Lazy Days Spent in the South of France

When I think of summer, my mind immediately wanders to being at my mothers home in France. The drive up into the mountains, the warm sun and of course the food. There is nothing I enjoy more than a morning spent at the market.

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Each weekend, Valbonne opens itself up into a food paradise, selling the most beautiful fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses and meats. Charlie and I spent a wonderful morning perusing the market and sneaking around the quieter backstreets to take a break from the hustle and bustle.

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Admittedly Valbonne can be a little bit of a tourist trap, however I recommend getting to the market early, watch the vendors setting up their stalls, buy everything your stomach desires and as the crowds descend, make a quick exit into the hills.

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My favourite escape from the busy markets has to be the Foundation Maeght, a stunning art gallery set in the hills of St Paul de Vence. I have visited the Maeght since I was a child  and each year that I return feels just like the first. Founded in the 1960s’ the Maeght is famous for nurturing contemporary artists; Giacometti, Miro and Chagall all have permanent works integrated into the gardens.

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Visiting the South of France every year feels like coming home. It is the place I have been with my friends and family as a child, fallen in love as an adult and now having my mother living here, it really is home.

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A New Neighbour

I have to start off this post with an apology for the radio silence, however I do have a good excuse, the S.O. and I have spent the last month buying our first home! So it seems apt that today’s post is about our newest local restaurant, Neighbour. Located right at the top of Kentish Town high street, Neighbour serves up seasonal fair from brunch until dinner with a cocktail bar tucked away down the stairs.

 

Naturally we started the evening off with drinks from the ample Spritz menu and they did not disappoint;  chalice sized Aperol and Campari Spritz’s, with the perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

 

Neighbour offers a vast selection of small plates as well as mains, and after much deliberation, the four of us decided to order a plentiful selection of the small plates to share. I would highly recommend this approach to dining if the option is there, I always want to try as much as I can without feeling like I’m sharing all of my food! The standout dishes by far were the fried chicken with kale and siracha ketchup, the salt cod and fritto misto with salsa verde.

 

I have to confess we rather over ordered on our mains, so split two desserts, Pimms jelly with strawberry mousse and the chocolate salted caramel torte. The desserts certainly looked beautiful, however it was the mains that stole the show (or perhaps we were too full!).

For a new opening, I think Neighbour is onto a good thing; the space is stunning, with a warm atmosphere, good food and friendly service. I’m happy to count them as my new neighbourhood go-to.

Lunch of a Freelancer 4.0

For every rule there is an exception and in terms of City heat, I like to think of myself as that exception. I love the heat of the summer and how the pace of London life seems to slow right down. What then could be better than a luxurious lunch in the sunshine? In order to achieve the maximum amount of rays, I chose the Roof Deck at Selfridges. I also secretly wanted to impress my favourite American friend, Rosie Spinks to see if the promise of Californian style dining in Central London could live up to her discerning tastes.

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We started with the latest trend in drinks, Frosé aka frozen Rosé. I can confirm this is not just a trend, it is also one of the most delicious and thirst quenching experiences I have had; the sweetness was perfectly balanced with fresh berries and lemon mixed with a lovely medium dry wine.

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The tuna ceviche with plantain crisps was light and fresh, however the Cobb salad absolutely stole the show. Creamy blue cheese dressing, crunchy salad and ripe avocado paired with perfectly salty bacon. Rosie and I ate it so quickly I have no photographic evidence to show for it!

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If you are eating any meal in the sun, it has to be finished off with something very, very cold. Thankfully the deck offers an unusual and exciting dessert, avocado and pistachio ice cream sandwich. Held together with sweet meringue, the ice cream had a wonderful flavour, with a hint of avocado, leaning on the right side of savoury.

I adored the Roof Deck; the food is fresh and beautiful, the drinks cool and refreshing. The bill was the only thing that stung a little, the Roof Deck is not cheap, however for a special occasion or just a drink after work with a spectacular view of the City it’s one not to be missed this summer.

