Pierre Hermes Macarons

Should you ever be seeking an alternative to the Ladurée macarons I can highly recommend Pierre Hermes located in Knightsbridge. Quality is definitely up there but their uniqueness comes in their adventurousness with their flavourings. I walked into the shop just to have a look but walked out with a whole box! Interestingly on this occasion they charged by the weight rather than piece.

Flavours, left to right,

Mogador – Milk Chocolate & Passion Fruit
Olive Oil and Vanilla
Rose and Rose Petals
Ifiniment Caramel – Salted-Butter Caramel
Crème Brulee – Vanilla & Caramel Bits

They also have a concession in Selfridges if Kinghtsbridge is out of the way.


It’s hard to imagine that any remake could out-shine the original Footloose featuring Kevin Bacon however I love watching any sort of modern dance movie. The fact that this movie was also free was just an added bonus. For a remake this wasn’t actually too bad. Interestingly the 2011 remake is garnering a better rating than it’s 1984 counterpart on famed review website Rotten Tomatoes.

The story lines are fairly similar – city boy moves to country town where a the Council and the Reverend has banned loud music and dancing. I can’t remember why he decided to ban it in the 1984 movie but the reason given in the updated version was that five kids had been killed in an accident a few years back after a night out. Of course city boy, whose only escape is dance, seeks to rebel and overturn this whilst at the same time falling for, course, the Reverend’s daughter.

Entertaining and heart-warming – who doesn’t love a good old fashioned love story – the dancing was very alright as well featuring actual professional dancers Kenny Wormald (as the lead) opposite Julianne Hough.

Laney’s Paella

Laney is always generously inviting me around to her place for a meal and tonight’s feature was Paella. She really went all out with this one throwing in all kinds of seafood. Yum yum yum

After this afternoon’s pub lunch I thought I might struggle to finish a plate. But the paella was so tasty that I managed two serves!

Crystal Palace Dinosaur Court

London is truly the kind of city that surprises you at every turn so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to enter what would seem to just be another beautiful London Park to find that this particular one was host to a whole bunch of Dino sculptures! And not just any sculptures but the first dino sculptures in the world. Isn’t that all kinds of awesome? If this park was on my doorstep my running route would definitely including coming by and saying hi.

Even though these dinos were first installed in 1854, I like how Bromley Council have tried to bring them into the current century by installing some audio points along the trail.


There are other fun things in the Park as well, including a maze. Deceivingly simple eh Craig?

After we worked up an appetite walking around the park and making our way out of the maze we then totally undid all of that exercise by indulging in some lovely pub food (including a gorgeous ovened camembert with garlic) with Andrew and Elly, some friends of ours from work who live locally.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

alain01A meal at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester should really be saved for a special occasion – like a birthday. So I love how my brother and I have a mutual agreement that instead of getting each other presents for birthdays or Christmases (I am accumulating way too many things in my shoebox anyway!) we take each other out to a nice restaurant or go out for some sort of experience. Tonight it was my turn to treat my bro and I chose the 3-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Hey, go big or go home!

The Dorchester Hotel, if you don’t know it, is located in Park Lane and quite often has a lot of fancy schmancy super cars cars parked out the front. The service alain02 levels are as first-class as the guests it purports to attract and as soon as you enter through the doors you are greeted by smiling friendly helpful staff. Having arrived earlier than the 6.30 booked time slot my brother and I were seated at the bar and entertained by the bar man whilst we waited. The bar is located behind a very ornate “lobby”, which is where you can take your afternoon tea if you fancy. The bar snacks are pretty cool and befitting the Dorchester. Check out this revolving dish with three different sorts of delights. Of course at £20 per cocktail you’d hope you get something more than just peanuts!

Finally, our allotted time had arrived and we were ushered into the restaurant whose doors opened to reveal … the stunning ‘Table Lumière’ – a private dining area enclosed by a curtain of fiber optics (4,500 to be exact according to the website) – which dominates the centre of the room.


I wish I could have organised to eat inside it for our dinner tonight but it might have been a bit much just for the two of us! I’m told that if you ask nicely, and no alain04one has booked it for the evening, you can always have a “tour” of the space.

The room is lush and at the same time muted. Fine-dining restaurants tend to be very calm with a very low level hum of conversation for example you don’t tend to get any of that racous noise you get at a place such as Wagamama’s! This can be a pro and a con – a pro being you don’t have to shout to hear and be heard, a con being that you can easily hear the conversation of tables around you. Even tonight we could hear the conversation of the couple placed two tables away. This could, of course, also have been a result of our tables being quite close together.

