Christmas Markets

  
The first rule of being a flapper is:

Never turn down an invitation*

Also known as ‘burning the candle at both ends’, which was a darn-sight easier when I was 18. A decade on, I found myself attending a rather swanky soirée (read boozy work Christmas party) on the Friday night, which lead, uncomfortably straight into a 6am coach trip to the continent. One declined the offer of a hotel room for fear of somewhat over-doing it and missing one’s connection, deciding that it was somehow better to have a minuscule few moments of sleep at home. One rolled out of bed in such an unladylike fashion at 5 o’clock, had the maid fling some clothes on her and her chauffeur put her on the coach.

Some 10 or so hours later, after the most treacherous of channel crossings, our party arrived in Lille.   

 First thing first, a visit to Sephora. For those of you not familiar, it’s like Superdrug set in a nightclub. Pay on one’s credit card and save the euros for the marché.

Rather a fleeting visit to Lille, but we managed to sample a local delicacy, something like dauphinoise potatoes with a layer of fromage on top. I opted for the mont d’or. Quite lovely.   
 This was followed by a chocolate tête which resembled a Tunnocks teacake. I lugged these about for several hours ’til we gave in and ate them all.   

 And that was the end of my Lille adventure. We arrived at our hotel, drank some Pschitt (I kid you not) and retired for the night.

 We rose early the next morning, breakfasted, and onwards to Belgium.

Belgian chocolate being a staple of one’s diet, Bruges was likely to be one’s idea of heaven.  

Having crossed sweet stone bridges and meandered through adorable cobbled streets we popped into this tiny tea room on the promise of the most wonderful hot chocolate. Let me just say they lived up to the claim on their canopy. 

    
 After much wandering and purchasing we took luncheon in a café bar advertising something along the lines of, and you’ll have to excuse my Flemish, ‘camembert in de oven’. 

Served with apple and bread, it was absolutely divine. And of course one was gasping for a cup of chai by this point… But couldn’t help laughing when a silver tray covered in a paper doily arrived, topped with a glass and a teabag sachet. One couldn’t decide whether they thought they were serving British royalty, or had just got it completely wrong!   

 I’d spotted a shop earlier in the day and knew I had to drag Muv in there when I had the chance. Dille & Kamille is a kind of Scandi homeware store where everything should be considered for purchase. It was a job to control oneself!

I left with a lovely set of tea leaf measuring spoons, a biscuit cutter, a bag of Christmas tea and a jar of green pesto (a favourite of my brother). I was dangerously close to purchasing a stack of Flemish recipe books but I realised this was madness! This is definitely a shop we’d appreciate in the UK- please bring it over!   

   
At 5pm it was time to embark on the long journey home laden with chocolate. Despite the extreme levels of tiredness one had a rather jolly time. Bruges is definitely worth another visit in the near future, what a wonderful city.

*unless it’s for Netflix & chill, in which case one is permitted to break the rule.

Stir Up @landmarklondon


Christmas pudding is a big deal in the Beetroot household, and not solely reserved for the month of December. One is as likely to have pudding and custard on the 25th December as on 9th March or 28th September.

In previous years Muv and I have got together on Stir Up Sunday to begin our marvellous Christmas cake, making sure everyone has a turn with the wooden spoon for good luck.

This year I saw an advertisement in Good Food magazine for a Christmas pudding masterclass including champagne on arrival and a two-course lunch at none other than The Landmark Hotel- one of my favourite places in London.

A few weeks later, we emerged from Marylebone station to find the splendour of old railway hotel in front of us. Once armed with a flute of champagne, an apron and a chef’s hat, we were seated at a high table with a mixing bowl sunk into the centre and surrounded by many, many ingredients. 

Chefs Gary and Oli arrived, talking us though the history of the Christmas pudding, pudding traditions and the world’s most expensive pudding (£23,500 and created by ex-Savoy chef Martin Chiffers, if you’re interested). Then it was time to get our hands dirty; chucking in the ingredients as directed by chef, giving it a good old stir and getting drunk on the scent of the alcohol infused fruit.

 Once everything was mixed and given the nod of approval by chef, we divided the mixture between three pudding basins- pressing it down firmly- covered in baking paper, tin foil over the top and tied with string to hold it all together. We were instructed to steam the puddings within the next 24 hours and then keep them in a cool, dark place until they were ready for their second steaming on Christmas Day (if we could wait that long!) 

Next came a delightful surprise- a barman from the Mirror Bar arrived with arms full of of cocktail shakers and magically, a host of other ingredients appeared on our tables.
  
After some pouring, vigorous shaking and a bit more pouring we each had a glass of eggnog. It’s not something we’d tried before, it’s never really appealed in all honesty, but we both really enjoyed it. Thankfully a recipe card was tucked into our gift bag so we’re certain to recreate this festive cocktail in the near future.

 By this point, and feeling rather sozzled, we were more than ready for lunch. Smoked salmon followed by slow-cooked beef- absolutely delicious. 

