Cocktails at The Metropole

I’m back!!! After a 1 month break from the blog, I decided it would be rude not to share my latest adventures with you. During this time, I have sampled excellent cuisine in Sicily and Edinburgh to name, but a few..so what better way to come back, but with a cocktail recommendation from the 5* Hotel Metropole in Taormina.

I spent a week in Sicily in May eating my body weight in arancini and discovering my new favourite liquer – Vino di Mandorla (Almond Wine.) On the final night in Taormina, I went to the Metropole for cocktails – admittedly not the first time, but it was certainly worth a return visit for the antipasti alone! A vertitable feast of goodies which, in true Italian style came complimentary with the cocktails. We enjoyed a mojito and an incredibly potent margarita!

The hotel itself has an air of exclusivity about it which proves a good deterrant for your average tourist. Upon entering the main atrium, we were met with the soothing tones of the piano which set the mood on the balcony where we took our place overlooking the sea. Situated on the edge of a cliff, the balcony is literally as close as you can get to the water’s edge (bar the infinity pool below) and has a real atmospheric quality to it.

While away an hour or two before dinner here and it will certainly lift your mood or if you are lucky enough to hit sunset, you can enjoy the blue/pink skies evolve and change before you as the fire burners are lit. This place isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly worth every penny for atmosphere!

Hotel Metropole Taormina – Maison d’Hôtes
Corso Umberto, 154 – 98039 Taormina (Messina) Tel. (+39) 0942 625417

Advertisements

Gatsby-inspired cocktails

This year is set to be the year of Gatsby! With the movie due out in December in the UK, the arts and fashion scenes are gearing up for 1920s mania and what better excuse to don your finest drop-waist gown and head out for some prohibition-esque activities!

I went to see the stage version of The Great Gatsby on Friday. Hosted at Wilton’s Music Hall, you could not have found yourself in a more authentic location. Located in east London near Tower Hill, Wilton’s Music Hall is all crumbling plaster with a genuine historical charm dating back to around 1743. Now grade 2 listed, it is one of London’s last remaining concert halls. It was as though we had genuinely stepped back in time.

We queued up at the bar while the sounds of Al Johlson and the Charleston set the scene. From Side Cars (brandy, cointreau & lemon juice) to Mint Juleps (bourbon, mint & soda), all the original cokctails were there to choose from. My favourite however, was the punch with gin, maraschino liqueur and elderflower with plenty of berries to top it off.

As we settled into the play, we were all transported to another era and by the end were all wishing this moment in history was something we had somehow been part of. This may have partly been down to numerous cocktails consumed, but there was equally something very exciting about living in these times – especially if we had been lucky enough to have attended one of Jay Gatsby’s house parties!

The Great Gatsby
20th April 2012 – 19th May 2012, Wilton’s Music Hall.

Devastatingly Dabbous

Image

There’s a new bar in town and it means business! Hidden down a side street in trendy Noho, is Dabbous – the new venture from michelin-starred Ollie Dabbous and cocktail impressario Oskar Kinberg. The fusion of low-lit, fine dining with an industrial-chic basement cocktail bar is the work of these two master craftsmen and as such, is receiving rave reviews around town at present!

The unassuming exterior at first looks as though it’s a stylish lighting shop or gallery. Indeed those of us working nearby, never really clicked it was a restaurant at all. But this is half of the charm and in some ways very au courant – take Spuntino or 10 Greek Street as current examples of this.

Upon entering the dimly lit restaurant, you are met with industrial cantina styling serving up modern british cuisine. However, skip that and head straight to the basement which is a concrete playground with exposed brickwork, wooden trestles and plenty of swagger (the barmen that is!) Cocktails are good – and as you’d expect, there are a number of ‘game changers‘ to get excited about. Take one of the ‘beer-based’ cocktails, such as Giddy Up which contains tequila, elderflower, honey and is topped off with Sierra Navada IPA – impressive!

The bathrooms are unisex and discreetly labelled – in fact it’s almost luck if you can see them at all in the almost pitch-black interior! All in all a good place for cocktails – suitable for impressing clients, entertaining your friends or just a great date. Word of warning though, booking a table is virtually impossible at present due to the popularity of this place, so you may have to settle with a trip to the bar this time! You won’t be disappointed..

