough as desserts are not really my thing, besides which I was thoroughly enjoying the PX Fernando de Castilla sherry, which eclipsed anything else I might have tasted at the time.
Throughout the evening, José Pizarro’s partners in wine from Cillar de Silos had kept us informed about and topped up with various glasses of Spanish goodness. We’d started the evening with a beautifully dry cava, which I wouldn’t hesitate to serve to friends as an aperitif, and then moved onto a rare and special fino from Gonzalo Bayass. The Duero wine-growing region was well represented by the Rosado de Silos and Illar de Silos Crianza from the Silos cellars, and lastly we had the delicious sherry to round off the evening. By the time I left for home I was one very happy bunny.
And so to the verdict on Dine with Dos Hermanos: well worth the effort. The evening was superb, the food and drink quality, the conversation excellent – especially as it mostly revolved around the common interest of the Fortunate Fifty: food. The icing on the tarta is that Simon Majumdar is, in my opinion, a really good egg with the right sort of priorities – family and food. As for José Pizarro, well, he kindly gave me some advice on how to make my tortillitas de camarones better, and that was a bonus to the evening that was most gratefully received.
Pizarro is definitely worth visiting if you’re heading down Bermondsey way. Don’t try to book – there’s a no-reservations policy, but as a back-up, if things are busy, you could always pop along the street to José, the slightly more senior tapas bar in the Pizarro stable, which opened to great acclaim last year. Definitely go to Pizarro if you’re fond of all things Iberico ham, be sure to try the croquetas, and if you’re in the mood for bubbles, why not give the cava a whirl? From what I hear Pizarro has had the odd teething problem since the DWDH evening, but that’s to be expected of any new establishment. Put simply, I’ll be returning soon with my chorizo-chomping husband in tow; he’s even fussier about food than I am, so if that’s not an EPIC seal of approval, I don’t know what is.
Pizarro, 194 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3TQ
If you’re Vietnamese and you don’t like Pho, there’s definitely something wrong with your genetic make up. Pronounced ‘FUH’, pho is Vietnam’s national dish and the thought of that single syllable makes my stomach grumble with longing.
Pho’s concept is simple: make a fully-balanced meal fit into a single bowl. The main components are rice noodles, broth and some sort of protein - beef or chicken or seafood, sometimes tripe or meatballs or a combination of different meats and broth. The protein goes into the bowl raw and cooks when the boiling hot broth that has been simmering for some hours is poured over it. The broth varies in strength and flavour depending on the region of Vietnam, often containing spices and herbs like cinnamon and ginger, coriander seed and clove. Once served, the consumer can then season it to their own personal taste with condiments like chilli, spring onions and fresh herbs.
When Monsieur and I were preparing for our trip to Vietnam, pho seemed to pop up everywhere. It was mentioned in all the guides, in online reviews, in restaurant recommendations, and if you look up ‘pho’ on You Tube, you’ll find the likes of Anthony Bourdain trying it out in Ho Chi Minh City and amateur pho chefs demonstrating step-by-step instructions on how to make pho at home. Once in Vietnam, Monsieur and I and enjoyed authentic pho on several occasions, marvelling at the regional subtleties and the many ways in which the simple concept of a meal in a bowl may be interpreted.
The Vietnamese say that Pho is their equivalent of chicken noodle soup. It’s an anti-viral cold-preventative, hangover cure and all-round comfort food. For all of these reasons and because Pho simply tastes good, Epic is a great, big pho fan.
Back in March of this year I was lucky enough to be invited to a food bloggers’ event at a restaurant specialising in pho, called, not surprisingly, Pho. There are now four restaurants in the Pho chain; we went to the one in Great Titchfield Street. There, in a bright basement, we were treated to welcome drinks, including wine or Hue beer, a popular Vietnamese brew. It was Hue all the way for me after that.
First up, we enjoyed learning to make our own summer rolls. I wasn’t exactly adept at this (mine resembled more of a lopsided sausage factory reject than a neat little roll), but I did enjoy eating the results.
And this is what the staff work so hard to produce – vat upon steaming vat of bubbling hot broth.
Back at our very long table, the crowd was like a Who’s Who of London food bloggers, which made for passionate conversation about who’s cooking/eating what, where to shop for the best ingredients and which chefs we rate or otherwise. There were collective aaahs of approval as we nibbled on our summer rolls and dipped into the share platters of Vietnamese salads. Outside it was dark, cold and rainy. Inside at Pho we could taste summer in the fresh papaya salad, delving for the fat prawns in its midst. This platter, called Goi Du Du in Vietnamese, is sprinkled with chopped peanuts and served with prawn crackers. Everything (apart from the prawns) crunched in a satisfying way: the batons of papaya, the strips of capsicum, the peanuts, the crackers. It was a welcome antidote to the misery of March weather.
At last, the moment came when we could taste the pho of our choice. On the menu was quite a list of pho varieties – served with steak or brisket, or both, with meatballs, chicken or prawns or a couple of vegetarian versions with tofu or mushrooms. I had Pho Tom – more fat tiger prawns served in chicken stock.
The bowls come with special ladle-like spoons and a selection of condiments with which to bespoke your pho: Vietnamese coriander (which looks like mint but tastes completely different), beansprouts, chilli and lime.
Here’s my bowl of glory, steaming away merrily.
The broth was piping hot, the prawns tender and plump with juice. Lots of happy slurping went on around the table that night and the general consensus was that Pho was modern, affordable, with the freshest of ingredients and therefore definitely had its place in London.
