Thursday, September 30, 2010

A brief trend update: Embellished heels

I still have a couple of entries to post from our trip overseas but I thought I might interrupt to give you a quick trend update.

One of the more interesting trends we are going to see for A/W 2011 is the embellished heel. By that I mean the heel of the shoes being embellished rather than the entire heel - the trend is well represented in many European and US A/W collections.

Some of my favourites include:

These lovelies from Louis Vuitton. Called the Beauty and with gorgeous sparkly Swarovski crystal encrusted heels, they are a snip at $1950... Available in store only in black, bordeaux and grey.

Or if they are our of your price range, how about these beauties? From Reiss in the UK, the Thea feature heel court are a far more reasonable 169 pounds.
Other options include the following:

Christian Louboutin Rolandzip suede platform 120s from Net-a-Porter (426 pounds)

Christian Louboutin Dorepi 100 leopard print pumps from Net-a-Porter (481 pounds)
Brian Atwood Harrison chain leather pumps from Net-a-Porter (613 pounds). In fact, many Brian Atwood shoes have embellished heels this season!

Fashionista's Corso Como evening shoe from Kurt Geiger (290 pounds)

So whatever you have your eye on footwear wise, make sure it has a kick-ass heel!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking Class at Lucy Cooks, Staveley in the Lakes District

One thing you learn fairly quickly on a month long holiday is that you get fairly sick of restaurant food after a while. You do your best to try and mix it up - different cuisines, a mix of posh and pub, the occasional "I'll just have an entree" before crashing out after a long day in the car...

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but night after night of eating out can have a toll on your taste buds, as well as your tummy. As much as I love trying different types of food in different cities, sometimes you just crave a home cooked meal. Something simple in the company of friends. Somewhere you can just relax, have a bit of a laugh and enjoy simple good food.

In anticipation of becoming food weary on this trip, I looked for something that might fit that very bill. I found it in a cooking class through Lucy Cooks in the Lakes District.

Lucy's started life in Ambleside in 1989 and has grown to be a veritable feast of foodie fabulousness - a combination of Delicatessen, Mail Order, Cafe & Restaurant, Outside Catering, Wine Bar & Bistro and Cookery School in the Lakes District of Northern England. Having read so much about the whirlwind that is Lucy we knew we had to eat at one of her fabulous restaurants. But after almost three weeks of eating out, could there be a better option?

We stumbled across the Cooking classes purely by accident but after three weeks of eating out they sounded like the perfect antidote to our gourmet problems. You are greeted with a welcome cocktail and following a good wander around the cooking school, you settle down to watch a professional chef create a three course meal suitable for any home dinner party. It's a relaxed mix of dinner party, learning experience and entertainment and a perfect thing to do after so much hard travelling.

We arrived at the designated time of 6:30 and accepted our welcome cocktail - a mix of rose wine, vodka, lime juice and ginger ale - gratefully. It was delicious and I am looking forward to replicating it at home this summer. Refreshing and cool it set the scene for what was to be a truly sensational night, full of entertainment, gastronomic delights and great company.

Ryan, our chef, explaining the evening's menu

We were seated around a long table with a good view of the demonstration kitchen. There were 11 of us in the group, a mix of locals out for an evening through to people who had traveled an hour or so to sample the great food. Some of the guests had done the more formal cooking classes at Lucy's before and spoke highly of the experience which excited me. That certainly bode well for the evening ahead!

We started with an introduction from our chef from the evening, Ryan Blackburn. Ryan has worked at some of the UK's best restaurants, including the Michelin starred Martin Wishart's in Edinburgh. A recent addition to the team at Lucy's he was head chef at Wishart's cooking school in Scotland before relocating back to the Lakes District, his original home where he is able to share his passion for cooking and his love of Cumbrian produce.

He has a wealth of experience, having worked at local institution Holbeck Ghyll (another Michelin Starred establishment) and as a cooking demonstrator.

Whoops! Stared eating before I took a photo! Clearly eager to taste!