Dabbous, 39 Whitfield Street, London, W1T 2SF.

The best club

Friday was a dramatic day for those of us working in media-centric Fitzrovia. The “armed siege” (as dramatically proclaimed on Sky) rather took over our lunch-time conversation. However, we counteracted our fears over whether our office was going to be blown up, by fueling up on fab club sandwiches courtesy of one of the best locals; The Lukin.

I’ve been a fan of this rather shabby pub for some time. A bit rough around the edges, it’s less consciously cool than the other nearby pubs and as a result, gets a roaring trade from our office. And so it was, for the second Friday in a row, I found myself chomping down on their mouthwatering club sandwich.

I’m not the kind of person to EVER opt for a club sandwich. When I think of one, I have visions of soggy bread cut into triangular shapes, with rather pathetic pieces of chicken and bacon, accompanied by sub-standard salad all speared with cocktail sticks. This club is NOT one of those. A magnificant rustic sourdough loaf sliced in half containing a giant piece of straight-off the grill chicken and delightfully smoked bacon served up with skinny fries – this is the club sandwich of champions!

For only £6.70, I’d highly recommend you try it. Oh and while you’re there, make sure you sample some of the home-brand tangy ketchup – it’s spectacular!

The Lukin, 4 Conway Street, W1T 6BB.

Party like you’re Berlusconi

Today is all about dancing! You’ve gotta love it. Give me a large dance floor and the opportunity for a dance-off and I’m there.. so I was in my element this weekend when I finally made it down to Bunga Bunga – the latest venture from the guys behind Maggies and Barts.

Situated in Battersea, just over the bridge from the Kings Road, Bunga Bunga is a pizzeria and karaoke bar which becomes a serious party venue after dark. It’s a lively place with a good sense of humour, kitsch decor and people who aren’t ashamed to let loose on the dance floor. But unlike the original definition of the name, there’s no swingers or corrupt ex-Prime Ministers in there!

We gatecrashed a private party in the glass-roofed Osservatorio room. The walls were covered in vintage astrological charts and peppered with telescopes. It felt as though we’d stepped into an eccentric’s drawing room! The rest of the bar was equally bonkers. From the ground floor where the barmen were dressed as pizza delivery boys to the second floor Eurovision room, it was fun every step of the way!

A word to the wise – be prepared to queue if you get there after midnight. Also, if you’ve been reading the papers recently and are going there to pick up Prince Harry – you may be disappointed. Rumour has it, he’s only actually been there once, although Princess Beatrice was there the same night as us, but you’d be hard-pushed to tell – the upstairs bar is virtually pitch black!

Bunga Bunga, 37 Battersea Bridge Road  London SW11 3BA.

All down The Alma

The Alma – a popular name for a pub it seems and not only that, good pubs. I’ve visited The Alma in N1 a number of times. Great food, great atmosphere and definitely the kind of place to while away the hours with a couple of pints.

The other night I went to another Alma – this time in Wandsworth. A pub, dining room and boutique (so it claims) hotel and found that it lived up to the Alma name in terms of quality and experience. The pub itself is a little rough around the edges – still has more of a boozer vibe as opposed to re-furbed gastro. It’s also packed with commuters so maybe worth a miss. What isn’t worth a miss is the dining room..

They have an excellent, extensive menu with more than enough exciting options to tickle your fancy. We were quite intrigued by the smoked mackerel rarebit and my heavily pregnant friend was wowed by the chorizo-stuffed corn fed chicken supreme. They also feature your standard pub grub – sausages and mash, pie, burgers…but all with a nice twist such as supplying venison sausages as opposed to pork for example.

All in all, a good place for dinner with friends and some guaranteed tasty eats. So, next time you’re at a loose end near Wandsworth Town station…

The Alma, 499 Old York Road, Wandsworth, SW18 1TF.

Time for tea?

Anyone who knows me, will know how much I love tea. Morning, noon and night – I can’t get enough of the stuff. While earl grey is my perennial choice, it’s all about peppermint mid-afternoon, jasmine before bed and perhaps the odd english breakfast mid-morning just to shake things up!

So, it was a delight to discover a new tea shop opening right by my office which has at least 30 different teas to choose from – err hello! Yes, that’s right – Yumchaa on Tottenham Street is the 4th branch of tea shop in this quirky chain. It’s all about serving loose tea to the masses in a relaxed setting and encouraging people to try something a bit different.

