savedbyacheesetoastie

Food, and wine, and some more food…

Detox to retox

With a week off work ill, I inevitably got bored and started buying random things online. One of those was a TimeOut offer on a 3 day ‘Hollywood Cleanse’ from www.rawtodoor.com – I have been eating a LOT of rubbish recently so the idea of a bit of a detox to kick off the pre-Christmas weight loss effort (losing the weight in order to be able to eat it back on…) definitely appealed!

Within London, Raw to Door offer an evening delivery service the day before you want your cleanse to start, which was great. The box delivered to my door contained the following:

– 3 breakfast smoothies

– 3 mid-morning green juices

– 3 lunchtime soups

– 3 mid-afternoon red juices

– 3 dinnertime soups

– 500g pack of Epsom salts for detox baths

– 1 month’s supply of probiotic supplements

– 3 sachets of Psyllium Husk

– selection of Detox & Cleanse tea bags from Pukka

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So with the fridge well stocked, I was looking forward to trying the first smoothie the next day!

Day 1

Day 1 was Saturday, I headed straight for the fridge for my first breakfast smoothie – the almond milk based Betty Blue, packed with good things such as matcha tea powder, blueberries and acai. Very tasty – so far so good!

My Super Green juice came to the hairdressers with me and was quite a pleasant surprise (wasn’t too keen on the idea of savoury juices!) – a very fresh cucumbery taste (despite not containing cucumber!).

First lunch soup was Carrot, Coriander and Black mustard which was absolutely delicious and I was very pleased to see that I had another to look forward to for another day.

I took the afternoon’s Super Red juice with me for a walk and drink with friends, and I have to say I really didn’t enjoy it at all. The juice was totally dominated by the soily taste of beetroot and trying to sip my way through it while in front of the menu at Bill’s was not an experience I wish to repeat!

The evening was always going to be the biggest challenge, as I was heading to a friend’s for dinner and had to sit at the table with everyone else enjoying their fajitas and wine while I tucked into my Butternut Squash & Coconut soup and glass of water. However, the soup was so utterly gorgeous that I honestly didn’t feel deprived at all (or, more importantly, hungry!). When I got home, I thought I would give the psyllium husk a try and was laughed at by my Indian housemate as it was apparently a stomach upset remedy her grandmother used to try to force on her (she wasn’t a fan). Initially mixing it in to the water I didn’t think it was too bad, a little bit like drinking paper mache – but then it started to solidify into something more resembling frogspawn and I decided to leave the rest…

Apart from the Super Red and the weirdness of the psyllium husk, Day 1 was definitely a success – I didn’t feel hungry, tired or particularly in need of eating something else!

Day 2

Another fab smoothie to start with – the Green Banana with coconut water and flaxseed. And also one advent calendar chocolate. As I’d had a bit of a sleep in, this was followed quite quickly by the morning’s green juice – Green Flash, which again was quite nice.

Lunch was another lovely Butternut Squash soup, and despite it being just as nice as it was the previous evening, I was starting to get a little envious of the curry being eaten around me… This may have been because I knew that the next juice was another Super Red, which I started drinking a little early as I knew it would take me a while to get through!

During the afternoon I started to feel really lethargic and particularly fixated on food (worth noting that this could be due to SAD rather than the cleanse), so tried some more of the psyllium husk – this time using less of the mix to dilute in the water which was much more successful! This stopped me feeling hungry for a little while but not really that long, so I decided to distract myself with an Epsom Salts bath. This didn’t really work as I started to feel quite faint, and very nearly passed out when I got out of the bath. I decided that this probably meant that my body wasn’t massively happy with me, so I took advice from Emily Blunt in The Devil Wears Prada (“I don’t eat anything and when I feel like I’m about to faint I eat a cube of cheese”) and had a Babybel, which made me feel much happier.

Dinner on the second day was Pea, Mint and White Truffle soup – I was really looking forward to this one as I love pea and mint soup but was disappointed as it was quite bitter and watery. And I was still hungry and feeling a bit ill. Went to bed not looking forward to the next day, and having only lost 1lb.

Day 3

Despite my trepidation as to how I was going to get through another day after Day 2, I was still looking forward to the morning smoothie, back to the almond milk this time for Chocolate Banana, with cacao, dates, flaxseed etc. – definitely my favourite so far as it was quite like a chocolate milkshake.

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Morning juice was Power Green – again, fine, but I did start feeling quite sick for most of the morning and wasn’t looking forward to my lunch despite it being the nice Carrot & Coriander soup. On the upside, I had now lost 2.6lb, had a much flatter stomach and my skin felt great from the body brushing and Epsom salt bath.

