I could eat a curry 6 days of the week (leaving Sunday free for a nut roast, naturally). I’m especially fond of a veggie Thai green with coconut rice and an Indian Biryani. For the former, I frequent Muang Thai in Chalk Farm which is beautiful and authentic. Until recently, I didn’t have a favourite Indian restaurant but a couple of weeks ago I may have found one. Indali Lounge has been all over the press which has lauded the restaurant’s healthy and natural approach to cooking Indian food; all dishes are cooked with olive oil instead of ghee and cream.
I found the restaurant at 7pm midweek and it was very quiet. For the first hour, we were on our own; the solitude enhanced the relaxed atmosphere donated by the dark wood lattices, embossed metal and violet lighting. Poppadums and chutneys were a tasty prelude to an amuse-bouche of spicy masala mushrooms. No doubt the management appreciate that something is required to take the edge of an appetite whilst diners make their decisions! I took ages to pick my main; the menu for veg mains rivals the non-veg menu and includes delicious-sounding slow roasted smoked aubergine, a fricasee of okra and paneer dumplings simmered in aromatic almond sauce. After immense deliberation, I characteristically opted for the Biryani, frustrating my fellow diners who thought I might celebrate the variety with something new.
The meal was satisfying to say the least! If it is possible to detect the lack of ghee then my palate is not discernable enough!
50 Baker Street, W1U 7BT
And here’s the Christmas hat-trick! I promise that I won’t mention the C-word again until December! But, I really wanted to post this now in case anybody is looking for a good vegan Christmas cake recipe. You’ll need to bake one in the next week if you want to feed it three times before Christmas day (and the more Brandy the better!)
I found the recipe at The Hungry Vegan and followed it to the letter. The bake filled my flat with a sweet spicy smell for an entire afternoon – it took absolutely all of my willpower not to devour the beauty when I took it out of the oven. I did a Delia and gave the cake a little press to make sure it would spring back – and it looked just like her cake on the Waitrose advert!
Next week: mince pies (and it will be December by then so no doubt I’ll pop some photos on Skinny Latte).
I realise that I’ve gone a little Christmas Cuckoo this week but I’m really in the festive mood! Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland opened on the same night as South Bank’s Cologne Christmas Market so I went to both! I alighted at Waterloo, spent an hour of so at South Bank (which looks breath-taking on a winters night) and then walked across Westminster Bridge, past Buckingham Palace and across to Hyde Park Corner – a great way to spend an evening.
While the focus of Winter Wonderland is festive fun, Cologne Christmas market very much targets shoppers. Although probably 90% of the stalls that you’ll find at South Bank are also featured somewhere in Hyde Park, I did find three special vendors:
- Tom Kosmala – The most beautiful chalet in the market filled with richly scented natural candles, bath melts and soaps all topped with dried flowers, fruits and herbs. Mum and I cooed over the tea cup candles.
- Kraft Werks – Two cheery fellows selling homemade, wooden toys including mind-blowing 3-dimensional puzzles.
- St Elisabeth Convent– Nuns all the way from Minsk, Russia selling homemade, ceramic Christmas decorations and a selection of religious icons. The nuns are donating all profits made to help people with drug addictions.
Before setting off across the bridge, we picked up some freshly baked pizzas. As they make them while you wait, I asked for mine without cheese or pesto – a yummy vegan snack to fuel the stroll.
I arrived at the Winter Wonderland expecting a modest Christmas market similar to the one at South Bank (which I’ll post about soon). What I found was a vast playground of all types of entertaining diversion! Mum and I were overwhelmed from the threshold where we were greeted by a singing reindeer! To get into the spirit we ordered a large glug of mulled wine and some roast chestnuts and then sauntered around the attractions at a leisurely pace.
- Jamie Oliver’s Feast with roast dinners and mice pies to eat and naked gingerbread men to decorate (a little pricey, I heard a girl tell her friend, “this better be the best mince pie I’ve ever had!”)
- The Bavarian Village decked out surprisingly realistically and selling yummy Hungarian stew in hollowed out crunchy bread rolls
- Listening to people scream all the way down the Power Tower – you couldn’t pay me enough to get me on that
- The Haunted House for a cheesy festive scare! Much more my style (yes, I know it’s for little ‘uns)
- The old fashioned sweetie stalls (I doubt very many are vegan but they’re pretty to look at!)
And now I’m in the festive mood – I’ve been daydreaming about colour schemes for my Christmas decorations all morning!
Until 4th January 2011
I have had the vegan restaurant Rootmaster on my ‘To Do’ list since the summer when I decided to try to cut back on eggs and dairy. And then Nibble Scribbler recommended it to me so I made reservations straight away. Last Friday I had a day long conference where vegan fare was off the menu so by 6pm I was famished. Couple that with the 20 minute dash from the city to Brick Lane through the cold and rain and to say I was looking forward to some good, honest comfort food would be an understatement! I darted between dry spots across Ely’s Yard towards the red double-decker that has run aground behind the Old Truman Brewery.