Upon arrival we were provided with all the menus (wine, a la carte, two tasting) and at the same time a mountain, as my brother refers to them, of steaming hot puffs (Cheese, Pepper and Parika flavoured) – not just one or two but a whole mountain! Hello, yum! I love you already Alain Ducasse. It was almost too distracting to be looking at the menus until we’d polished off the puffs. We were also distracted by a game I like to play with the wine list – “Spot the Highest Price Wine/Champagne.” Tonight’s winner was a Chateau Mouton Rothschild coming in at a mere £9,900 … hmm … moving on swiftly then!




For our food we opted for the regular tasting menu. There was also a seasonal option at more than double the price but there was nothing on that which excited us enough to go for it. As soon as we’d given our menu choice the bread man arrived – tempted to go for everything I tried to control myself knowing how much food we still had ahead of us. It was really cute that all the plating that we had seen so far were vegetable looking – kind of like lettuce/cabbage leaves. So, it did seem fitting that the butter that arrived came shaped as a garlic bulb. We were also given a pot of creamed cheese but the garlic shaped salted butter was the winner for me (let’s face it – it’s the only time I knowingly eat butter!)



My past experiences with Michelin-starred restaurants, breads excluded, have shown that you will generally get a “free” course, or an Amuse Bouche, as part of your meal. I’m not judging Alain Ducasse or anything but it was interesting to note that the Amuse Bouche in this case was actually listed and included on the menu as part of their 7 courses. We did get extras at the end, however, that didn’t require you to get tea or coffees. AND also an option to partake from their gourmand and nougat cart AND something to take away with us for breakfast. Nice. But more on that later.

Oh, before I head on to the food it was interesting to note that Alain Ducasse provided guests with salt and pepper. Again something I’m used to with these restaurants is that you aren’t provided with these – in theory the dishes should be perfectly seasoned already so that was something a little unusual.

We didn’t have much time for chit chat at any rate as our first course was very swiftly delivered after the breads hit our plate – this egg shaped container. With a restrained “Ta Dah” our, very French, waiter announced our Spicy CRAB and BROCCOLETTI had arrived. He said something about a crab emulsion and coral epaulette which I don’t even know if it’s a word but it sounds good. It was a very cute dish at any rate. And the substance lived up to the style! There was foam, there was smooth jelly but most importantly there was a good portion of crab!




We didn’t have much time to breathe before our next courst was up – a Crispy raw and cooked VEGETABLE tart, fresh herb condiment. One could almost say it was a deconstructed tart. This was a very pretty dish with lots of bright colours, great contrasts in texture and taste. Do you think I could validly claim this dish constituted one serve of vegetable for the day?

And then, O.M.G. this dish, though perhaps not by its look, but certainly by its taste and components thoroughly deserves it’s elevation to one of Alain Ducasse’s “signature” dishes: the “Sauté gourmand” of LOBSTER and truffled chicken quenelles. Could the waiter just bring me another order of this please? As the late Michael Jackson might be quoted it was simply “Gone Too Soon”. Incredibly rich and luxurious it was a perfectly balanced plate and I really was very tempted to lick the plate!




For all the colours that came before it the next dish was surprisingly … beige! Simmered HALIBUT, celeriac, shellfish and squid. Fish cooked to perfection but perhaps a bit too buttery and rich for me.

No tasting menu for me would be complete without a meat dish so gladly I looked forward to the Saddle of VENISON Grand-Veneur, pumpkin, beetroot and quince which formed our next course. What an interesting combimation of ingredients promised in the description. It almost tasted like there was some sort of chocolate influence to it but that could be from the gaminess or richness of the Grand-Veneur, or huntsman’s sauce (thanks google), that liberally covered the bottom of the plate. Again the protein was perfectly cooked.

I don’t often indulge in a cheese course with any menu but Alain Ducasse aims to give a truly French experience with his tasting menu so you have no choice so it was onwards with Assortment of four French CHEESES, country bread and condiments. Actually, this was a very cool and fun course because instead of the traditional chutney we were presented with four very different condiments to accompany our cheeses. From left to right we had a goat cheese with bell pepper paste, Camembert with apple and cider chutney (arguably the most “ordinary” condiment), a hard cheese (neither my brother or I can recall what kind) with a yum mushroom and macadamia paste and finally Roquefort with a pear and mustard! Crackers and a lovely walnut and sultana bread to spread the cheeses/condiments on were supplied of course but, rather randomly, a side salad!