The soup was still lovely second time round and did start to make me feel better, and I quickly moved on to the final afternoon juice – Tru Blood. Despite still containing beetroot, the tastes of orange and berries came through to make this tangy and tasty (much relieved!), and I really enjoyed it. By mid afternoon, the energy and clear mind I’d been waiting for had decided to turn up.

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Later on in the day however, I started to feel really very hungry. And then hangry, and then panicky and verging on emotional. And I couldn’t cope with the idea of the only thing I ate for the rest of the day being the watery pea and mint soup with the bitter edge (I would probably have been OK if it were one of the other two). So I had a mince pie, and a sausage sandwich on lovely bread, and numerous digestive biscuits. None of which are included in the recommended food types to eat when you finish a cleanse, and all of which tasted pretty damn amazing – Kate Moss was so very wrong when she said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, apparently skinny feels like being very hungry and sad, and mince pies, sausage sandwiches and chocolate digestives all taste so much better than that.

On reflection, there were definite positives and negatives to the cleanse:

Positives:

– I did lose weight, and feel far less bloated.

– I realised that I can eat like this some of the time, just not all of the time – I think that if I had tried the ‘Raw til 4’ plan where you have an actual meal in the evening I would have been fine. I will definitely try juice and soup days in the future when I am feeling a bit bloated, as I felt totally fine on the first day.

– I was reminded of how much I really do love food which isn’t liquid.

– I really enjoyed the breakfast smoothies and am definitely going to build them into my routine – I’m also considering buying a juicer.

– I remembered that body brushing is actually great!

– It was quite nice to not have to think about what I was going to eat for the day.

Negatives:

– Beetroot should not be a drink. However, knowing that it is will now be an incentive to get me to run – if I don’t run, I’ll put on weight and have to drink beetroot again, if I do run, I get to eat things that aren’t beetroot juice.

– The way I felt in the evenings on the second and third days was not something I wish to repeat ever!

 

So overall, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I don’t think I would pay to do a cleanse again (this would have been £175 if it hadn’t been a deal), but if I were to then I would definitely go back to Raw to Door as other than the one soup and one juice I didn’t like, everything was really nice, the delivery option was great and so was their customer service. I’m definitely going to be building the morning smoothies and the occasional juice and soup day in to my life, but will keep it to individual days as I just don’t think I have the willpower for anything more!

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Seasonally affected

I love autumn – the season of crunchy leaves, open fires, new boots and chunky knitwear, but for me as for around 7% of people in the UK, the drop  in temperatures and shortening of days also heralds the start of the SAD season. It can take a while for people to realise that the symptoms they have actually add up to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but once you make the connection it can suddenly make the way you feel in Autumn/Winter make a lot more sense and give you the tools to start to make it better!

For me, SAD adds up to wanting to spend 6 months of the year asleep or under a duvet, eating biscuits and avoiding people and situations where I have to have any type of cohesive thoughts about anything. I get huge doses of ‘the fear’ and have days where I can’t really remember being good at anything. Sort of like depression + hibernation. Symptoms can include some or all of the following:

– Extreme fatigue

– Sleep problems

– Avoiding social situations

– Wanting to eat more sugar & carbs (or nothing but sugar and carbs…)

– Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

– Anxiety

– Feeling generally low or hopeless

For a fuller explanation of symptoms visit http://www.sada.org.uk/symptoms.html

 

One of the difficult aspects of SAD is its seasonality – you can find yourself re-educating yourself on how to deal with it each year as you get 6 months where it’s not an issue. For me , this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I have to evaluate and plan a new strategy for the upcoming 6 months. This means that I add new coping strategies each year, so I thought it was worth sharing some of them here for anyone who is just finding out they have SAD, or finds that they have the more common, less severe Winter Blues and just feel a little more sleepy, more down during the darker months.

Light up your life – I would sleep for half the week if I didn’t have my Lumie light box (yesterday I left it at work and consequently slept for 15 hours – I’ve just ordered a second one to keep at home). The initial outlay is quite a lot (upwards of £100) but it is totally worth it; it only takes a day or so of lamp time to make a big difference to how awake you feel. Make the most of every chance to get light you can – go outside at every opportunity no matter how cold it is or how lethargic you feel, even if it’s just a walk around the block at lunchtime it will help. In desperation, 10 minutes in the lighting department at John Lewis can have a little pick me up impact! Fill your house with lights and throw open the curtains.

