Saf Restaurant: Botanical Fine Dining in Shoreditch

Let me start by saying that the food that I ate at Saf may be the best that I have ever eaten.  I certainly can’t remember enjoying a meal as much.  The menu is creative and inspired; I could have ordered a 20 course meal and still felt like I had missed out on something.  The same can be said for the cocktail menu.  I indulged in a wittily named “Guilty Husband” which was described as flowers, chocolate and champagne!

Ok, enough gushing!

“Botanical Fine Dining in Shoreditch” is Saf’s own website strapline.  The word “botanical” means “of the plant” which is a wholly accurate way to describe Saf; the menu is 100% vegan and 75% raw.  As for the “fine dining” part, Wikipedia suggests three key characteristics of a fine dining restaurant: 

  1. High quality décor
  2. Full service by highly trained waiting staff
  3. Dedicated meal courses of visually appealing food

The décor at Saf is modern but not minimal.  When I walked into the restaurant I first noticed the warm light which illuminates the cherry-tone wood floor and the similar shades on the wall and ceiling.  The effect is cocooning, like a friend greeting you at the door and wrapping a blanket around your shoulders.  Everything in the room has been exactly placed just so; the barstools were all at a 45 degree angle to the bar and the menus equidistance apart.  And I fell for the shape of the water jar… oh the simple things!

The attentive waiting staff artfully struck the perfect balance between being absent and overwhelming.  I asked our waitress to recommend her favourite cocktail and she did so enthusiastically and without suggesting the most expensive.  She also patiently explained the concept of the restaurant in general and then each dish as she brought it to us.  Not only were the staff professional to a fault, they were also incredibly friendly – I managed to develop a major girl crush in the space of 2 hours!

In terms of dedicated meal courses, the menu is based on the usual three course meal with a selection of starters, mains and desserts.  The innovative starters include a chipotle and cucumber sorbet, a flax seed pancake with sesame marinated mushrooms and roasted figs in a beetroot merlot reduction. There’s also a sharing plate of cashew cheeses!  The mains that caught my eye were the raw pad thai with enoki mushrooms, the Buddha bowl of teriyaki glazed tofu and the Brazil Nut Sunday Roast (which I had, and which was delicious – I’m a kale convert).  I found enough room to see the dessert menu and was wowed by chocolate ganache torte and berry cheesecake.  If you really want the Saf experience then you can book a seat at the chef’s table to experience a 7 course feast (I think I’ve just figured out how to celebrate my next birthday)!

And lastly, is the food visually appealing?  Here’s the evidence (have you ever seen such a neatly arranged roast dinner?):

Saf
152-154 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3AT

Posted in Eats, London | 2 Comments

Kilburn Car Boot Sale: A Collection of Tatty Surprises

I’ve found a new way to peacefully while away a Saturday morning.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve ambled up to Hampstead to rummage around in Jackie’s wares.  This week, keen to expand my flea market repertoire, I headed over to St Augustine’s School yard to explore Kilburn Car Boot Sale.  Soya latte in hand, I rounded the corner to the school to find a queue of more than 50 bargain hunters waiting for 11am when the admission price drops from £3 to 50p.  I joined them and stretched onto my tip-toes to have a gander over the wall at the stalls and plan my attack!

Probably around a quarter of the stalls sell second hand clothes and shoes.  According to Henry Holland, Agyness Deyn used to stock up her wardrobe here so there must be some gems to be found.  I watched a relentless haggle for a linen Sportmax jacket; the seller wouldn’t let it go for less than £5! 

Another quarter of the stalls sell children’s clothes and toys.  A little boy zoomed past me with an armful of toy cars.  “No more cars!”  His mum raced after him.

The third quarter was right up my street, selling pre-loved homeware.  I parted with £2 for a Cath Kidston mug and another £2 for a floral, ceramic bowl (no planned use as of yet).  I bought a print of an Edward Blake Leighton painting for a fiver and a flicker album filled with old postcards for £3 from an elderly lady drinking tea from a flask.  The best thing about flea markets and car boot sales is that they’re full of things that you never knew you wanted. 

The rest of the stalls sold electronics: old DVDs and games, remote controls, microwaves, whisks and numerous cables.  I saw someone buying the charger for an electric toothbrush for 20p!  I suppose there’s a potential buyer for every item!

Kilburn Car Boot runs every Saturday from 8am until 2pm
Nearest tube: Kilburn Park (Bakerloo line)

Posted in London, Shopping | 2 Comments

Supperclub: Champagne in Bed in Nottinghill

I did something very out of character on Thursday night.  It was something that I have only done a handful of times over the last 5 years.  I went to a nightclub!