Then it got a bit confusing. Petite fours, normally served at the end of the meal once it’s all done and dusted and normally with your teas and coffees if you please, came next. Hey I’m not going to complain when someone delivers gorgeous macarons and truffles (and more than enough for two people) but we were wondering if somehow the dessert course had gone missing or we had blinked and missed it! Well, no one in their right mind would knock back these macarons (straweberry, lemon and coconut) and truffles (hazelnut with crispy rice and a dark chocolate) so we indulged wondering what would happen next.




What happened next was our final course of dessert. How could I ever doubt the restaurant? At the beginning of the meal I was able to swap the the EXOTIC FRUIT contemporary vacherin for a Raspberry almond concoction instead. I have to admit that my brother’s decision to stick with the Exotic Fruit paid off and they even topped it off with a birthday candle. Awwww.

And then, the unimaginable happened.

A waiter started to wheel across a whole dessert trolley. That’s right. An entire trolley covered in even more treats from biscuits, to salted caramel fudges, to chocolate covered candies, to marshmallows, to nougats and even more cakes and treats! We were thinking surely that wasn’t for us … but it was. We were free to choose anything and everything that we wanted from the trolley. This was almost as good as the bread selection at Tom Aiken only, coming at the end of the meal, we really struggled to choose more than a little raspberry and pistachio tart to share between us and a few salted caramel fudges. And only because it felt rude not to!



And then, another unimaginable event happened. Apart from being allowed to keep my pen (I had only jokingly asked if I could keep it) we were given a tiny box of what was basically sophisticated yum yums on our way out for our breakfast! That has only happened to me twice ever (at Aria in Brisbane and Vue de Monde in Melbourne) and certainly never in a London restaurant!


So, that was the food! What about the rest of the experience? Well, if I’m honest I would have to say it wasn’t the best service I’ve ever had in such a high class a restaurant. Yes they were conscious of things like guiding you to the toilets (although they don’t go so far as leading you to them seeing as they were physically located outside of the restaurant and quite a far way out into the lobby), topping up your water and remembering that it was my brother’s birthday (with the candle on his dessert) but there were other things which weren’t quite perfect – food coming out very quickly, waitstaff seeming a little distracted at times and the waiters not going into much depth regarding our food (normally you get the sense that they really know the food and the ingredients – on this occasion it felt like they were simply reciting what was in the menu.)

Overall, however, I did feel it was definitely a special occasion experience.

Driving Miss Daisy

From the light-hearted rock musical Rock of Ages yesterday to the more serious and considered Driving Miss Daisy I don’t think we could have a largest contrast in theatre performances! The main reason I wanted to see Driving Miss Daisy was to witness two legends of screen and stage in action – Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones (that voice!) And they were pretty awesome. We scored some seats in the Balcony so we were privileged to see them up close and personal (even if sometimes they did wander a bit too far to our side that they disappeared from our view!)

drivingdaisy01 drivingdaisy02

The story of Driving Miss Daisy itself is nothing more than a vehicle (pardon the pun) for the actors on stage to really strut their stuff. Back in the day it would have been quite a politically relevant story – an elderly affluent caucasian woman employs an African American chauffeur and over the years of civil rights movements and desegration of their two communities come to form a strong personal bond despite the existing political climate. But the story is more a focus on their forming relationship than the political background – and thus the vehicle for the two leads to really show us their worth. The to and fro between Redgrave and Jones was just something to behold – there was something about their chemistry and balance that was just simply enchanting.

A lovely evening.

Rock of Ages

I managed to score some free tickets to Rock of Ages so even if it ended up being completely horrible then it was no real big loss (except for time-wasted of course.) To our great pleasure we ended up having a lovely night and of course Laney was in quite her element as there is quite a sing a long aspect to this musical. What is great about the musical is that they do their best to really involve the crowd – for example, when we were sat down they handed out “lighters” (they looked and felt like lighters but were in fact like mini light beacons) so we could wave them in the air at the appropriate moment – just like an actual concert and of course throughout they encourage the crowd to really get into the songs, in fact they quite often broke the “fourth wall” to speak directly to the audience.