Green things – Your body will be telling you that all you need are chocolate digestives. Sometimes you should give in, sometimes you will need the sugar hit. However it’s obviously not ideal to exist on a diet of biscuits and what you eat can really help with your energy levels when you have SAD so while it may be the last thing you feel like, eat healthily – lots of veg and lean protein. There is some research to say that SAD sufferers actually need and can benefit from carbs more than most people, but try to make them wholewheat as much as you can.

Run away – When all you want to do is curl up in a duvet, the idea of putting on your gym kit and heading out of the door can seem impossible, but it will make so much difference that it’s really worth looking for ways you can fit exercise into your life. For me, that’s walking the 10k home from work whenever I can, running in the park at weekends and doing yoga to help relax & restore. It’s easy to get into a cycle of having no energy so doing no exercise and therefore having no energy, but if you push yourself just the first few times you’ll soon break the cycle. Fitting in exercise will boost your energy, help you sleep better, help with anxiety symptoms and work to combat the times you do give in to the biscuit cravings.

Talk about it – I can’t stress enough how important this is. Talk to your friends and family, talk to your colleagues, talk to your boss, talk to your doctor. You will find things much easier to deal with if the people in your life know what is going on and what the reasons are behind any random mood changes / late cancellations / emails at 8am saying you just can’t come in / presentations where you completely lose your chain of thought / blinding light that appears as your constant companion. I do this in a very matter of fact way as soon as I feel the symptoms starting, telling people ‘I have SAD – the lack of light means I have less seratonin and more melatonin, so I will get less happy and more sleepy’ – going into more detail for people who need to know it (close friends & family, line manager at work). As well as benefiting you, talking about it also may help other people with similar difficulties to see them as something they can be more open about, starting to help break down stigmas about mental health issues. Talk to your doctor as early as you can so that they can start to put together a treatment plan –  you might start to feel worse as the days shorten and so it will be better if you’ve already started to have the SAD conversation with them.

Sometimes the drugs do work – I was absolutely against the idea of taking antidepressants, I wanted to deal with things myself. Until last February when I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days, my SAD was diagnosed as severe and I was prescribed SSRIs. They’re not supposed to properly kick in for about 4-6 weeks, but after 1 I could already feel the difference and couldn’t believe I’d not ‘given in’ sooner. I still need my lightbox for the tiredness, but the terrible anxiety and generally feeling like I’m rubbish at life has gone. I’m now quite philosophical about it – my body isn’t producing enough seratonin so I’m taking medication which helps it, just in the same way a diabetic would take insulin. I’m not saying everyone should take antidepressants, but if you’re really struggling it’s definitely worth a try. Vitamin D and Vitamin B complex are also supposed to help with energy, so I figure I may as well take them too! And before I started on the SSRIs, I was taking 5HTP (available from Holland & Barrett) which did seem to be having some positive effect.

Fly far, far away – I have no intention of staying here throughout a whole grey, British winter again. So in the absence of anyone offering me a job where I get to spend September – March somewhere sunny, I will be planning a holiday for the end of January/start of February instead – I’m hoping it will be a little beacon of light to look forward to after Christmas, and by the time I get back I will be in the home straight.

Be realistic – No matter what you do to try to combat your symptoms, there will still be days when it doesn’t work, when your limbs feel attached to the mattress and the idea of having to tell anyone you can’t make it into work is verging on terrifying. It’s important to accept that this will happen and you shouldn’t feel bad about it – it’s an illness. So just go back to sleep for as many hours as you need and trust that things will get better.  Don’t plan to take too much on at this time of year – look at how to ‘chunk’ tasks so they are more manageable and you don’t end up feeling even more hopeless that you’ve not finished something you planned. This can be as simple as planning to tidy a room a quarter at a time in case you don’t have the energy for the full thing at once – great if you manage all 4 quarters, but if you only do the first one that’s fine.

 

Useful links:

Lumie – lightbox people with excellent customer service and online SAD forum – http://www.lumie.com/

SADA – Uk Seasonal Affective Disorder Association – http://www.sada.org.uk/index.html

MIND pages on SAD including advice for friends & family http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/7998_seasonal_affective_disorder

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Club to Catwalk – changing my view of 1980s fashion!

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Image c. Victoria & Albert Museum

As a child of the eighties, the very thought of the fashion of that era immediately brings the word ‘hideous’ to mind, so I headed to the V&A’s new ‘Club to Catwalk’ exhibition with the expectation of finding what was on show mainly amusing or horrifying, and of leaving with a reinforced feeling that I had a very lucky escape to spend my whole 7 years of the decade dressed mostly from Mothercare and M&S. What I actually found was a newfound respect for both the designers and the wearers of their clothes.