In all honesty, Supperclub is actually a halfway house between a restaurant and a nightclub.  As I was approaching the address I doubted I was in the right place; the club is housed in a dark, flat-fronted building under the A40 overpass near Westbourne Park next to a skater park.  Not really the glamorous location I expected for a club with a Nottinghill postcode.  I met Bee outside and we were invited into the reception, ticked off the guest list and given stickers with our table number.  The small, blood-red bar on the other side was full of couples and sedate groups of friends drinking cocktails and winding down after work.  The room slowly filled to capacity and just as it was starting to feel like Bank tube station at rush hour, a wall was pushed aside to reveal a vast space, glowing ice blue.  An attractive Spaniard introduced himself as Al and took us upstairs to bed… That’s really true!  Beds line the walls of the club so the shoes that I had carefully chosen to complete my outfit had to be left to one side.  Lounging in bed with a glass of champagne is true decadence.  The food was served taster menu style over four courses: risotto, hot and sour soup and goats’ cheese tart.  Bee and I scrunched up our faces when we saw the dessert: a cross between pannacotta and cheesecake with a syringe full of pomegranate puree to squeeze on top! 

Between courses, we were entertained with performance art acts.  When a girl strutted past our bed into the dressing room, Bee thoughtfully pointed out that she was probably a performer as she had a line of diamante gems instead of eyebrows! She re-emerged half an hour later coloured from head to toe in gold glitter body paint.  A light show picked out the sparkle as she shimmied among the crowd.  In the grand finale, she poured water from a watering can over her breasts and let the glitter wash onto the floor.  

As the night neared an end, I found a downside to beds in clubs.  I was tipsy and lounging about with a full tummy; I could have easily turned the music down and fallen asleep.  Instead, I had to rouse myself, put on my coat and shoes and plod off through the rain to catch the 31 bus home.

Supperclub
12 Acklam Rd, W10 5QZ
Nearest tube: Westbourne Park

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year at The Natural History Museum

Last night, Charlotte and I attended a private viewing of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at The Natural History Museum.  Sipping wine, gossiping about colleagues and perusing stunning photos is a perfect way to spend an evening.  I’m no photography connoisseur and know nothing about exposure times or lens lengths so I admire photos based on composition, colour and “capturing the moment”.  Luckily for me, Charlotte is much more au fait with the technical details so was able to point out when a photo was technically impressive.  Sometimes knowing these things made me like the photo more but mostly I stuck to judging the prettiness.

Here are my favourite five photos of the exhibition:

Sweet Intimacy by Christian Zieglar
The jewel tones captured in this photo could inspire 100 fashion seasons.  The glimpse of this beautiful bird’s life in the cloud forests of Panama makes me feel like I’m in on a secret.

Flowers of the Volcano by Francisco Mingorance
It was the colour of the sky that drew me to this one.  When Charlotte pointed out that the long exposure of the shot coupled with the rotation of the Earth had caused the stars to streak through the Tenerife sky, I was in love.  The flowers are captured so crisply – there must have been no breeze at all.

Southern Swell by Kah Kit Yoong
Another beauty created by a long exposure.  This time the currents in the swell of the Ocean have blurred to look like an ethereal cloak of chiffon. 

Giant Beachcomber by Thomas P Peschak
Doesn’t this fellow look jolly?

 

Sunset Moment by Olivier Puccia
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this photograph.  Olivier Puccia had managed to capture a mother and baby Hanuman langur enjoying the Indian sunset together.  What a lucky man!

Posted in Culture, London | Leave a comment

The Big Swish: Fashion Swap Carnage!

I hosted an accessory swapping party yesterday and now have a box full of new gems.  My friends and I had a lot of fun relaxing with tea and browsing each other’s pre-loved treasures.  That is the way to swap!  The experience couldn’t have contrasted more starkly with my recent trip to The Big Swish clothes swap I attended last month with my good friend Charlotte.

I was thrilled to be popping my swapping cherry.  The day before the swap, I carefully picked good condition and season-relevant items and made sure that they were clean, ironed and wrapped in tissue paper.  I smiled as I imagined how pleased the organisers would be when I unwrapped the packages.  As I was leaving, I decided to add a pretty Marc by Marc Jacobs summer dress to my bundle on whim. 

The event was being held at the sexy Amika nightclub in Kensington; the high polished black tiles and sparkly fairy lights did nothing to quell my excitement.  First stop: check-in.  I proudly plucked my packages out of my bag and passed them to the clothes inspectors.  The tissue paper was ripped off of the clothes and chucked on the floor.  I pouted.  After a very brief inspection for obvious damage and to make sure the clothes were not too basic (no vests or plain tee shirts allowed), they were added to the top of a towering heap.  I pouted again.  I didn’t get any coos for the Whistles but I did get a special stamp on my swapping card for the Marc Jacbs which granted me access to the designer section .

