A ladies guide to mens shoes

Anyone who has known me for at least a short period of time will know about my obsession with footwear – on myself, on other people and how a bad pair of shoes on a man is the ultimate turn-off. i.e. if the shoes are bad, there’s no point looking at anything going on above that. 90% of the time it’s true, 10% of the time you have to concede and force him shopping at the earliest convenience.

(Hiking sandals – the ultimate in offensive footwear)

So, I may not be a man and may not have many male readers, but I will attempt to provide a brief guide to what is acceptable and what is horribly offensive in my eyes. First off – cuban heels, rubber slides, jesus sandals, trekking sandals, crocs and cowboy boots are all no’s I’m afraid so if you have them in your wardrobe, time to build a good fire and send them hiking.

Smart shoes – a good leather shoe should form the basis of a working man’s wardrobe, but be sure to avoid the square-toed or overly pointy category. They’re just weird and either give the impression of an overgrown school-kid (square toe) or flashy chav (overly pointy.) You’re ideally looking for something with a nice oval / almond toe. I think these shoes are just right – the key is quality so be prepared to spend some cash.

(Alfrick, toe cap oxford, Reiss, £149)

Boots – great as long as you’re not tucking your jeans into them. You’re not in a boyband and you’re certainly not an All Saints model. Stick to either a simple, unfussy chelsea boot with slim fit jeans or these Chukka boots which are smart, without being overly formal. Remember chunky soles are for Tom Cruise. If you’re short, suck it up – no woman wants to date a man in heels!

(Crockett & Jones, Tetbury chukka desert boots, Selfridges, £280)

Casual – the trainer is where a lot of men go off-piste and you uncover some scary choices. Running trainers should stay at the gym – they look terrible with jeans. Velcro or slip-on trainers are creepy – don’t even think about it. Invest in some classic Converse (ideally white) or some slim-fitting Puma/Adidas/Onitsuka alternatives. A chunky trainer will cause some weird conflict with the bottom of your jeans so to keep the lines smooth, choose an understated, slim-profile shoe in neutral tones and you can’t go wrong.

(Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 Trainers, ASOS, £65)

Hope this helps – now to find a man who fits the shoes!

Yum at Yalla Yalla

Why aren’t there more Lebanese restaurants in London? It seems strange that such a fabulous cuisine is somewhat overlooked. Hopefully not for much longer as Yalla Yalla is bringing it to the masses in the most delightful way.

Perfect for lunch with friends, Yalla Yalla is touted as ‘Beirut Street Food’ which instantly gives it a cool edge. There are 2 bases in Soho serving up truly scrumptious Lebanese dishes, and more to come (Kings Cross). For anyone who hasn’t tried it, I’d describe Lebanese cuisine as a cross between Moroccan and Turkish. Plenty of fresh ingredients, bursting with flavour thanks to all the herbs and spices being used.

The Fatoush salad is unreal. I’m no salad fan, but could eat this forever. Composed of toasted, crunchy pieces of pitta bread combined with fresh greens and herbs, it’s completely moorish (and healthy – bonus!) Another treat is the Samboussek (pastry stuffed with feta and halloumi) and Soujec (homemade sausages) which are suitably spicy and flavoursome. Also on offer are some unique juice combos – my particular favourite is the apple, mint and ginger. Very refreshing and wholesome.

Yalla is always full which is a real sign of success. You can expect to spend around £10-15 per head on food depending on what you choose which to me seems like a total bargain for something so fresh and tasty. I’ve been twice with the girls now..and feel another trip on the horizon! Alternatively you can get takeaway from the Winsley Street branch – working lunches will never be the same again!

(Visit Yalla Yalla for some foody goodness)

Mimi’s beautiful bags

I used to live just off Brick Lane and as anyone who’s into their fashion will know, it’s a haven for new designers, jaw-dropping vintage and the odd crackhead. But I’m not here to talk to you about crackheads, I’m here to introduce you to Mimi!

(Handy Pelham in tan, Mimi Berry, £262)

Mimi Berry is a St. Martins Graduate so that alone should give you an indication as to the standard of her products, but let me give you a bit of a run-down. Starting out in 2001, Mimi set up camp on Cheshire Street, bringing fine leather bags and purses to those of us who had only ever known a cheapo Topshop special.

Now re-housed in Bethnal Green, the Mimi name is rapidly spreading and since 2007 she has produced bags for the Tate and is now stocked in Anthropologie and Toast. This is a far cry from when I first found her, still relatively unknown on the Brick Lane backstreets. You had to ring a buzzer just to enter the shop!

(Medium Musette in black, Mimi Berry, £185)

My favourite then and now is the medium Musette. Quality italian leather combined with excellent brass fittings make for an expensive-looking bag which certainly competes with the big name brands such as Ally Capellino. I think they’re probably nicer anyway!