Entering the exhibition – the angular, bright decoration providing real contrast to the 18th century fashion of the permanent collection, I was immediately struck by a quote from Paul Smith “I realised that in order to sell a plain white shirt, it had to have a point of view…”. This really spoke to me on two levels – firstly as someone who spends quite a bit of time thinking about how to engage customers with a reason to buy a particular item of clothing (very often a shirt, sometimes a plain white one), and secondly as a different way to view the rest of the exhibition, which really opened my eyes to a new way to look at 1980s fashion.

All fashion of a certain era plays a part in telling the story of that time – the drop waists of the 1920’s reflecting women’s push for more freedom and equality as they started to move away from the constriction of corsets and traditional roles, Dior’s New Look symbolising a new outlook after WWII. To me, the 80’s were the time when fashion went wrong, and other than Katherine Hamnett’s political slogan t-shirts, reflected more an era of bad taste than an era where anything significant happened.

The exhibition focuses on celebrating London fashion in the 1980s (the fact that this didn’t really filter through to Suffolk may have influenced my previous opinion of the genre!), and actually makes you wish that you were there, heading to Blitz with an outfit worked up just for the occasion by a fashion student friend on the edge of becoming the Next Big Thing. What really shines through all the exhibits is a huge sense of personality, individuality and above all a huge reminder of just how much fun fashion can be. This somewhat reinvented my view of the 1980s to one of a time where people pushed the boundaries of fashion, creating garments which exude joy and eccentricity, and would have made the wearer really stand out. ‘Designer Georgina Godley remembers, ‘Young London was all about taking risks and creating something out of nothing through passion and ambition’.’, and this is exactly the feeling that comes through as you walk past outfits designed specifically for a night at Taboo, outlandishly customised denim jackets and pieces from John Galliano’s debut collection.

By the time I left the exhibition, my perception of 1980’s fashion had done a complete 360 – yes, the shoulder pads and shellsuits happened, but there is so much about the era which actually is worth celebrating, and I feel that the V&A have done this perfectly. For me, the Paul Smith quote I saw on walking in really does sum it  up – these clothes are about having a a point of view and celebrating that through fashion. The exhibition runs until February 2014, and is definitely worth a visit.

 www.vam.co.uk 

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Loving London for cynics

If you had told me ten years ago (or ten months ago for that matter) that I would be happily wandering back to a basement flat with an SW postcode and feeling lucky to be there, I would very likely have laughed in your face.

I was unequivocally someone who would never, ever move to London – it was too busy, too dirty, the people were all far too arrogant, it was too expensive and the tourists would drive me mad. Great as a place to visit but I definitely didn’t want to stay there. But then I got a job here and that opinion started to change… London is such an in-your-face sort of place that it doesn’t seem like somewhere that could ever grow on you, but it has and here is why:

If you venture outside the West End, it’s actually quite nice…
The vast majority of visitors to London will pop up from the tube into the middle of Oxford Circus, pop back down, back up at Knightsbridge, Covent Garden or Leicester Square and develop the belief that the city is jostlingly busy, brash and overcrowded. There will always be reasons to visit these places, but it’s far more enjoyable to avoid them – head north to Marylebone, Highgate and Regent’s Park (not just for the zoo), south to Greenwich or west to Holland Park or Richmond for space away from the well trodden tourist route. It will give you a completely different view of the city (and for me, a far more favourable one).

Your Oyster is your oyster
You can go anywhere on a bus for £1.40! When you compare that to what you pay pretty much anywhere else in the country it’s really quite cheap. And you can do some great touristing from the top deck of a bus – try the 11 from Liverpool St to Chelsea, passing through the City, along the Strand to Whitehall, Westminster etc, or the original Routemaster number 9 from Trafalgar Square to High St Kensington. While very convenient, good value etc, the best thing about the Oyster card is that you will never again realise you have no change for the bus and risk that argument with the bus driver who won’t accept a £10 note.

You can adopt a new personality for each tube stop
Despite what Rimmel may say ‘The London Look’ doesn’t exist. Each area has a really distinct personality, and usually a ‘look’ which goes with that. From outside, London seems a big homogenous city, on the inside it’s really a selection of villages and small towns stuck very close together, and the residents of these enclaves are every bit as proud of their own postcode as they are of the city itself. This means that not only can you find the area to live in that is just right for you, but you can hop on the tube to somewhere so different it feels like a mini holiday. For example, yesterday I was wandering the vintage and charity shops of Shoreditch and Hoxton, today I’m heading to the haunts of the Made in Chelsea crowd and Euro-elite on the King’s Road, and tomorrow I’m going to be dodging the tourists and more cultured types on the South Bank.