To kill some time while the clothes were hung on rails, Charlotte and I sat down in the bar at the back with our usuals (a G&T for me and an Amaretto and Diet Coke for the lady).  Raw Skin Food, an ethical, organic and vegan skin care company, were handing out complimentary cupcakes and giving back massages.  My pout subsided!  The bar was full of stylish and demure women reading novels and politely chatting about the weather.  As the time approached 7:30, toes started to tap and eyes glanced at the clock.  When the organisers started the countdown, all demureness gave way to a stiletto stampede!

Charlotte and I got sucked into the rush, shoulder-to-shoulder with the other women and piled through the door into the clothes room.  Within the 10 seconds that it took for us to get to the front, half of the clothes were on the floor, having been considered and discarded by the first women to reach the rails.  I was desperate to get to the designer rail but had no choice about the direction I moved in until the stampede separated me from Charlotte and deposited me at an empty plus size rail.  By the time I had squeezed through the masses, the only “designer” item left was a canary yellow Lacoste teeshirt.  Not happy.  Still, no time to dwell on what there wasn’t; I had to get stuck in and find something.  Everywhere I looked, women with arms full of clothes played tug-of-war with jumper sleeves through the rails.  Wine glasses smashed and a voice over the speakers begged, “Please don’t hurt each other!”  I frantically looked around for an opening so that I could get my hands on some clothes.   

I grabbed a pair of white, wide leg trousers from Zara that still had the label on; “Score!” I thought, until I noticed that they were 2 sizes too big and had been on the wrong rail.  I scrabbled around on the floor and filtered out the Billabong emblazoned teeshirts and frayed denim pedal pushers.  Charlotte rushed past me.  I lay my hands on a leopard print mohair cropped jumper and one hundred would-be outfits flashed through my mind.  “That’s mine!”  A savvy blonde squealed at me whilst pulling a sequined body con dress over her head.   “Oh, I’m sorry”.  Darn my British manners!    I stepped up onto the stage for a birds eye view.  It was 7:35 and the room was nearly empty.  The best “swishers” had bags full of clothes at the checkouts and I had nothing!  In my desperation I picked up the nearest item to me: a reasonably wearable yellow floral blouse.  Hang on, I brought that blouse in with me!  I kept it anyway in preference to going home empty handed.

As the crowds died down, I found Charlotte in the shoe section clutching a pair of size 3s that nobody else could fit into.  She had also managed to pick up a few items of clothing which she was now peacefully contemplating.  This seemed to be a good tactic; I noticed a group of 4 friends who were reviewing their hauls together in a huddle and discarding items that none of them wanted.  I joined a few loitering vultures and snatched up a couple of rejected cardigans.  I begged them with my eyes to toss the green velvet trousers and black tiered mini dress but they were wise and kept them.

Reluctant as I was to give up, the room was empty by 7:50.  I took my blouse and the cardigans to the checkout and tried to ignore the sympathetic looks from the girl who checked my ticket.  I felt embarrassed at my lack of grit but I’ve since read a review of the Big Swish by Ms Wanda who gave a similar report.  This is not a clothes swap for the feint hearted!  If you do decide to go to the next event (tickets on sale for Thursday 11th November at Big Wardrobe) then I implore you to only take clothes that would otherwise go to a charity shop.  And sharpen your elbows!

Feature image pinched from Swishing Parties.

Posted in London, Shopping | 2 Comments

Pumpkin Pie: Welcome Autumn!

Until today, I had never eaten a pumpkin pie, never mind baked one.  Any kind of pie is a big baking commitment with the multitude of steps and pumpkin pie is probably more complicated than most.  Saying that, there’s nothing too technically difficult in this recipe so you can switch your brain off and hum along to Pixie Lott with a glass of wine for a couple of hours (as I did).  The result is a thick and smooth pie.  The natural sweetness of the pumpkin and coconut stopped the filling becoming sickly (so you can eat a bigger portion!)  I fed the pie to a real life American this afternoon and she ranked it as one of the best she had tried!

I pinched this Vegan Pumpkin Pie recipe from Channel 4’s website but played with the quantities a little bit so I’ve put my recipe beneath these hunger-inducing photos!  For the pumpkin, I bought one which was 8 inches across and only needed half of it.  The smaller pumpkins are sweeter, apparently, so look for ones about 5 inches across.  This makes enough for about 8 slices.  You’ll need a 23cm round baking tin.