We started the evening with a delicious celeriac and saffron veloute. Thick and creamy, the richness of the soup was balanced by the freshness of the produce, and it was ridiculously easy to make. The hint coriander and touch of saffron took this soup from being good to extraordinary. It was a stunning dish and really set the scene for the evening ahead.

Next on the menu was a potted trout dish. Unfortunately being allergic to a lot of fish meant I couldn't partake, but kindly Ryan created a dish especially for me as an entree - a goats cheese and filo stack served with a roasted golden beetroot and dressed leaves. The dish was spectacular - the filo was crisp and golden, the goats cheese oozing, the betroot fresh and delicate. The right amount of textural crunch matched with salty softness - it's hard to think of enough superlatives to describe how good this really was. Mr Kitty loved the potted trout, by the way - he described it as delicate and fresh with a hint of horseradish cutting through the richness. It was served with locally made toasted artisan sourdough - another highlight.

The next course was from left field. Lucy is famous for her puddings - both savoury and sweet - but we weren't expecting something so... fabulously exotic! The main course was a traditional South African Bobotie - a spiced lamb dish topped with a savoury custard. It's something I have never tried despite our travels around South Africa. I have to say it didn't really sound all that appealing at the beginning of the night but I took Ryan's advice on how wonderful it was and plunged in with enthusiasm. I was glad I did - it was absolutely delicious. The flavour of the lamb and the garam marsala worked beautifully with the sweetness of the apricots and the gorgeous unctuousness of the "custard". The best way to describe it is that's it's very much like a moussaka without the eggplant or a spiced shepherd's pie. Delicious. Moreish. Fabulously comforting. An absolute winner. The Bobotie was served with a green salad and boiled new potatoes, the perfect foil for the delicately spiced hearty dish.

Dessert - well could we fit dessert in after such a delicious and delectable meal? The answer is a resounding yes, especially when it's a fig and frangipane tart served with Chantilly cream. I had never attempted a frangipane tart - I always thought it would be fiddly and hard, but with Ryan's recipe it couldn't be simpler, or more delicious. No photos, I'm afraid - we ate our slices before we realised we hadn't photographed them. I clearly have no future as a proper food blogger. You'll just have to believe me that it was absolutely delicious - the pastry was melt in the mouth and the filling beautifully yielding and soft. I can't wait to try this recipe over summer with peaches and nectarines.

Ryan hard at work creating our dinner

Stuffed and happy, having had a brilliant night chatting with people and watching the skilled Ryan and his team - the lovely Janet and fabulous funny Tim - we resolved that if we were ever back in the Lakes District we would make a special trip back to another cooking class. Not only was the food fantastic, it was the perfect antidote for what ailed us!

Lucy Cooks
Mill Yard
Staveley near Kendal
Cumbria LA8

Ph: 015394 32288


Friday, September 24, 2010

Dinner at Hall and Woodhouse, Bath

Bath is a beautiful city. There - I've said it. It's the one thing that hits you when you arrive and stays with you the entire visit, and lingers long after you drift away. It's gorgeous. Around every corner is more beauty and stunning architecture.

The same can be said about Bath's restaurant scene. There are more amazing restaurants than you can poke a stick at, and behind every corner lurks another little gem.

Bath was one of the places where I didn't bother making a restaurant reservation. After a few weeks of rather hefty eating and rich meals in wonderful places, I thought we might just wing it. Not very Kitty style, but occasionally I can be spontaneous. Sometimes. Not often, but it does occasionally happen.

We arrived in Bath in the late afternoon, just in time for a wander around the streets before sunset (and there was sun people!). We had a mosey down Milsom Street (and I may have bought a pair of shoes but that's for later...) and a stroll through the divine Bath Abbey which is a sight worth the trip to Bath alone. And all of a sudden it was time for dinner. We strolled the streets for a while, reading menus and trying to decide what we might feel like...