The Big London Bake (Off)

All I knew of Tooting Bec was that it was the place a couple of plastic bags went to “Waft about, mate, waft ableedingbout“. It turns out there is much more to Tooting Bec, including The Big London Bake. As a staunch North Londoner, traveling for an hour over the river is something I would normally avoid at all costs, but this is an event not to be missed.

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We arrived at The Castle pub and after navigating our way to the back of the garden, found the Big London Bake tent. Filled with familiar work stations, mixers and ovens, I felt nervous and excited in equal measure. There are ten stations and everyone competes in teams of two. To describe my baking skills as terrible would be an understatement, however my better half is excellent, so naturally I enlisted him as my team mate.

On our bench we found a basic recipe card and ingredients laid out for us. Our judge informed us we would have 80mins to bake and decorate our cakes before the winner would be decided. I felt that we started off strong, I mainly stood and drank whilst Charlie made the cake. He gently suggested I head over to the decorating station and choose items to beautify our cake. Once our cake was in the oven, we kicked back, had some drinks, checked out the competition and obviously argued about how we would decorate our masterpiece.

Praying that there would be no soggy bottoms, we took our cake out of the oven, argued some more whilst it cooled, heard the judge yell “9 minutes remaining” and proceeded to haphazardly adorn it with icing, smarties and crushed biscuits (I cannot be held responsible for the decisions made under extreme pressure). All contestants approached the bench with their cakes to be judged. As they were sliced and tasted, I made peace with the fact we had definitely lost until by some kind of miracle the judge announced that we were the winners, which goes to show that dreams really do come true.

I cannot recommend The Big London Bake enough, it was pure simple fun. Take a bunch of friends, or compete against strangers, just make sure you go! Have some drinks, bake a cake, possibly even win and then take your creation home. There’s far more to Tooting than merely wafting about.

Lunch of a Freelancer 3.0

Lunches (for me) fall into two categories, long and luxurious or quick and easy. They each have their merits, however both must be delicious. Walter and Monty  falls firmly into the latter. A beautiful space in the city, right next to the Gerkin, Walter and Monty serves up a selection of perfectly marinated and cooked meats, either in a box or wrap. The meat is butchered and prepared each morning by Chef James, or as I prefer to call him ‘Meat BAE’, but fear not vegetarians! There are hearty salads galore, so no one is left out.

When the doors open for lunch service, there is genuinely a queue out into the street. Most are regulars, who have a great chat with Alex (an owner, who can be found behind the till most days) as they choose from the variety of meats and salad. A good friend of mine who works in the City takes in her own Tupperware box to be filled, and is proud to be the only one (although I may have just ruined her secret).

Having worked in the City for many years, Alex has tapped into exactly what the market wants; quality food that is competitively priced that can be eaten on site or taken away (in beautifully designed packaging) to your desk. Everything moves quickly, the service is impeccable and each person who visits leaves happily full, or excitedly salivating.

 

Sunday Papers Live

A Sunday with absolutely no plans is my idea of heaven. It is a day spent lounging, reading the papers, listening to Radio 4, eating a decadent lunch and if I can face it, a walk. So, imagine my absolute delight upon discovering that this perfect Sunday existed outside of my house. Even better than that, imagine it being within a three minute walk of my house! Last Sunday I no longer had to imagine but simply enjoy, thanks to the genius’ behind Sunday Papers Live.

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Held at the beautiful Cecil Sharp House, SPL (as I shall refer to it) is an all day event in which each section of the broadsheets is presented by a speaker, with the stunning hall decked out as an oversized living room filled with sofas, cushions and blankets. I would recommend coming early if you want to snag the perfect (and most comfortable) seat.

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The hilarious Steve Cross acted as compere for the day, ensuring all speakers were welcomed to stage with rapturous applause. Robert Rowland Smith  presented his psychoanalysis of ‘The Donald’, concluding that what he seems to lack is the super ego. Robert also led the philosophy walk, a gentle gander to Primrose Hill, where we stood and discussed everything from Socrates to gender equality, to stress, which I learnt is simply ‘the inability to adapt’.

