first friday st pete
St Pete and Clearwater are renowned as holiday destinations for sun and sand. Rightfully so. But after spending a month in St Pete and living like a local, I learned the so-called ‘Sunshine City’ has as much – if not more – to offer as its sugar sand-covered coastlines.

Read on for the 411 on block parties, local trends, some of the best food anywhere in America, and more.

first friday st pete
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z grille
Z Grille is a bit of a ‘blink and you miss it’ destination in downtown St Pete (or DTSP, as the cool kids call it). From the corner of 1st Avenue South, its an unassuming stretch of al fresco tables that have nothing on the grind-rail lined interior and sophistication whipped out of its open kitchen.

Z Grille’s chef and owner, Zach Gross, is a creature of constant experimentation. Though there are a few items that would cause an uproar if removed, the menu is as improvisational and creative as the Grille can get away with. It is a daring take in a competitive area and something they’re doing very well.

It is the type of place you want to bring all your friends so you can try a little bite of everything. Especially the Shrimp ‘Nachoz’ (crab queso, corn salsa, Pico De Gallo, avocado Salsa, queso fresco, cilantro crème, and pickled onions) and the gargantuan Foie Burger (house ground brisket & Ribeye, grilled onions, grilled tomato, applewood bacon, foie gras & garlic mayo), which is served with the most addictive manchego and chive-sprinkled truffle fries I have ever had the pleasure to taste.

Pro tip: save room for a few killer cocktails – they are as aptly named (ie Skinny “Beeyotch”) as they are delicious.

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St Pete and Clearwater are the peanut butter and jelly of Florida. My state-based childhood means I’m always asked for the so-called “best place to travel in Florida” and the combination is, without a doubt, going to be my answer for many years to come.

At just a 30-40 minute drive from St Petersburg, Clearwater (Beach and City) has everything a picture-perfect Florida vacation could promise; dolphins, boats, seafood, an atmosphere perfect for spring breakers & families alike, the best beach in America, and more.

Read on to get acquainted…

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clearwater florida
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sea salt st pete
It’s time to judge a book by its cover, my treasured foodie friends; Sea Salt is every bit as exquisite as its 22-foot tall wine tower, marble-topped raw bar, and general sweeping sumptuousity.

Naturally, I walked in skeptical. I have visited (and generally refused to review) a number of restaurants with a severe imbalance in style and substance. The meretricious disappointments are part and parcel of food writing.

Sea Salt is one of those glittering, infallible exceptions.

The chef and owner, Venice-native Fabrizio Aielli, is committed to excellence across the board – quality ingredients, quality staff, and quality menu curation that changes by the day.

It is perfection with a soul and – as the name would suggest – an international destination for all things sea and salt (the restaurant sells and serves 130 varieties of the latter).

Perusing the menu over a glass of Schramsberg Vineyard’s sparkling Chardonnay-based Blanc de Blanc, it almost felt rude to feign refusal of the oyster menu so my date and I kicked things off with the raw bar’s Tartufata (black truffle, burrata & leeks) and Kona Kampachi (avocado, red onion, capers & sweet chilli truffle sauce).

They were, without a doubt, the most flavourful oysters I have ever had and the start of a truly unforgettable culinary adventure.

Entrusting our uber knowledgable sommelier with all subsequent liquid decisions, we soaked up an inadvisable amount of Sriracha & truffle-infused salts into olive oil-soaked sourdough and settled in for the night.

Everything on the menu, defying logic and seeming possibility, tasted even better than it looked. From
Diver Sea Scallops (with cauliflower puree, apple, fennel, radichio & an incredible vandouvan curry nage), to Octopus (with smoked paprika, beluga lentils, chorizo & tomato marmalade), to Saffron Cavatelli (with Maine lobster, green peas & an ingenious mascarpone-prosecco sauce), to homemade ravioli (pack with tender braised veal and ricotta in a black truffle sauce), every flourish mattered.

By this point, the sommelier’s phenomenal choices (highlights of which included Delaporte Sancerre with the scallops and Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino with the Cavatelli) settled in and had me waxing lyrical – a tad too vehemently, perhaps – about my love of surf and turf.

Before I knew it, the chef had sent out an off-the-menu ode of his own; their yellowfin tuna (atop seared Hudson foie gras, black venere rice, wasabi pea aioli & a carrot-white soy emulsion) and the most unbelievably tender black Angus fillet mignon (cushioned by burrata-whipped potatoes and a Cabernet Bordelaise). Paired with a glass of Bootleg’s luscious Merlot/Petit Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah/Zinfande red blend, I reached ecstasy’s inevitable breaking point.

From start to finish – hostess to waitress – I could not have asked for more from Sea Salt.

But I suppose since my takeaway box of gourmet, silken chocolates from Norman Love (I live for the “Hot Dark”) lasted all of 24 hours, I’ll have to return at every opportunity over my final two weeks in St Pete to do exactly that…

YOLO and then some.

sea salt st pete
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rossopomodoro london 1
Sunshine is to London what I am to sitting still.

Even rarer? Having my camera in tow on a sun-soaked day where my schedule allows me to sit still for once.

With Rossopomodoro right around the corner as the stars aligned, a spontaneous lunch feast seemed too timely to pass up.

I had never been to any of the Italian chain’s British outposts, but my discerning Turin-raised confidante had sung their praises enough to promise much more than wannabe pizzas.

Clinking a duo of Aperol Spritz-filled glasses over menus far larger than expected, we settled on a selection of dishes to make up my perfect Italian meal. To start, my undying love (Burrata) served on a whole-wheat focaccia with sliced tomatoes & grilled vegetables alongside a selection of Napolitan street food; Calamari e Zucchine (fried calamari & fried courgettes zeppole with a lemon dressing) and Arancini (rice balls with tomato, mozzarella, beef, peas and basil).

I was impressed, to say the least. Making the choice for all their ingredients to come from Campania-based
producers may up the costs for them, but the consumer prices are as affordable as food of this quality gets.

As each restaurant’s expert Neapolitan pizzaiuoli prepare their dough daily (slow-matured to make the pizzas light, full of flavour and easy to digest), we couldn’t leave without trying one so paired a gargantuan salad with The “Massese” – plum tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy spianata salami and basil atop the aforementioned dough.

For a woman that only learned to like pizza in the last few years, it is endorsement and a half to say I’m already looking forward to the next…

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