Ingredients

Pastry
300g plain flour
150g vegan margarine
35g icing sugar
Splash of soya milk to bind

Filling
800g fresh pumpkin  
100g Demerara sugar
Drizzle of olive oil
200g creamed coconut
Vanilla pod seeds/Drop of vanilla essence

Topping
20g vegan margarine
60g plain flour
40g Demerara sugar

Recipe

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. To make the pastry, rub the flour, margarine and icing sugar until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.  Add a splash of soya milk to make dough.
  3. Put the dough in the fridge to chill for an hour
  4. Cube the pumpkin flesh (none of the stringy/seedy yuckiness) and put it in a baking tray with 100g Demerara sugar and a drizzle of olive oil.
  5. Bake the pumpkin for 40 minutes – give it a shake half way through
  6. Whilst the pumpkin is roasting, make the topping.  Use the same rubbing technique as with the pastry to combine the flour, margarine and sugar.  This time, don’t add the milk – this is going to taste like crumble when it’s cooked.
  7. Once the dough is chilled, roll it onto a floured board until it’s about 1cm thick and with a big enough surface area to cover the baking tin.  To move the dough without it breaking, drape it over a rolling pin.  Make sure the dough touches the sides all the way around.  Prick the base with a fork and then cover with greaseproof paper.  Add some baking beads to weigh the dough and prevent bubbles from forming. 
  8. Blind bake the base for 15 minutes
  9. Remove the beads (careful – they’ll be hot) and greaseproof paper and then bake the base for another 10 minutes
  10. Whilst the base is baking, whiz the roasted pumpkin with the sugar syrup and the creamed coconut in a food processor.  I added a little vanilla essence but you could use vanilla seeds if you’re feeling posh.
  11. Spoon the filling into the base and spread with the back of the spoon.  Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly across the top of the pie.  I used some leftover pastry to make leaves and arranged these on top (very autumnal!)
  12. Put the pie in the oven for another 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.
  13. Cool the pie on a rack and then refrigerate overnight to set the filling.
  14. Done!  (I couldn’t stop at 13 steps!)
Posted in Cooking, Home | 3 Comments

Imli: Indian Tapas in Soho

A few weekends ago, I found myself hungry in Soho.  There are probably more restaurants along Soho streets than anywhere else in London but I was in one of those moods where my stomach was growling but I had no appetite.  After pacing up and down the same streets for the third time (I think it was Albert Einstein that defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results) I noticed Imli.  The colourful and modern restaurant serves Indian Tapas and luxury cocktails (Passion Fruit Bellini anyone?)  It’s an innovative menu so it was difficult to know what to expect; I trusted the Chef’s recommendation and ordered the Vegetarian Taster Menu (they also do a couple of non veg tasters to keep the likes of Kate happy!)  I love tapas because each plate brings a new “yum” and it’s almost impossible to get bored of a meal before the end.  Indian cuisine suits this way of eating well; the small portion sizes are all that are needed to showcase the rich flavours.  Out came a parade of perfectly presented dishes: lentil dumplings, crispy potato cakes with yellow beans, coriander and ginger wedges (my favourite) and matar paneer.   It would have been a farce to not photograph them!

Imli
167-169 Wardour Street, W1F 8WR.

Posted in Eats, London | 2 Comments

Jackie’s – A Flea Market Stall in Hampstead

Those of you following me on Twitter (@SkinnyLatteLDN) may have noticed my over-excited tweets last weekend after I found a 45 piece tea set that I bought for just £15 at Jackie’s flea market style stall in Hampstead!  Down Flask Walk and outside the second hand bookshop, Keith Fawkes, I found piles of china, art, vinyl, mirrors, jigsaw puzzles, glass wear and the odd piece of furniture.  I wanted to take a photo for a post but my arms were laden with heavy china and I was too terrified of sudden movements to put it down and fish out my camera.  The stall seems to be a Hampstead institution; as I walked up Rosslyn Hill people asked me, “Ooh – been to Jackie’s have you?”  

I went again this weekend, this time with my arms free to take photos and gesticulate wildly in excitement at the bargains.  I honestly only intended to take photos and window shop but I ended up buying an interesting oriental print of two roosters in a golden bamboo frame (£4) and a set of 6 placemats with pictures of old London (£3).  Yes – an odd combo, I admit!  Jackie is as wildly eccentric as us Brits get: a hoot of a glamour puss with red lipstick and an Eliza Doolittle cockney accent.  She prices things on the fly according to the apparent affluence of the person who enquires (that might be my cynic imagination) so, if you plan to visit, you should dress down and try to catch her in a generous mood.