Hall and Woodhouse had been recommended by the owner of the Guesthouse we were staying at in Bath. Tucked around the corner from Queens Square in a beautiful old sandstone building, it's a combination bar and pub, with a fabulous restaurant upstairs and a magnificent terrace on the roof. It's been recently done up and while it's clear there has been a lot of money spent on the project, the result is a venue that feels luxurious and modern, while retaining the feel of the original building.

Unfortunately, being a Sunday, the restaurant and terrace were actually closed, but the menu was available in the bar downstairs. After a quick scan it was fairly clear what we would have: Mr Kitty, craving vegetables, opted for the wood roasted chicken salad and I, craving comfort food, chose Ella's perfect roast chicken with mash. How can you pass up something that claims to be the perfect roast chicken?

Our food arrived in quick time - good news to us hungry fol and we settled down to eat. At this point we realised why Carla had recommended H&W to us - not only is the atmosphere great and the place full of locals, the food is sensational.

Mr Kitty's chicken salad was the best example we have had since leaving Australia. A gem lettuce salad generously filled with meltingly soft chunks of chicken, crispy smoked bacon, sun blushed tomatoes, shaved Dorset Drum cheddar and herbed croutons, drizzled beautifully with house dressing, it was the perfect antidote to the heavy meals we had been having around Scotland. Light and refreshing but with a good amount of heft courtesy of the chicken and bacon, Mr Kitty was well satisfied by this offering. His side of fries was crispy and crunchy - a fabulous example of the genre.

My perfect roast chicken was indeed perfect. Gently perfumed with lemon thyme and a smidge of garlic, my chicken was tender and moist and full of flavour. The accompanying mash was luscious and buttery without being too rich, the occasional lump redolent of a home-made dish rather than restaurant fare. It was a perfect accompaniment to the chook, as was the sticky gravy and peppery watercress.

Sated but not entirely full, we decided to check the dessert menu. The sticky toffee pudding was calling my name, and the lovelies at H&W generously allowed me to swap the accompanying vanilla ice cream for the more local clotted cream ice cream, something I had been dying to try. It was a triumph - the pudding moist and sweet, the caramel sauce deep with flavour and the ice cream a fabulous foil to the sweetness of the pud. I could have easily eaten a whole carton of it.

Mr Kitty's bread and butter pudding was also a hit. Studded with sultanas and dried apricots and served with a traditional English custard, it was a great way to finish a meal and he was very happy with his choice.

Hall and Woodhouse is a top find. Happily fed and watered we wandered back to our digs for the evening, glad we'd take the advice of a local about dinner. It's usually a very good idea if you ask me.

Hall and Woodhouse
1 Old King Street
Bath BA1


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Afternoon tea at The Langham, London

Oh, how I love afternoon tea. A good proper afternoon tea. With the best sandwiches, soft scones and a fabulous selection of frivolous fancies to finish. Topped off with nothing but the best pot of tea and you have yourself a happy Kitty. A good - nay, great - afternoon tea is worth shouting about.

One such afternoon tea can be had at The Langham in London. We arrived separately, Mr Kitty, my little sister and myself, all having come from different places across London. I had been shopping (of course!), Mr Kitty spent his morning in bookshops in Charing Cross Road and my sister was hard at work. We were very much looking forward to the afternoon, especially with the news that The Langham had been awarded London's top afternoon tea for 2010 by the Tea Guild, no doubt an authority on such important matters.

Wedgewood Harlequin Queen of Hearts teapot - definitely on the want list!

Shaking off the raindrops from the changeable London weather, we all settled down to enjoy the experience. It was Mr Kitty's first afternoon tea in a hotel and he was eager to sample the delights.

The recently renovated Palm Court is almost reason enough to visit the Langham for tea - the flourishes and decorative effects really do hark back to an earlier era and the room is definitely redolent of a far away time - a time when afternoon tea was an absolute necessity in life, not just an occasional luxury. The silver roof is definitely a highlight of the room - with the Venetian mirrored paneling it did make me wonder how I could incorporate the effect in our renovations, much to Mr Kitty's dismay.

