18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

Five Nights in Marbs

Maybe its the direct flight from Manchester airport, or maybe it runs deeper than that, but when you are from the North West of England there are two summer holiday destinations that particularly call out – *The Algarve* and *Marbs*. This year, to keep with the cliche, I have been to both….

The Costa de Sol can get a bad rep – some of it is thoroughly well deserved – but there is more to this part of the world than TOWIE and Torremolinos.

Puerto Banus harbour

From a distance, Puerto Banus looks quite classy

For me Marbs has some key ingredients for a great European summer holiday that can’t be underestimated:

1. Sunshine – basically guaranteed sunshine. 30 degrees on a tap. Walking on the beach has never burned my feat so much

2. Food –  the gastro mountain village of Benahavis is brimming with quirky restaurants and art. One of the best I visited was Amanhavis – (because er…they make their own houmous and even print your name on the menu!)

3. Sea – I love a coastline and the sea is just gorgeous – whether you are into banana boating or catamaran cruises.

4. Straightforward – short hop flight, safe (unless you’re on the lash with 25 cocktail fish bowls and then you’re on your own) and you can even get a British newspaper to read on the beach

Singing Spanish men in traditional costume

Singing Spaniards in Benahavis

Solo boat from Puerto Banus to Marbella

A boat to ourselves

We stayed at the Marriot Vacation Club (you don’t have to be a member)- where there was loads to do, including loads of pools, a great gym and a short walk out to the beach where you could get a massage for 15 euros – BLISS.

Five nights in Dubrovnik

There is only one thing to do in London in summer. Leave. For as long as your holiday allowance will allow.

I went to Dubrovnik for five nights, expecting somewhere ‘edgy’, perhaps with a lot of electronic music and post-war grievance expressed through graffiti. What I found was a gentle city, which likes to linger in its sea-faring, medieval past.

CIMG1795

I don’t think Dubrovnik gets enough attention for being a summer European city-break destination. It offers more than the usual contenders – Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome,  blah, blah. All great cultural cities, sure. But in high summer, pounding concrete all I can think is “where the hell is the beach?!!” 

Dubrovnik has it all –  a city vibe, heritage, sea all around to cool off and islands to explore – and only 2.5 hours flight time from the UK.

Where to Stay

We stayed in the Dubrovnik Palace Hotel – booking this hotel was by far one of the best decisions I’ve made all year. We got a good deal and it has a swim-up bar with incredible views of the Adriatic. Sold.

But its the little things that made the hotel stand-out – the peace and quiet, a fantastic omelette station at breakfast, friendly staff and CHOCOLATES ON YOUR PILLOW (a sad lost art in hotels these days). Its set slightly out of town, but a bus stops regularly right outside the hotel shuttling you into town (and I’m generally against public transport on holiday, I do love a cab).

On days when it was overcast (which did happen on a couple of mornings), there was a great gym, indoor immersion swimming pool and spa (we indulged in very vigorous all body body-scrub and massages which were reasonable at around £55).

Water so clear you could do your make up in the reflection

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When the sea is calm (which isn’t every day), you can climb down the rocks to swim

What to do

There were times when I didn’t want to leave the Dubrovnik Palace – but  of course, I really had to.

The old town is spectacular to walk around – embarrassingly we couldn’t find the entrance to the city walls, which I’m told  is a must-see.

But my favourite thing was to travel to the surrounding islands – an all day boat trip to the Elafiti Islands was inexpensive and offered stop-offs at three picturesque islands. These have some of the best paddling experiences out there in life, Croatian beer as cheap as chips and our laid back sailing crew forced grappa on us at 11am.

The lagoon at lokrum

The Salt Lake at Lokrum 

But it was the island of Lokrum I loved the most – lying ten minutes from the Old Port by ferry lies a secluded nature reserve with a secret salt lake (I’m calling it a lagoon), beautiful peacocks roaming everywhere and incredible hot, rocky scenery. I’ve never been anywhere like it.

Where to Eat

Dubrovnik’s food didn’t do it massively for me – because its famous for its seafood (which I detest)  – but if you love seafood, this is the place for YOU. We ate in the old town most nights I had some great steaks at some really lovely restaurants, including Nautica, Gill’s Bistro and 360.

So sod the standard city break. Go to Dubrovnik. Go in summer and see what I mean.

‘Don’t forget’ – summer holiday packing list

As you may have observed/mildly judged, in the ‘About me’ section of this blog,  I like to ‘make a good list’. I really mean it. I get a deep sense of dorky personal achievement from ticking actions off a list. So much so, that I will sometimes  retrospectively add things I have done to lists, which weren’t on the original list, just to tick them off and get the buzz.