You can do a lot of things for very little money
Of course London can be very expensive – you can pay £20 for a cocktail, top price for theatre tickets, only eat in places you’ve heard celebs go and get taxis everywhere. But one of the very best things about this city is that you can keep yourself very entertained for surprisingly little outlay. There are a lot of half price happy hours, plenty of pre-theatre or Toptable dinner deals to choose from, and a lot of street food around for a very good lunch at a very reasonable price. Round the corner from my flat is a rather excellent French restaurant offering 3 courses for £10 and a glass of actually quite drinkable wine for £2.85, definitely amazing value! And that’s just food and drink – when it comes to culture there are more free things to do than you will ever get round to doing. In the 7 months I’ve been here I’ve attended a mass pillow fight in Trafalgar Square, been to exhibitions at Somerset House, the V&A, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, been part of a mob of hundreds of jovial Santas and simply walked around some fantastic architecture and historical buildings – and that’s cutting a lot of things out. I’ve been to comedy, ballet and a promenade performance at Hampton Court all for £2.50 thanks to a friend’s membership of Audience Club, and taken advantage of Lastminute.com’s often very bargainous tickets for some fantastic musicals. You should also never underestimate the massive opportunity to just sit and people-watch.

Buying things
Essentially, I’m pretty materialistic and love to eat, so this was the bit I was always destined to love. However I think I underestimated the joy of things like realising that within walking distance of my house I could spent money in Anthropologie, Wholefoods, the most fantastic bookshop (Daunt Books) and walk home eating a fabulous chocolate eclair from Paul. I’ve managed to find the Japanese sesame dressing I thought entirely elusive, and get extremely excited about the constant opportunity for sample sales (those shoes should have been £660! – they weren’t). All of the department stores are wonderful in their own special way, but Liberty is definitely my new Tiffany’s – “nothing very bad could happen to you there” – although I do still have a great love for Tiffany on Old Bond St, with the super squidgy carpets and the staff who were so very lovely to the slightly chavvy 16 yr old me wearing a Santa hat and only coming in to get my £40 necklace cleaned.

And it’s not just shops but markets too! Clothes and food and random tat and flowers! I love finding street food stalls with favourite, new or forgotten delicacies – empanadas, Okonomiyaki, fantastic burgers and a lot of halloumi and falafel – my lunch is a much more exciting place to be.

So all in all, I think that I’m sold on the place. On a recent trip to Lancashire, I got talking to a man on the train (now that’s still something you don’t find on the tube!), when I told him I was visiting from London, he asked rather incredulously “do you actually like it there then?”, and I think that the realisation of how much I actually do came to me in quite how defensive I was as I started to explain to him how it wasn’t all like he thought it was – it looks like I’m converted.

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A workout with a view

I have a little bit of a love affair with bread and cheese. And butter, and chocolate and wine. In theory, this means that I should be doing some form of exercise to fight the calories. In practice, I currently have a two week old pair of trainers which haven’t left the box, and an ever increasing wardrobe of dresses I will definitely fit into in a few months. Something to kick me back into remembering that I quite like this whole fitness thing once I get round to it was definitely required.

As seems to happen quite often at the moment, Twitter came up with the solution – an early morning yoga session on the terrace at One New Change with new company Move PopUp Gym I’ve been thinking of doing yoga for a while (I’ve even gone to the extent of googling ‘yoga West London’ at least 3 times), so the opportunity to start off what will hopefully return to some kind of habit with an hour of asanas overlooking the city definitely appealed!

Despite forecasts of 27degrees and sunny when we booked the class, as the lift rose towards the 6th floor the sky was looking decidedly drizzly. Nevertheless, the view was fantastic and the welcome from popup gym founder AJ enthusiastic as we positioned our mats to face the dome of St Paul’s.

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For a relative beginner, the class was at great level, with options to push it further if you have the flexibility to do so (and if, like me, you don’t then you will definitely be able to feel where that flexibility is going to come from the next day!). To start with, the weather was quite refreshing, but ultimately the rain defeated us – there is only so much balancing you can do on an increasingly slippy yoga mat. Despite this, I still went to work feeling invigorated and positive, and most importantly thinking I could get back into doing this exercise before work thing again.

Move Popup Gym are moving to Battersea Power Station for the summer, and I will definitely be heading to visit them for more al fresco yoga, but there are more classes to choose from if that isn’t your thing. And if rain stops play, they do offer various compensation options (but here’s hoping we get some kind of summer that means that won’t be an issue!).