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Bruce Parry covered the travel section, with a fascinating talk about his discoveries of other cultures, particularly egalitarian tribes. He admitted to everyones amusement that his first screen tests were terrible, informing the crowd that being told to ‘act natural’ produced the exact opposite.

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Interspersed between the speakers were the fantastic Sons and Sons, in charge of the crossword. This was no normal crossword, as on our papers there were no clues. Instead the clues are acted out on stage by the comedy pair. Upon completing the crossword, participants are encouraged to run directly to the stage, paper in hand, for the chance to win a prize. I can honestly say I haven’t moved that fast for a longtime. Sadly I was not victorious.

Naturally, this being my new perfect Sunday, it had to contain two of my favourite things, booze and food. These were both in generous supply from Bloodshot Vodka who make a mean Bloody Mary and award winning chef Tom Hunt serving plates of slow roasted lamb shoulder and vegetables spiced with dukkah, barberries and chermoula. There is a dining room at SPL, however we ate at our seats, not wanting to miss out on a minute of the action.

State of The Nation was described as ‘Question Time meets Cage Fighting’ and it did not disappoint. The audience yells out topics / current affairs questions and the selection of panellists each have a few minutes to stand on stage and talk. By far my highlight on the panel was John Sweeny (alongside his dog Bertie) admitting he was too pissed to be on stage whilst making very valid points about utilising the right to vote.

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After we had calmed down from all this excitement, there was a pub quiz hosted by Sons and Sons. We managed to cobble together a team, including a man my sister had met at the bar and a couple who happened to be sat at our chosen table for the quiz. We were absolutely disastrous. Coming in third place, we were offered redemption and extra points in a game of egg drop. I would like to add at this moment, five extra points were on offer, however our team managed to convince the host to make it ten. Stacy (my new best friend and team mate) ran to a table with all assortments of ‘pieces of crap’ and wrapped our egg in foam tubing with two balloons on either side. This egg drop was our only chance of victory. All the teams went outside and I stood with our precious egg on the balcony, hoping as I let it drop. To our amazement (and the irritation of the other teams) our egg survived the drop and we won the quiz, proving that street smarts really do trump intellect when it comes to the most ridiculous of quizzes.

Sadly, I will have to wait until September for my next perfect Sunday out but until then I guess my living room will have to.

Lunch of a Freelancer 2.0

Apparently gluttony is a sin, however when it comes to The Cheese Bar I could not disagree more. From the founders of The Cheese Truck, the bar is a permanent home, situated in the heart of Camden Market. I am either extremely lucky (or not depending on how you look at it), to live a mere ten minute stroll from this new eatery. Until the main restaurant is fully ready, there is a very sweet and aptly named ‘Hatch’, where you can order a cheesy sandwich of dreams.

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My choice of companion for lunch had to be the biggest cheese lover I know, my oldest friend Anna. It was a beautiful, balmy spring day as we walked through the market, hungry and excited. I opted for the most classic sandwich on the menu, Keens Cheddar, Ogleshield, mixed onions and bacon. Anna couldn’t resist the prospect of mozzarella sticks with marinara dip.

Apart from writing Jane on the wonderfully puntastic ‘Say Cheese’ boxes, this was a perfect lunch. The sandwich was oozing with a river of cheese and rich with the flavours of onion and bacon. I would recommend asking for extra napkins to mop up greasy fingers! The highlight of the meal were the mozzarella sticks, so beautifully crunchy on the outside and stuffed full of high quality mozzarella on the inside, which you can really taste as opposed to the cheaper shop bought variety. The sauce is tangy and sweet and adds a third dimension to what is already incredibly delicious.

If you are looking for hands on lunch, that you can eat with a good friend, that definitely comes under the category of ‘naughty’ this is the place. I for one cannot wait to visit the restaurant and afterwards be rolled back home. The Cheese Bar opens in earnest at the end of March.