I wanted to put out into the universe, for the good of mankind, my ‘don’t forget’ holiday packing list – which is basically a list of things I have forgotten on holidays over the years or blindly  assumed others will bring.

Suitcase full of stuff

Great British packing list

Practical things:

  • Local Currency – I always assume the pound is accepted everywhere. No. Wrong. And come home to find frustrating envelopes of old useless Euros from previous holidays in drawers everywehere
  • Phone Charger. Adapter. Travel Battery.Various crucial, but irritating cables for Ipad/Kindle.
  • Beach Towel. People always get particularly irritated when I forget this
  • Map/Guide book – v. retro but a godsend when data roaming is zillions of pounds
  • Insurance/hotel details – numbers and directions
  • Decent bags for sight-seeing/beach
  • Gym Kit. So annoying when you end up in a great hotel, with a great gym and loads of time to actually go but no trainers, socks, sports bra etc.
  • Teabags/instant coffee. I mock my Mother for bringing her little bags of PG Tips on holiday, but do resent buying continental Lipton (eughh).

Toiletries and skincare:

  • Sunhat and sun protection spray for hair. Always burn my scalp.
  • After sun. Oh the best made plans.
  • P20 suncream. Doesn’t come off all day, come sea or sweat, and is the only thing I don’t burn with. Not for face though.
  • Facial Mist. For hives and just general fun. Sprtiz. Spritz. Spritz!
  • Neon lipsticks/nail-polishes . Otherwise what is the point in having them? You can only wear on approx 3 days in UK
  •  Hay-fever tablets, eye drops, blister plasters, prickly heat cream, immodium and tissues – spend 10% of every holiday desperately trying to locate a pharmacy with pink, streaming eyes
  • Travel size toiletries and samples – shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, shaving cream, body lotion, facial cleanser, serums, moisturiser, perfume, deoderant and razors –  all the samples taking up space in the bathroom – this is your moment!
  • Toothpaste and Toothbrush. Once forced to buy aniseed toothpaste for 6 Euros in Italy which tasted like Sambuca
  • Cotton pads, facial wipes/flannels.

Entertainment:

  • DVDs/Player or Ipad with films/box-sets downloaded. For rainy days, flights, holiday ‘can’t switch off’ twitch
  • Games – Playing Cards or the best Ipad game of charades ever – Heads Up
  • Good books – pre-downloaded onto Kindle. (In Portugal, recently, I ended up panic downloading the most incredible trash).
  • Speakers. Beach side tunes.
So much more relaxing when you haven't forgotten your pants

So much more relaxing when you haven’t forgotten your pants

Totally obvious stuff:

  • Jacket, jumpers, jeans for cool days
  • Loads of shorts and T-shirts for the day
  • A million swimsuits/bikinis, plus beach covers
  • Skirts, playsuits, dresses, tops for evening
  • Underwear – including NEUTRAL tones as there will be a surprising opportunity to wear white
  • Converse/trainers
  • Flipflops/sandals
  • Nightwear
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Passport…Printed boarding passes…

Ironically I was more organised when I traveled less, but over the years I have become so ‘Generation EasyJet’ that I complacently believe holiday packing ‘just happens’. But it doesn’t. In fact, last month it happened at 11.45 before a 6am flight from Gatwick to Faro, leaving no time to sleep and a pretty disappointing holiday wardrobe when I arrived. So fingers crossed that getting organised for my next holiday will help…

Happy Travels x

Hanging out with the England Team at Portugal’s Brazil World Cup Training Camp

I have touched on my family’s obsession with the Liverpool football team before.

So while our decision to holiday in Portugal at the time of the England training camp in the Algarve was *not* deliberate, once this happy accident was discovered everyone was BEYOND THRILLED and turned swiftly to the serious business of genuine stalking. Wannabe WAG style.

Shot of Steven Gerard on the putting green at Vale de Lobo golf club

Big cat safari sport sighting – England team world cup Brazil training camp golf break– Gerard and Milner

My parents made a strategically planned, regular morning beach walk to the training camp in Vale de Lobo, where they stood next to the heavily guarded perimeter fence and waited for signs of life. Nothing. Other people would have moved on and given up, but not us.

On ‘pure instinct’ – their next move was to head to the nearby Vale de Lobo Golf Club, following a vague, voodoo sense that the players might fancy a club sandwich and a put on the green.

And it was there that we had our Bridget Jones moment (you know, that scene when she ballses up outside the Old Bailey, but Mark Darcy saves her by hooking her up with an exclusive interview?).

We discovered that the England team players would regularly ‘lunch’ at the golf club. Discovering this, my Mother brazenly circumvented security to gain access to the ‘members bar’ and got a selfie with Phil Jagielker (or a ‘Facie’ as Dad calls it).