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A year of cheese – the beginning (Stilton for Christmas!)

As with most people, there are certain traits I can definitely attribute to being inherited from particular members of my family – the appalling eyesight from my dad, appreciation of a good shoe from my Grandma and all my bad traits from either my mum or my Auntie Jean depending on which of them you listen to. My love of food is something I definitely think comes from my Grandad Jim – master of the Christmas dinner (including the best roast potatoes you ever will taste) and the reason I know of such delicacies as the Waberthwaite sausage, my Grandad is both discerning and enthusiastic about good quality food, and I would like to think I have inherited some of that. So when deciding what to spend the rest of the money hehad given me for Christmas on (the first part buying me membership to the V&A), it seemed appropriate that it be linked to food in some way, and went towards something a bit more interesting than ‘a nice jumper in the Gap sale’. Therefore, I have put the money aside into a cheese fund, and will be spending the year finding the best quality, taste and recommendations that London’s cheesemongers can offer.

And so it was that I found myself drifting towards the cheese room (really, every shop should have one) at overpriced food porn emporium Wholefoods. As it is Christmas, there was only one real choice for the start of my cheese journey – Stilton, and so I left with a chunk of Colston Bassett and some fig conserve as recommended by the cheese assistant.

While all Stilton is the PDO genuine article, it seems that Colston Basset and Cropwell Bishop are the only two of the five Stilton creameries that add their own name as a guarantee of quality – I’m not sure if this does mean anything else, but the Colston Bassett certainly had a little something more special than the generic ‘Stilton’ I’ve had before.

Placed on top of a water biscuit (one of my favourite crackers due to its fantastic crunch, but also perfect for when you really want to taste the topping without being influenced by the cracker itself), the warming sweetness of the fig really brought out and complemented the sharp saltiness of the stilton. The cheese itself was pretty full-on, a very dominating taste which could be quite overpowering if one were to really indulge. The soft squidginess of the stilton made a great contrast to the crackly water biscuit. I would definitely say that this cheese is a bit like Marmite – if you love blue cheese you will really appreciate it but if you don’t, this won’t be the cheese that brings you into a life of blue cheese adoration. There are really exciting possibilities when it cokes to using the Colston Bassett as an ingredient – later in the week it was mixed with sausagemeat and chutney to stuff chicken breasts which was delicious! First cheese of the project – definitely a success!

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Italy via Holborn Circus

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness… And carbs. When the dark mornings start and the clouds descend, you just need a bit more starch in your life, and what better way to satisfy that urge than with pizza, pasta and panini!

As befits an area formerly known as London’s Little Italy, the Holborn-ish area offers some fantastic Italian lunchtime options.

Veneticus – 97-99 Clerkenwell Road

Veneticus first came to my rescue back in the summer when I spied their ice cream counter and realised I’d finally found somewhere that I could get so much more than just one Cornetto. My stracciatella was everything I had hoped for, and I was definitely going back for another visit. Since then, I’ve headed back to sample first the deli sandwiches and secondly the lasagne. The creation of the sandwiches at Veneticus is just fantastic – you go along, look at the board above the deli counter and try to work out which sandwich you want, then just as you’ve decided on ciabatta or focaccia and think you know what filling you want it to contain, the fun starts as you’re taken on a tour of the deli delights (“which cheese – you want this cheese, this cheese? Which meat – we have this one, this one… And veg, and some more veg”) – on my first visit I ended up with some coarse salami, smoked mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, artichokes and olives, the sandwich totally stuffed full and not costing any more due to the fantastic quality ingredients piled in which a lot of sandwich places would class as ‘premium’ (I.e. artichokes) and charge you an extra £1 to add.

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For my more autumnal comfort food needs, the reason I’m currently heading up to Veneticus relatively frequently is their lasagne – they do this and another pasta dish each day and at some point I will try the other pasta dish but for now I am definitely all about the lasagne, as it’s just perfect – melty beef and eggy pasta, and a pretty generous portion size too!

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On top of the takeaway savouries (also available to eat in), Veneticus also stock a wide range of Italian groceries, and have a quite fabulous looking range of pastries. As with pretty much all the places I’m going to talk about in this post, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome from people obviously passionate about their food.

Malletti – 174-176 Clerkenwell Road

While my favourite thing about Malletti is the kids picture on the drinks fridge which offers ‘pictures of dragons for sale’, they do also serve some very good pizza al’taglio (and also the aranciata variety of San Pellegrino which I am a very big fan of!).