The introduction was quite funny. Something along the lines of “If you don’t like us we are We Will Rock You (in case you don’t catch the reference this is the other rock musical that is out at the moment.) If you do like us, we are Rock of Ages!!”. And then for the traditional lines around turning off your phone they had converted it into Rock of Ages speak – if you answer your phone you’re a douche etc. It’s nice to see the customisation at the start.

rockofa01 rockofa02 rockofa03

Despite the similarities in titles, Rock of Ages is completely different to We Will Rock You. Where We Will Rock You is almost a political statement on society and compliance (set in the future where everyone dresses and thinks the same and where music is forbidden or unknown), Rock of Ages takes the more traditional Hollywood story of two youngsters searching for stardom in LA although There was some sort of political statement in there about how big corporations are bad (via the big bad developer who was trying to tear down the Strip.) Music-wise We Will Rock You is based on the songs of Queen, Rock of Ages more on the 1980s classic rock hits of such rock stars as Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Poison etc.

In other ways the two musicals are quite similar with the fact that neither really takes itself seriously, both had great bands, singers and dancers. Shout out to the narrator, Simon Lipkin, in Rock of Ages – hilarious and fantastic.

The drawcards to Rock of Ages are menat to be Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward, known famously of course for his stint on X Factor and also for just being a generally a beautiful looking guy. Ha. He was actually almost unrecognisable in his get up and whilst I can’t say he was extremely convincing he really did give his all to his character. But the star of the show had to be Simon Lipkin as the narrator who really brought a great comedic spin to the dialogue. Overall, cast performances were great.

This is not the type of musical which the critics are going to love but the most important audience, the general public, will. Especially if they are up for a feel good experience, rocking in (and out) of their seats to some fine classic rock songs and some great laughs. Okay yes there are a lot of stereotypes and cliches going on but hey this just added to the comedic factor – this is not meant to be taken seriously and it doesn’t try to pander to this.

Come along for a rockin’ unashamedly good time.

Athens, Greece

What a difference a year makes! My Greek sister Mirela has recently welcomed a new addition to her family, Master Alejandro – a perfect mix of Greek (Mirela’s) and Spanish (Enrique’s) genes. To say that Alejandro is a big baby is a massive understatement – by the time I visited he was only two months old but I swear he was practically the size of a six month old if not bigger! Not sure how Mirela housed him let alone pushed him out of her body! Ha!

I was only visiting for an extended long weekend and with the baby we couldn’t really travel too far so we didn’t move too far from the house in Athens. Which was fine with me as it was nice to catch up with all of Mirela’s family and also indulge in lot of local Greek cooking and food and relaxing on their lovely balcony.

One of the funnier highlights was attending a random Greek couple’s wedding! Apparently there is recent trend for couples with upcoming nuptials to attend other weddings in order to be able to sample the food. I guess the couple who are having the wedding get some sort of discount on their package to allow this to happen. At this wedding (as with most weddings) the reception was outdoors. The guests all sat around tables whilst we sat on couches on the edge. To be fair quite reasonably far away from the actual guests but you couldn’t ignore the fact we were there. When it came time for the food (it was a buffet) they started off with some of the guests but before everyone got to go up we were told to go and get our plates! A bit awkward! At least once we had our plates we were sat indoors hidden away.

There are two things that Mirela misses from London – one she doesn’t get to indulge in much (sushi) and the other (duck pancake) is unfortunately not available anywhere in Greece (apparently.) So, to let her indulge in at least one of her wants we went to a local sushi place for dinner which was nice without being too stuning.

The great thing about the way Mirela’s house is built (and I guess many Greek homes) is that she has plenty of family living in the same building from her grandmother at the bottom, to her aunt and uncle on the first floor, to her parents and sister (when she is home from Uni) on the second floor, and Mirela on the top floor with an extra room for guests. This is a fantastic support structure and clearly Alejandro is not going to lack for playmates (albeit not his age) or babysitters. That he is very much adored and loved by all was apparent on my visit.

Heston’s Dinner

As with any new celebrity chef offering, especially when the chef in question is one Heston Blumenthal, there has been plenty of hype surrounding the opening of “Dinner”. Opened in January this year in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Knightsbridge “Dinner”, potentially confusing when planning a lunch date, pays homage to food from Britain’s historical times and features dishes inspired by recipes reaching as far back as the 14th century. Tonight Sandra, Jenny and James C also came along for the trip back in time.

If you’re taken on the right path, the walk to your table is impressive. The surrounds are well plush, as one would expect I guess from a hotel in Knightsbridge, but the most pleasing aspect and drawcard is that the kitchen is an open one although thankfully, for our clothes, behind giant glass windows! (My brother would be super-excited by the Josper grill.) As you pass by on your way to your table you can see the pineapples happily roasting away in preparation for the numerous Tipsy Pineapple Cake orders which are surely to follow. I also was enjoying the jelly mould light fixtures which gave the serious room a bit of a quirkiness.

