Friday, 17 July 2015

Squares from Saint-Tropez (a photodiary)

I've been a big city girl most of my life but when I came up with the moniker Girl Next Shore, I had imagined myself in a state where I would be happiest: being somewhere coastal where daily life is steady and the ocean spreads out into an infinity of hopeful possibilities. I'd pictured myself as a completely happy girl embracing the sun as it sprinkled freckles on my face; listening to the song of the sea as it lulled every worry into nothingness; and falling in love with the will of the wind. 

A recent visit to Saint-Tropez made me remember that girl. Serving as a background to the glam life of billionaires, oligarchs and royalty, this town was a place I didn't expect to like as much as I do. But it's not the super yachts that wowed me (and I do love boats) nor the glitzy clubs that called out. 

The charm is in the old town itself, when it's fairly quiet and everyone's sleeping off the aftermath of the previous night's revelry. Its beautiful washed out hues of yellow and peach sends off a laidback and dreamy vibe, but port-side scenes and the sound of roaring waves remind you that whilst it is a sleeping village, there is a lot of time to live the dream. 

Walking around town made me feel a certain sense of belonging, like I could actually live there eventually. It spoke to me in the very way I heard London calling when I was 16. After a nice walk around town, I nursed a few glasses of ros矇 piscine (iced ros矇 wine) at Senequier while I watched people - tourists and locals alike - and life go by. Later, the super yachts and the clubs started beckoning punters, and the peaceful seaside town started getting dressed for another night of hedonism. It was my queue to leave and I realised it's been five hours since I sat. But in those five hours, I was the most content I've been in yonks.

Saint-Tropez was a reminder of the dreamer I once was and how positivity emanates from feeling hopeful. It was also a reminder that beneath the grandeur of dressed up and made up concepts, it's in simplicity you find beauty, and in the quiet moments you find you.

I'm not the girl you'd always adore
But I'll always be the girl next shore.
Set sail, find your anchor.

Have you ever felt such strong affinity towards a place?

Photos were taken with my trusty iPhone6.

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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Rex and Mariano (St Anne's Court): where you get your seafood fix at low cost

Rex & Mariano, a seafood and raw bar from the same group of Goodman, Burger & Lobster, and Beast fame, takes up the space that was once a witness to my FOB year in Londontown about a decade ago (think: way too many flavoured vodka shots #howtimeshavechanged). 

It's nice to see the place re-vamped as an actual restaurant even though I'm confused about the decor overall. Nonetheless, I like the idea of sharing plates of sea bounty at very affordable prices. I've heard mixed reviews which meant it could be controversial. 

There's just one thing you have to remember before eating at Rex & Mariano: NEVER GO IN A BRETON TOP. Because this:
I christened myself as Head Waitress that night. 

Food is ordered via iPad tech where you swish, click, swish, click and food is meant to come as quickly as possible. Whilst surrounding punters and the servers go gaga about this "innovative menu" I found it slightly more gimmicky/confusing than helpful. I'm not averse to technology at all, but restaurant dining is always fun when you have servers to interact with (the one assigned to our table was such a delight to chat to). I'll stick to good ol' printed menu and friendly servers, thanks.

We ordered half a dozen Jersey rock oysters (£1.75 each) to start. They were pretty fresh albeit a little on the petite side.

The tuna ceviche (£8) was something I had high hopes for. The chunks were big and the fish looked fresh. Unfortunately, it didn't have that umami flavour I had hoped for. It lacked a bit of acidity as well.

The clams (£7) were quite nice. The white wine sauce wasn't too thick and buttery (unlike Big Easy's) but I like it like this because you can taste the natural flavour of the clams.

The grilled Sicilian red striped prawns (£14) were probably our favourite for the night. I've heard rave reviews of the raw prawns, but the larger grilled option was decent; they were pretty succulent and cooked right. Seasoning was on point, not so much as to hide the natural sweetness of prawns.

The whole Dover sole tasted fresh enough, but the cook on it was slightly over so it wasn't as juicy as I would have wanted. Lacked a bit of seasoning, too.

To replenish our 5-a-day quota, we ordered a side of cauliflower with Old Bay seasoning (£4). It was nice enough for a little bit of "fake carbs" but as cauliflower can be bland on its own already, I wish they'd been a bit more adventurous with the seasoning.

Our server was super nice to give us limoncello shots on the house which went down nicely.

Overall, R&M has a lot of potential. It may not be the best of its kind out there just yet (dishes were a bit of a hit and miss) but it's a restaurant that would surely appease seafood cravings due to its convenience, mass appeal and affordability. 

Go visit if you can. Just don't go in a stripey top.