After we decided on the Wonderland Tea from a number of options and carefully selected our choice of tea from the extensive menu (black vanilla for me, the signature Langham blend for my sister and a long black for Mr Kitty who does not imbibe tea at all), our first "course" if you will, was described as a pre-dessert: a vanilla pannacotta with pineapple. Deliciously refreshing it was soft yet yielding to the spoon with just enough wobble to keep Goerge, Gary and Matt happy I would have thought.

Coming up next was a fabulous round of sandwiches. A veritable feast of choices, including corn and yellowfin tuna on wholemeal, cucumber and cream cheese on white, hens eggs and mustard cress on white, corn-fed chicken with tarragon on wholemeal and smoked Scottish salmon and horseradish on wholemeal. Neither my sister or I are big on smoked salmon so Mr Kitty scored a bit of a bonus.

The sandwiches were fresh, full of filling and generous on flavour. I struggle to think of an afternoon tea sandwich that beats it, the highlights for us being the chicken and tarragon and the egg and cress. Mr Kitty enjoyed the salmon too.

Our scone course was next and the scones were still warm. They were fluffy yet firm to the touch. We had a selection of fruit and plain scones topped off with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam. Divine. My only complaint is that I tend to prefer raspberry jam but clearly that is a personal preference rather than a criticism.

The next course was a selection of fancies from the pastry kitchen. The chefs had been hard at work creating a fabulous orange carrot cake with violet frosting, a delicious strawberry eclair, an unsurpassed raspberry pistachio friand and a delicate shortbread lollipop. My favourite I have to admit was the friand - the simple flavours worked so well together abd the cake base was so light and delicate.

Finally - when we thought we could eat no more, a raspberry cupcake was offered. And I couldn't say no, despite the fact I was more full than I could ever remember being. I didn't regret it - it was one of the best cupcakes I have had in a very long time. The base was sweet and soft with a good crumb and the frosting was strong on sherbetty raspberry flavour. A great way to finish a fabulous afternoon tea.

Palm Court at The Langham
Afternoon tea priced from 37 pounds per person

1C Portland Place
Regent Street
London W1

Reservations essential.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Vivienne Westwood Shoes: A retrospective at Selfridges

One of the things I was very much looking forward to on our trip to the UK was visiting Selfridges. It has – I think – the best shoe department in London and the clothing really does run the gamut of affordable and chic through to luxurious and deeply prohibitive and costly. I have many happy shopping memories from my trips to Selfridges.

But this time I was heading to the store to see the Vivienne Westwood shoe exhibition. Held in the basement Ultralounge, the exhibit celebrates four decades of Dame Vivi Shoe Style – from her extraordinary platform boots on the 1970s through to her environmentally friendly and fabulously stylish collaboration with the manufacturer Melissa. With more than 200 pairs on display – from catwalk creations to shoes available for the average person (i.e. more affordable) the exhibition promised much – and delivered.

I was overwhelmed by the display – cases and cases of the most fabulous creations, thing you could never imagine. Each shoe is truly a piece of artwork and often defined the age for which it was created.

As a complement to the display, there was also a screen running with Vivienne Westwood couture shows from the ages showing the shoes “in situ” if you will. The only thing lacking, I thought, was more graphical representation of the shoes – there was much room for more images of shows, of the shoes used in editorial. But this is a small criticism of what is, in essence, a truly wonderful retrospective.

The display only runs until the 22nd of September (eek! that's tomorrow!) so if you are in London hightail it over to Oxford Street. It will be time well spent.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Tigerlily Edinburgh

I’m not really one for writing reviews of hotels I have stayed in. I find hotels are extremely subjective and personal. One man’s hostel is another man’s (or woman’s) palace depending on what you look for in a holiday. But this place – well I really couldn’t resist.

For the most part I was in charge of selecting the hotels we stayed at for our trip to the UK. And this place was the best we have stayed at so far. By a country mile.

From the entryway, planted with real tiger lilies through to the beautifully renovated bar and restaurant, the first impressions of this hotel and insanely good. The location is fabulous too – about 15 minutes walk from the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle on a street lined with bars, restaurants and posh shops in old Georgian terraces.