Be warned for those expecting to experience a little bit of Fat Duck at “Dinner” – you will be disappointed! Yes these recipes from the 14th century have been innovated and updated but not to the same level of gastronomic magic at Fat Duck. The closest you will get is the ‘Meat Fruit’ and this is a definite must order for the table. Lucky for me I was able to have the best of all worlds when James ordered the Meat Fruit leaving me to be able to sample other delights on the menu.

Service at first was excellent. Heaps of staff (maybe too many) saying hellos and goodbyes, circulating around us, serving us water, bread (a giant loaf of sourdough) but then it seemed to taper off through the meal – water glasses started to remain empty, the wait staff delivering the food seemed nervous or something (one girl nearly tiped my plate of dessert over because rather than move to an easier spot to allow her to put the plate down she opted for trying to reach across the table instead – a bit baffling.) Even though the restaurant has been opened for 8-9 months I’m surprised that front of house felt like it hadn’t quite got things going smoothly yet.

So what about the food?

I can’t really speak much for what the others (except for the sublime Meat Fruit) had but I will attach the photos. It is fair to say that prices are a little on the overpriced side, in particular for starters and sides. For mains they were mnre fair and you could easily do with a main each with shared side (of gorgeous chunky fat chips) if you choose wisely (Black Foot pork chop!)

As I keep harping on, the Meat Fruit is the singular most amazing dish on the menu. The best of the rest were simply good in comparison. A very light chicken liver parfait covered in a very thin shell of mandarin jelly this dish was simply incredible. I was so very happy that James was nice enough to let me taste some – if I had ordered the dish (and knowing how incredible it was) I doubt I would have been quite so generous! Visually appealing to the eye too though if there was one thing the dish needed it was more bread!

My “Rice & Flesh” was more exotic sounding than it actually was – basically a posh risotto with the saffron, the calf tail and the red wine. It looked fabulous all vibrantly yellow and glossy. It was cooked almost to perfection – just slighlty over-salted I felt and could have done with more protein (that’s right I’m looking at you calf tail.)

For mains I would say that my Black Foot pork chop was the winner in the categories that really count: taste and value for money. I was worried that such a big fat piece of pork chop would be tough and dry (and even worse, rare towards the middle) but again the kitchen shined through with its skills and what I bit into was gorgeously juicy tender mouthfuls of lovely pork. Winner: Josper Grill. Great texture and perfectly seasoned. It was also served with the most gorgeous barley “carb”. There was this transparent almost onion skin type thing laying on top of the barley which was strange-looking but tasty. The fat cut chips we ordered for sides were decent and had that perfectly double-cooked-ness you want in such a chip.

Tipsy Cake is no doubt the sexy celebrity of the dessert offerings. Both Sandra and Jenny fell to its charms. I opted for a more sedate but adventurous sounding brown bread concoction (nice without pushing too many dessert boundaries.) For me the tipsy cake was just on the wrong side of too much alcohol which I felt overpowered the whole dish. It also failed my requirement of coming with ice cream which I think would have balanced the dish perfectly and offset the super sweetness of the brioche and pineapple. Without the ice cream or other counter-balance it felt like it was a serve of sugar with a side of sugar.

A meal was nicely finished off with a petit four of white chocolate ganache with taste of Earl Grey and caraway seed biscuit. Gotta love the free stuff.

Overall I found that Dinner was a pleasant experience. You may have to ride a few ups and downs with the service but if you come here mentally prepared that you will not be getting the scientific food trickery that is often associated with Heston and instead look forward to some good quality chow (and choosing the right dishes) you will should be delighted.

UPDATE: Gained a Michelin Star in October 2011 and jumped straight up to Number 9 on The World’s 50 Best restaurant’s list for 2012. Someone must have been impressed.

Brighton 2011

Our weekend in Brighton was a bit random but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Other than where we were going to go for dinner on Saturday night we really hadn’t thought about where or what we were going to do! Checking into our very small but cheap hotel room (oh yes we had a shower in the room, but it was literally a shower in the room – no bathroom or anything!) Couldn’t really complain for only £33 each per night I guess we could hardly complain.

So what did our weekend consist of? Well, mainly walking around just checking things out. Beautiful sunsets, Brighton Pier, walking past the Royal Pavilion (Saturday was too nice a day to actually spend time inside!), nice food (breakfast at Jamie Oliver’s Recipease and breakfast at Bill’s Brighton, the latter being a particularly funky place and heaving with Sunday brunch diners), a couple of markets, a massage (yay!) and best of all – catching rays on the pebbled Brighton beachfront.

Bliss and just what the doctor ordered!