Posted in London, Shopping | 31 Comments

Wholefood Harmony: Natural Cookery Workshops in Golders Green

I spent this morning in a beautiful, family home learning to cook a delicious and natural brunch.  Anna Freedman, a qualified macrobiotic cook and wholefoods coach, founded Wholefood Harmony with her husband Scott to inspire others to cook and eat nourishing, organic food.  The couple host relaxed cookery workshops in their home in Golders Green and then serve up the food around a communal table. 

When I arrived with my mum, Anna greeted us at the front door and sat us in the dining room with the rest of the class (about 10 women), a cup of fresh mint tea and a coconut cookie (perfectly sweetened by coconut milk without a grain of processed sugar).  We chatted happily about our diets and health and swapped recommendations for restaurants and detox spas.  When everyone had arrived, Anna started the workshop with an introduction to the day’s menu and the health benefits associated with the key ingredients which included whole grains, beans, seaweeds, soya and seasonal vegetables.  She gave advice on how to cook the lesser used ingredients and passed around examples from the brands that she found to be the most nutritious and wholesome. 

Once we had familiarised ourselves with the recipes, we paired up and collected the ingredients for a couple of the dishes.  Mum and I characteristically opted for the desserts!  We were in charge of creating Peanut Butter Puffed Rice Treats and Autumn Fruit Compote.  While we were chopping and stewing, Anna and her mother, Pauline, floated between groups to taste the food, make flavour suggestions and demonstrate techniques.  The kitchen was filled with laughter and mouth-watering aromas.  In a marvel of impeccable timing, all dishes finished cooking at the same time and we filtered out onto the patio to enjoy yellow bean and sweet potato soup in the October sunshine whilst Anna prepared the table for a feast!  The food was glorious!  Main dishes of scrambled tofu, butternut squash bake and grain cake with thyme were accompanied by sides of carrot and arame salad, seasonal greens and pesto, and hummus.  Despite the savoury bliss, everybody saved room for a puffed rice treat (or three) – a sweet end to a wonderful morning. 

Wholefood Harmony begins their Winter Kitchen workshop series in December with a focus on seasonal canapés, warming stews and festive puddings.  I cannot think of a better way to welcome the advent period – I’m hungry already!

Peanut Butter Puffed Rice Treats

P.S. I noticed that the recipe for the Peanut Butter Puffed Rice Treats is on the Wholefood Harmony facebook page so I’ve copied it here, too.  Make them next Sunday to celebrate the start of Go Vegan Week!

  • 6 dessertspoons peanut butter
  • 3 dessertspoons rice syrup
  • Dash of vanilla essence
  • Handful raisons
  • Handful chopped almonds
  • Puffed rice

Combine the peanut butter, syrup, raisons and vanilla in a pan and stir until the butter is melted. Add the almonds and puffed rice and stir. Spoon out into paper cup cakes as individual servings or keep as whole. Enjoy!

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Teapod – Loose leaf tea love in Shad Thames

A few Saturday’s ago, I had an urge, but no reason, to go to Shad Thames.  For those of you that haven’t been, Shad Thames is a cobbled street sandwiched between two Victorian warehouses which runs along the Southbank near Tower Bridge.  The warehouses were once known as “London’s larder” owing to the tea, coffee and spices that were stored inside.  For a fleeting decade in the 1970s, and after the decline of shipping on the Thames, the warehouses were used by artists for who needed cheap accommodation and good light.  Nowadays, one thing the area is not is cheap!  It was redeveloped in the 1980s into luxury flats (oh, how I would love to peek inside one!)  The architectural highlight is the lattice of iron bridges connecting the buildings on each side of the street which were once used to roll barrels from one warehouse to the other but which are now used as balconies.

At street level, the buildings house temptingly interesting eateries (including several owned by Terrance Conran).  In need of an afternoon pick-me-up, I was attracted to the lime front door of Teapod, a bright and modern tea house.  I popped in for a simple peppermint tea (having just eaten my way around Borough market).  Families around me were lunching on hot food and friends gossiped over sweet smelling cream teas.  There were also a few single tea drinkers making use of the shop’s free wifi or reading Teapod’s books about the 19 types of tea available.  I noticed the usual varieties (English Breakfast and Earl Grey) and a few of the more exciting blends (Spicy Masala Chai, White Silver Needle and Rose Petal Green).   

As I was leaving, I noticed that you can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea at Teapod.  Now next time I have the urge to visit Shad Thames, I’ll also have a reason!

P.S. Notes on the history of Shad Thames from Melanie Backe-Hansen’s blog.

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