I knew that the restaurant was housed in a bus but I was still surprised to see it! The waiter greeted us from the lower deck kitchen and took us up the steep stairs to the top deck. The restaurant was lit entirely by candlelight, perhaps because it’s not fitted with electricity. The orange flames were reflected by the condensation on the windows reminding me of how lucky I was to be inside! I ordered a large glass of organic red wine (it was a Friday night!) and settled in to read the menu. When I’m dining in an omnivorous restaurant, I’m often grateful that I can discount the majority of meals; I can target the meals marked with ‘V’ and decide what I want to eat quickly. Since I’ve been seeking out vegetarian restaurants, I’ve been overwhelmed with the choice! I had to ask our lovely waitress to give me “a few more minutes” twice before I was ready to order. I settled on the mezze platter to start (without falafel, unfortunately), a stuffed cabbage for my main (owing entirely to the side portion of roast potatoes) and blackberry tofu cheesecake for dessert (I struggled to chose between the cheesecake and the chocolate and orange fondant). The food was nothing too fancy but its simplicity left me feeling well fed and warm.
I was sad when it was time to go so there’s no doubt that I’ll be back soon to while away an evening and chatter over wine and grub.
Elys Yard, The Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, E1 6QL
After soaking up my fair share of blue hues at Leighton House, I wondered down Kensington High Street to number 99. This building now houses a private member’s club, owned by Sir Richard Branson, but it was once a Great British department store called Derry and Toms. In 1938, the department store commissioned the build of a secret rooftop garden over 1.5 acres which is still sometimes accessible to the public (if you plan to go then make sure you call ahead to make sure the club hasn’t hired the gardens out to a private function). By the time I arrived, the sun was setting and the crowds had dispersed which made for a very romantic setting indeed!
Stepping out of the lift, I found myself under a series of archways: the focus of the Tudor Garden. The twisted stone pillars reminded me a little of Parc Guell in Barcelona albeit on a much smaller scale! Even in these winter months, the air was saturated with the fragrance of the surrounding fauna. From the Tudor Garden I looked across the illuminated flower beds to the Spanish Garden which was built in the image of the Alhambra in Granada and definitely emulates the same coral colour. I hopped down a series of pathways through tunnels and under archways to the English Woodland. It’s here that the famous flamingos live (Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks!) and also the area which gives the best panoramic view of the capital. Most of the windows are accessible only through a gate marked “Staff Only” which I thought was mean and thus ignored. My disgraceful disregard for the rules was rewarded with a glowing orange sunset.
If I lived anywhere near Kensington Roof Gardens then it would be a regular picnic spot for me, but maybe not with the recent frosts!
99 Kensington High Street, W8 5SA
+44 (0)207 368 3971
Lord Frederic Leighton was an artist and sculptor who became the president of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1878. He is often associated with the Aesthetic Movement which describes a revolt against the ugliness of Victorian Britain during which artists took inspiration from the beauty of the world, blending design from several cultures. His house in Holland Park, designed in 1864 by architect George Aitchison, is a perfect example.
When I entered the Staircase Hall I was overwhelmed by the peacock blue tiles which lined every wall from floor to ceiling; I knew in that instant that it was my favourite colour. The mottled indigo, navy, emerald and turquoise came alive under the reflective ceramic and the gold mosaic accents. But this was just a taste of things to come. The highlight of the house is the domed Arab Hall which was built as an extension to the original building to house Leighton’s collection of Islamic tiles. I can’t recall anywhere else in London that had such a calming effect on me. The hall is a true oasis. In this room, the striking blue is relaxed with cream and coral and the mosaic floors are softened with Persian rugs. The sound of a small trickling fountain echoes around the room and is almost melodic and absolutely meditative.
After dragging myself away form the Arab Hall, I perused the upstairs studio in which Leighton would paint. The room is presented as it would have been in his day with large commissions hanging on the wall and several easels dotted around. A mezzanine platform enabled Leighton to reach the tops of his paintings. Below this platform is a small wooden dressing room in which the models would undress and wait to be called.
Outside the studio at the top of the stairs is a banquette constructed from a wooden lattice known as a Mashrabiya, imported from Egypt, and lined with silk cushions. Through the lattice, colour and gold from the Arab Hall below peep through and reflect on the gilded gold ceiling. I sat in that Mashrabiya and begged my brain to devise a way to recreate it in my modest flat in Camden!
12 Holland Park Road, W14 8LZ
More information on Leighton House at Wikipedia and Drawings of Islamic Buildings at the V&A.