What I like is that there are samples of the tea leaves for the crowds to sniff to assist with the selection process. There’s everything from black teas, to green teas to white teas, not forgetting rooibos varieties along the way! I couldn’t resist the Earl Grey Blue Star which has beautiful blue flowers in it as well as smelling absolutely divine.

Anyway, if you’re looking for somewhere to relax with friends which doesn’t involve alcohol – this is the place for you! They serve yummy bagels and homemade cakes along with a small selection of coffees (if you really can’t drink tea!) It’s all about the mismatched tables and chairs, unusual wallpaper and industrial giant light-bulbs hanging over the counter. If Shoreditch did tea rooms…

Yumchaa, 9-11 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 2AQ.

East end pub grub

Long gone are the days when Shoreditch was purely a cutting-edge grimey destination, boasting raves in carparks and sketchy bars. These days, it’s less rave, more gastro and as a result there are plenty of foodie destinations to explore.

I found myself in the Owl and the Pussycat on Redchurch Street last weekend for a friend’s birthday. In the space of about 3 years, Redchurch Street has gone from being a standard backstreet with the odd gallery, to a hive of drinking and eating establishments.

All low ceilings and rustic charm, this pub emanates the east-end tavern vibe. Downstairs is full of your classic, trendy crowd and on a Saturday night, it’s heaving. If that’s not your thing, head back on a quieter night and take advantage of the original bar snacks such as parmesan chips with black truffe mayonnaise washed down with a pint of Hobgoblin.

Upstairs is the more formal dining room which they have styled in the self-proclaimed ‘Dickensian swish’ look. Here you can sample the full menu which has a predominantly fishy range of choices including oysters, white bait, mussels and crab. I’ve heard they also serve up a mean Sunday roast…and who can resist that?!

(The Owl & Pussycat, 34 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DP)

Dining at The Depot

This weekend, I went to a fab bistro which goes by the name of The Depot. Overlooking the river Thames in beautiful Barnes, this gem of a restaurant offers fine cuisine at reasonable prices and the menu is something to behold!! For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Barnes is located in South London, but well-worth the trek (you could even watch the boat race here!) as it provides a welcome break from city-life.

Where else do you get a soft-boiled egg, on a bed of serrano ham, with pesto oil, fennel and french beans, pork crackling & sherry vinaigrette?! And this was just a starter – AMAZING! This really sets the tone for the entire menu – fantastic combinations of flavours and textures which all culminate in foodie heaven. My main course was even more impressive; fillet of grey mullet with scallops on a bed of crayfish and baby spinach risotto. You can imagine how good that was!?!

The rest of the options on the menu were just as impressive – I cannot wait to head back and taste their steak. (Surely you have to try and steak everywhere at least once?) Oh and for the chocaholics out there, they have plenty of naughty puddings.. My choice was the dark chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, pistachio ice-cream and raspberries. Visually it was incredible, but the flavours – well..I need say no more. This place just kept on impressing us!!! GO.

I’m looking forward to heading back in the Summer for an evening meal as the sun sets..this is dining heaven!!

(The Depot, Tideway Yard, Mortlake High Street, Barnes, London, SW14 8SN.)

Arthur and the apples

Avalon – apparently it was a legendary island in the tales of King Arthur. It was also meant to be abundant in apples. I quite like these explanations, but far more than that, I like going to the pub – The Avalon in Balham. Refined and elegant, the name more than suits it..and so it was again I found myself heading there for a sunny Sunday lunch yesterday.

The Avalon was revamped a few years ago and now boasts a fantastic dining area reminiscent of a Victorian bath-house with its beautiful while tile brickwork and airy space. There is also a large beer garden at the back which is a favourite spot for post-work spritzers in the summer. All in all, it’s certainly one of South London’s finest gastro-pubs. It’s also part of the Renaissance pub group (there’s 6 in all) – all of which are worth investigating.

We plumped for ciders and roast beef all round. (It was a blazing sunny day afterall!) Arriving within 10 minutes, the plate consisted of a giant yorkshire pudding, lashings of rare roast beef with plenty of gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables. A perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday!

(The Avalon, 16 Balham Hill, London, SW12 9EB)