(Classic large Bond in red, Mimi Berry, £80)

I also love this Bond wallet in red. It looks like something Mulberry would produce (but at the fraction of the cost!) and doubles up nicely as a clutch. Stylish and multi-functional – what more could you want? If you like what you see, get yourself down to Mimi to check out the diverse women’s (and mens) options. You will never be hankering for good quality leather again!

Visit the Mimi Shop at Unit 1, 7 Winkley Street, London, E2 6PY

Down the rabbit hole

Independent foodie places.. I’m a big fan. Where chain restaurants have long forgotten their roots and become swamped in commercialisation, the independent shines a light on all things simple and delicious. Brixton Village AKA the Granville Arcade, showcases some of south London’s finest independent foodie establishments and as such has become a bit of a local treasure. The Victorian covered market now has a plethora of fab cafes just waiting to be discovered. This is where I found The Agile Rabbit.

If you’re into your pizza, you’ve probably already tried Franco Manco or balked at the mile-long queue outside. The Agile Rabbit is the newest pizzeria on the block and is a little less frenetic, but no less tasty. It’s a simple, small space, walls covered in numerous posters detailing previous events, pumping out reggae for the masses. Anyone who’s been to a festival will feel a familiar sense of laid-back cool – these guys don’t try too hard.

We parked ourselves on one of the long tressel tables and placed an order for a pepperoni pizza and goats cheese and red pepper calzone – a bargain at £13 for those + 2 drinks! Food was served up on wax paper (nice touch) and was everything a pizza ought to be -crispy, unfussy and full of flavour. This is simple, yet excellent food when you’re on the go, but do remember to take cash – it’s an indie afterall!

(The Agile Rabbit, 24&25 Brixton Village Arcade, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8PR)

To the Aztec zone!

I grew up in the 90s in the UK. This may explain my love of prawn cocktail (rife on many a restaurant menu circa 1990) and cheesy gameshows (the only thing to watch if you wanted to be cool at school.) Anyway, my gameshow of choice was The Crystal Maze. A hugely creative concept with 4 different game areas, I spent most Saturday nights wishing I could go to the Aztec Zone.

(The highly authentic Aztec Zone from The Crystal Maze)

Almost 20 years on and I still want to visit the Aztec Zone, but instead have settled for a more realistic alternative – I will be channeling it through my fashion sense. As such, I’ve found this graphic, sequinned skirt from Zara. It has a real exotic luxe feel to it and is the perfect example of Aztec styling in an elegant form. I can see it looking fabulous with a peachy vest and gold sandals come Summer..

(Printed sequinned skirt, Zara, £79.99)

For a casual weekend look, I’m rather taken with this cotton waterfall jacket in a vibrant black, white, red and orange ikat-style print. Be sure to steer clear of traveller / hippy territory by pairing with a chunky necklace (see All Saints or Marni’s new range for H&M – out mid-March) and some chunky Hudson boots. Hot!

(Free People Ikat Print Cardigan, ASOS, £43.50)

Chocolate by Willie

These days, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to good quality chocolate. Green & Blacks, Divine, Lindt – you’ve probably tried it. Equally, anyone who’s stumbled into the back room at Liberty will have seen it piled high with beautifully wrapped chocolate treats in vibrant packaging akin with something created by Willy Wonka.

Anyway, there’s a new Willy on the block and he doesn’t hang out with orange-faced midgets or wear a purple suit. Willie Harcourt-Cooze has travelled far and wide in his quest for the ultimate chocolate experience and since 2009 has been bringing his 70-100% cacao products to the masses. I was introduced to this brand by a well-informed work colleague and haven’t looked back!

(Willie’s Delectable Cacao Sierra Leone 70, 50g, Waitrose, £1.80)

My current favourite is the incredible Ginger and Lime. This bar consists of tangy chunks of fruit submerged in a bitter dark chocolate – a serious afternoon treat. Conveniently this is now available from Waitrose as well as Willie’s website so we can all gain access to his brilliance.

There are many other exotic combinations of chocolate in the range, all with well-designed labels, titles and excellent back stories. It would be naive to think that these items haven’t played a big part in the brand’s success, but then that is what it’s all about – capturing your customer’s imagination. I’m particularly intrigued by the Peruvian Black with a subtle hint of fruit liquor which touts itself as ‘grate in food’ and ‘great on food.’ I’m certainly going to be adding this to the next chilli I make. It would seem rude not to!

(Visit Williescacao.com and start sampling)

Everyone needs a leopard or a snake

Leopard, snake and even dalmation..animal prints, you ought to have at least a few of these items in your wardrobe.

(Annie D Double Bow Mock Snake Print Court Shoe, Dune, £85)

While back in the 90s, leopard print was associated with the Pat Butchers and Dorians from Birds of a Feather of the world, things have significantly moved on since then. These days shops are rife with tasteful, chic animal-print accessories and feature on anything from printed jeans through to coats.