There are few reasons to get out of bed at 3:30am – Bermondsey Square Antiques Market is one of them. It’s not so much the treasures to be found or the good prices (most of the antiques were out of my price range, actually), it’s the pure excitement of shopping in the dark with a torch and the buzz of chatter between people too sleep deprived to retain their usual London guardedness. The market starts at 4am and several internet reviews say that the best antiques are gone by 5am. I considered arriving for the start but the first Northern line train doesn’t arrive into Camden until 5:55 and I figured that I wouldn’t miss the wares that I never knew were there in the first place. There was still plenty to see when I arrived, green chai tea in hand, at 6:30am and, in fact, some stall owners were still setting up. Bermondsey Square is unlit so it wasn’t easy for me to do my usual trick of quickly honing in on ceramics, teak and gilded frames. This ended up being a good thing, because I got to explore items that I wouldn’t have naturally been attracted to but which were actually ever so beautiful and satisfying to hold. I found a very precious silver rattle from 1890 (selling for £80) and a WW2 compartmentalised money tin with 6 slots marked “Rates and Taxes”, “Coal and Lighting”, “Clothing”, “Rent”, “Holiday” and “Christmas” (£25). There seemed to be a pig-shaped money box on every stall. And if you have a thing for silver or crystal tableware then this market is your cup of tea!
I’m not sure that Kirstie Allsopp would be impressed with my ability to barter. I decided how much I was willing to pay for something before asking for the price. If it ended up being less than that then I snapped it up without making a fuss. I did have a little success with a vintage vanity tray (just like the one in Lost in Beauty); the seller first suggested £20 but, when I frowned, she immediately lowered it to £15! I must have a persuasive frown – I should practice that.
Bermondsey Square Antique Market
Bermondsey Square, Southwark, SE1
Nearest tube: London Bridge
Every Friday from 4am until 1pm
I had intended to enjoy a very virtuous Saturday morning in Angel with a 10am Powerplate workout followed by an 11am Pilates class. Unfortunately, my subconscious sabotaged my efforts; I accidentally booked both classes for 10am. This turned out to be a good thing for two reasons: 1) the Powerplate class was fierce enough without the Pilates chaser! 2) I had time for a leisurely rummage around the antique stall and shops in and around Camden Passage.
Camden Passage is a string of cobbled alleys tying antique stalls to homeware and craft shops to homely cafes. One day, when I have more than an hour to spare, I’ll really investigate the area and write a proper guide. For now, I just wanted to write about the highlight of my Saturday. Caroline Carrier sells vintage china at Number One in Pierrepont Arcade. The tiny shop is home to stacks of precious tea cups, saucers, cake stands and tea pots. Despite recently buying an entire tea set including 10 tea cups (I doubt that I could fit 10 people into my little flat), I still felt compelled to sift through the piles looking for hand painted floral motifs and near matching sets. China feels like such a treasure to me but there’s only so much that I can pack away in my kitchen cupboards; I had to walk away from Number One empty handed.
But, I’ve since hatched a plan that gives me a reason to go back! My friends and family can look forward to Christmas presents made from upcycled teacups. I plan on filling a couple with chai spiced soy wax, planting some with fragrant herbs and filling others with sweet Chocolate treats. Judging by the hits Google returned for “teacup craft”, I’m not the first person to have this idea but I’m sure I’ll find a way of putting my own personality into the presents.
1 Pierrepont Arcade, N1 8EG
Nearest tube: Angel
When I’ve had enough of the macho bravado of businessmen in the City, I can rely on Lost in Beauty to remind me of all that is feminine and glamorous. Walking into this beauty boutique in Primrose Hill is akin to stepping back in time to a sumptuous Victorian powder room. The luxury cult products are displayed in antique glass-fronted cabinets alongside vintage sequined flapper dresses and silk flowers. Some of the displays are like peep holes into what life would be like if I lived in the shop; a few tubes of hand cream lay on an old floral tray with a curved emery board as though someone was mid-manicure.
Good news for me: the store stocks many of my beauty favourites including REN, Dr Hauschka, Bumble and Bumble and Essie.
A range of beautifying treatments are available to book in the downstairs parlour: regular facials, manicures, pedicures and threading will keep you well maintained and blow dries and make-up application by Lost in Beauty owner and make-up artist extraordinaire, Georgina Hamed will have you event ready. For me, most of the fun of a night out is in the getting ready and I can’t think of a better way to do that than the in house Beauty Club. The glamorous studio can be set aside for private parties complete with afternoon tea, cupcakes, champagne and a full beauty team. I wonder if it’s mandatory to actually have somewhere to go to afterwards…
Lost in Beauty
117 Regents Park Road, Primrose Hill, NW1 8UR
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm