I love London. I sign things London. London is the key to my heart – it deserves some writing.

A Tour of Innocent HQ: The Art of Good Taste

innocent hq 1
Last week, I traipsed on over to innocent HQ (aka Fruit Towers) to spend the evening chatting, nibbling, learning, and juice-making – all in an ode to The Art of Good Taste.

Welcomed to the evening with my own Lela London-branded innocent smmoothie (I’m genuinely going to make this happen), I was then taken on a tour of innocent’s headquarters; all inclusive of lego walls, phone boots, juice labs, train track-covered meeting rooms, and more…

Between taste training and catch-ups with friends old and knew, we enjoyed moreish nibbles from The Dip Society (including a so-called ‘Crack Brownie’ that had everyone loopy like it was served with a side of Ryan Gosling).

After undergoing innocent’s official sensory training (I passed! #SUPERPALATE) and trying our legs at juicing fruit and veg with a cycle-powered blender, we capped things off with an interactive talk by the authors of the best-selling ‘The Flavor Bible’, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

All in all, a fabulous evening.

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In Review: Vapiano Soho, London

vapiano soho london
The well-reviewed Italian ‘chain’ restaurant Vapiano recently opened their third UK site on Wardour Street in Soho.

Try as I might to avoid chains, my intrigue finally got the better of me.

Dragging my best and hungriest guy friend along for the ride, we decided to spend a long lunch hoisted on the bar stools of Vapiano’s least-busy location (the Great Portland Street restau is always heaving with The Lunch Crowd).

The concept, in theory, is ingenious: upon entering, you’re given a Vapiano card that gets charged every time you order an item from one of their various food and drink stations. When you’re ready to leave, you simply hand the card over to the F.O.H. team and settle your bill.

The issue? There is something lost in translation. Do you wait for your food to be made and take it back to your table? What if you have an issue with your food? What if you want multiple items – or courses – but don’t want to leave a conversation or wait in a queue? What if you’re in a large group and other people get their food much quicker than others (I saw this happen a few times between antipasti lovers and patient pizza lovers)?

Regardless of the card hoopla, I really enjoyed Vapiano. I found it to be great value, fresh, and a lovely atmosphere to dine in. The card system is simply not being executed in a way that does the food justice.

Lucky enough to arrive before the lunch rush, I got through a gorgeous strawberry and fresh spinach salad (dressed with goats’ cheese, red onions, pine nuts and homemade raspberry maple dressing), a plate of carpaccio, and the ‘death by chocolate’ cake – all of which totalled under £20. While my friend opted for a carby mix of bread-based antipasti, an ‘internationally inspired’ barbecue chicken pizza (topped with smoked cheese, red onion, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and barbecue sauce stripes), and a classic baked vanilla and lemon cheesecake, his feast was equally cheap and equally delicious.

My advice? Avoid the lunch rush, go with no more than three friends, and stagger your ordering. The food is worth it.

vapiano soho london review
vapiano soho london review
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In Review: Takeaway Afternoon Tea, The Park Tower Knightsbridge

take away afternoon tea
My last trip to The Park Tower Knightsbridge was almost five years ago. 2009 – and The Park Tower – mark my first-ever business meeting with a designer brand.

Having had so much change, bewilder and humble me since that meeting, The Park Tower holds a very special place in my heart. When welcoming one of my close friends and recent London transfers to the city, it seemed more than appropriate to take a pit stop at the hotel and take away their afternoon tea for a picnic in Hyde Park.

Their ‘Take Away Strawberry Afternoon Tea‘ – as you can see – is beautifully ingenious.

In their three tier cardboard tea platter, The Park Tower include:
- London smoked salmon and green asparagus (sushi style) with keta caviar on nori bread (IT. IS. UNREAL.)
- Norwich farm chicken caesar with baby gem chiffonade on carrot bread
- Surrey peppered beef pastrami with horseradish cream on malted grain bread
- Silver Hill duck egg mayonnaise and mustard cress on viennoise briochette
- Scones with strawberry and rhubarb marmalade
- Strawberry Valrhona white chocolate truffle
- Strawberry marshmallow
- Whole strawberry dipped in Valrhona milk chocolate and nibbed sugar (
- Strawberry pâté de fruits
- Strawberry and crème chantilly pavlova
- Strawberry Victoria sponge cake tennis court and lemon tennis ball
…and…the most amazing pastry I have ever laid eyes on…
- Strawberry petit choux pastry swans with pistachio cream mousseline.

Truth be told, stretching out in the sunshine, listening to an insane Beatles cover band, and devouring the petite platter between us was the most gratifying way we could have spent an afternoon. Quintessential London luxury.

The takeaway afternoon tea is priced at £19.50 per person or £69 for two with a half bottle of Moët & Chandon Rosé (GO FOR IT) and available through August 31st. I advise booking 24 hours in advance (by online form or phone) to ensure availability.

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take away afternoon tea
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In Review: Notting Hill Kitchen, London

notting hill kitchen
Last weekend, one of my favourite ladies and I high-tailed it from East to West for a dinner date at Notting Hill Kitchen. This summer, executive chef Luis Baena completely relaunched the contemporary Iberian menu and I have been awaiting the chance to pop down ever since.

After skipping around Notting Hill like I was Julia Roberts circa 1999, I found my way to Notting Hill Kitchen in perfect time and sat down with Charlie to share a cocktail or two before our appetites were geared up for the experience ahead.

Already salivating over the tapas menu which we poached from the delightful barman, we were taken through to our table and left to take in the menus and the surroundings. Every part of the formally informal Iberian restaurant radiates charm. From the domed floor-to-ceiling street windows to the canvased bread baskets, the magic is in Notting Hill Kitchen’s details.

That and, as you can probably tell from the photos, the food.

Deciding to share our starters, we also opted for a small plate of brioche filled with spider crab mousse from the tapas menu. But first? The tiborna alentejana. As a starter, I was more intrigued than enticed by the flavour combinations, but the thin toasted sourdough curves topped with pata negra jamon, bone marrow, cured papada, and truffled yolk turned out to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever tasted. It took me straight back to the first time I tasted salmon as a child; that moment when you realise a flavour can exist far beyond expectations. The tiborna is a must-try.

After breaking the starters up with bites of the crab brioche, we then forked through a rectangular plate of diver-caught scallops that took the Iberian influence into the stratosphere. As well as perfectly cooked scallops, the plate held an incredible sliver of pork terrine, tomato & crispy onion, a dusting of ‘vilao’ dressing, and a surprise garnish of Ajo blanco pannacotta. I was tempted to swap my main out for a second serving.

Fortunately, I stuck to my guns and was quickly presented with a generous portion of Bacalao Negro (slow cooked cod & squid ink with chorizo crumble and yogurt dressing). As a savoury meal goes, this dish is as light as it could possibly get, yet packed with flavour. Unfortunately, Charlie’s seared beef tenderloin glisten-winked at me through every bite. A veritable war against willpower and tenderly melting beef, truffled potato puree, Madeira sauce, sauteed mushrooms, and white asparagus (“THIS IS THE BEST BEEF I’VE EVER HAD” still tortures me).

It is impossible to avoid food envy in a restaurant like Notting Hill Kitchen.

Thankfully, Charlie’s addiction to – and my current dislike of – chocolate meant the dessert menu was a safe zone for both of us. Her beautifully presented ‘Ménage à trois’ (white chocolate mousse, toffee parfait, and dark chocolate) and my caramel popcorn-topped lemon cheesecake rounded the meal off beautifully.

I could not imagine an occasion where I wouldn’t want to return. I might even have to invent an Iberian holiday or two to ensure that I do.

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notting hill kitchen
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In Review: Jamies Italian, Westfield Stratford

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I had one million misconceptions about Jamie’s Italian before I ever set foot in one.

Celebrity chef? Probably has nothing to do with it. Prices? Obviously +£10 per dish to cover the celebrity status. Chain restaurant? I can’t even.

I am very happy. I was very wrong.

Last weekend, The Manfriend and I rocked up for lunch after a particularly heavy night with Katy Perry (see previous post). Drowning in the warmth of the sun next to the Westfield Stratford branch‘s open terrace – and their at-window-serving hog roast! – I coukd not feel any further from my preconceived idea of ‘bland chain eats’.

After ordering a few non-alcoholic cocktails (I do not believe in hair of the dog), we perused the menu with delight.

There was FOOD. Real, fresh FOOD. Food-I-would-serve-at-a-dinner-party-if-I-was-an-Italian-model-goddess FOOD!

It took no time at all to decide on starters. With a penchant for great ingredients, I thought I’d test the water with a small Bresaola salad (which came with artichokes, rocket, crumbled Colwick cheese, toasted almonds and aged balsamic) while my very hungry Manfriend dove headfirst into a plate of Crab and Avocado bruschetta (mixed with apple, chilli, mint and lemon).

It also took no time to lick the plates clean.

When our mains arrived, we were entranced. Yet, while staring wide-eyed at enormous plates stacked with feather blade flash steak and crispy soft shell crab was entertaining, our appetites eventually got the better of us. His dry aged British beef – after being pounded with prosciutto and sage – sat nestled under a heritage tomato and basil salsa while my own beast, the buttermilk-fried crab, disintegrated by the forkful. If I could recommend one dish and one dish only, the crab would take the cake. The dish’s plate partners (a chilli, fennel and sea lettuce salad with smashed avocado and yuzu lime salsa) were exceptional.

(As photo evidence proves, we ordered Polenta chips with rosemary salt & Parmesan and ‘Posh Chips‘ with truffle oil & Parmesan before realising quite how large our portions would be. We did not finish them. Not for lack of trying.)

Nailing the final buckle in the belt loop, we wrapped things up with a few bites of raspberry and chocolate-rippled pavlova and Amalfi lemon meringue cheesecake.

Oh, how I wish ‘doggy bags’ were a thing in the U.K. That cheesecake could have fed our household for days.

I wouldn’t even be sick of it.

The best part? Three enormous courses – plus mocktails – for two still comes in at under £100. And I would order everything again.

Please accept my apologies, Jamie O. You’ve done this judgemental foodie proud.

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