Following the spring rolls, salad, a bowl of Pho and a couple of Hues, I was overflowing with good things and had zero capacity for dessert, which was a shame because the Pho menu boasts banana fritters, pandan pancakes and fresh fruit sorbets with flavours like strawberry with fresh basil. I did, however, cave in to the offer of an iced Vietnamese coffee made with condensed milk. I know, I know, it sounds odd, but it’s like a Vietnamese frappuccino and they’re really quite addictive.
So with a round and happy belly I bade farewell to the warm Pho staff and foodie friends, toddling off in the rain in search of an elusive cab, smile on face, with a stomachful of Pho. Methinks that Pho isn’t just the Vietnamese cure-all comfort food, but Vietnamese prozac in a bowl, for it shifts my mood to happy every time.
For further details about the London branches of Pho, go to: www.phocafe.co.uk
Recently on the London Bloggers’ Meetup Group website I noticed a competition about BEANS. The prize is a lovely luxury bean bag from Ambient Lounge and all the entrants have to do is write a short (Epicurienne? Short? That’ll be the hard part…) post about BEANS. This made me think. Hard. I love beans, so I decided to create an A to Z to help me to remember how many varieties there are.
A Well, this has to be for Ambient Lounge, the supplier of the bean bag prize/s for this competition. They’re super-cool, are used to furnish Kensington Roof Gardens, a top London club with views over London, and there’s even a sun lounger bean bag – how hip is that?
B There are loads of BEANS beginning with B: Baked, Black, Broad, Butter. Beansprouts are great for salads and stir fries. The Adventures of Beans Baxter is a US TV series. Brazil is currently the biggest producer of dry beans and I come from the generation who all know what a Bean-o comic is.
C Did you know that the Chickpea is a bean? Now you do. There are Cocoa beans for hot drinks and chocolate making, Coffee beans to keep us awake, Castor beans which give a delightful flavour to sugar and the Common bean which can be used for just about anything. Coral beans and Cranberry beans are a bit more exotic. In France, Cassoulet is a wonderful meal comprising duck stewed in its own juices with fat, white beans. It’s a hearty winter meal in itself.
D stands for Designer Bean Bags upon which to launch oneself after a long day of arduous work, while watching The Food Channel. There is also a Dolichos bean which sounds delicious.
E is for Edamame, or soy bean, upon which patrons crunch in smart Asian food establishments.
F The Fava bean is another name for the Broad bean. Fagioli is the Italian word for bean. Flageolets are wonderful, juicy white beans which are popular in France (and in Epic’s London kitchen) and Fabaceae is one name for the family of plants whose seeds become BEANS on our plates at home. Flatulence can be the embarrassing result of eating too many BEANS but BEANS are too tasty for us to worry about a bit of wayward wind, no?
G The Green bean is a staple of many a mean-and-three-veg dinner, but for something a little special, you could always seek out the Goldmarie Vining Pole bean.
H Haricots Verts are the French green beans and who doesn’t know the slogan ‘Beanz Meanz HEINZ?’. Hannibal Lechter of ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is renowned for the following spine-chilling quote: “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti,” and on many an international boardwalk you will find teenagers doing unbelievable tricks with their bean-filled hacky-sacks.
I is for India, the second most prolific producer of dry beans in the world.
J is for the eponymous Jack, famed for the magic beans that grow into a giant beanstalk in one of the most popular fairy tales of all time. There is also a variety of bean called the Jack, and everyone has a favourite colour of Jelly bean, although the manufacturer, Jelly Belly, has extended the flavour options so far that having just one favourite is probably a thing of the past.
K is for Kidney beans.
L stands for Leguminosae, another family of plants responsible for giving us beans. There is also the Lima bean variety and LL Bean, the classic clothes mail-order catalogue from the States – very New England.
M Here we find Mung beans (edible) and Rowan Atkinson’s doofy character, Mr Bean (not). Monty Python sang ‘Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam and spam is delicious, trust me!’ Personally, I can’t stand Spam but will take the baked beans any day.
N is for Navy beans, and
O is for Onions. The gardener’s advice is to never grow your beans next to onions – it will end in tears. But onions as a base for bean dishes will add texture and flavour.
P Beans grow in Pods, just like Peas, which are also beans, but let’s not confuse the issue by going into that here. It’s a whole different blog post. Polyanthus beans and Pinto beans come under Beans Beginning With P.
Q Beans form a vital ingredient for the classic Mexican Quesadilla.
R is for the classic Runner bean, the Refried bean used for Nachos, the Red bean, the Rice bean and the Roman bean. Go one up on the Joneses by serving the Roc d’Or or the Royalty Purple Podded Bush beans at your dinner parties.
S Beans are seeds and when planted will grow more beans. Beans beginning with S include Soy beans, Sieva beans and Scarlet Runner beans. The Latin name for the Sword bean is GLADIATA (perfect to give you energy before taking on Russell Crowe’s mates in a Colosseum somewhere). Spilling the beans will only get you in trouble.
T is for Tepary beans, and Tavera beans, otherwise known as French green filet beans.
U finds us with the Urad bean which is black with a soft white interior and highly popular in India, and
V gives us Vanilla beans and Velvet beans – what a sumptuous name.
W stands for Wattie’s, the New Zealand company who canned the baked beans I ate during my downunder childhood and
X is a tricky one so I’ve cheated – X is for TeX-MeX, a cuisine which makes great use of the humble bean.
Y is for the Yardlong bean and
Z is for ZE end.
That’s my A-Z of beans. Now if only I had a big fat bean bag to fall into… I’d be a very happy BEAN indeed.