 Post luncheon we were presented with gift bags containing our three puddings, all beautifully presented in celophane and ribbon, a Landmark embroidered apron, a pudding competency certificate and copies of all the recipes. I think there might have even been a Landmark pen.

Muv either had a wonderful time or still considers herself incompetent, as has asked to book us places next year! Perhaps Gary could run a stollen masterclass instead to broaden our Christmas baking skills.

100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes

  
It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? 

Six years ago, in the midst of my English Literature degree I fell in love with a module called Post-Victorian Literature, and more specifically, Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies.

The novel is a satire of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s, with their carefree attitudes and wild antics. I don’t know whether it was because up until this point I had been studying the starchy Victorian novel, or because it was a reflection of the lifestyle I was living back then- but I loved it! 

The lecturer, a Mr. Chris Baldick, was himself rather old-fashioned, highly intelligent and completely mesmerising. We sat in an attic room with a tiny window, scribbling down his every word. My favourite ever Baldick quote is “What on earth is ‘fat-pig style’?” in reference to Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

I was so home-sick that I returned home the day after I’d submitted my work. Nestled back in my own room I delved into Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth and Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling. I absorbed various biographies on the Mitford sisters, Josephine Baker, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Nancy Cunard- one discovery led to another and I was hooked.

Trend setter that I am, flappers and 1920’s style have become the theme du jour over the last few years, allowing me to make the most of my vast collection of embellished dresses and beaded head dresses. I’ve attended Gatsby-style balls, Charleston dance classes, spent New Year’s Eve in full flapper attire and found myself at an amazing 20’s themed Secret Cinema event.

With dancing, one usually encounters music and I soon found an interest in the, then, new US import- jazz music.

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if a hand-written invitation had been passed to me by the butler over breakfast. However these days, one has to make do with an email in their inbox. Would I do ___ the honour of attending a jazz soirée, etc. etc. The venue was two hours away and in two days time!

 
I knew my darling Nana would love to experience this so I took her as my companion. And what a wonderful time we had! For some reason we were given the best seats in the house and as the band emerged from the back of the hall we couldn’t help but grin. I can’t pretent to be a jazz expert of any sort but I just know I enjoy it!

Of course, jazz music transcends several decades and countries (as the band demonstrated by marching us through the last 100 years of the genre in little over an hour and a half), but my obsession with flappers has blinded me to everything else. So when Nana told me she used to jive to jazz in the 50’s, it was a whole new discovery for me. There is something beautiful about triggering an old memory- I could have cried with joy when she relived the days of dancing with my late grandad. How they moved from London to the countryside as a young, newly married couple and that their new friends were rather taken-aback by their exuberant, largely improvised jiving. Nana said she wasn’t keen on the attention but grandad would drag her on to the dance floor and it would end in a round of applause.

We purchased a CD from the band and listened to it on the two hour drive home, remembering the serene expression on the drummer’s face, the unbelievable speed of the pianist’s fingers and the goosebump-enducing singing voice of the trumpet player, of all people!

@ChambordChannel presents: Cake for Dinner

  One often dreams of living on the ‘C’ diet- chocolate, cake, champagne and perhaps the odd cocktail too. Rather fat-making in reality. 

Joyfully, one was given the opportunity to live the dream for an evening- a three course meal made entirely of cake, washed down with Chambord cocktails.

On arrival we were presented with a fork and golden bib inscribed with the oddly French-sounding phrase:

And who wouldn’t want to be served a champagne cocktail by gentlemen dressed as flamingos? 

We were led through a lovely faux topiary archway, which was dotted with tropical flowers. To our great surprise the centres of the flowers were edible. So we ate them.

 Our attention was soon grabbed by a fantastic looking feast: a roasted pig’s head, a tower of peas, a mountain of carrots, black pudding, scallops, garlic snails and cheese.

However…   

                

One found ones plate piled entirely with cake and covered in a caramel ‘gravy’. Sick-making indeed.

Once we felt we could eat no more, we proceeded through a bookcase and into a curious room of drawers.    

Within each drawer was a spoon for everyone, required for our ‘dessert’. The golden pineapple was opened and a new door was revealed- leading to a bar, of all things. 

Deliciously French music filled the room and we all cheered in celebration as the barman removed the cork (and neck) of a champagne bottle by zealously tapping it with the base of a champagne flute. How marvellous!

It was here we found our final course- a Chambord jelly. One’s recollection of the taste is rather vague but, fine.

  

I feel picking the finale session was a stroke of genius as there seemed to be a surplus of alcohol and one was rather sloshed by the end of the evening. Flapper-eque indeed.

Worst First Date: The Alchemist

I often hear urban myths about men organising surprise proposals, or leading their girls on clue-laden missions to discover amazing presents. Hell! I’ve even know of a dad who buys thoughtful presents. But I’m having none of it; I’ve never known a man who can take a girl on a half-decent date. Although a piss up in a brewery is probably within their abilities. I think they save all of their planning skills up for stag weekends.

This has driven me to take command, to actively seek out dream date venues. It’s ironic because the least attractive man to me is one who is weak-willed, unopinionated and frankly, a bit wet.