The hotel itself is also in a renovated terrace and is spectacular. There is no other way to describe it. You enter through the bar, which is a combination of traditional silver and pale blue rococo style wallpaper, mirrored tile mosaic walls and splashes of pink upholstery. The sitting area is made cosy with an open fire and a spectacular Venetian mirror and the comfiest of couches and armchairs, perfect for one of Tigerlily’s signature cocktails or a warm rich hot chocolate as part of afternoon tea.

The hotel itself has only 33 rooms so it’s small enough to be exclusive and to have personalised service but large enough to deliver all the luxuries you expect staying in one of Edinburgh’s Premier hotels.

Our room was amazing. The vibrant colours and mirrored mosaics of the public areas make way for a soothing neutral colours and furnishings. We stayed in a Luxury Double which was huge – plenty of space for a large king size bed, a proper sitting area, a full wardrobe and a desk as well as all my luggage (and with 4 weeks of travelling I have lots of luggage). The room is furnished in beiges, creams and browns with the odd splash of colour reminding you of the downstairs flair and frivolity.

The bathroom is also divine – the plush towels and bathrobes, the rainwater shower and the huge space filled with The White Company toiletries. It’s really a dream bathroom. It would be tempting to spend all your time in your room on the lush king bed but with the fabulous world of Edinburgh at your feet it’s a wrench to leave.

Once you have experienced the delights of one of Great Britain’s most beautiful cities (I can recommend Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile as well as just meandering to enjoy the sights of the Old Town), I’d highly recommend a brisk walk back to the hotel and settling in for a cocktail or two by the fire in the bar. It’s a really popular place – and with good reason. The atmosphere is hip and cool but the reception is warm and the cocktails fabulous.

And without doubt you’ll get hungry after all that walking, shopping and sightseeing so remember to book a table at the restaurant. You won’t be disappointed. The scallops with pea puree and pancetta – if they are on the menu – will knock your socks off. They are huge, full of flavour and fabulous. The Swordfish Nicoise was also a hit with the fish beautifully moist and the flavours modern. The service is unobtrusive and smart and the wine list is full of fabulous international gems, including even a few beauties from Australia.

After a truly restful night’s sleep (no doubted helped along by a bottle of sensational Italian Pinot Grigio with dinner) it’s back downstairs for a grand breakfast. The Eggs Benedict was superb, the Full Scottish a hands down winner. The coffee is proper espresso, not always easy to find, and the tea is – well great. A fabulous start to another wonderful day in Scotland.

125 George Street

Edinburgh EH2 4JN

Photos courtesy of Tigerlily

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Out of Africa.

Mr Kitty and I are currently travelling. We are doing the African Safari thing in Kruger National Park. Usually something of this nature would conjure up images of a young Greta Scacchi dressed in period costume looking gorgeous as she sweeps across the savannah, Charles Dance in tow... The dressing possibilities in my imagination are endless.

Unfortunately the reality is far more restrained. I have practically lived in the same bonds hoodie and trackpants the entire week. I haven't worn anything approximating make-up since I left Sydney, lip balm and moisturiser excluded. White linen gets awfully creased while sitting in a Toyota Corolla for hours on end and the red sandy dust shows on everything after about three minutes.

The reality of 5am starts and long days in a car squinting into the distance wondering if that rock you are looking at is indeed a rhino or that blur behind the bushes was in fact a lion has left me with nothing of a decorous or decadent nature to share with you.

Other than these. Enjoy.

We're off to London tomorrow. Shopping, a long bath and something to eat other than deep fried carbohydrates and protein are all in order. As is decent coffee and proper contact with the outside world.

Of course it's not all bad. I'm currently sitting here with a gin and tonic looking over the Sabie River at the elephants about 150m on the other side of the riverbank as they graze for their afternoon snack. Life doesn't get much more elemental - or any better - than that.

Will report back with more on our African Adventures soon, kittens.

Kitty xx