Clever Catalan small plates and a newly cultivated crush on all things tapas – this is Rambla…

Rambla aka the place that made me like octopus.

Not love it mind you – baby steps and all – but definitely like it more than I ever did after past tastings or recent viewings of ‘Blue Planet II’ where, let’s face it, they come across a bit mean, a bit beaky and a bit grumpy. In all fairness I’d probably spend my life looking pretty peeved if the threat of being fished, fried and served on earthenware pottery in the heart of Soho was ever present but I digress…

Catalan cuisine takes front and centre stage here at the place named after the leafy, bustling boulevard in Barcelona where chef Victor Garvey grew up. I’ve never been the world’s greatest fan of tapas – too many rubbery rings of calamari and over-cooked potatoes limply floundering in smeary tomato puddles – but Rambla offers neither of those things and has subsequently left me wondering how many years of very fine tapas I’ve missed out on and how exactly I’m going to rectify that situation now because these tapas, these tapas (cue finger jabbing at photos) I kinda have a thing for.

Eating at the bar has rapidly became my favourite way of dining; there’s something delightfully yet effortless cool about sitting across from the chefs and watching a parade of dishes strut past. Here you’ll find an abundance of doe eyed, dark haired staff all in possession of disgracefully long lashes and delightfully charming spirits, each one happy to genially chat through a menu split into land, sea and field, raw, cured and sweet. A small but decent wine list gives you the chance to try something new and fizzingly sweet or fall back on old favourites, as comforting and nostalgic as your dad’s worst jokes.IMG_4834Snacking whilst selecting has always made sense to me. Pan con Tomate arrives thickly spread and nicely straddling the line between squishy and chewy while Blistered Padron Peppers are softly charred & heavily crunchy with sea salt.IMG_4835 Read More

Lisbon; where to eat in one of the world’s sunniest & most delicious cities…

‘You’ll love it!’

‘It’s great for food!’

‘Best city break ever!’

To say I heard these declarations of love for one of Europe’s sunniest cities once or twice during the weeks leading up to J’s and my much needed holiday in Lisbon would be something of an understatement. The glorious sunshine, the gorgeous food, the dreamy tiles, the kitschy gifts, the pastels de nata – all these things were raved about to me in sentences heavy with near fanaticism for Portugal’s capital and every single one of them raised my expectations to nigh on stratospheric levels…

…luckily Lisbon knows a things or two about making a gal happy so consider every expectation exceeded.

There are a lot of places to stay in and around the city centre; J & I are somewhat rather very a teeny bit antisocial when it comes to holidays. We’re not fans of cloud scraping hotels with all-you-can-eat buffets at 8am, fights for the sun-loungers at 1pm or traditional British pubs that vomit drunken tourists onto the pavements outside at 2am. Small, gorgeous, friendly places are more up our street which is exactly what we found in Palacio Ramalhete, a 10 room boutique hotel (barely 15 minutes walk from the legendary Time Out Market) which boasts a rooftop pool & the nicest staff in Lisbon.


Clean, cool & pretty rooms come dressed with the loveliest little touches – complimentary homemade chocolate covered fruit & nuts on the dresser or a creamy roses in the bathroom anyone? – while the communal rooms are a beautiful blend of modern and antique and that aforementioned rooftop pool was ours alone for most of the week.

There’s no restaurant on site at Palacio but the breakfasts are a little bit special and there’s a small but decent snacks menu that’ll see you through the day. Cheeseboard and local beers by the pool, you say? Well chaps, I didn’t fly all the way here for green juice and broccoli.


First day exploration of the local neighbourhood revealed a hidden gem of a restaurant – Le Chat, named after one of the owners’ semesters in Paris. A modern construction of glass, chrome and white parasol shaded terraces, this was a gorgeous place to stumble across, sink into and enjoy the first of many local beers and dishes at. FYI, as someone totally uninitiated in Portuguese beers, it may well be that it’s actually the Stella of its market but we loved the super light & refreshing Superbock.

Codfish shredded with chickpeas & pink pickled onions was light and gently herbed…


…while chubby pink prawns lazed gently in a pool of paprika spiced oil from slices of food of the gods, chorizo. Top tip 1 – Le Chat’s homemade focaccia comes fat & fluffy in hipster approved kilner jars and is pretty perfect for mopping up every last golden slick.


A wheel of goats cheese looked like it was about to win first prize in a ‘vegetables masquerading as creme brulee’ competition but tasted tangy and soft against crisp greens and earthy walnuts…


…and eating everything al fresco on the terrace which slowly filled up with locals-in-the-know and lucky-to-find-it-tourists was the perfect way to watch a setting sun paint the sky around us with flushes of candyfloss colours.

Top tip 2 – save room for dessert. Like a heaving bosom in the court of Louis XIV, Le Chat’s decadent yet elegantly simple chocolate mousse is piled high in ridiculously soft & velvety mounds while sprinkles of popping candy stop it from being too serious and grown up a dessert.


