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.

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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.

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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…

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…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.

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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…

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…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.

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Christmas in July anyone? Getting beautifully & deliciously festive at the M&S Christmas show…

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Well hello dear readers! How are you on this vaguely sunny Sunday afternoon? For anyone who has set foot out of their door over the past few days, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that the temperatures in London town reached 34 degrees over the past week.

34 degrees. The Bakerloo line was a treat of which I cannot even bring myself to remember now that I’m free of it…

What 34 degrees is, my friends, is the weather of ice cream, ice pops & jugs of ice laden fruit drinks. What it does not automatically lend itself to are contemplations of Christmas and the festive season. Sampling dollops of glorious Christmas Cake Jam smeared onto on slivers of sourdough as a droplet of perspiration – because ladies don’t sweat of course – inches its way down your neck might sound an unusual pairing but that is exactly what last week brought us. Christmas in July courtesy of M&S and a sneaky preview of their fabulous festive offerings. Read More