Rex & Mariano
2 St Anne's Court, London W1F 0AZ
Ave spend pp: £40
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Monday, 13 July 2015

Dehesa (Kingly Court): where you should refuel after a shopping trip

I'm a fan of the Salt Yard Group and their umbrella of restaurants because all their ventures are reliable for good food. 

Although my favourite is Ember Yard, Dehesa holds a soft spot for me as it has been a go-to for me and my friends post-shopping along Carnaby/Regent/Oxford Street. Truth be told, I rarely shop myself but girl friends like taking me shopping with them because I am rather more patient than their boyfriends. Just give me a smartphone and a chair to sit on and I'll indulge you. I won't be shy to say "That makes your ass look ginormous!" or "Your boobs look perky in those."

You can't go to a Salt Yard Group restaurant without ordering their signature courgette flower stuffed with goat cheese (£4.5) Drizzled with honey, it's the best of its kind in town (and I can't tell you how many stuffed courgette flowers I've eaten to find the one). Non-greasy, firm, and bursting with delicious tartness, it's great.

I really like the chargrilled Cornish hake with poached artichokes and Vin Santo & broad bean salsa (£8). The fish is cooked nicely and everything else had a great balance of flavour. I could have three servings of it. It's a must order for fish lovers.

A steady winner comes in the form of a piece of confit old spot pork belly (£9). The meat is tender and juicy and that crackling is one to square forks for. The side of rosemary scented cannellini beans complements the meat fantastically. It's a dish that is so comforting and perfect for all seasons.

For the beef lovers, they've got a grilled Basque onglet (£9) served with sprouting broccoli, radish salad and a mushroom jus (£9). The dish is what all your protein-laden dreams are made of. The onglet is served rare to medium rare and the jus lets the beef flavour shine.

We tried the Cornish crab & coriander brik with fennel, watercress, chilli and radish (£8.5). I like the fact that it had a heap load of actual crab meat, but there was some sort of Mediterranean spice that did not sit too well on my palate. It wasn't my favourite as it tasted rather salty.

For pudding, try the chocolate, almond & olive oil cake (£6.5) served with chilli peaches. The cake is surprisingly moist, light and not too rich. I'm not sure what the chilli peaches were there for (perhaps to add a bit of acidity?) but they weren't too hot and I wasn't too keen.

Rounding off a pretty satisfying meal, my favourite affogato with Moscatel raisin and Pedro Xim矇nez ice cream (£4.5). One of the best light desserts I've had in town, I always opt for this in Dehesa.

Overall, Dehesa is another reliable great restaurant from the Salt Yard Group and if you're around the area looking for a decent place to refuel after a day of shopping, avoid all tourist traps and head down there - you won't regret it (but go with a warning: you might just love the food so much and won't be able to fit in those new pair of jeans...)

Kingly Court, 25 Ganton Street, London W1F
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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Ceru at London Riviera: where you can have a Levantine summer in London

The heat is definitely on in London and I know a pretty cool spot where you can chill out whilst catching some sunshine kisses. 

Remember how I raved about the Levantine pop-up Ceru? Well, they're back with a powwow boom, setting up shop at the London Riviera in More London. They're staying until end of October, so best trot along the south bank and bag yourselves a lounge bed with awesome views of the London skyline by Tower Bridge.

Celebrating Chef Tom Kime's healthy and sustainable food ethics, Ceru's menu is just as delicious and even more colourful as ever.

They've invited a bunch of us social media foodies to feast on Ceru's favourites as well as the new offerings.

My personal favourite and serious highlight of the night was a roasted cauliflower dish topped with pomegranate, walnuts, pomegranate and a hint of vinaigrette. The play on texture is just mind-blowing and the flavour play was surprising; the earthy walnut lifted the flavours of the cauliflower whilst the juicy pomegranate seeds added a nice, sweet, acidic touch. I am in love with the simplicity and complexity of this dish.

There was also a new honey roasted carrot dish topped with superseeds and creme fraiche dollops. It seemed like one of those sides you can't get enough of when you have a nice roast for dinner, but it can definitely stand out as a main course, too.

The dips are still as good as I remember, the spicy red pepper dip still frontlining for my tastebuds.

The roast shawarma spiced lamb shoulder surprised me this time, because it was even better than the last time I had it. The meat was just so juicy and tender! The pomegranate seeds somehow made it taste and seem light, too. 

Calamari: still a favourite, ideally with beer

Courgette and mussell fritters: an interesting twist 

Honeycomb ice cream topped with baklava flavours: the only type of baklava I've ever enjoyed.

Ciroc provided us with quite a lot of cocktails. By the time the third concoction arrived, we were getting a bit merry!

I totally recommend visiting this summer oasis in the city. Can't always guarantee the weather (this is Engerland, after all), but there's good food, good booze, amazing views and a great lineup of events you just can't miss out on.

Ceru at London Riviera
Queen's Walk, More London, London SE1

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