On the second day the members bar was now understandably barricaded. But we prevailed and hung out in reception where we spotted Frank Lampard in heavy conversation (and decided on completely no basis he was talking to his psychological coach).

Needing an appropriate ‘cover’, we headed for drinks outside where we saw James Milner chilling on the putting green. This was followed by….the big man himself Steven Gerard. It was like seeing a secret animal in the wild. Literally everyone around the golf club took a sharp intake of breath and purred.

photo 4 (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And THEN Stevie sat next to us at lunch FOR HALF AN HOUR. Naturally nobody spoke as we intently listened in on his conversation, which consisted of disappointment/pride at Liverpool’s latest run and er…his love of audio books.

Poor Stevie – he must have felt so awkward as we all silently stared at him and I took really obvious creepy photographs like the one above.

While I’m no hardcore football fan, I was star struck and shy, so I held back from taking loads of pap snaps in an effort to play it cool. Dad was the same and one of my biggest regrets now, in life, is not running onto the putting pitch while he made small talk about the world cup with Gerard to take a picture of them together.

Oh well we have the memories. Now bittersweet from Brazil. In fact – superstition held me back from writing this post until England had gone and er…gone out. At least this post reminds us they set out to do well.

 

The man who makes the best G&Ts in the world

Gin. Mother’s ruin. But is it weird to say that I started to drink gin because of my Dad? Yes that does sound weird, like I grew up not getting enough cuddles.

But the truth is my Dad taught me to appreciate the art of a decent G&T. Like he taught me to never buy a new car, install decent anti-virus software and appreciate the Rolling Stones.  As I got used to how it made me feel; relaxed, un-phased, off the grid, I learned to respect the solid, British, masculine heart of an ice cold G&T. (Not saying gin is a man’s drink, but all objects do have a gender and I’m pretty certain that at the bottom of a gin bottle lies the soul of a disillusioned man).

Potentially the best G&T world? But I won't know until I drink them all

Potentially the best G&T in the world? But of course I won’t know until I drink them all

I made bad gin and tonics at university. Sometimes I made them without ice, with tepid tonic water and always, always with too much gin. So much gin that people would physically shudder and look at me like I was ‘mental’  .But you know what I never did? I never descended to using lemon. ALWAYS LIME.

Hell hath no more contempt than me and my Dad, faced with a waiter who thinks its acceptable to put a slice of lemon instead of lime a G&T. And bloody fair enough. This is 2014. No one needs to live like the cast of Only Fools and Horses.

I don’t drink as much gin these days. I’d go as far to say I don’t drink nearly enough. But then again, I went through enough Bombay Saphire at university to put me in a workhouse (if we’d been in Dickensian times). I limit my gin intake now to only sinking 1-2 in a row, after I linked it with a bout of unexplained crying on nights out. The number of concerned looks I’ve had from people when I’ve admitted that is countless: ‘What you didn’t know gin is a depressive? You need to get on the voddies girl!!”

So anyway, the point of this post is to say that bearing all of this in mind, when a  mixologist in Portugal had the audacity to suggest he made the best G&Ts in the world, I’m sure you can imagine the arched eyebrows I exchanged with my Dad.

But I’m a big enough girl to admit when I’m wrong. This barman  – of the Heinz Beck restaurant at The Conrad hotel in The Algarve – actually did fulfill his promise in unexpected ways. A bit like the Walt White of drinks.

Talking about his formula – this man, whose name I never caught – explained how some of the secret is to melt and freeze juniper berries into ice cubes (which turn ‘antifreeze’ blue), so that the taste of gin never dilutes, even when your ice-cube melts. He also pats the glass with a lime, so the taste stays on your fingers as you sip. He has thought of everything – except how to mass-produce this.

The drink was inspirational, iconic, magic. Nothing will ever be the same again.

Since then, I’ve been sinking gin like crazy, like a woman trying to replace a good lover . In fact, I had one earlier tonight, before I wrote this. Although the restaurant ‘didn’t have lime’…Fascists.

Recreating NYC in SW London

I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I ended up in the life phase where a ‘mental’ night, means hosting a dinner party for ten.

I have started to set myself masochistic cooking challenges, live and exposed to an audience of my closest friends. This year’s Challenge Anneka was to (attempt) to recreate a life-changing seven course meal meal I had at New York’s  The Stanton Social. And to seat ten guests around my six-seater kitchen table…

https://i1.wp.com/stantonsocial.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/food11-800x500.jpg

The Stanton Social’s famous chicken n’ waffles – mine looked absolutely nothing like this FYI (picture taken from its online gallery)

Seven of us all went to New York together last year. But most of the group arrived a night after me, sadly missing out on one of the greatest restaurant experiences I’ve ever had (gutted for them).