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Two slices of this, wrapped in greaseproof paper and transported in that bright yellow bag are pretty much guaranteed to induce food envy in any deskmate. Pictured is spinach and cotto ham, but the Gorgonzola, pancetta and courgette slices from here definitely rank among some of the best pizza I’ve had.

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Grappolo
– 1 Plough Place

I am very lucky to have Grappolo as my default place to run to when it’s raining and I don’t want to travel any further than I possibly have to. Most of it is an Italian restaurant, but they also have a little deli bit on the side where for £4.95 you can get yourself a box stuffed full of your own mix of very tasty pasta dishes (4/5 options each day) and salads.

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This stuff really is comfort in a box, and the best thing is that you can pick as many options as you like – here I’ve gone for cauliflower and broccoli cheese and fusilli with a duck ragu, but you really don’t know what pastas you are likely to get on each day (in the summer I will usually make half the box up with salad, but as I may have mentioned, come autumn, I just want stodge).

Just to show what good value this is, I have to show a contrast with the farfalle bolognese I unfortunately decided to try from the new branch of Birley recently opened nearby – a puny portion of lukewarm, undercooked (not al dente, just plain undercooked) pasta topped with a dribble of passable sauce, for 10p cheaper…

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Spianata – 20 Holborn Viaduct

One of my walks to work in Manchester used to take me past the local greasy spoon, I’d have to make sure I breathed in deeply before I passed the point where the smell of stale cooking oil wafted out onto the street and made me feel sick. Now, my walk to work takes me past Spianata, and I have to make sure I breathe in deeply at the point at which the baking bread smell from their on site bakery wafts out onto the street and makes me feel like I need a second breakfast. Spianata sandwiches are essentially toasties made with Roman bread, and they are delicious!

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The savoury options contain a range of traditional Italian fillings which are excellent, but I have a huge love for the fact that one of the breakfast options is a Nutella filled toastie, and may have been forgetting to have breakfast before work a bit more regularly since I discovered this… Spianata are very generous with samples (try the amazing lemon cake) and have a little loyalty card too. And as with Veneticus, exceptionally cheery Italian staff!

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Friday fun with fizz – Bubbledogs

It’s probably a bit weird to admit to stalking a restaurant pre-opening isn’t it? But that’s probably something I can be accused of when it comes to Bubbledogs – from the first mention of ‘somewhere serving only champagne and hotdogs’ through the jealousy-inducing, impatience-growing Twitter updates of the grower champagne and hotdog tastings, to a little trip up Charlotte Street to check out the final bits of fit out going on, and the final excitement of seeing the little dog on his popping cork flying across the screen as the website launched and I was finally able to check out the menu. From the beginning, it just seemed like a concept designed around having a good time – fabulous fizz without the pretension, an element of street food with an upgrade – what a perfect combination.

Despite this, it still took me a couple of weeks post-opening to actually make it through the door – dashing up there straight from work on Friday in the hope that we could sneak in before the queues and actually we did – I would definitely recommend this for a walk in (which is your only option if there’s less than 6 of you) – otherwise plan to put your name down at the door, go elsewhere for drinks and head back much later. Inside, a weeny narrow space has a great buzzy atmosphere, a bit East Village New York (according to me), brick walls adorned with fantastic cartoons of sausage dogs having fun and lovely sparkly lights. (usual apologies for standard of photography)

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The simplicity of ‘hotdog or champagne’ belies the amount of refining that has gone into both food and drinks menus – each champagne individually selected by a choice of taste rather than any type of allegiance to owner/brand, and the vast array of hotdog toppings – do not underestimate the time it must have taken to work out that ‘this works with this, and this, and they all work with a pork hotdog, and a beef one, and a veggie one’. On the question of bubbles, our choice was the Gaston Chiquet Selection Cuvée – to be honest, we did ‘not the cheapest but almost’ choosing, but the excellent taste of this near the bottom of the price range choice can be taken as an indication of the quality of the champagne menu overall – dry but with a fruity rather than yeasty edge, with just the right level of ‘to savour’ rather than ‘to glug’.

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On to the dogs – both pork, Helen’s ‘Jose’ with guacamole, salsa and soured cream, my ‘Buffalo Dog’ with buffalo sauce, celery and blue cheese, accompanied by a side of Tater Tots. Everything was just very good – juicy sausage with a taste of meaty sizzle, a bun with the right balance of soft and firm. I have to admit I couldn’t massively taste the buffalo sauce, but the fresh celery and creamy blue cheese worked excellently with the sausage and overall just yum!