Some months ago (I stress that this was some time ago, and very much not my current beau) I found The Alchemist on a ‘just opened’ website, and keen to go I found a man to take me. 

And by ‘take me’, I mean he was supposed to meet me at Liverpool St Station, but elected to just go to the bar, get himself a drink and send me a pin of his location on Whatsapp. What a joker! 

Things didn’t get much better when he told me he didn’t date fat girls and that I wasn’t far off this category; that he’d been thinking about asking me out for a while and hadn’t “found anyone better so…”; that this couldn’t be a relationship unless I changed this, this, this, blah blah blah. He told me about his many recent holidays; Kenyan Safari (“you wouldn’t like Africa”), Marbella (“you wouldn’t like Marbs”), San Francisco (“I can’t imagine you in San Fran”). There was no explanation offered either- perhaps I look like I prefer staying at home! 

I left the bar in a rage. At least he paid I suppose.

And yes, I did see him again! Madness!

Anyway, I thought I’d give The Alchemist another chance. A mate date this time.

The cock menu itself is a sight to behold: a folded parchment, illustrated with medieval, scientific diagrams and detailing a whole series of potable potions.

We opted for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party- a sharing cocktail served in teacups (what else!) The mixologist, if that’s the term they choose to adopt, gathered various shaped beakers, an open flame burner, liquids (presumable alchoholic), fruits and herbs. Had we been wearing plastic goggles it might have been a chemistry lesson from the jolly old days of grammar school.   

  

She kindly explained that heating the bottom chamber evaporated the liquid into the top chamber where it inflused with the fruit. The burner is then removed and gravity (I imagine, or maybe a vacuum?) drained/sucked the liquid back into the bottom chamber sans fruit.

Next she dropped dry ice pellets into clean beakers and poured the fruit-infused liquid on top of it which caused a cloud of dry ice to irrupt from the beaker like a tiny volcano. I think this is called sublimation (who’d have thought one would be spouting out these terms over a decade after those dreaded Chem lessons!)   

 

After the dry ice subsided we were left with a beaker full of the most divine cocktail, which we decanted into our willow-patterned teacups. However I couldn’t tell you what was in it!

An absolutely darling bar with an exciting cock list- just pick your date wisely!

#fryhard

Having experienced the cakey/PR genius of Miss Cakehead at a Halloween ‘horror farm’, I couldn’t resist paying a visit to Boxpark, Shoreditch this weekend to get involved in her latest stunt.

Fryhard: taking your favourite treat and deep frying it, which takes it to unbelievable new level.

 

I have to say I was HUGELY disappointed with the pop-up itself- we had an ‘it that it?’ moment as we approached the plain black market stall with a table top fryer on one side and a pile of boxes/packaging on the other. Not what I was expecting at all, certainly not to the usual standard of aforementioned queen of visual display and pleasantly shocking experiences.

The staff, although not rude, just lacked the passion and enthusiasm I was expecting. I’m not a snob by any means, but even at a basic level, in a bar for example, you would expect the server to remember your face long enough to put the drink they have just poured in front of the correct person.

Perhaps pop-ups and ‘experience dining’ have spoiled me; given me a desire for a song and dance every time I’m presented with some weird flavour combination. That is a bit weird come to think of it.

I’ll live.

Anyway, what did I have? Well unfortunately not all of the above was on offer (I presume they had sold out?) so I had a Creme Egg followed a Babybel.

   

The Creme Egg was an absolute one! Melted chocolate and gooey deliciousness in a crispy batter- mmm!

The Babybel, was cheesy. And frankly, who doesn’t love cheese?

The execution was spot on, just a shame about the delivery. I look forward to seeing what she gets up to next.  

Aqua Kyoto

  

There was a noticeable buzz in the office on Monday when the Bookatable email hit our inboxes, tempting us with tantalising images of the brand new floral-themed menu at Aqua Kyoto.

A day later and I found myself in a smoked-mirror elevator making my way up to the fifth floor.

   

On arrival we were presented with a rather lovely gin and sake cock. Ironically I absolutely hate gin, I find sake like drinking warm nail varnish and I’m not a big fan of ginger, but somehow it was rather darling. 

Gin sake cocktail

Gin sake cocktail

We shared the prawn maki and sashimi, followed by the baby chicken and the lamb cutlets. I couldn’t even pick a favourite, it was all too too delicious.

Sushi & Sashimi

Sushi & Sashimi

  

Ramu choppu yaki

Ramu choppu yaki

The dessert was a unique mixture of ice cream, mango and cold rice pudding with shards of sugary coconut (or maybe coconutty sugar) and green candy floss. Quite nice, if a little random.

   Howaito chokoreito umeboshi parufe

Howaito chokoreito umeboshi parufe

Although the entire meal was rather delicious, it literally left us wanting more. I must confess that we purchased takeaway sushi on our way home.

We agreed that Aqua was definitely worth another visit… But that it would take something more substantial than the set menu to satisfy two hungry flappers.