So, where to start? Admittedly animal print isn’t always easy. Your first stop should be a pair of shoes or a handbag as you can keep your outfit simple and add interest with these. But be sure to check your print – the more authentic ‘animal’ the better – there is nothing worse than a shiny, leopard-tribute shoe. I think those which have a texture akin with the animal they are trying to imitate are the best. Plus, you’ll avoid falling into the cheap-and-nasty category.

(J.Crew Edie leopard-print calf hair bag, Net-A-Porter, £450)

If you’re looking to make a statement, pick up a pair of printed trousers (very S/S 2012) or a dress in a tasteful animal print. Look for good tailoring and fabrics as this will again keep you out of market-stall cast-off territory. For cocktails and dinner with the girls, I think this jersey dress from Coast below hits the nail on the head. This could even fit into a working wardrobe if paired with simple accessories and a blazer. Just give it a go – you may be pleasantly surprised!

(Jules Snake print Dress, Coast, £95)

If it’s good enough for Obama..

A recent trip to Berlin found me sampling some of the finest food the city has to offer in top restaurant Borchardt. Our party knew very little about the place apart from a city guide which had given it 4 stars so we thought it was worth a shot. It was only when our taxi driver proudly announced that Obama had eaten there, and my subsequent research which revealed it as something of a celebrity hotspot. Who knew!

From the outside, Borchardt does not appear to be anything special – a simple awning stating the name on a nondescript building was not insightful. The inside is also quite minimal, having an atmosphere of a cross between a church and a museum. Marble pillars and tables closely parked together gave it a rather eerie, claustrophobic feel and yet we knew we were experiencing something special. The cuisine is french-german and certainly impressive, despite being limited in choice. I opted for goose on a red cabbage jus as a main dish. It was delightfully rich and the portion – enormous. Other choices included sea-bass and your traditional wiener schnitzel.

All in all, I enjoyed my meal and this is certainly somewhere you should try, but don’t expect anything cosy or intimate. I get the feeling that half the diners are more interested in who is sat at the next table than their food and as such it makes for a rather odd atmosphere. Also, bizarrely there were hoards of people smoking by the toilets. It isn’t cheap, but these places never are so I guess it helps if you have a celebrity to ogle / pay for you! Prost!

(Restaurant Borchardt, Französische Straße 47  10117 Berlin, Germany)

Our secret Kate

Kate – a name now synonymous with elegance and great taste thanks to the Duchess of Cambridge, but did you know there’s another stylish Kate out there? Going by the name of Kate Kanzier, she is a designer producing excellent shoes and bags at highly affordable prices, but it’s all a bit of a secret unless of course you work near Leather Lane where her one-and-only shop resides.

Producing cutting-edge leather bags and shoes since 2001, my current favourite is the Duena which is a fantastic lower-budget alternative to the colour-block totes which designers from DVF to Anya Hindmarch have produced this season. I think this bag is chic and perfect for every day and available in 6 different colours, you’re bound to find your perfect match. Just chuck everything in and go!

(Duena Tote, Kate Kanzier, £65)

Kate Kanzier also stocks a wide range of brogues, ballerinas, heels, wedges and boots. 90% are leather, but even the faux-leather are very well done so worth the spend. Check out the vintage-style courts and tassel slippers, they are divine. For Spring, I am considering investing in these powder blue suede brogues. (Elvis would be proud!) With vibrant pink laces and a chunky heel, these will be ideal with my rolled-up skinny jeans or with ankle socks and a flippy skirt. Ahh…come on sun, I need an excuse to wear these!!!!

(Betana blue suede brogues, Kate Kanzier, £55)

Celebrating the Canton

The Canton Arms – have you heard about it? If not, you really should have.. Opened back in 2010, it’s my best local gastropub – in fact the only gastropub in Stockwell, which is one of the reasons why I keep going back, but certainly not the only. The menu constantly changes so the tables are constantly full – a very good sign for any pub owner. A good friend of mine said she had fallen into a habit of going twice a week, just to see the menu change – hare lasagne was a highlight apparently!

Set up by the same chef responsible for the fine cuisine at the Anchor and Hope (Waterloo) and the Eagle (Clerkenwell), if you’ve tried the menu there, you’ll know to expect a certain standard of cooking. I am personally always excited when there are ingredients on the menu I genuinely have never heard of. Also, the unusual combinations are something of a sensory delight – try a prune and prosecco cocktail and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

My most recent highlight was the brown bread ice-cream. Weird and wonderful, the brown bread had been caramelised somewhat and so it provided a crunchy texture against the creamy backdrop of the homemade ice-cream. Again, a combination, you’d never expect to work, but it was most definitely one of the best puddings I’ve had in some time.

So, if you’re looking for some inspiration for your next meal, this is most certainly the place for you..alternatively just pop in for a beer after work and grab a fois-gras toastie at the bar. Superb!