Read More

Lobster rolls to gorge on in your own corner of Soho hosted east coast USA…

Darling readers, hello. I must jump right in on this beautiful summery afternoon and ask you what far flung corners of the world can be found on your must-visit-must-eat list? Plates of spicy chorizo & blushing prawns among the tapas of Barcelona? Authentic cocoa-spiced mole & hand-made yellow corn tacos in Mexico City? Fresh flavoured, clean lined, elegant fish from the Scandinavian coast?

Sensational as they all sound – and really, I am sincerely up for accompanying you to all of the above plus any other international spots you fancy feasting at –  for me, east coast USA has long held a place on my own global-dining wish list. A work colleague recently jolly-holidayed in Boston & New England and I nearly died of food envy upon hearing his tales of white sandy bonfires, seafood so fresh it practically swam to your plate & bowls of chowder so warm and creamy you’d happily bob around using saltine crackers as a deliciously nibble-able flotation device…

Well now, thanks to the kind folk at Smack Lobster, we can all our own piece of white-shuttered-beach-house Americana without needing to undertake the purgatory of an 8 hour flight wedged into a screaming baby, overweight passenger, dehydrated food laden plane…

image8 image5

Smack Lobster is the kid sister of Burger & Lobster, a restaurant group where the only decision required of you to make is literally ‘Burger…or lobster?’ The ideology behind Smack – named after the type of boats used to catch lobsters incidentally rather than an invitation to get into a claw-fight with your dinner – is that lobster isn’t something to be reserved only for fat cats with deep pockets, and I can absolutely lay testament to that fact; for a mere 10 of your hard earned pounds, you can gorge yourself on the type of beautiful, fast, fresh food that you’ll remember long after the last smears of mayo have been licked from your fingers.

image1 image2

Smack can be found in 2 helpfully central London locations with their main restaurant on Binney St near Bond St tube and their deli spot on Dean St in the heart of Soho; on this occasion we were headed for a Pixar Picturehouse date after eating, so it was the second that we headed towards after work on the sort of gloriously bright evening that warms both the skin & the soul.

First thing first, this is a small location so leave your cat at home because kids, there’s no room to swing it. That said, after faux-casually stalking a couple finishing off their rolls in the window of this joint, J & I were seated after only a few moments wait and really, if you’re after something quick to be eaten al fresco or on the run, this place will totally see you right. A large open window on the side was a nice touch with a bench outside where lobster-diners were also happily perched.

image4 image3

Like its big brother, Smack has a small menu – lobster rolls or lobster salad. Now I love avocado & cous cous as much as the next gal but there was no way anything other than brioche rolls were being ordered on this visit…I had a Hamptons-esque daydream to bring to life after all. Out of 5 options, J and I opted for the California & the Seven Samurai, leaving the Original, the BLT and the Mexican for another time.

The California (below) combines lobster meat with fresh lettuce, juicy cherry tomatoes, wafer thin cucumber slices and a surprisingly light avocado-lime mayo, all of which lie nestled under a scattering of chives. The whole thing was gorgeously creamy without being overly rich and the luscious avocado mayo paired with generous hunks of fat, smooth lobster meat transported me – I was no longer in the streets of W1, I was sat atop a washed-ashore piece of driftwood, listening to the roar of the Atlantic and devouring coral coloured lobster meat, one gluttonous mouthful at a time while the latest Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign cavorted preppily around me…

image10 image6

If everything about the California carried me, ironically, to the eastern US seaboard, then the Seven Samurai bore me straight to the Far East. Pairing lobster with Japanese mayo, shredded white cabbage, sliced cucumber, pickled ginger, spring onion slivers and togarashi, a Japanese spice made traditionally with chili & pepper, this roll possessed all the beautiful clean flavours that come with Japanese cooking plus a suggestion of heat from the ginger and the spice. The togarashi, as lovely to look at as it was to taste, was new to me but something I’ll be seeking out to throw on future home-made dishes as a change to my time-honoured dusting of everything with smoked paprika.

image9 image7

A word of praise for the brioche which was every bit as glossy, sweet & soft as you’d imagine; a gentle toasting of the outer sides made for a nice contrast in texture to the rich but low in fat & high in protein lobster within it. Melted butter and velvety mayo accompaniments aside, there’s a lot to be said for adding this crustacean to your diet, especially if you’re made of stronger stuff than I am and can forego those sumptuous brioche buns.

Smack work with a specific group of Nova Scotia fishermen for as much of the year as possible, sourcing from Maine only when out of season there. Every lobster they use is wild when caught and kept in the best conditions possible until it’s delivered fresh each day to their restaurants. They also work closely with the Canadian government ensuring that they stay positively within sustainability laws.

If you’ve always thought that lobster was something to be had in white-linen-and-gleaming-silverware restaurants only, if you’ve wondered how you could afford to introduce it to your diet or if you’re after something a bit fresh, a bit different and a lot exciting for your dinner tonight, then good news…Smack’s open till 1opm.

Race you to that window seat….