So happy that Bubbledogs lived up to what I hoped it would – the concept, atmosphere, food and drink all add up to the best possible way to announce to yourself that it’s the start of the weekend!

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Falafel never was more fabulous – Pilpel

In general, the trip out to buy lunch will only take me along Holborn Viaduct if I’m in the mood for one of Spianata’s wonderful Italian toasties (to be jncluded in a blog on all things Italian coming soon), but yesterday necessitated a trip along to Cheapside on a mission to build up the points on my Space NK card (they don’t feed you like Boots, but there is a strong possibility that a sudden pre-payday Laura Mercier shortage could be every bit as traumatic as a pre-payday food shortage and that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take). I never really pay much attention to the shiny now un-Occupied (though the fear is still there – passing two City boys who could see some animal rights protesters in the distance, I did hear the slightly resigned comment “are we about to get spat on again…”) streets around Paternoster Square as their new-build exterior at first glance appears to scream ‘full of the same chain sandwich bars your office is already surrounded by’. However, one little red sign did catch my eye as I walked past, and I realised I’d heard some quite good reports of what lay behind it.

Joining the queues in Pilpel (they move pretty fast – just make sure you’re in the right one for hummus or falafel), i decided that the menu offered just the right level of choice – all either falafel or hummus, but with just enough options to personalise it – lots of salad to have or not have, a few extra toppings but not so many that you’d get bewildered with choice as you move quickly to the front of the line. The service reminds me very much of Manchester’s Bar Burrito – quick and efficient, but giving you enough time to make up your mind and not feel as if you’re being rushed through.

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What you end up with is one very stuffed pitta, with not one ingredient that I can find anything bad to say about. My previous experience of pitta bread looks entirely puny and cardboard like compared to this soft and dense casing. The falafels themselves, perfectly crisp outside and bright green inside, are perfectly complemented by the mix of salad, hummus, tahini, chilli sauce and sour, crunchy pickled cucumber which somehow mixes together rather than having that ‘eating layer by layer’ effect that you would usually get – the best thing about this is that you get falafels all the way though, rather than all on the top or bottom.

Now that my previous healthy favourite, Rainbo, are off on new adventures away from Leather Lane, I can very definitely say that Pilpel will be filling that gap for something healthy, filling and tasty for lunch al desko.

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Nozomi, Monte Carlo

Unless you’re completely loaded or so incredibly blinded by the shiny white yachts you don’t notice you’re being momentously ripped off, Monaco is a bugger to find anywhere good for dinner. And yet despite knowing this, on every trip to the area there is always an evening where we decide it would be a lovely idea to go to Monaco for dinner, only to end up at the same cafe by the port where they serve cocktails in fantastically random containers and an overpriced caprese salad made with that sort of mozzarella which can also pass as rubber. This time, true to tradition, we again got on the train towards Ventimiglia, hopped off in Monte Carlo, wandered down to the port, up to the Casino and almost opted for what appeared to be pretty average tourist fare at the Café de Paris, before deciding just to wander that little bit more…

The extra wandering really paid off, as we stumbled across the summer incarnation of Nozomi – the Mayfair Japanese restaurant which had taken over the terrace restaurant at the Port Palace Hotel for July and August. Check out that view…

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I’m never likely to turn down the chance of Japanese food, and the menu really didn’t disappoint. Between us we went for some nigiri, scallops, Wagyu beef tataki and spinach with sesame, accompanied by a lovely glass of Pouilly Fumé.

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Nigiri and spinach with sesame were nice, good, nothing remarkable. It was the scallops in miso saffron sauce and Wagyu beef tataki with garlic that were left vying with each other to be my very last taste (the scallops were listed as having caviar with them too, not sure if it was tiny weeny hidden caviar or just missing… Only realised this afterwards so too late to ask!). Perfectly cooked scallops (which these were) with their unique texture are just one of the most enjoyable things to eat ever, and the slight saltiness of the miso mixed with the saffron set them off perfectly. As for the tataki, the only thing you can say is the incredible cliche of it melting in the mouth, because it did, fantastically.

Overall a fabulous meal – for what we would have paid for a mediocre something with frites at the Café de Paris, and with a far more spectacular view than other tourists taking pictures of the Ferrari outside the casino, we had quality and taste which can only be described as superb. Staff were just the right mix of friendly and attentive and you can’t possibly fault the setting! The Monegasque sojourn ends on 2nd Sept, but I very much hope Nozomi pops up again next time we get off that train, and I’m definitely going to be making a trip to Mayfair to try the full menu.

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