Maybe it was the quantity of the food – a constant flow of  ‘small plates’ of American inspired dishes from a fabulous set menu of all my favourite foods (basically posh fast food). Or the ambiance – think mood lighting, floor to ceiling wine and a restaurant full of *real life NYC hipsters*. Or maybe it was because it was my first night in the city (and isn’t the first meal after you touch-down the best, whether it is simply steak frites in a random cafe in Nice or fresh ravioli in a square in Florence?). I was also jet-lagged and on a come down from dropping diazapam at some point over the Atlantic (I’m a crazy flyer).

Whatever happened, that meal at the Stanton, that night, was legendary. I so bummed out my friends who missed it regaling the experience, that it seemed only right to have a reunion where I would recreate that menu.

Oh the things you dream, in New York, with a face full of martini. Of course, back in London and working full time,  it turned out to be harder in practice, than in theory. Firstly, the Stanton’s menu from that night last year had changed. And its not like they publish the idiots guide to their recipes online either, so I had to think back and google….

What we had:

  • Starter: Cheese and Guacamole QuesadillasJamie Oliver’s recipe helped me out here. I think I had ‘hand pulled Chicken Arepas’ at the Stanton, but frankly, it was just too hard to contemplate working out even what they were. Never mind, the quesadillas were a hit and something I’d gladly make again. I also didn’t attempt to make the Stanton’s signature French onion soup dumplings, which go down in my memory as some of the most thrilling appetisers on earth. But thankfully there are other bloggers out there more adventurous than me posting great recipes for this online.
Picture of quaesadillas before cooking - cheese, corriander, sour cream, pepper and guacamola

Inside a quesadilla

  • First Course:’Old school meatballs’ on a bed of rigatoni (I stopped short of making basil and ricotta manicotti as per the Stanton’s menu. I mean, come on). To level with you I just bought the meatballs prepared from Ocado.  But I did make a homemade tomato sauce, (another Jamie Oliver recipe). I was sooooo smug making this ahead on Tuesday, but fate had the last laugh when the dish flew at my head out of the fridge an hour before everyone arrived, almost knocking me out and spraying the walls of the kitchen as if there had been some kind of pomodora massacre
  • Second course:
  • 1. Flash fry steak with herb-dusted french fries. Pretty straight-forward. I made a slapdash marinade of red-wine vinegar, an old can of fosters beer and BBQ sauce (classy is as classy does…), with a healthy dose of celery salt on the fries (the secret ingredient to great fries I discovered after asking a waitress at TGI Fridays). The plan was to also make a chimichurri sauce, but I didn’t get that far. (But I did have all the right intentions with a great recipe lined up from the mother of American cooking Martha Stewart if you are so inclined).
  • 2. Chicken n cheesy waffles.This was the ‘challenger’ and even required the purchase of a specialist waffle maker from Argos. My detective work led me to a recipe for balsamic chicken, to mimic the Stanton’s ‘balsamic spiked maple syrup’, along with Martha Stewart’s cheesy waffles.  My chicken n waffles looked nothing like the Stanton’s version pictured at the top of this post, but I have definitely discovered a wonderful BBQ blackened chicken recipe for the summer.
  • I also served sides of spinach and ginger and orange glazed carrots from the NY Times food section.
Picture of two boxes of krispy Kremes

I have never before given myself permission to buy a box of krispy kremes. It was a great moment.

Desert:At the Stanton we had just baked cookies and donuts with chocolate dipping sauce. One of my deepest life regrets was having jet lag so bad I had to take myself back to the Waldorf  and missed out on ever eating them. So I took the cheats way out and bought two boxes of Krispy Kremes for my guests, which went down well.

Picture of assorted krispy creme donuts

Glazed donuts are the best lipgloss out there

Obviously I had to also try out cookies – although I’m still on the look out for a perfect cookie recipe – it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, my cookies always rise up like bad scones….I even followed a recipe from Peyton and Byrne where you freeze the mixture and defrost on the evening. Oh well I’ll have to keep trying, how devastating.

Picture of cookies fresh from the oven

My mission for a fail-safe cookie recipe continues…

I had so much fun recreating this meal for my friends. But if I had been making this on ‘Come dine with me’ that sarcastic narrator would have had a field day with my lack of organisation, quality of cooking and making my guests sit on outdoor chairs with spiderwebs underneath and a covered laundry basket….But thankfully I was being judged by some of my favourite people, who even gave me a round of applause (perhaps that’s what I subconsciously do these things for?! Let’s not analyse that…).

We ended the night as every ‘mental’ dinner party should, drinking all of the Prosecco available in my fridge (which tends to be a concerning amount) and playing rounds of my favourite game ever  Heads Up.

I don’t think my meal was even close to The Stanton’s, which means, perhaps, one day, we will have to go back….